Founder Burnout and the Impact On Your Bottom Line

We’ve all seen the headlines: “This CEO Gets Up at 4 AM and Works Out at Lunch” or “How This 22-Year Old Launched a Startup While Working a Full-Time Job.”

Even though it’s clickbait, these articles are attractive because they glorify the startup hustle.

What happens when you can’t keep going? Even the smartest and hardest-working founders are only human—no one can give 110% forever. The inevitable result is founder burnout, which goes far beyond physical exhaustion.

Founder burnout can directly impact a company’s bottom line. It has also been estimated to cost billions of dollars annually. Founder burnout is not just a personal hurdle. It’s a phenomenon that can impact the growth and success of today’s startups.

The productivity drain of founder burnout

Many people assume longer hours equal greater output.

The problem is, these extra hours aren’t always productive hours. Research from Stanford University has shown productivity falls dramatically after working for 50 hours in a week. After, working 55 hours in a week, this output plummets.

A little bit of extra time in the office each day can be a great way to cross items off your to-do list. Working 70 hours a week is no more productive than working 55 hours each week.

A two-year study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that seemingly harmless after-work activities do more harm than good if they’re connected to your job. Without proper detachment, people are unable to fully recover from work each week.

Founders who don’t detach and give themselves time to recover from each workday experience reduced work performance, ultimately resulting in a drain on the company’s overall output.

The Corporate Executive Board, which represents 80% of the Fortune 500, found that those who believe they have good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t.

All of this unproductive time in the office has a significant impact on a company’s bottom line. Gallup found that unproductive workers are costing United States businesses $550 billion per year.

In contrast, authors such as Jacob Morgan have found that organizations that promote a better work-life balance, including reasonable working hours, have four times higher average profits, two times higher average revenues, and 40% lower turnover. Their stock prices also outperformed the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

Less work, more work-life balance

Longer weeks may sometimes be inevitable. There are still are a few steps you can take to promote a greater work-life balance:

  1. Turn off your push notifications: Your smartphone allows you to take work home with you, which can be both good and bad. Try turning off your push notifications for things like Slack and email.
  2. Get physical: Physical activities are associated with a positive effect on a person’s ability to recover from work and improve sleep quality. So hit the gym, walk your dog, or climb stairs. Carve out time to add some physical activity to your work week.
  3. Spend time with people outside your industry: Spending time with other startup founders can be great for networking, but it can turn your social life into just another aspect of work. Make time to hang out with people outside the startup ecosystem to truly separate your work and social lives.
  4. Take a vacation: Everyone needs a break at some point and that includes you. Get out of the country or plan a weekend staycation in your city. It doesn’t matter, just give yourself a reprieve from the day-to-day grind.
  5. Let go of the work FOMO: Most people associate FOMO with social events. The same mindset can apply to work. Let go of this nagging feeling that there is always more you could be doing. Simply accept that what you’ve accomplished is good enough for one day.

The Myth of the Multi-Tasker

It isn’t always long hours that lead to founder burnout. In many cases, burnout is the result of trying to do everything, rather than delegating or outsourcing responsibilities.

Many founders may think that their ability to “do it all” is what drives their success. They couldn’t be more wrong. As neuroscientists Dr. Cynthia Kubu and Dr. Andre Machado have discovered, humans are wired to be mono-taskers. They argue that “just 2.5 percent of people are able to multitask effectively.” It’s unlikely startup founders are the multi-tasking unicorns they think they are.

The failure to properly delegate or outsource tasks can be particularly problematic for startup founders. As Martin Zwilling, Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, points out, failing to delegate means you waste more time working on projects that are outside your skill set and comfort zone.

Take the example of bookkeeping. Many startup founders try to tackle the books on their own, despite no knowledge or expertise in the area. In-house bookkeeping alone costs founders over 10 hours per month (120 hours per year), and this is just one example of administrative work that can easily be outsourced.

Lack of delegation can also suggest you don’t trust your team to produce the desired results. It’s easy to see how this kind of situation can leave startup founders exhausted, paranoid, and susceptible to burnout.

On the other hand, a willingness to delegate or outsource tasks can actually improve a company’s bottom line. According to a Gallup study, CEOs who were talented delegators posted three-year growth rates that were 112 percent higher and generated 33 percent greater revenue than those with a limited talent for delegation.

