How I give advice to people


During a recent AMA I did on, my friend Laura Fitton asked me this question:

I’ve been extremely lucky to have many generous mentors take time to help me figure stuff out, and you always stand out as one of the best I’ve met. I also know you have mentored probably dozens, if not hundreds, of people who have asked for help. With that in mind:

What advice do you have for those who seek advice? How can folks become better at asking for advice and being mentored?

I’ve had a draft of this written up but never posted it, so I shared the draft in the AMA. Here’s a cleaned up version of it that I hope helps you:

Most people start asking for advice by asking me what I did.

When you started KISSmetrics how did you start your blog?
When you hired your first sales person where did you find them?
When you raised your first round of funding how did you do it?

People tend to naturally start with questions like this because it’s how they think. For them, it’s the easiest way to start the conversation.

These are my least favorite type of questions. For me, it’s not valuable to talk about what I did over and over again. It’s also not valuable for the person seeking advice.

When I get asked these types of questions, I ask more questions back. I also try to reframe what they are saying.

Are you trying to figure out how you should do marketing for your business?
Are you starting a sales team and trying to hire the first person?
Are you thinking about raising money for your company?

I want to provide as much value as possible to the people I meet with which is why I don’t enjoy talking about myself or my own experiences.

What’s most valuable for them is to give specific advice based on people’s own situation. It’s also how I can be most helpful, not by telling them about my experiences but by getting context about their situation and then helping them think about it.

I get the greatest joy when helping other people think about what they should do.

The next time you meet with someone to get advice don’t ask them about their past experiences. Share your situation with them so you can learn how they would think about what you should do next. Simply give them the context and have them help you think. It will lead to a better conversation that’s more helpful to you.

Amazon Prime Air

Jeff Bezos was on Charlie Rose tonight and he introduced the world to their new experimentatal initiative, Amazon Prime Air.

Watch the video. It feels like Sci-Fi.

Here is what he said first about Amazon Prime Air:

This is early. This is still years away.

I don’t recall a time when Amazon released something publically before it was ready. They tend to launch things that people can use right away. What makes Amazon Prime Air different?

Jeff Bezos also said:

Companies have short lifespans.
Amazon will be disrupted one day.
I would love for it to be after I am dead.

This is a pre-emptive move to help the world go in the way Amazon wants it to go. Perhaps to help push the FAA rules and regulations forward faster. To help prevent Amazon from being disrupted on it’s core principle of customer obsession.

“To get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less” before any other company does.

As a consumer, I can’t wait. As an entrepreneur, I’m inspired.

Ideas, Opinions and Execution

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Ideas are cheap while execution is expensive.

Execution is what turns an idea into reality. It turns it into something that people want to use, consume and even buy.

Everybody has ideas, but not everybody executes on their ideas. The difference between success and failure of an idea is execution.

You have so many ideas and can’t pick. You are paralyzed. That prevents you from executing.

Let’s say you get past that, you stop having so many ideas and decide to pick one.

Now the real work begins.

Start by thinking of your idea as an opinion on how a specific human problem can actually be solved. Turn that opinion into a testable hypotheses.

Learn how to validate your hypothesis.

Create products that people love by validating your idea first

You’ve done it before. You asked someone this question:

What do you think of my idea?

Most people will tell you it’s a good idea and then they’ll go on to tell you why it’s good based on their own personal experience. These people are assuming that you want to hear something positive from them. They believe that being supportive of your idea is what’ll help you most.

I find myself hearing the question and asking more questions back. I do this so I can understand why you are excited about the idea, how you discovered it and what stage you are at with it.

Most of the time if you are asking other people about the idea itself, you are at the earliest stages of the idea and haven’t validated it yet.

I love this early stage.

The possibilites are endless and you need to figure out how to create something people love. This can be a fresh idea for a business or even new features for an existing product.

If you haven’t already, you’ll soon realize that it’s easy to waste time on ideas that don’t matter.

I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve attempted to create dozens of products and advised many other people as they’ve created things.

