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6 Down-To-Earth Business Lessons from Rand Fishkin

Justyna Polaczyk
7 min read
May 26, 2017
mustache illustration rand fishkin

Hosting a podcast is a great way of gathering tons of knowledge and learning from the best, that’s for sure. What I discovered though was that it also gives you the opportunity to meet amazing people, and listen to their stories.

A quick explanation for those who don’t know what I’m talking about: for over a year, I was hosting the Business Sidekick podcast.

My mission was to share my guests’ knowledge to help succeed all starting businesses by interviewing experts from ecommerce field. It quickly turned out that apart from delivering value, each episode was telling a different story of success.

In one of the final episodes, my guest was Rand Fishkin, the founder and former CEO of Moz, a board member at Haiku Deck and co-founder of Inbound.org. What was surprising to me, this highly successful entrepreneur doesn’t share the “you can do everything” mindset. He’s far from telling you to “believe in your dreams and everything will be OK.” He’s just realistic.

Here are 6 down-to-earth business lessons from Rand Fishkin.

With great mustache comes great responsibility

1. It’s OK to start small

“I did not found Moz with the idea that it would become a business of any kind. It was very much an accidental start up and I think this is how many many great businesses get started.”

All inspiring stories of success tell us about young and talented people with vision.

We have Tony Hsieh, who knows he’s destined for success since he’s in his a preteenager. 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook as he wanted to change the world. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak have founded Apple when they were 20-year-old.

Does it mean that if you’re in your late 30s, it’s too late? That if you don’t want to change the world, you won’t succeed?

Heck not!

But I'd say that even if you believe in your success, your faith only might be not enough. Sure, positive thinking is important, but the most important is if your product solves problems of your future customers.

The most successful companies are the ones that address people's needs or solve their problems. Among most successful businesses are companies that started from building tools for themselves and then started to sell them.

It’s about usability, not vision.

2. Embrace your failures

“It’s OK to fail. That trying and experimenting needs to be its own reward. It’s OK to build something small, and it’s OK if it doesn’t work out as maybe it will work next time. Look at all the skills that you’ve acquired and learned, that’s a great thing.”

It’s very difficult to succeed with your first business. If you’re a young entrepreneur, it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read and how much you’ve learned; nothing will replace experience.

So when you’re starting your first, second, or even a third business, keep in mind that money isn’t the only indicator of a success. Don’t be too harsh on yourself.

You win every time when you learn and gain knowledge.

Old bookshelf

3. It’s OK not to follow strategies everyone else does

“And there is no one formula for a successful site or one formula for a successful web marketing strategy. It is all about identifying what works with your audience and about recognizing where you can contribute unique value in your eco-system.”

The fact that most companies run social media channels or blogs doesn’t mean that you have to do that too. The most important thing in your entrepreneur journey is to realize what are your strengths and weaknesses.

If you love to write and you feel this is something you’d like to do for your business, then you should start with content marketing.

If you feel you’re more a relationship builder, you can have a minimalistic website, but instead, you might use your personal connections, email lists, spread the word on conferences and events. And then, when you will grow your business, you can hire someone who will take care of traditional marketing channels.

Every business is unique, there is no ultimate recipe for success.

4. Your dreams won’t pay your bills, bootstrap your business

“I really like the model of what’s today in the startup world called bootstrapping, where you essentially make sure that you can go through a small number of early customers and make enough revenue to support even slow growth of your business.”

Bootstrap is a situation in which an entrepreneur starts a business and has a little capital for the early times. It’s very difficult as many businesses need a year or two to start bringing revenue and the last thing you’d like is to have a credit or a debt just at the start.

At the very beginning, it’s good to have a simple product that is low cost and improve it slowly. Once you have a little money coming in, you can go for funding. You can check the government loans, or you can check banks, or you can look for angel investors.

It’s all up to you: you might say that you need $500 000 to start a business and borrow this money or start your business while still having a job or having decent savings.

But, according to Rand, it’s much better to bootstrap your business and scale it once you get more customers. Let’s not forget about the statistics: 75% of startups are not going to return their initial investment.

Plenty coins money

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

“I think entrepreneurship is very challenging. It can feel lonely, it can feel like you have to prove yourself to someone, that you’re competing against impossibly hard to achieve figures. But don’t judge yourself too harshly, don’t judge others too harshly, and don’t compare yourself to Zuckerberg.”

According to Rand, comparing yourself to entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or Elon Musk is dangerous. It makes us think that it’s possible to achieve success if we try really hard because they were the ones that made it happen this way.

The problem is, many of those successful entrepreneurs didn’t have to struggle with problems all “regular” people have like bills, paying for health care, they don’t have to pay rent. For example, Mark Zuckerberg is said to be an entrepreneurship genius, but if you try to become him, you need to remember that he did not have to pay rent nor make money because his parents could afford to support him financially.

All these stories of vision and mission sound beautiful, but before someone can write a story about you, you need to face your reality. Comparing yourself to others will not help you with it.

6. Appreciate people who support you

“It’s the wonderful, loving, caring people in our lives give us the ability, they give us the financial stability, and the emotional support and the, you know, the courage to be able to do this.”

All stories of success have one thing in common: they put the founders on the pedestal and completely forget about other people that worked for the success too.

“I was living with my girlfriend who’s now my wife, Geraldine, she paid our bills and our rent. I bought the occasional bottle of wine, that's all my salary could afford.”

Being an entrepreneur is difficult. You need financial and emotional support, you need someone to give you the courage to risk and be able to work. People who support you are so important and yet, they don’t get the credit for making the magic happen.

Wood hearts hanging

Doing business is not a cakewalk

The most important in making business is to be realistic about your chances of success. You need to evaluate all risks, your strengths and weaknesses, do the market research and bootstrap your business. And yes, you can be inspired by people like Zuckerberg (for example, you can learn from him what are the qualities of a good boss), but you should never compare yourself to them.

Not very romantic, huh? Where’s the passion, you might ask.

Passion is very important in running a business, but let’s not forget that it’s only a part of the whole picture. As long as we remember about the down-to-earth side of running a business, I think we will be much more successful.

And what do you think about it?