Smashing Conf: Startup Lessons From Lanyard

by Luke Wroblewski September 9, 2013

In her talk at Smashing Conf in Freiburg Germany 2013 Natalie Downe shared her journey with Lanyard from startup to acquisition. Here's my notes from her talk Startup Lessons Learned:

  • Laynard is a social conference directory that was built over a weekend by the co-founders in Morocco. Here's the story of how it went from idea to acquisition in three years.
  • If you are not embarrassed by your first launch, you've waited too long. Laynard got picked up by TechCrunch and the team had to scale the service from overseas.
  • You have to make your own luck. Seize the opportunities that come your way.
  • After a few months of treating Lanyard as a side project, the team went into the Y Combinator program. This was like boot camp for start-ups with lots of resources for start-ups.
  • If you are doing a start-up, going through the application process to Y Combinator will help you figure out what you are trying to build and why.
  • Learn how to take advice. You'll often get conflicting feedback and ideas -you need to understand the context of the person providing advice.
  • Always be pitching. You'll always need to be presenting your ideas to press, employees, investors, and more. Make people empathize with the pain your audience is feeling.
  • Don't be worried about people stealing your ideas. If they are any good, you'll have to convince others they are worthwhile.
  • Surround yourself with people that are going though similar transitions that you trust. Starting a company is hard work and you shouldn't do it alone.
  • Raising money might turn you off for a while. But if you want to grow your company, you may need to take on investment.
  • Raise enough to allow you to operate for 18 months. That gives you at least 12 months before you need to raise money again. Raising money takes time so don't let it take away from time to build product.
  • Investors can provide a lot more than money, they can provide connections and advice that will help you fill in your gaps.
  • Have an elevator pitch, executive summary, pitch deck, answers to common questions, introductions, and the phone number of a really good lawyer.
  • Know where you want to be in five years, the potential size of your market, and how you'll get there.
  • Ask for introductions to additional investors that might be interested in your company after a pitch. You'll get a lot of useful signals.
  • Hire from within your inner circle. Look for super talented people that you want to work with. Cultural fit and enthusiasm for your product is often just as important as technical capabilities.
  • Build tools that help you punch above your size. What kinds of development techniques can help you move faster.
  • If you want to move fast and iterate, make it easy to deploy quickly. Accidental deploys need to be ok -moving faster is better.
  • Feature flags allowed Lanyard to turn features on/off for users, press, and paying customers.
  • Always take press screenshots yourself. Otherwise positive articles can be marred by bad images. Create a press pack that give news sources information and images for articles. Explain how things fit into the broader trends in the industry. Journalists love numbers and stats. Contact details allow journalists to get in touch. Tie things into topics journalists have previously written about.
  • Capitalize on news from others -make a story bigger than yourselves.
  • Focus your efforts on doing a few things very well. Instead of many things at once. Pick a theory and work to prove it.
  • Learn from people who used to be like you. To learn about sales, talk to people who have done it before.
  • When you are running a start-up you always have to manage lots of things at once.
  • While an acquisition is on the table, keep running the company as if the conversations could fall apart at any point in time -because it could.
  • When raising another round of funding, keep your options open and explore other opportunities.
  • Trust your gut instinct. When you are running a start-up, lots of things will be new to you. Your instinct can be a valuable guide to helping you make decisions.
  • Starting a company is hard all the way through -do it only if you believe in the work you are doing.