Building a Learning Town Square
These influences will get you started
Like many teenagers, I had a rebellious stint in my early teenage years. Luckily, I was fortunate to end up in a different circle of influence that changed my trajectory.
One my early mentors impressed on me that the secret to my future success was going to be a combination of the kind and quality of information I consumed and the kind of people I surrounded myself with. This thinking has been a guiding principle for me since my teenage years.
In fact, it made a significant impact on both my life and business when TheraNest launched. I was fortunate enough to have located our offices at the Innovation Depot, a startup incubator/community in the heart of Birmingham. I ended up working alongside fellow founders launching around the same time including Tony Summerville (Fleetio), Nate Schmidt (Instagift/Techstars), Jonathan Robinson (Freetextbooks), and many others who were building companies and had a growth mindset. We educated, inspired, and fed off each other. Learning purely by experience can be quite expensive, but learning through information is cheap. I reduced my mistakes in the early days of TheraNest through the information I gained from my peers. We discussed growth strategies, talent acquisition approaches, and many other tech startup obstacles. Startups in the big hubs of Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston may take this kind of open community for granted, but in Birmingham it was a priceless and novel experience.
Those learnings and inspirations cut the growth curve for me, a guy with no real tech startup experience, by a lot. I was able to avoid mistakes my fellow founders had already made when they shared them with me. I piggybacked on tactics that were working for them or learned how to execute on them better. It was invaluable.
Most importantly, I also learned to tap into books, articles, and thought leaders that my peers were learning from and those insights also changed the trajectory of my life and business in major ways.
The point is that our environment and the information we consume have such a huge impact on us. We should be deliberate in cultivating our own information “town square.” One vehicle that has made it easier to do this is social media, especially Twitter. LinkedIn is great but it can sometimes get noisy and how much you gain will depend on your interaction comfort level. Twitter, on the other hand, is consistently one of my favorite ways to learn from other founders and leaders.
With Twitter, you have access to insights about what leaders and fellow founders are reading, who they are learning from, and strategies they’ve used in the past. You can cultivate your own learning circle without spending a dime and dig in as far as you’re willing. This is more of the “teach a man to fish” moment, and the right teachings will change your life.
To help get started, here are some Twitter accounts I follow and why I recommend them. Build your own learning circle from this foundation:
Paul Graham, @paulg
Paul is the co-founder of the iconic accelerator Y Combinator as well as the founder of Viaweb, considered to be the first SaaS company. He’s well known for his thoughtful essays like “Do Things that Don’t Scale” or “Relentlessly Resourceful,” and his Twitter reflects the same startup knowledge and writing skill that his essays do. Paul is consistently a source of wisdom on my feed – while his tweets are short, they are always impactful.
Hassan Riggs @hassanmayriggs
Hassan is a personal friend and the hard-working founder of Smart Alto, a Y Combinator startup. He recently revived his Twitter, and has been sharing invaluable insight into the tools and strategies that he used to successfully grow his startup. I would particularly recommend his account to early stage founders in need of concrete tools they can start using today.
Shreyas Doshi @shreyas
Shreyas is a product manager who had an illustrious career at Yahoo, Twitter, Google, etc, before moving into an advisor and investor role. Shreyas distills his years of experience into actionable insights for founders, product managers, and other roles. I particularly appreciate his willingness to engage in discourse surrounding his content – you’ll always see him responding to feedback on his tweets, whether he’s being praised or critiqued.
Nathan Barry @nathanbarry
Nathan is a prime example of building in public. He has built his company, ConvertKit, into an extremely successful SaaS business with a very open culture. From Nathan, you’ll learn different alternatives to traditional funding approaches, his struggles in the early days and how sales moved the needle, building community, and much more.
Melissa Perri @lissijean
Melissa is an expert on all things product. As a professor at Harvard Business School, she’s well-versed in offering clear, actionable insights for product managers, founders, and more. You can also check out her podcast, Dear Melissa, or one of her books. Melissa will definitely challenge your traditional thinking about product with her tweets.
Julie Zhuo @joulee
An angel investor and former design exec, Julie is a favorite to follow to learn about being a manager and executing on design. Whether you’re a manager yourself or not, her management advice is incredibly helpful for developing a healthy culture. She also gives great tips on design that are easy to apply to your own product. In addition to her great Twitter feed, Julie is a fellow Substack author – you can find her monthly newsletter here.
David Cummings @davidcummings
David founded Atlanta Tech Village. Prior to that, he founded Pardot. He’s an early stage investor in companies such as Calendly, Salesloft, Terminus, and many others. His writings on davidcummings.org are invaluable and he often shares the highlights from his blog on Twitter.
Dave Payne @davempayne
Dave’s been involved in building tech startups since the mid-90s and has the wisdom to show for it. He’s played the role of founder, advisor and investor to several startups. He’s currently the Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta. One of my favorite things about following Dave is his active interaction with other founders – he often shares thoughtful responses to some of my other favorite follows.
Katelyn Bourgoin @KateBour
Katelyn’s title of “The Customer Whisperer” is well-deserved. She’s all about understanding your customer, and shares helpful tips for effective marketing. I appreciate her empathetic approach to growth, and I would recommend her account to all founders to better understand how to market their product.
10-K Diver @10kdiver
10-K Diver is a must-follow to understand how to think about money as a founder. Their tweets, especially their threads (collected here) are a source of really great insights into how financials work. They provide key information about investing, finance, and probability that is in-depth but still understandable for the average reader.
Patrick O’Shaughnessy @patrick_oshag
Patrick is a longtime investor who shares his views on innovation, opportunities in the startup space, and new market segments. He brings great guests, including many prominent investors, onto his various podcasts. Patrick also asks great open questions to his followers, and the responses are worth reading.
Post Market @post_market
This last recommendation is a bit unique. Post Market is a (private – request to follow them!) Twitter account that gives novel takes on the current financial, tech, and startup landscape. Follow them for outside-the-box thinking about the markets.
There are so many more, but this will get you going on your learning journey. I hope you enjoyed this edition of Let’s Build – let me know your favorite Twitter follows!
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