Mastering the Art of Delegation

Handing over the baton is not always easy. For the reluctant-delegator, there are a number of helpful tips for letting go.

  1. Do what you do best: It’s important to prioritize the things that only you can do. While leadership and big-picture growth cannot be delegated, administrative tasks such as bookkeeping can be outsourced.
  2. Find the right people: If you’re going to hand off an important task, make sure you give it to the right person. Everyone has different strengths and there’s likely someone out there better suited to the task that you were fumbling your way through.
  3. Take time to set expectations: When delegating, make sure everyone is on the same page. Set clear expectations from the start so you can get the results you’re looking for without sacrificing your own time.
  4. Leave room for your own personal growth: Delegation is a useful leadership tool. You should also when it may be worth your time to learn something new. For example, some tech founders may find it’s worth learning to code to better communicate with their product teams. Consulting an accountant may be a much better use of a founder’s time than attempting to master the US tax code.

The physical and mental toll

Ask any startup founder how they manage to work so hard. They’ll simply shrug and tell you they “work well under pressure.” There’s truth in that statement. Most experts would agree, acute stress (meaning short-lived stress), primes the brain for improved performance.

The kind of pressure faced by startup founders goes far beyond that of the average person. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs live with chronic, all-consuming stress stemming from the belief that failure is simply not an option. This constant state of anxiety inevitably takes its toll on founders both physically and mentally.

According to a study by researchers in California, “mental health concerns have been reported across 72% of entrepreneurs, compared to a mere 7% of the general public.

The notion that entrepreneurs are four times more likely to suffer from mental health concerns than the general population has led to what’s been termed the “Founder’s Blues.”

Research has also shown that stress not only exacerbates many chronic conditions, but it can also impair immunity and lead to further physical ailments.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the physical and mental toll of burnout has financial implications for growing companies. Dealing with mental and physical conditions often leads to unscheduled absenteeism, which the workforce solution company Circadian estimates costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried employees.

Beyond simply a dent in a companies finances, Fortune magazine found that 30% of startups fail completely due to the emotional state of their founders.

Healthier founders, both physically and mentally, are necessary for the successful growth of a company. Countless studies have shown investments in workplace wellness programs lower insurance premiums, operating costs, and reduce absenteeism and presenteeism (the act of attending work but being less productive due to poor health). The health of a founder and their team is a key driver behind the success and growth of a company.

Mental health is health

Workplace wellness programs are great for employees. Founders often need to take more drastic steps to escape the relentless stress of running a startup.

  1. Start with self-care: Whether it’s taking yoga classes or simply letting yourself sleep in on the weekends, small acts of self-care can be a good way to start making your physical and mental health a priority.
  2. Talk to a professional: Talking to a professional is one of the best ways to address entrepreneurial anxieties head-on. Even for those with limited time or money, there are virtual counseling services such as TranQool or TalkSpace that can help founders connect to a therapist without leaving the office.
  3. Start an honest conversation: There’s no doubt that mental health is still taboo in many circles—especially tech. But if you feel comfortable enough, sharing your feelings with other founders can help start a conversation. Sharing your experiences can help you feel less isolated in what you’re going through.

Founder burnout doesn’t have to derail your startup

There’s no doubt that running a startup is a tough job. It takes a lot of passion, determination, and hard work. The bulletproof founder who works all hours of the day, handles every project, and thrives under pressure, is a myth. In reality, this type of behavior often leads to burnout, poor health, and lower productivity.

Founder burnout is not inevitable. Thwarting burnout certainly won’t happen overnight. Take steps to find a better work-life balance, delegate tasks, and combat stress head-on. It’ll help to stop burnout before a company turns to ashes.

Katherine Pendrill is the Content Marketing Specialist at OpenDigits, a cloud bookkeeping solution for startups. By combining industry-leading software with the expertise of real accountants, OpenDigits takes care of the bookkeeping so that startup founders can focus on scaling their business.

7 Types of Entrepreneurs Explained: Which One Are You?

The beauty of entrepreneurship is that it’s the opposite of conformity. If you’re just like everyone else then you blend into the crowd.

You’re allowed to be polarizing, eccentric, and different.

