June 12th, 2017 | By: Keith Liles | Tags: Startups Live
…when I started StartupList, I didn’t know where it would lead or even that I was actually creating a startup. It was just a project I was working on to learn more about startups and how to build a website. It evolved into something I never could’ve imagined at the time.
There is no better way to hear the story of how Nick Frost came to champion startups than to hear it straight from his mouth. Startups Live was incredibly fortunate to have such an opportunity.
Often this collection of Founders turns over nitty gritty details of building startups, examining a particular question or aspect of the work. This talk does some of the same, but it also brings the role of fortune into the field of play – not luck, or the unexpected influence of outside forces, necessarily, but… how placing yourself in a position where your passions and receptiveness and enthusiasm for the work can ‘attract’ results beyond wildest imagining…
Have a listen!
“Welcome, everyone, to Startups Live!” moderator Steph Newton got the ball rolling. “As I mentioned… Nick Frost is our special guest today! Nick, want to give us a little bit on your background? I think you have one of the best stories I’ve heard! (Regarding a persons foray into the startup world!)”
“Hey everyone! Thank you for having me on here today! I’m Nick Frost. Currently, I’m the Newsletter Editor & Marketing Manager at Mattermark. My role focuses on curating and publishing Mattermark’s 2 newsletters, the Mattermark Daily and Raise The Bar, managing our social media channels, events, and I’m working on producing a new podcast.”
“I grew up in a small farm town in Missouri, then joined the US Navy right after high school, where I served as a Diesel Mechanic for 5 years, and was deployed 3 times: Spain, Guam, and Afghanistan.”
“When I was in Afghanistan, I knew I was getting out of the Navy, so I sat in my tent during my off time and researched the startup world. That led me to sites like TechCrunch, VB, TNW, etc, and I saw that early stage startups were not being covered. I then started StartupLi.st, a blog at the time where I featured new startups.”
“That led me to getting a co-Founder and launching StartupList as a social network 1 month after I got back from Afghanistan. From there, I left the Navy in June 2011, moved to SF, but still had NO clue about how to build or grow a startup.”
“I then quickly co-founded AngelHack, a global hackathon accelerator program, worked on that for 6 months, then worked at AngelList.”
“Then an accounting firm for startups, then in Summer 2014, I circled back to StartupList with my new skills of sales, marketing, and an understanding of how to grow a business. I began to generate revenue and gained more traction.”
Humberto Valle had the perfect response. “Very impressive! I love it!”
“How did you gain traction, initially, with StartupLi.st?” asked Steph.
“I DM’d Mattermark’s CEO, Danielle Morrill, on Twitter and said ‘What do you think of StartupList?’ Within 2 minutes, she said, ‘I love it, I want to buy it, and I want to hire you.’“
Matt Coco spoke for many when he responded, “WOW.”
“So, from there we began acquisition negotiations, and I was hired as the first marketing hire at Mattermark in Sept. 2014. The acquisition was finalized in May 2015. And I’ve been at Mattermark ever since!”
“As far as gaining traction for StartupLi.st, it was difficult at first because I had no idea what I was doing. I cold emailed many Founders to tell them about my site and interviewed them to create more content that they’d eventually share with their networks. That was the seed of my traction.”
“Alongside that, I just began adding interesting startups to my site and let the Founders of those startups know via Twitter. They’d go on to share their profile pages, and I opened up the ability for people to submit their own startups. This led to over 10,000 startups being submitted organically and growing a user base of ~15,000 Founders, investors, techies, etc.”
“…when I started StartupList, I didn’t know where it would lead or even that I was actually creating a startup. It was just a project I was working on to learn more about startups and how to build a website. It evolved into something I never could’ve imagined at the time.”
“Do you ever miss running StartupLi.st?” Eileen Guan wanted to know.
“Yes, I do sometimes miss running StartupList. It was my first startup… my baby. It no longer exists though.”
As an interesting aside, a bit later in the conversation Steph would ask Nick how StartupLi.st added to Mattermark, and he informed everyone, “Well, I initially thought we’d integrate the two sites somehow and it would become more of a public facing/ social side of Mattermark, but that never happened. Soon after it was acquired, Mattermark raised a Series A round of funding, and StartupList was put on the back burned. So, it stayed there and eventually died.”
“When starting – why a blog and not a more common startup like app or tech device?” Humberto asked.
“I started it as a blog because I, being a non-developer, and having very little marketing skill at the time, saw creating a WordPress site as the easiest first step. Again, I didn’t know what I was doing and luckily I found some great people to help me build it into an actual social network.”
“I think of StartupList as Product Hunt 3 years before Product Hunt.”
Steph inquired, “Did your Co-Founder have more experience with the startup scene?”
“Yes, my Co-Founder was Eric Ingram. He’s an accomplished PHP developer that I found via Hacker News. We were working on similar projects aimed at early stage startups, so decided to join forces and build StartupList together.”
When is a startup a startup and when does it become a business, how do you measure it’s worth – trying to make these distinctions or answer these questions tends to tie everyone in knots. Stephan Morand asked Nick when did he start thinking of his venture as a startup that he could sell, and his answer was illuminating.
“I started thinking of it as a real business when it started to generate revenue in early 2014. As that started to grow, I realized it was finally at a point that it could have an actual valuation and be viable to sell.”
Stephan responded –
“That’s really interesting, to see how the best businesses usually think first of solving a problem rather than making money.”
Wil Schroter asked, “Nick, outside of sites like startuplist / product hunt / betalist, where would you recommend people go to get early attention?”
