As early as possible, establish a really clear mission about what you want to solve. You may not have a solution for it, but that’s kind of the point.
Jared Allgood is CEO and Co-Founder at Mappen and a lifelong entrepreneur. Jared’s first business was a fresh-baked cookie subscription business he ran out of his parent’s home when he was eight years old. In his first week he generated enough revenue to replace his bike that was stolen the week before. Today he runs Mappen – a mobile app company that is working to improve real social life for teens. Over 50 million people have used apps and games made by Jared and his teams including Jott Messenger – a mesh network messaging app – and Yearbook which he sold to United Online. Jared is also an active angel investor and lives in the Bay Area with his wife and four children.
Where did the idea for Mappen come from?
My co-founder and I both had children going into high school when we started Mappen, and we saw that research started to mount showing that more screen time was linked to increasing loneliness, isolation, and depression in teens. We founded Mappen with the goal of improving real social life by creating a tool people could use to get together with their friends more frequently. We provide users with ways to step off of the treadmill of infinite scrolling by easily planning a hangout, receiving an alert when a friend returns to town who’s been away for a while, or letting their friends know that they’re heading to a favorite hangout spot. Obviously, user safety is the most important thing to us, so with the creation of a social networking tool that relies on location, we set up Mappen in a way that allows users full control over the friends they choose to connect with, and we made it easy to turn location sharing on or off.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m an early riser, and for the moment so are my kids. This gives us a chance to spend some time together in the morning. I also hit the gym most mornings, so before I begin the workday I’ve gotten to spend some time focusing on my family and my health. Usually, my workday starts on the train to the office, catching up on relevant news, slack, and email. Having large blocks of creative time is important to me, and I try to carve these out in the morning. I save calls and meetings for the afternoon.
If I let my day be run by the things that compete for my attention moment to moment, nothing important would ever get done. By having that basic structure to my days, I can focus on what’s important for me as CEO: Keeping the company running, driving communication, and making sure that the team is going in the same general direction.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I take my inspiration from the way I see prolific artists and creatives bringing their work to life: On volume, by generating a large quantity of ideas. I like to start with an empty white board or screen and a question or challenge. Then I’ll start writing, or maybe I’ll spend time drawing an interface. Getting into the creative work of ideation has led me to more than one “ah-ha” moment that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend that I’m most heartened by is that it seems like there’s been an awakening to the amount of tribalism and divisiveness in our culture. I think there was a sense that it was present, but we didn’t know how deeply it ran. In response, people are starting to care more about relationships and community again as a sort of countermovement.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I pay attention to what times of day I tend to be at my best, and then give my day some loose structure based on that. For example, the morning is when I tend to be at my sharpest for taking on creative challenges, so blocking that time is a way of playing to my strengths.
What advice would you give your younger self?
As early as possible, establish a really clear mission about what you want to solve. You may not have a solution for it, but that’s kind of the point. If you can see a negative trend and want to counter it, or you see an opportunity to solve a problem, start there. Clarify your mission, write it down, and start talking to people about it as much as you can. Mission can be a North Star that carries you through failure, because it allows you to keep the “why” at the center while you figure out the “how.”
The things we care about become a rallying cry for others who care about the same thing. If you find that the problem you’re working on doesn’t resonate with others, then maybe it’s the wrong thing. But having courage to solve the big problems and take them on directly will always be more satisfying than hedging.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There’s a lot of talk about work-life balance, but the reality is that in a lot of startups people will work until 10 or 11 each night because their lives revolve around constant execution. I’ve been part of startups where we had all hands on deck, essentially around the clock, but still ran into challenges with hitting deadlines.
When we founded Mappen, we prioritized sustainable cadence as a company value. We want our team members to be able to go on a hike, spend time with family and friends, and then come into work emotionally refreshed. And the truth is, we get better work out of our people that way. We’ve found that we can ship a new version of Mappen every two weeks or so, while maintaining that balance.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Talk. People can take small team communication for granted, but the truth is that smaller teams can be just as susceptible to groupthink. So talk to your team members, and treat one-on-one meetings as sacred. Take those opportunities to ask your team what ideas they’ve had that they haven’t had a chance to share, and check in on who needs help, and who’s succeeding. These are key elements to fostering unity and keeping turnover low.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Listen to your end users. Engage them over and over, even when you think things are going well. Before we wrote a single line of code for Mappen, I and my team had over 250 conversations with potential users on Kik and in person. That gave us the chance to ask things like “what’s the hardest part of what teens go through today?”. That exercise clarified the problem we’re working to solve, and it made such an impact that we turned walking in our user’s shoes into a company value.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As a startup CEO, I’ve never had a company need to be shut down, but I’ve had 4 “near-death experiences.” Some define those as a failure, and to an extent that’s true — it was certainly difficult to tell friends and family who helped fund the company about the threats we were facing. What I learned is that your mental state going into a serious decision–say, about whether you keep going or quit–is just as important as the practical aspects of that decision. Do you have the mental fortitude, desire, and drive to problem-solve?
Once you go through that and survive, you realize the win isn’t found in the success. Victory is in the journey, in realizing you can you keep it together and use your scrappy human brain to keep problem-solving and get it done. When the human brain is forced to focus, it creates ingenuity that can channel emotions into productive energy.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think there are new markets opening up in the countermovement against divisive tribalism and the disconnect from the real world that we’ve experienced over the last decade. I’m curious to see how new products and services are pushing people back into the real world like we’re doing with Mappen. Those might be apps that connect people to neighbors or volunteer causes, or the actual events or groups that supply a chance for cohesion. I think as social networking has gotten so big and so broad that it’s created an opportunity to connect people with their local communities in ways we haven’t seen yet. Bike sharing and scooter companies come to mind – they get you out of your car and into physical spaces that you hadn’t been in before.This is the natural reaction to a world that’s spread itself thin socially by interacting online and through mobile interfaces for the last 10 years. People are craving depth of relationships and meaning that come from connecting in real life. It’s a mega trend area that’s just getting started. Someone’s going to figure out how to bring local community back in a meaningful way.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’ll spend $100 to push out surveys on Instagram to get feedback on our products. It sounds small, but it’s probably one of the biggest bang-for-buck expenditures we’ve done, and it’s another way of keeping in touch with the Mappen user base.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use the notes app on both my phone and my computer. It’s not new and it’s not trendy, but it’s front/center on my Mac so it’s where I capture my thoughts and ideas.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen. He pioneered disruption theory, and laid the groundwork for strategizing a successful company. But, he’s also seen people who build strategies that end up ruining lives: Jeff Skilling, the former CEO of Enron who was just released from prison, was a former classmate of his. The book is about establishing a strategy for the kind of life you want to live. Money and career is part of that, but wellbeing and relationships are bigger priorities. In our careers we get a short feedback loop — you can kick butt for a few months or years, but building a meaningful life is a long-term game.
What is your favorite quote?
“Hell, there are no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison
● The best creative minds don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Start creating, writing, or drawing, and let the ideas flow.
● The things we care about become a rallying cry for others who care about the same thing.
● Talk to end users in an ongoing dialog, even when you think things are going well.
● Tenacity in the face of failure and taking on problems directly are a big part of the outcome when major challenges arise.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.