This can leave people confused about the right path to take. There is no right answer to that but there is the best answer depending on the type of entrepreneur you are.

Without understanding the types of entrepreneurs, it increases the likelihood of joining the ranks of people who started but ultimately failed.

failure rate for all types of entrepreneurs

When you understand your specific situation, you’re able to take action on improving your weaknesses and building a team that compliments you.

This article looks at the types of entrepreneurs in the world and the strengths and weaknesses of each one.

Types of entrepreneurship

I want to be clear that there’s a difference between types of entrepreneurship and the types of entrepreneurs.

There are four major types of entrepreneurship which are:

  • Small business entrepreneurship. Believe it or not, this is the bread and butter of entrepreneurship. It makes up 99% of all companies and employs more than half of the non-government workforce. These are the people you see in your community like plumbers, carpenters, grocers, pharmacy owners etc. and either don’t have the skill or motivation to expand their business. As a result, they’re usually barely profitable.
  • Scalable startup entrepreneurship. This is the type of entrepreneurship you hear about in the news and also where Silicon Valley investment tends to flow. Their mission from day one is to find a business model that’s scalable. Not all of them are successful in that regard which is why investors have to bet big and often to make up for the losers. It looks like they’re the most common but they’re not, they just attract the most press.
  • Large company entrepreneurship. This entrepreneurship from within huge conglomerates that already have established customer bases and market share. Why would they need entrepreneurship? Over time, consumer tastes change and products are no longer in vogue. If the large company doesn’t innovate then they die a slow death. Think about the manufacturing industry in the United States.
  • Social entrepreneurship. This is relatively new. Though they’re still out for profit and sustainable business, they create products and services that solve social problems. For example, TOMS Shoes and their One For One campaign.

Another big difference is that entrepreneurship refers to the business itself and not the entrepreneur behind it.

Think of the types of entrepreneurs like a management style that takes into consideration specific strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.

Types of entrepreneurs

These types are in every industry across the world. Most people will be a mix of many different types. The key is to understand where you have the most similarities and take action accordingly.

Innovators

These are the types of entrepreneurs we tend to see on the news. Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are what we’d refer to as innovators.

They take problems that may have a solution already and make that solution an order of magnitude better. Mark Zuckerberg took the concept of social networks from MySpace and built Facebook.

Elon Musk took the concept of cars and built Tesla. He also worked with a talented team to create PayPal and change the way we send money to friends and family.

They’re characterized by passion, drive, and a strong will to succeed. They also tend to have strong technical knowledge about their product.

At the same time, there’s a dark side to innovators – obsession. They want their idea to succeed so badly that they can burn a lot of bridges in the process.

Advantages of innovators

  • Move quickly
  • Attract investment fairly easily (investment is never truly easy)
  • Durability when the hard times set in

Disadvantages of innovators

  • Can be obsessive and alienate their friends, family, and team
  • Not everyone understands the utility of the new version of the product
  • Imitators spring up after you see a bit of success

Visionaries

At first glance, visionaries appear to be the same thing as innovators. That’s not the case. Where innovators take a product and made it 10x better, visionaries build new industries.

For example, the person who started the internet is a visionary. They’ve created something people love and can’t live without. Another example of a visionary would be Steve Jobs and the iPad. There was no such thing as a tablet device before they came along.

They’re characterized by a deep understanding of trends and how they’ll affect consumers going forward. People flock to their side because they want to be part of shaping the future.

They can also be polarizing because their vision is so out there. It encounters pushback from people who feel threatened.

Advantages of visionaries

  • Attract some of the best talent in the world
  • It takes a long time for the competition to catch up because you’re creating a new product class
  • Understand the needs/wants of consumers on a deep level

Disadvantages of visionaries

  • Takes a lot of education to get customers on board
  • large amounts of capital are needed for research and development
  • People are resistant to change

Hustlers

A hustler has both positive and negative connotations. It can mean you’re doing something shady or below board such as fraud.

These days the word has positive connotations. In essence, a hustler is someone who does more work, puts in more effort, and sees results because of it.

These are the entrepreneurs who start small, learn essential skills on the go, bootstrap their way to success, and seem to explode on the scene. In reality, they’ve been doing it for a long time.

The prime example of this type of entrepreneur is Gary V. He advocates coming back from work and then putting in time for your projects until the wee hours of the morning. Though it worked for him, it may not work for everyone.

