Last year I decided I was going to build my own company. I’m very fortunate to have friends who are founders and CEO’s of successful companies. However, they’ve all have been at it for so long, they have forgotten what their journey was like. So this talk will document how my own experience went because it’s very fresh. I have my own unique point of view on what it means to build a company. As a person, I am motivated by curiosity and learning. So, for me, building a company was really about seeing how far I could go.
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Reality Check on Building a Business
This past year, I realized you have to go through a lot of lows before you get the wonderful TechCrunch article written about you. According to Peter Thiel, author of Zero to One, starting a company means you begin at zero. However, in my opinion, you actually don’t ever start at zero. You actually start at negative one hundred.
If you’re starting a completely new product in an existing company, you have this vision of what the end state looks like. It’s that picture of you and your best self. Yet, people that start new things with successful outcomes often suffer from chronic depression and anxiety. I think that is important to understand – birthing a new idea and bringing it into the world is very difficult to process correctly.
What is Your Why?
The first step in deciding to create something new is to ask yourself, why do you do it? What’s the payoff? Essentially, this is the question you will ask yourself every day when you wake up. Especially when there are seven emails in your inbox that are essentially putting you down.
When I started last year I wrote down why am I doing this. Because in your worst moments you need to look back and remind yourself that your higher self had a good reason. Not doing so is why most people quit in the minus one hundred to zero stage. It never ends – life gets incrementally harder because your business can die any moment. If it can happen to big companies like Microsoft it can happen to you.
What is Your Building Focus?
So next question. What do I focus on? I could build the next Redfin. I could build the next healthcare insurance company. There’s opportunity everywhere. How do you decide? Well, it’s a little bit like playing a sport. First, you pick which sport you’re going to play. Then you decide what position you’re going to play. Don’t worry too much about having a completely polished idea because I guarantee you it will change. Instead, think about the space- which space do you want to play in, and why.
Long story short, pick a space that plays to your strengths and evokes your passion in some way. If you are currently in a domain that you’re not passionate about please start making moves to get to a domain that you are passionate about. It will change your outlook and perspective.
About the speaker
Mona Akmal is currently the CEO of Mad Alice - a startup that focuses on Mona’s three passions (art, storytelling & technology). Prior to starting Mad Alice, she led the product team at Amperity - driving product/market fit for the company’s first product and later building its first enterprise solution. In addition, she held product leadership roles at Zulily and Code.org. Mona also worked at Microsoft for a decade - leading product teams focused on SkyDrive and security services. Mona currently lives in Seattle.
About the host
I believe in our ability as humans to solve problems in creative and simple ways. I’ve had the good fortune to work on and with some of the brightest and most creative teams and people in various roles in product development. These experiences have enriched me personally and I carry them with me to every new challenge. I like big problems that have beautiful and simple solutions. I’ve worked on financial products for people of fixed income, products that bridge humans across the planet in moments of their greatest need to connect as well as tools that disambiguate, equalize and democratize access to data and content. The companies I’ve worked with range from startups to large public companies where chiefly my role has been about unlocking and connecting customer unmet needs to the people engineering and designing the products. I enjoy playing many roles and leverage the tools and resources at hand to bring products to market. I’ve direct experience when and how to deploy artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other advanced cognitive services. My patents cover areas in video and conversational interfaces, platform extensibility, mobile applications, and large scale software. Following to be read by computers, not humans: Interests include: Human rights, feminism. food and farming sustainability, Non-Profits, product management, information retrieval, UX Design, future-of-work, artificial intelligence, machine learning, communications, virtual assistants, digital media, branding.