Consumer ideas focused on emotion, entertainment and leisure are more difficult to validate compare to products that businesses buy.

Businesses directly pay for the products they use. A person’s job at work is dependent on getting things done in their company. This validation process will be most useful to you when you’re validating ideas that target other businesses as customers.

Here is a three step process you can use to validate ideas:

  1. Create a problem hypothesis from your idea
  2. Setup a system to pull people to you
  3. Find the pattern of pain

I’ll share the strategy for each step and also provide examples.

Create a problem hypothesis from your idea

Ideas are just a description of the solution to a problem. Converting your idea to a problem hypothesis enables you to stay focused on validating the idea instead of building the solution.

You don’t want to get stuck creating a solution and then searching for the problem that it solves. This situation is most common when people decide to solve a problem that they have themselves. You have to make sure enough other people have the problem too.

When creating a problem hypothesis start by describing the group of people you are targeting and what problem you think they have. It’s a simple format:

[Group of people] have a problem [their problem]

At KISSmetrics, we built a mobile app for people that use Google Analytics. Here’s our hypothesis:

Google Analytics users have a problem monitoring key business metrics on their mobile phone.

Learn how we validated our mobile app idea.

We also created a SaaS product called KISSinsights that we sold and has since been renamed to Qualaroo. Here’s the original KISSinsights hypothesis:

Product manager type people have a problem doing fast/effective/frequent customer research.

Learn how the lean startup methodology helped us validate and build KISSinsights.

When we started KISSmetrics, only a few businesses were using Twitter for marketing. We shared tweets and links that appealed to online marketers and we noticed that more of them would start following us.

So we decided to build a simple product to help with scheduling tweets. It started out as a PHP script that turned into a small SaaS application called ShareFeed which we eventually sold to Buffer. Here’s the original ShareFeed hypothesis:

Twitter power users have a problem tweeting interesting things.

Learn about the idea validation process we used for ShareFeed.

You can take the idea for a new feature or a product iteration and create a hypothesis out of it. When we wanted to improve our real-time view in the KISSmetrics product, we started with a hypothesis:

New and existing KISSmetrics customers have a problem debuging their implementation and viewing their users in real-time.

Learn how we iterated the KISSmetrics real-time view and doubled engagement.

When working with an existing product make sure you have great ways to passively and actively collect feedback from your customers. It’s important to listen to your feedback channels and use the information to come up with ideas that inform your hypothesis.

Setup a system to pull people to you

Once you’ve created a problem hypothesis you’ll know the exact type of person who you want to reach and a high-level idea of what you want to learn.

If you are working on an existing product and adding a feature or iterating on one, you’ll most likely be able to email your customers to reach them. You want to find ways to attract people and talk to them. The ultimate goal is to get them to a voice, video or in-person conversation. Here are a few ideas on how you can get existing customers to talk to you:

  • Send an email to ask for feedback and talk to them
  • Use a Qualaroo pop-up on your website to setup a time to talk
  • Add a message asking to chat at the top of your web application
  • If you have their number try calling to offer help and get their feedback
  • Create a “fake” button, link or tab for the new feature that when clicked asks to setup a time to talk

For a new product idea, unless you have direct access to a few dozen or more of your potential customers, you need to create a system to pull people to you. The most common way is to create a landing page that leads to a survey that people fill out. In the survey, you get to ask some relevant questions and also if people would be willing to chat with you.

Ask for chat questions

The landing page

Your landing page should be designed to get people curious by explaining the benefits of solving the problem you created in your hypothesis. Then they can choose to proceed by clicking the button, putting in their email or authenticating with a third-party service such as Google, Twitter or LinkedIn.

Don’t spend a ton of time creating this landing page. A basic landing page is just some copy and a button that leads to a SurveyMonkey or Wufoo survey. In some cases it makes sense to spend more time and get people’s emails first or even have people authenticate with a third-party service.