There are real risks involved in working all day every day. Not everyone is built for that life.

Advantages of hustlers

  • Amazing work ethic
  • Learn a wide range of skills to move the business forward
  • Accept the eventual pitfalls as normal steps on their ladder to success

Disadvantages of hustlers

  • It can take a long time to see success
  • They may burn out in the process
  • Push their own work style on everyone around them

Imitators

This type of entrepreneur tends to get a bit of hate because they don’t invent anything new. Unless they’re very successful, they’re not acknowledged often.

This is also where the bulk of entrepreneurship lies. There are business models and industries with a lot of potential and you don’t need to invent anything.

For example, the founder of Walmart, Sam Walton, didn’t invent stores. He just used his skill with logistics and negotiation to create one that turned into a billion dollar empire.

Real estate tycoons didn’t invent housing complexes. They build new developments and turn a profit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this type of entrepreneurship. In fact, it’s necessary for all the other types to thrive.

They’re the ones who push the hustlers, innovators, and visionaries to create new product classes which we all benefit from.

Advantages of imitators

  • Tap into a proven business model
  • There is measurable demand and customer base
  • Learn from past mistakes

Disadvantages of imitators

  • No true competitive advantage
  • Easier for more competition to spring up and take market share from you
  • Considered second best

Researchers

This entrepreneur is concerned with understanding all aspects of a business before starting.

They’re the ones who talk to customers, do deep dives into their market, and employ customer development strategies. They’re thorough and meticulous. Of course, everyone is supposed to do this but few do.

Even the ones that do it only perform topical research at best. The researchers are almost obsessive about the amount and quality of the data they collect.

It’s hard for them to start a business on a whim because they don’t like outlandish risks. It goes against every fiber of their being.

It’s a double-edged sword for them. They take fewer risks and save themselves years of effort in case the idea was a dud but they also lose the advantage of speed and being first to market.

Advantages of researchers

  • Deep understanding of their market
  • Able to spot gaps where they can differentiate themselves
  • Less prone to taking risks that don’t pan out

Disadvantages of researchers

  • Moves much slower
  • May dismiss ideas with potential because of the higher risks involved
  • Numbers become more important than people and relationships

Buyers

Buyer entrepreneurs walk a fine line and it’s easy to mistake them for investors. The buyer type may have had a business before and successfully sold it or they got their wealth from some other means.

They buy into businesses with a proven track record and work at the helm to improve it. What defines this type of entrepreneur is that even though they buy, they’re active in growing their investment.

They don’t buy and hand it off to someone else immediately. Even though they may eventually hand off leadership to someone else, they always maintain an active part in their businesses.

Advantages of buyers

  • Buy into an already established business with proven
  • Can focus on expanding the brand and networking
  • Built-in market share and customer base

Disadvantages of buyers

  • It’s much more effective
  • You may have to break the bad habits of the current team and staff
  • It’s possible to encounter problems that can’t be solved

Investors

This type of entrepreneur is closely related to the buyer type. They also have a lot of resources at their disposal but it’s usually not their personal wealth.

An investor raises funds from a group of backers and finds businesses with enough potential to give them an attractive return on their investment. Their business is investing in other businesses.

Because of their unique position and interaction with multiple companies and entrepreneurs, they have a unique perspective. Investors help their portfolio companies with things like operations, networking, and customer development.

It’s important to note that even though investors will help their portfolio companies out when they need it, they take more of a passive role. Their core competency isn’t to be your advisor; it’s to find more businesses to invest in.

Advantages of investors

  • Don’t have to build a business from scratch
  • Access to proprietary data of multiple companies
  • Large amount of capital at their disposal

Disadvantages of investors

  • Portfolio companies may fail
  • Only see a return when the company sells or goes public
  • Money tied up for long periods of time

Conclusion

It doesn’t matter what type of entrepreneur you are. What matters is that you understand your strengths and weaknesses and act accordingly.

If you’re a hustler then find a co-founder to help you innovate. If you’re an innovator then find a hustler to get your ideas in front of the right people.

No one can be the total package. Don’t look at it as a downside, look at it as a way to make the best of what you have and partner with the right people.