“That’s a great question, and one I think that can have many different answers. I find that it depends on the type of business and the target audience. It’s important for people looking for traction to find niche sites, communities, meetups, networks, blogs, newsletters, influencers in their target market to join and be a member of.”
“Launching a tech startup on those ‘status quo’ sites is obvious to most tech people, but the real traction and magic happens when Founders insert themselves and become involved with the communities / audience they’re trying to build for and attract.”
“You’ve got some major networking skillz!” Steph rightly pointed out. “What’s some advice for fellow entrepreneurs that need to step it up a notch?”
“When I first got to San Francisco, I had no connections or clue about what to do next. I moved here on a whim and with a gut filled with passion. I stayed on couches for a few months and lived off savings.”
“Every day, including the weekends, was filled with going to networking events, meeting with Founders, reading as much as possible, experimenting with ways to build/ grow StartupList, etc. Eventually, I got better at going to events I knew were actually worth it, and I met some great people that led to new opportunities.”
“My goal was always to add value and help them as much as possible, without any expectation of getting anything in return.”
“Another BIG piece of my networking was being active on Twitter. When asked to say more on this matter, he explained I knew that I wanted to attract the attention of more Founders, so they’d come to StartupList and submit their products, so I looked on AngelList, found startups I thought were interesting, dug into who the Founders were, followed them on Twitter, and began engaging with them.”
“I also used IFTTT (in my early Twitter days) to automate some updates from RSS feeds that I trusted as credible startup info sources, including the RSS feed from StartupList itself, to keep my feed fresh vs. having to tweet manually all the time.”
Increasing knowledge, building trust, becoming more strategic… Lauren Tiffan and others described Nick’s actions the way many of us who are familiar with startups are accustomed to hearing – “sounds like establishing yourself as the expert in your field as a way to validate your idea / business among the community.”
Nick offered an original take: “There’s a personal philosophy I thought of when I was in my tent in Afghanistan – ‘Increase my gravity’.”
“With that, I mean that I needed to network, get in front of key people, and find ways to have opportunities come to me vs. always having to reach out and ask for something.”
“What was your biggest mistake in your startup journey?” asked Imran Siddiq.
“Ya know… I’m not sure what my biggest mistake was. My whole journey has been a rollercoaster of experiments, risks, and learning by doing. Looking back, if I didn’t make the mistakes I’ve made, I may not be where I am today. So, overall, I don’t regret anything.”
“As StartupList started getting more & more Founders (as in Founders of startups that were listed on StartupList), how did you collect and incorporate their feedback into your product?” asked Ankit Khanna.
“Thanks for the question! We did a lot of user research before we launched the site, and collected feedback by asking what parts of the site and profiles were important to Founders. Surprisingly, it launched with very little negative feedback, and we somehow stumbled on a design that was usable and easily adopted by our users.”
The variety of questions Nick fielded reflects his broad interests, generous character… and the obvious appeal of his company to those present. For example…
“As ex-military myself,” began Michael Kassing, “I know I use many of the lessons taught to me by my time in the Army. How and what have you used to help yourself down this path?”
“Hey Michael! It’s great to see a fellow veteran in here. I think the daily grind and strict structure of military life has helped me keep structure as an entrepreneur and have the grit to keep pushing when things get tough.”
Wil asked Nick, “As a guy who’s following startups all day, what are a couple of the most interesting startups you’ve stumbled up on this year?”
“One of my favorite new startups, recently graduated from YC, is Breaker Audio. I’m a voracious podcast listener and it’s now my daily app to consume them all. It’s more of a social experience than Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, etc, so it’s fun to see what my friends are listening to.”
“What advice would you give to young Nick Frost?” asked Steph. “The one hanging out in a tent and geeking out over Startups.”
“I’d tell young Nick Frost to not be too timid and to blog (or journal) about my experience, as much as possible. The 1 thing I wish I would’ve started doing on a regular basis from that time until now is publish my thoughts, experiences, opinions on my blog. It just has so many upsides.”
A lot of folks are happy to listen to present-age Nick. Ed B said, “I’m an old dude in a young dudes game, not real active on the social sites. I’ve got a sport-tech entertainment startup. Where would you start looking for Founders, Co-Founders?”
“I was very lucky to find my Co-Founder, but if I was doing it again today, I’d probably find key people in my target industry and initially reach out for their advice. That could possibly lead to great advice and either them being interested in being a Co-Founder or introducing you to their network where you may find one.”
“What personality characteristics do you have that you think contributed positively to your journey,” asked Dr. Deborah Hecker.
“Great question! I think grit, optimism, and passion are the things that drive me.”
“You seem extremely resilient as well.”
“Ah, yes! Resilience is also very important.”
Time had raced to the end of session. And as Startups Live chats typically close, Steph asked Nick:
1.) Is there anything we can help you with at all, as a community?
2.) If anyone wants to reach you, how can they?
“As a community, I’d love your support in helping me shed light on high-quality blog posts written by startup Founders, operators, etc. The Mattermark Daily newsletter has over 100K subscribers, and being featured can really boost people’s exposure. If you have any recommended content I should feature, feel free to send it to me via Slack or email email@example.com.”
If you’re curious about what the Mattermark Daily or Raise The Bar is, you can learn more and subscribe at https://mattermark.com/newsletters.
As for reaching Nick, he’s on Twitter at @thinker and email firstname.lastname@example.org. “Feel free to reach out anytime!” he encouraged.
Keith Liles is a freelance writer who loves travel, music, wine, hiking, poetry, and just about everything. He practices saying “yes” to life vigorously, rehearsing for the phone call when he’s asked to tour with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Follow Keith on Twitter @KPLiles.