David Smooke

@DavidSmooke

3 Questions With Y Combinator Marketing Director Craig Cannon

Craig Cannon is the Director of Marketing at Y Combinator. Before that he cofounded Comedy Hack Day and did head swaps at The Onion. Sometimes he writes about trips, like bike touring in Vietnam and hiking the John Muir Trail.

1.Good to meet you in Boulder this week. Really enjoyed talking about how startups get (and don’t get) their first customers. Y Combinator is possibly the top authority on how young companies grow fast, and Facebook is their most common channel for testing customer personas. So. Do you think Facebook will take over 50% of the digital marketing industry?

Craig: Cool meeting you as well!
So for those who don’t know, FB and Google dominate digital. Will FB’s share increase? I think so. In my experience they have the best targeting and if they dial in engagement across international markets they’ll be hard to stop. Tough to say how big a slice they’ll take but they’ve had a good run of acquisitions and seem quite willing to copy to get ahead.
Now, it’s true that FB is a good place to test personas but I think if you’re building a product and don’t know who the customer is, you’re doing it wrong. You’ll waste money on ads that offer no explanation as to why someone doesn’t want your product and you’ll waste time in development because you don’t know what to prioritize. Of course you could switch markets over time or eventually use FB ads to find new types of customers, but you have to start out with an opinion.
For technical people that are new to this stuff I’d suggest spending a little time implementing Facebook Pixels on your site. It’s super easy to do and can give you much better outcomes without spending the money on a dedicated marketing person.

2. You set a world record for climbing 95,623 feet in 48 hours. A lot can go through a person’s mind during great physical exertion… Do you recall the most sane and insane reasons you gave yourself for not stopping the bike sooner?

Haha. To be honest, I never thought about stopping. I felt prepared physically and had a spreadsheet to track my progress alongside where I needed to be, which helped make the effort more bite-sized. That stuff is super important because you’re right, these silly endurance challenges are mostly psychological.
I don’t identify with the whole culture of suffering around endurance events. I love this stuff! Obviously it’s not always sunshine and rainbows but for the most part you’re just in your head, pushing forward, man vs. himself. Doesn’t get any better :)

3. When I met up with you, I brought my daughter in a car seat. That’s the reality of my work life balance today. Startup life is notorious for burning people out. How have you seen first time founders balance becoming better business people with becoming better people beyond their business?

Yeah, that’s a great question. First they take care of themselves physically and mentally. Then they prioritize and execute what matters, which could mean shipping an update or making dinner with their partner. In other words, your relationships and health don’t remain constant just because you’re super excited about your company–you have to keep putting the work in, which usually means cutting some things out.
I suck at objectively ranking tasks in my head so I just write the input and potential output down as a sentence. Once I see them on paper, it’s usually pretty easy to separate what is and isn’t important work. If you’re still having trouble just look back on your past year and consider the 80/20 rule. What action provided the biggest gains? What took the most time and didn’t do anything for your business?
Another thing I find helpful is recognizing when you’re most productive in the day. Before YC, when I worked for myself, I struggled initially because I thought I could always be doing just a little bit more to close a sale or complete a project. In reality I’m most productive in the morning and by about 2PM I’m antsy and kind of useless. Now I plan my day around that. I start working around 6AM, exercise around 2PM, and wrap up any extra work or socialize afterward.
It’s funny, the people who I think of as successful are never so committed that they can’t make time for friends. They just don’t waste time on trivial stuff.
Oh. One more thing. I recommend turning off notifications and badge numbers on every app. Notifications are the devil and the reason I will never own an Apple Watch. If the sky is falling someone will call you.
Applications for the YC W18 batch are open.
My email is Craig@YCombinator.com. Please email me with questions, especially if you’re an underrepresented person in tech!
Tweet @CraigCannon & @YCombinator.

3QuestionsWith.Us is an original series by @AMI, profiling those who push, technology, and creation forward.

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