Let me know what type of entrepreneur you are in the comments and don’t forget to share.

Has a Flawed Startup Narrative Tricked You Into Chasing Mana From Heaven?

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about a business idea he had. It was a pretty solid idea with proven demand and he was in a good position to execute on it.

He has a relevant audience, the financial resources, and could get a team together quickly.

There were two things preventing him from pulling the trigger.

  1. He didn’t know any investors
  2. His idea wasn’t “unique enough”

*Facepalm*

The word unique is thrown around to the point where it doesn’t mean anything. Change out “unique” with the words “new, special, innovative, etc.” and you can see what I mean.

We’ve got a unique perspective on the problem.

We’ve got an innovative solution we’re working on.

We’ve got a new way of getting traction.

When you peel back the covers, you see unique is just a new coat of paint polished with a few buzzwords. Don’t get me started on buzzwords.

The thing is, you don’t have to be unique, or cutting edge, or innovative to build a successful business. In the current startup narrative, everyone is unique but no one is different.

Here’s what unique looks like.

Come up with an idea.

Do a semblance of validation.

Create a pitch deck.

Get initial funding.

If that part doesn’t work – build an MVP in 30 days.

Launch it on Hacker News and Product Hunt.

Get users that aren’t paying because it’s in beta or “monetization” hasn’t been figured out.

Create another pitch deck.

Get the funding that was denied the startup earlier.

Spend the money on a team that’s too big and marketing people that are clueless.

Develop a beast of an app.

Burn money until traction, the startup makes it to the next funding round, or the founders have to shutter the whole venture.

It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t their money anyway.

Repeat the process until they die of old age, put together an investment fund, or hit it big.

Unique takes precedence over being successful and profitable.

And that startup narrative really sucks.

Companies with no reason to exist have not only come to life but have been given millions of dollars. I know better than most that business can be a crapshoot.

Juicero, the $400 juice machine, closed its doors in 2017. The final nail in their coffin was when a Bloomberg piece showed their juice packets could be squeezed by hand.

Juicero’s entire business model went up in smoke. Some of the largest companies and investment groups had thrown over $100,000,000 at the young company.

Do you think none of them did their due diligence? Did they think the general public was too stupid to find out? Or was it simply a matter of greed?

Whatever the case, those are symptoms of a larger problem.

The real problem is how much dumb money is floating around. To compound that, groupthink is real. If it were just a bit harder to get funding for ideas then people would be forced to validate their business models, distribution channels, and products more thoroughly.

You know, they’d be required to do “the business of business.”

Inventing a new wheel

It may seem like funding is the enemy. It’s not. Investment dollars have made it possible for a lot of indispensable companies to get off the ground.

Smart investment spend brought us everything from Walmart to Quora. The way investment dollars are distributed is what’s broken.

The networks are insular. If you don’t know someone or can’t get an introduction then your business with real merit may be dead in the water. People who’ve failed multiple times have a better network, can send a few emails, and get introductions to another moneyed firm willing to fund the next possible unicorn.

Something seems off about that whole scenario to me. We need a better wheel.

I have a crazy idea

Build a business that doesn’t rely on investor funding. Put real skin in the game. Take the time to build it right the first time around instead of breaking shit because you’re moving too fast.

Forget about whether you’re unique. Worry about whether or not you can turn a profit on every item/unit you sell.

Before I continue, this approach may not work for every business. A social media platform, for example, needs a lot of users before they can attract advertisers or get acquired. They’ll need some stay afloat money.

Heavy manufacturing or technologies on the fringe (think artificial intelligence) also have huge sunk costs before they ever begin to yield fruits. They don’t count.

What about that social media scheduling app or the project management software? Are they going to make any real impact on the world?

Do they really need to be funded?

They should be able to prove their merit before funding becomes part of the equation.  Let’s strip away the pervasive idea that a startup is an idea, a website, and a few lines of proprietary code.

That’s a hobby.

Instead of building like this:

  1. Find an idea
  2. Create a pitch deck
  3. Meet investors
  4. Get funded
  5. Do things to look bigger
  6. Make decisions for the short term because growth at all costs is the goal
  7. Burn through the funding
  8. Avert going insane with the help of your dearest loved ones
  9. Close the company doors

Build like this:

  1. Find an idea
  2. Build it
  3. Get customers
  4. Become profitable
  5. Retain your sanity
  6. Make decisions for the long term because growth at all costs isn’t the goal
  7. Maybe find investors

It takes a longer and you put real skin in the game. Are those bad things?