If you spend the additional time it should be because what you can learn about your customers is worth the extra development time. Don’t forget that the goal isn’t about acquiring customers, it’s about finding potential customers to talk to in order to validate your idea. Here are a few examples of landing pages I’ve used in the past:

Serph landing page

Crazy Egg early access landing page

kissmetrics old landing page

kissmetrics gift landing page

daily dot io landing page

sharefeed landing page

ki landing page

KISSinsights landing page

my analytics app landing page

The survey

The next step is to ask people a few questions once they have clicked on your button, entered their email or authenticated. Your goal with the survey is to learn more about your potential customers and have them give their information so you can reach them. Here are examples of surveys I’ve used:

survey dot io survey

ShareFeed survey

KISSmetrics survey

Each question should have a specific purpose. Here are three types of idea validation questions:

Market Intelligence

What are you up against? What are people currently using? The answer can inform future customer acquisiton tactics as well as potential integrations and partnerships.

twitter tools question

analytics tools question

sponge tools question


Helps you filter people to better target the ones you should follow-up with and segment responses to other questions.

twitter account types

twitter account number

maintain blog question

business model question

product stage question


People will tell you things if you ask them. Read every response and categorize each of your open-ended responses into buckets. With open-ended questions you’ll also discover the words people use. These responses are useful when you need to write marketing copy and iterate or test your landing page.

website question

sharefeed dream

kissmetrics dream

How to get traffic

Once you’ve got a landing page and a survey setup you will need to drive traffic to your landing page. People commonly ask about how to drive traffic and acquire those first set of people. Ask no more!

Here are 95 ways to bring your potential customers to you. You’ll find at least one tactic that’ll work for you.

Find the pattern of pain

After analyzing the survey responses you’ll have a list of people to reach out to so you can schedule your first set of conversations.

People love to talk about themselves including their work life. Start the conversation by asking them to tell you stories about their work. This enables you to hear things from their perspective and dig deeper into areas that are interesting to you. Resist the urge to ask directly about their problems until you hear something that sounds painful in their story. It’s easier for most people to tell you stories than to talk about their struggles.

This process is called customer development. Here are three resources to help you understand the process and ask the right questions:

How to Structure Customer Development Interviews
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development
Customer Development FAQ

You need to find out if people really do have the problem you think they have or if they don’t care at all. When trying to validate your idea the main goal is to find pain. The pattern of pain across your target customers. You need to discover the common pain. People tend to suggest solving your own problem because you get to focus on pain that you feel. Many times that pain you feel can be misleading.

You have to make sure other people feel the pain too. You can’t validate an idea based on your own opinion. Your time is limited and you shouldn’t be wasting it on creating things people don’t love.

This post is part of a weekly Startup Edition.

Anger Management

It happens more often then we want to admit. Somebody says something, does something or you hear about it from someone else.

You get angry.

Your first impulse is to confront them.

You’ll start thinking about exactly what they did to you and what you’ll say to them. In that moment, stop.

Curb your anger.

Now, open your email client and write out exactly what you want to say to them. Don’t include their email address in the “to” field. Leave it blank, just in case you finish writing and get the urge to hit send.

You’ll feel relieved now that your thoughts are in writing and it’s likely that you’ll even stop thinking about it.

Wait until the next morning. Read what you wrote. Read it out loud.

While reading, try to step into their world, see from their perspective and think like them. You will now have a better understanding of why they did what they did.

You won’t send the email. You will feel better.

Eventually, you’ll end up with a collection of these drafts. Use these drafts to learn what triggers you to get angry.

These insights will help you stop being angry.

Focus on your own success

People will say things behind your back, even people who should be rooting for your success.

You’ll hear about it. It’ll make you mad, it’ll infuriate you.

You’ll confront them and they’ll deny it, do whatever they can to deflect the blame. It’s easy to think that you need to stoop to their level. Resist that urge. Don’t let it turn you into someone you are not.

Being a friendly, kind and always do the right thing kind of person is what makes you special.

If you change that, you’ll be living up to someone else’s standard of living. Avoid that at all costs and ultimately find a way to rid yourself of these poisonous people.

Focusing on you, your thoughts and things you can control is the best path to long term success. (or something really thoughtful and profound to end a simple rant)