Mark Hendrickson – Plancast 2 of 2

“Launching a new product means defining your expectations.” Plancast is a web service that allows users to discover and share plans with friends.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation what have you learned about your business or your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?

Mark: Well, I think when we started and we had launched we had this idea that Plancast was going to be used for sort of a spectrum of activity that was like. But we really didn’t know what parts of the spectrum was going to be the most appealing to people. And then when we launched we found out, oh, people have it for this. 

And for Plancast I think that happened a lot of apps. For us it was a matter of, what kinds of plans do people like to share? When you think about it plans can be of all different types of sorts. People can go on a trip, people can go get drinks a couple of hours, people can go to a wedding, people can go to big events like conferences or small ones like birthday parties. 

When people think of these things and share them with different people, sometimes they want lots of people to go with them, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s private versus public. We didn’t know what sort of characteristics, the types of information that was shared would take. 

And it turned out that people wanted to share a lot of the more open sort of bigger type events, so we see a lot of conferences, meetups and festivals and sort of things that people are very comfortable to share open with. 

So that makes a lot of sense in hindsight. But before we launched that wasn’t drilled home. We didn’t really have an idea of what the main use case would be like.

Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very challenging. We want to dispel some myths here. So my question to you is, what is it that comes easy for you that you’re good at, or that comes intuitively. What talent or skill are you good at? And what has been difficult and how have you managed that?

Mark: So I say if any talents lends itself well to this from the start I think it’s the fact that I’m pretty whole minded, so I can take on tasks of different variety. So I can either be working on code or I can be doing design or I can be doing something that’s much more in the line of vision investors or talking to the press. 

So having that ability to switch back and forth between those roles has been very important. Because we don’t have a lot of people on staff to do that. But, really you don’t know what you’re doing until you do it. So you know, the hardest thing about it is everything else. 

I mean, you really, the idea that people sort of wake up and they have this idea and they have success is just. We think that because we just don’t have transparency into the day to day that happens. And we assume because we didn’t see it no one ever wrote a story about the difficulties that didn’t exist, but that’s unreasonable. 

I mean, really all startups have continual problems that they’re dealing with day after day. The fires that are always flaming up, disappointments that are always occurring. And so, there’s just this huge discrepancy between perception on startups and how they actually operate.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Plancast?

Mark: Most important lesson I’ve learned. That’s a hard question because there’s so many small things that you learn all the time. I think it’s important when you’re launching a product to think of what your expectations are. In terms of what’s, month after month you hope to achieve. And how you know whether you’ve achieved them or not. So there’s sort of two sides to the same coin. 

I think when I launched Plancast initially when we started working on it I was very open ended and well, whatever happens we’ll just see it. And that was important in many ways because I just had this go for it attitude. But I think progressively I’ve started to appreciate the helpfulness or the need to have feedback loops. And know what to define as your expectations and know when you’ve sort of hit them or you’ve learned something else. 

And so sometimes that comes in the form of metrics, whether you’re instrumenting your app to give you better data about how people are using it, and with that that’s a whole topic where you have to learn what that actually means for you. But a lot of times that has to do with much more subjective things. 

And there’s, in this industry you have sort of this idea that, well, the only meaningful metric of success, the hockey stick. But that is a very high level goal. How do you know whether you’re pressing towards that if you haven’t hit a hockey stick before. 

And entrepreneurs have to come up for themselves with a whole set of tools that will tell them where things are working and where they’re not working and how that’s all going to come together in the bigger picture.

Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known before starting Plancast?

Mark: Everyone has an opinion. And when you’re a new entrepreneur you tend to be sort of paranoid that anyone’s going to introduce an opinion at any given point that can just unravel your world. That can just like topple the house of cards that you’ve put together. 

But after a while you realize that that’s never going to happen. Because there is an opinion for everything out there. If you think someone’s going to come along and say that you are product of the future or that your product never is getting money. Or that someone like Google or Facebook is already building it. People will come along and tell you that. And then months will pass and then you’ll realize they were wrong. 

And so I think the advice I would have appreciated is to really listen to no one. Be an entrepreneur in this sort of difficult task of, I should say, listening to everyone but not really trusting anyone’s opinions or even facts unless you sort of experienced with your own eyes and really vetted things for yourself. 

So no one can really tell you whether your idea sucks or whether you’re prone to fail because you don’t have a good enough background or whatever it is. No one can come along and just tell you that and it’d be true and ruin it for you. It’s really up to you to figure out what are your limitations, what are conditions within which you work that will help or hurt with your what you’re doing. And it’s a very murky set of things to sort of figure out on your own.

Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your professional development?

Mark: I’ve had several. I had an early advisor, his name was Adam Rifkin. He’s a very prolific networker in the Bay area. He’s a entrepreneur, he’s been around the block a few times. And I met up with him very early when I was doing Plancast and he was instrumental in just helping me week after week feel like things were going to work out. 

Like someone like a mentor on the level of telling me to look at the right sort of, the right side of the picture. Like, essentially giving me perspective when things, when you sort of zoom in on it the day to day the week to week telling me, step back this is, you want to make this your life. This is not even your first company. You’re going to have multiple companies. 

So what you’re dealing with on this day or this week are just things to learn from. And I think having an advisor like him was very helpful in just facilitating that learning process and really knowing how to handle it.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a startup. If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?

Mark: I think the key elements is you have to allow yourself to become uncomfortable. I think a lot of, when I talk to my friends who are interested in doing their own companies, the biggest reason why they don’t do it is because they think to themselves, okay, well what do I give up? 

Whether it’s their current job or it’s their current living circumstances. Whether it’s just the comfort of being able to go to a cocktail party and tell people what you do and have them understand it. 

And so really the best thing you can do is get over that and really build this desire to throw away things that, at least in the short term, maybe four to five years, are going to make you feel comfortable that you’re doing something that has meaning, in order to explore something that’s much more uncertain. And so, that’s a mental shift that you have to make.

Matthew: Before we close I would love for you to give our audience your vision for Plancast and how you hope it will change the world.

Mark: Yeah, we think that Plancast ought to be essentially the world’s . Like, we think of calendaring as sort of this ignored type of data structure that people use to just schedule their own sort of meetings and what not. 

But there’s a lot of really interesting information that has to do with time and location and people’s intent. Like, what’s, people are doing socially is sort of spread out in lots of peoples different calendars but there’s no, no one has yet harnessed that information and brought it out into a more public realm, so that it can be leveraged in all sorts of ways. 

Whether it’s to just help people find out what to do, or to spot trends in terms of what people actually, how people behave on a sort of higher societal level. We want to build that technology that really provides a home to people’s real world activity.

Matthew: Excellent. Well it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your success at Plancast. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more, register to become a free user and join their community. You can visit their website at www.Plancast.com. This is Matthew Wise of FounderLY, thank you so much.

Mark: Thank you.

 
 

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