Would you be a fool for going out to find your first ten customers by hand? Then doing the same thing for the next 100? Or should you build scalable systems from the very first day?

If you tried you’d soon find that you’re optimizing for an event that may never happen.

Would it be a bad thing if it took you a decade to build profitable million dollar business?

Or should you take all the funding you can find, go public, and lose billions every year?

We’re conducting an experiment at KyLeads. Our premise is simple. Build products people want, sell to those people, and grow the business on the back of profit.

I know – radical.

We employ a small group of passionate people. It’s not glamorous and we likely won’t be featured in Tech Crunch or Entrepreneur in the beginning – if at all.

The mana was temporary

For all intents in purposes, we’re a startup. Except for the fact that we’re not. A startup is a company that’s conceived and designed to grow fast.

The wheel we’re inventing is as old as humanity. When people were still foragers there was no one to lend them resources. They earned everything.

When we made the horrible decision to start farming, you only grew when you went out and worked for it. There was no one to give you free grain or money. Even in the Bible, Mana only lasted for forty years.

That’s just not how the real world works. Am I calling investment capital a fairy tale?

What do you think millions of dollars in exchange for ownership of an entity that exists only on paper is?

This is our truth.

What’s yours?

9 Out of 10 Companies Don’t Have a Clear “Reason Why.” Are you One?

Does your brand exist to make a lot of money or does it have a deeper reason why?

Seriously, why was your company formed? Is it worth the bandwidth it takes to render your site or the pixels on your web pages?

Many times, no one sits down to think about it. There’s no wider goal or mission.

Is yours any different?

When I was busy conceptualizing KyLeads, I completely ignored the reason why we exist.

It was all about mapping features, developing use cases, and dissecting the competition. These are necessary components of the creation process.

You need to know how your product can be used and what’s already on the market.

At the same time, you and everyone on your team needs to know why they’re staying up late at night, why they should work on weekends, and why they should care.

Without a compelling reason why you can never develop a compelling story and align people from diverse backgrounds.

Without a compelling story, you can never stand out in the minds of your customers. Your product will never be more than the latest webpage in a long line of things they’ve seen while on the internet.

Your reason why is the conduit through which you distill your message and guide the actions of yourself, your team, and the people who’re talking about you.

When you look at it like that, it’s not something you can throw together in a few minutes is it?

Arriving at our reason why

The lack of an articulated reason for being hit me when I was writing copy for our marketing site. I was running into trouble.

The messaging was off. It was lifeless. There was no personality. We had no reason for doing what we were doing. We had no reason to serve the people we were serving.

Beyond that, I knew it’d be difficult to say no to cool – yet conflicting – things going forward if I didn’t get this straight now.

That realization hit me hard.

We could have all the cool features in the world, but, over time, I knew that’s all we’d be – a series of features – if there was no unifying reason and ethos.

I’ve got to give a hat tip to Jason Fried and DHH over at Basecamp. They know why they exist. It’s allowed them to avoid feature creep and build a product their customers love.

Did they do that by buckling under the pressure?

No, because they exist to make project management simple. They’re notorious for ignoring what people “think” should be in their app.

They have a reason for being and everything they do flows from that. Simon Sinek gave a popular Ted Talk (over 37 million views) that introduces a golden circle.

It contains why, how, and what. We all know what we do and some even know how we do it. Almost no one knows why.

He uses Apple as an example. They’re an iconic company. They want to challenge the status quo and think differently. They just happen to make computers.

We’re not apple.

I was determined to articulate why I was building KyLeads and why anyone – you – should care.

The Why

Over the next few days, I looked at my experiences and what made me so keen to start KyLeads.  It wasn’t to make millions of dollars. That’s not a life goal.

It wasn’t to piss anyone off. What’s the point?

The harder I looked, the more elusive the answer became.

That is, until I logged into a tool I’ve been using for years and have disliked every moment of the experience.

It’s expensive, clunky, and hard to understand (No, I won’t name it. Don’t ask.). It was built for teams who can hire a consultant to implement the majority of the features.

