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  1. Here’s What We Learned and You Can Learn from Ben Rubin and the Meerkat Founders

    Hard decisions are just that: Hard.

    ben meerkat usaWriting about himself and Meerkat co-founder, Ben Rubin, Product Hunt founder and CEO, Ryan Hoover wrote yesterday in a blog post entitled I’m Scared,

    Fear is healthy, inspiring a heightened sense of awareness.”

    Ben and Ryan are two very self-aware entrepreneurs. They are aware of the fragility of both entrepreneurship and the growth of your product and community, especially in products that are built by community.

    However, in this “fear” of heights, “fear” of disappointing your community as well as “fear” of not delivering, Ben has found incredible clarity. The clarity he has found is not that he knows exactly what and exactly how Meerkat should and will play out. The clarity he has found is that he needs to make hard decisions. If you want to succeed in the high risk game of entrepreneurship, you MUST make hard decisions with imperfect information.

    Hard decisions are just that: Hard.

    Ben told Ryan:

    “I’ve sent an email to 400,000 users saying I’m closing a platform before, so I know that right now we need to be very focused on the product and what it’s going to be in the next three months or less.”

    Ben made the really hard decision to shut his first product Yevvo despite the fact that it had 400,000 users. Why? Because the spark was not there in the community. It was a boredom driven app and not a fiery, exciting community app. Ben came to his investors (including my partner Eden who is on the Meerkat board) and said, “Guys, it’s just not working. I know we have 400,000 users that many companies would love to have, but this is just not it.”

    That was his first hard decision. Then came an even harder one. He looked at his product and his cash, and told us he wanted to make sure Life on Air (the company name) had enough runway to give the product a second and third chance, and achieve “product market fit.” So, Ben cut a few members of his team to extend his runway. That was traumatic. Yevvo/Meerkat is a tight team with tremendous camaraderie.  Ben was heeding Josh Koppelman’s advice:

    “Keep(ing) your burn rate low until you have product-market fit will give you the best chance at building a big company.”

    Hard decisions are just that: Hard.

    Pressure then built on Ben to move to a “stored/saved video” model and abandon live and ephemeral. Ben resisted. The doubters told him it was hard to build an audience on synchronous live video. However, Ben was steadfast and made a really hard decision here that the team’s passion was around “live” and that the time had come for live video communities.

    The Life on Air team had hardened and scaled its back-end live video streaming service over two years of ups and down. Most of Ben’s front-end team was working on another product but he let Itai Danino, co-founder and CTO – who has a passion for One-to-Many live broadcast – work on Meerkat. That too was a hard decision. Danino built Meerkat in eight weeks as a side project. Ben then put real effort behind the Meerkat launch. Call it a hunch. Call it balls. Call it another hard decision. It worked. Meerkat is magical.

    Meerkat climbed up Product Hunt, permeated Danielle Morrill’s twitter feed and began to catch on at Launch Festival – but most of the team was still working on another product. I was walking down Rothschild Boulevard when Ben called. He asked me two questions: First, “What should we do? This Meerkat thing is catching on, so should we transfer the rest of the team to work on Meerkat? Second, SXSW is coming up and I was not planning on going Should I go and leave the R&D team?”

    My answers were “Hell yes” on both. Ben said, “Thanks, I will think about it. I want to consult with a few more people and then I will make a decision.” That impressed the hell out of me. Here was a guy who just caught lightning in a bottle after making hard decisions. He then called his investor, got feedback and said, I want to think about this carefully. He consulted with Sharon, head of R&D. He consulted with Ryan in San Francisco and with James Currier. Next thing I knew, the entire team was on Meerkat and Ben could not be reached because he was already on a plane to San Francisco.

     

    Hard decisions are just that: Hard. Decide and then act fast.

     

    Remember, Ben’s previous decision was the company should focus on a different project but he changed course. That was hard. Now that you’ve made hard decisions, you must get moving on them and lead by example.

    Want more hard decisions? As Meerkat took off, the phone was ringing off the hook from investors. That is every entrepreneur’s dream, especially one who just cut his team to extend his runway.  Ben did not take meetings with investors. He told us that he and the team needed to focus on product and community.

    When Twitter cut off Meerkat’s access to the social graph, Ben could have bitched and moaned. Instead, he graciously thanked Twitter for the prior access and help they had provided, and continued to focus on evolving Meerkat to build out its own live-streaming social graph. The hard decision was to just “move on” from the Twitter social graph. Then the R&D team started acting really quickly and around the clock. Trust us, we are nearby.

    My Benchmark partner Peter Fenton once said that “an entrepreneur who turns down $500 million for his company will get to $1 Billion and one who turns down $1 Billion will get to $10 Billion.” While that sometimes is not true, the sentiment is significant. Entrepreneurs that want to build really large companies need to make really hard decisions. They need to make different decisions. The road to success is paved with ups and downs, fear and trembling. However, what separates the great entrepreneurs from the good ones is the ability to make hard decisions with imperfect information.

    Hard decisions are just that: Hard. Then once you make them, act fast. And, most importantly, when you are the “belle of the ball” at SXSW, stay humble like Ben has. Remember, he shut down a service with 400,000 members before seeing people hold their phones overhead to meerkat the latest moments around them.

    To hear Ben in his own words, see this

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