Stay True To Your Roots Regardless of The Competition

I love the way John Cook describes how he maintains the GeekWire focus and brand among stifling competition.  Basically, he says

If you want to differentiate yourself you need to stay focused on your unique DNA – your roots if you will – and why you started in the first place rather than just copying whatever the other competitors are doing.”

That’s an awesome statement and one I try to live by as a founder as well.

But how?

I think there are a few fundamental methods of staying true to your roots.

1)Deeply Know Thyself

It’s important to know why you started your company or built your product in the first place.  Was it something that occurred to you through a life experience?  Or did you see numerous other startups doing the same thing and raising money from investors so you thought you might as well jump in and do it as well?  Really evaluating and understanding the why of your pursuit will bring you closer to your roots, which will inevitably lead to differentiation from the rest of the pack.

2) Talk To Your Users and Customers

Rather than looking at the competition, you need to look at your users.  Very early on you need to talk to your customers or users to determine why they are using the product and what value they are deriving from it.  The insights from your users will open your eyes to aspects of your product you may have not seen before.  This Customer-centric practice will keep you internally focused on your product/vision/future rather than what all the other competitors are doing in the space.

3) Be A Leader, Not A Follower

One of the best ways to stay true to your roots is to be a market leader, one who blazes the trail vs finding someone else’s trail.   Leaders usually have unique insights on an existing model and are doing something new and different than the competition.  They don’t care what others think or what the competition is doing.   They are independent thinkers and use their own models as testing for what works and what doesn’t.  In this manner, Leaders typically are the unique and original brands the other competitors are trying to copy – to little avail.

Listen to John touch on his perspective of staying true to GeekWire’s roots.   Go to Founders RAW >>

Hang In There

I tend to get a bit emotional when I find myself looking back over my almost 2 years of full time, full contact entrepreneurship.


Well, it’s been such a crazy ride.  It’s been up.  It’s been down.  I’ve been in.  I’ve been out.  I quit my last full-time job over 2 years ago with basically nothing to jump to but my own gut instinct, which told me – akin to Field of Dreams – “if you jump, they will find you.”

I jumped.  And they found me.

It was incredible to jump into my company full-time, but in reality it hasn’t been all roses.   Mostly I’ve hung in there and “weathered the storm”  as they say, until brighter days came.

It was then I realized what this entrepreneurial journey is all about – hanging in there.  I was reminded of this recently as I was chatting with GeekWire founder John Cook.  He mentioned it as I asked him about some of the lessons he has learned over the last few years building GeekWire.

He said something to the extent of “if you just hang around long enough you will make it.”

What I think John is saying is you need to be patient enough to give yourself the opportunity to encounter success.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It sometimes doesn’t happen over a year.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) some people must wait many, many years before the seeds they have planted actually grow into something they can reap benefits from.

But you just have to hang in there.

John is a perfect example of this in action.  He spent about 10 years working for an old traditional newspaper, the Seattle PI.  At the time, he was covering tech and could see what was about to happen (or happening) to the newspaper industry due to the growth of the web.

In fact, he and his friend Todd actually came up with an entire plan, shared it with the PI and suggested they go another direction, embracing the web as opposed to fighting it.  John and Todd told the PI they would run it.  Those executives didn’t listen the John and Todd, which at the time I am sure was frustrating to the both of them.

Yet, today…. GeekWire is an up and coming digital media resource, has a great presence in Seattle and beyond, and is growing strong.   The Seattle PI?  They shut their doors on their physical paper a few years ago and are struggling to stay relevant in this new digital world.

Lesson: It will come soon enough if you just hang in there.

Founders RAW: John Cook of GeekWire Tells His Awesome Startup Story

“If you just hang around long enough… you’ll make it.”

In the latest installment of Founders RAW I recently sat down with John Cook, co-founder of GeekWire, a growing media resource here in Seattle covering technology and startups.  It’s a great conversation, ranging from his memories of his entrepreneurial parents to his lessons from youth sports and onto his crazy startup experience with launching GeekWire.

Founders take note, John is not only a budding entrepreneur himself, but since he covers other successful founders he knows what it takes to make things happen.

Some Of The Best Video Content Is Never Actually Captured

I just finished a great Founders RAW conversation with John Cook, founder of GeekWire.  As we were wrapping up and had already turned the cameras off, we ended up chatting for a while longer.

I wish we hadn’t turned those cameras off!

It was then we dove into some of his more challenging times, including the story of how when he was still working for the newspapers and struggling to expand TechFlash (precurser to GeekWire) when him and his co-founder Todd decided to launch GeekWire.  He said they actually had to rush the launch of GeekWire because they were basically creating a competitor to their previous employer.  He reminisced about the day of turning on their new site, describing how he even jumped out of their car (which was sitting in traffic) and ran to their office where they were going to flip the switch and launch the site.  He was so excited he couldn’t wait another 10 or 15 minutes!  He said it was pretty crazy times.

It was a lesson for this video newbe to always be ready and don’t stop filming until you really are done.

He also spoke about the challenges of being a founder while a parent of very young children, something I don’t envy.  When asked what is the key to being a founder + parent, John simply said “an awesome wife.”  Below is a quick picture capturing our post interview conversation.

We’ll have the entire conversation out and posted in a few days.

John Cook