It all starts with an idea.

I’ve previously discussed how building a company is like creating a movie — and the first step in that process is choosing which idea you'll spend the next several years working on.

You can find plenty of resources on what business decisions to make in business. Books (favorite: Play Bigger), Podcasts (favorite: Invest Like the Best), Blogs (favorite: Lenny’s newsletter), Tech Twitter (favorite: Chamath), and even Clubhouse (favorite: Shoot Your Shot NYU Girls Roasting Tech Guys)! I don’t think there’s one “right way” to do things. 

What I’m here to show you is an unfiltered look at my own experiences and bring you along for the ride of building my first company - Marco.

How do movies come together?

It's similar to building a company in many ways:

  • It all starts with a story (an idea) - a vision that you spin up on paper (or maybe a pitch deck) and iterate on until it feels right
  • You get someone to fund the production (shout out to investors) - you need people who believe in your vision
  • You bring together the right cast (or team) - people who can bring the story to life
  • You do the hard work of producing the movie (building the company) - with the right people in place, you do the hard work of making the movie
  • You build your audience (get the right customers) - people who enjoy the end result and can talk about it for years to come

Building up the courage to "go for it"

“When I’m 80 years old, will I regret not doing this?” 

That’s the question I asked myself when thinking about creating Marco. 

It’s one of my favorite mental models, popularized by Jeff Bezos, who called it his regret minimization framework. The framework is simple, but effective. 

My favorite mental model for figuring out whether to take the plunge or stay in a relatively safe career path was using Bezos’s. When Bezos debated whether to stick with his successful career at D.E. Shaw or start an online bookstore, he said to himself, "I want to project myself forward to the age 80...I want to have minimized the amount of regrets I had. I knew when I was 80, I wouldn't have regretted trying to participate in this thing called the internet. I knew I might regret not ever having tried."

For me, I knew that entrepreneurship was the right next step in my career, and that I’d regret not taking the leap if I looked back on my life at 80 years old So here we are. 

What is the right problem to tackle? Which story do you want to tell?

I've met entrepreneurs who have started businesses ranging from the least to the most "sexy." Unsexy businesses are often the most successful, however, because the founders are passionate about driving innovation and efficiency. 

A delightful experience to pay your employees is truly sexy. 

Groceries delivered to your doorstep. 

Corporate credit cards with better spend management features. 

Mobile messaging to better communicate with your customers. 

Email software that takes the fear out of hitting the send button…

ALL sexy!

Starting a company is a long ride, so I figured I'd have to do it in an area that I was passionate about. I spent the first part of my investment career at Castanea Partners, which focuses on helping "passion brands thrive," ranging from Jeni's Ice Cream to Drybar.

I then joined SoftBank in the consumer internet team, where we worked with industry-defining companies ranging from DoorDash to Opendoor, and spent a good portion of my last year within the travel space. The experiences space jumped out at me as an area worth focusing on for a few reasons:

  • Worthwhile problem - To me, helping people better spend their discretionary money and their most important resource, their time, felt like a worthwhile endeavor
  • Large market - Phocuswright measures the experiences marketplace at a whopping $183B in 2020, and this likely undercounts local consideration experiences
  • Unsolved problem - While some large companies operated in the space like Eventbrite and Airbnb, no company has emerged as the market leader yet, particularly in the B2B channel  
  • Opportunity to combine brand and product - I wanted to combine a truly exceptional brand with hand-picked experiences that stood out

How do you turn an idea into a business?

You don't.

You turn it into an experiment.

The idea for Marco kept percolating in the back of my mind. I deeply explored the experiences space, understanding the market players and their business models. All of that was a worthwhile effort, but I was still left with a powerpoint deck that was growing in size, and no product or path to move forward.

The question remained: how to build a product in this space?

But I was looking at it upside-down.

The question popularized in the Lean Startup is not, “Can this product be built?” Instead, I should be asking, “Should this product be built?” and “Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?”

I needed to design experiments with hypotheses that could be proven or disproven.

Around this time, I met my co-founder Nick Freeman, who was down to figure out what business we could build in this space.

Experimentation would allow us to figure out what business we could build within the experiences space with limited resources, no funding, and few people working on the project.

Our key experiments

So what do experiments actually look like? 

TL;DR : experiments aren't pretty while they're happening. 

One of the biggest lessons I've seen in my entrepreneurial journey is you should be comfortable looking foolish in front of your friends and peers.

We're definitely still in the "experimentation" phase. We will likely pivot again in the future. In the next post, I'll take you through a few experiments and pivots we've already been through. I'm sure there will be more. I’ll go through how we went from building a social events product to replace Facebook Events, to focusing on virtual events, to focusing on the B2B channel in the next post. 

In the meantime, we’re excited to be working on our current experiment. The most exciting part is we’re actually able to serve real customers. 

Our customers currently rate Marco at having an NPS of 46, 80%+ of respondents shared a moment that brought them closer to their team or learned something new, and 95%+ finished the experience feeling less stressed or re-energized 

More to come!

The Future of Culture in your Inbox