It just happened to have a feature I needed that other tools seemed to ignore. Therefore, I was stuck.

Going deeper than that, I didn’t like the way data was presented. You’re a human and there are reasons behind what you do. You have personal motivations – so do I.

That’s when the seeds of what was bothering me bubbled to the surface. I didn’t build KyLeads to beat my chest and say I’m a SaaS CEO.

KyLeads exists to level the conversion optimization playing field for smaller brands so they can focus on their core competency. That’s almost never conversion rate optimization.

Beyond that, I’d argue the more important reason is it exists to help you make your messages personal.  We’re here so the underdog has the ability to create better experiences for their audience

That way, our customers can worry about what matters – delivering the best product they can.

We do that by designing simple interfaces, intuitive apps, and insightful training material to give them – you – an edge.

We just happen to have apps for opt-in forms, surveys, and quizzes. In five years, that may be different. We may have thrown out landing pages and opt-in forms and introduced heat maps and click maps.

There’s no telling what the future holds when it comes to specific features. That’s part of the fun – no?

What we do know, without a shadow of a doubt, is why we exist and who we’re here to serve.

That’s not changing any time soon.

It’s internal.

I’ve chosen to share our reason why. It’s not a prerequisite.  It should be shared and reinforced internally. Apart from that, it’s your call.

When there’s tight alignment between your daily processes and your reason why, everything you do will reflect it.

If you’re in business to empower the underserved, you wouldn’t be caught dead using underage labor.

If you’re in business to create a better future for humanity, you’re going use green tech and fight against gender inequality.

Apart from that, a solid reason allows you to craft a compelling story. Facts tell stories sell.  Throughout our website, we’re irreverent. That’s because we know we’re in business for a certain segment of people. We don’t need to please the entire world.

The narrative we craft aligns with our reason for being. It informs the way we work and the end products we deliver.

If something makes our applications too complicated or clunky then it’s tossed at the conceptualization phase.

It’s not all roses. You’ll have times when your reasons are challenged and you’re forced to make tough decisions.

Just remember why you’re doing it. Let your decisions flow from there.

Share the reason why you wake up every morning and fight for your dreams in the comments.

Optimizing for Humans: Create a Brand That’s Loved

It’s about time we started optimizing for humans.

I started my journey into all things digital a little under a decade ago. What works has changed.

It was easier to get an email address. It was harder for people to pay for things.

There weren’t so many digital services. It was hard as hell to get a payment processor that you liked.

Building a website was a grueling process. Now, It takes all of twenty minutes from domain purchase to going live.

One thing that’s remained the same is our inexorable march towards adapting offline interactions to an online world. Personalization, live chat, and user experience advocates reflect this shift.

The path has been anything but straight. It reminds me of the line success takes.

success looks like in optimizing for humans

 

We’re not where we need to be. Not by a long shot. We’re well on the way to getting there. There’s no turning back at this point.

Yes, the barrier to entry for a digital brand is lower. At the same time, the barrier to success has been raised. Startups have millions in funding, growth teams, and advanced analytics.

The bootstrapped company, the blogger, and the solopreneur have the same tools on the surface. The topical view is rarely accurate. Can you implement all the tactics, analyze the data, read all the books, and chase growth at all costs?

No, you can’t.

That’s why it’s important to optimize for humans.

A quick primer on the journey of web optimization

There have been a number of loose phases when it comes to how people optimize on the web. I’ve split them into three.

Optimized for sales

The first phase was about chasing a quick buck. The techniques were more or less copied and pasted from direct response marketing. You had the long pages, the underlined words, the fear of losing, the psychological triggers, and everything in between.

Now, don’t get me wrong. My constant companions were (and are) The Gary Halbert Letters, The Robert Collier Letter Book, and The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook.

Great resources.

I recommend them until this day.

The methods they employ are effective. Gary has personality for days. Robert has countless templates you can adapt to email. The Copywriting Handbook is just that, a handbook to be used. They’re best suited to the Wild West era of the web when everything was focused on the visitors who would convert on the first interaction.

It’s a bit different now. It takes multiple interactions to get a conversion. Adopt the fundamentals from them, those will never expire. Everything else can be tossed. I mean the tactics. Tactics are for specific situations.

Strategy is timeless.

