It would be an understatement to say that 2011 was a packed year for me. In one year, I

It was a year of action. I barely had time to think. It was always go-time. And, I feel particularly lucky to be alive. This was probably my best year ever.

Throughout, I tried to write down the things that I’ve learned. So, here they are, in no particular order.

Everyone is flying by the seat of their pants

No one knows exactly what’s going to happen. No plan ever goes perfectly. If people say they do, they’re lying. Everyone is winging it to some degree. This is especially true at the very beginning of a company. This is when ideas are raw and untested.

The key is to continually learn from the pant flying, and don’t be afraid to course correct. And most of all, you need to be okay with uncertainty.

Pay attention to market signals

The best products are the ones that are literally pulled out of a company. These products solve hair-on-fire problems that affect a big market. Building a startup is finding this type of product: one that will fly off the shelves.

If you’re currently building a product, you’re looking for feedback from customers like “Oh my god, where were you 2 years ago? This solves a huge problem for me. I want to pay tou now.” If instead, you’re only getting “That’s cool”, then it’s time to worry. You need to get to “Oh my god” as soon as possible.

Keep talking to customers and iterating.

Product marketing is minimizing the time to WOW

When a potential customer is evaluating your product, you literally have seconds before they bounce. You need to minimize the time from when they first see your product, to when they exclaim in their head: “I understand this, and WOW do I need this.”

Also, instead of listing what features your product has, you need to communicate what problems it actually solves for your customers. Rob Fitzpatrick has a great article on how abstractions make us stupid. Remove the abstractions, and your product will communicate more clearly.

Content is king

Rand Fishkin says this much better than I do. A strong marketing strategy is one that is centered around organic and shareable content, rather than interruption style marketing like ads.

People on the web don’t like interruptions. But, you’ll be praised if you’re adding something to the ecosystem of knowledge. Just make that knowledge relevant to your product.

Build custom dashboards

“You make what you measure.”

No analytics solution is going to be as fully integrated as a custom solution you roll. If you have the resources, make your own dashboards that show your most important metrics. This is different for all companies. The act of creating these dashboards can itself be an enlightening exercise.

The main dashboard should only the top 3 metrics. Nothing more. Put this dashboard on a big screen and refer to it often. As you go through the day, think constantly about these metrics as you make decisions.

Of course, you can use Google Analytics, MixPanel, and other solutions. But use these in conjunction with your own dashboard.

Do if for passion and fun

This is an oft repeated meme, but it’s worth repeating. If you’re building a company just because you want to get rich, it will show in your product.

Do it because you believe in what you’re building. Do it because you love building things that other people use. Do it because you think the world will be a better place.