Optimized for search

After the web came to its senses and realized it was more profitable for Google to send them traffic, they optimized for search. All you had to do was send a thousand spammy links to your site, keyword stuff the title, and you’d be ranking in a few days.

The quality of the sites on the first page of Google were, to say the least, poor. Real sites whose owners didn’t understand the intricacies of Search were pushed to the second, third, and fourth pages.

A whole industry sprung up around optimizing for search engines. Many times, they preyed on business owners who didn’t know any better.

They basically said “Look, SEO is hard. Give us thousands of dollars and in a few months we might be able to help you rank. No guarantees.” Imagine if your accountant told you that when you asked if your books were in order.

Today, the practitioners are called SEO’s, publications are dedicated to news about SEO, and it’s no longer about stuffing keywords in the title.

Google is a billion dollar company. Another billion dollar industry sprung up around them. They like their billions.

People were tired of search results that sent them to useless websites with direct response sales tactics. Internet users are utilitarian. If the app isn’t benefiting them, they’ll drop it in a heartbeat.

The Big G figured this out. They had two options:

    1.      Lose billions of dollars because they weren’t useful

    2.     Give prominence to websites that were useful to their product (if you’re not paying for an awesome service then you’re the product. Google is awesome. We’re the product.).

They chose the latter. They spearheaded the phase we’re currently in.

Optimizing for humans

Every blogger, corporation, and small business owner has begun to optimize for humans. It’s evident when you look around. Facebook tells you when your friends have birthdays. Google shows you results based on the ones you clicked in the past. Amazon sends you emails based on your browsing history.

Even small companies are doing it. Emails have your name in the text, they remember your birthday, and you’re shown offers based on the content you interact with (at least that’s how it’s supposed to work).

Going further, service on the internet has begun to mirror service in real life. Organizations are reaching out to users to have real conversations. Like, they’re asking to schedule phone calls so they can figure out how to serve you better.

Net promoter score was implemented to figure out how people feel about your company and why.

It allows us to ideate, launch, and iterate in the blink of an eye. We’ve adopted an approach that allows us to create in the open. We share our failures and successes with the world. GE did it with their icemaker Opal on IndieGogo.

The end result?

Brands are humanized.

It’s no longer a big corporation calling the shots. Rather, it’s a hundred thousand individuals plotting the course iteration after iteration. If you, my customer, doesn’t like it, I won’t spend countless dollars trying to get you to like it.

Consumers have countless options in every field. They wield the power. It’s no longer enough to optimize for sales or search. Those things matter and they always will. You’re in business to make money.

The approach is what’s different.

We’re optimizing, first and foremost, for humans. When you put their wants, needs, hopes, dreams, and ambitions at the forefront then you’re better able to serve them. If you’re better able to serve, they’ll be more willing to pay premium prices.

The more happy customers you have the more you can acquire.

It’s a virtuous cycle.

It all starts with a decision – to focus your company on humans. To optimize communication, marketing, and products for humans.

KyLeads is a product focused on conversion rate optimization. It allows our customers to build opt-in forms and quizzes to get more email subscribers and generate more revenue.

It’s a tool.

If it’s used incorrectly then it won’t be worth the price of the subscription. It’ll be just another expense. If it’s used correctly then its ROI will be evident from the first day.

We’ve made optimizing for humans a way of life at our company. Everything from the way we design features to the topics we write about is focused on humans.

The next step is to empower our customers to do the same and reap the rewards.

Introducing Optimizing for Humansa blog on marketing, conversion rate optimization, growth, and startup lessons. You’ll learn about our wins and losses, how to spread your message the way people want to receive it, and everything in between.

Sometimes it’ll be a short piece on an insight we just gained. Other times it’ll be an in-depth post about a marketing strategy. At all times, it’ll take you further down the path of optimizing for humans and reaping the benefits that come with it.

Final thoughts

The web is changing – fast. Tactics come and go every week. What remains are the fundamentals. Humans like to be treated like humans. They’ll forgive almost anything else.

We’re dedicated to empowering you to walk the walk and talk the talk of putting your customers first. In the process, we’re opening all our doors and showing you what works, what doesn’t and everything in between.

Join us on the journey by signing up for our newsletter – a piece of humanity – to get exclusive content and a weekly article.