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MindMeister Growth Lessons: "Only dead fish swim with the current"

Last week I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with the fantastic MindMeister team in the wonderful city of Vienna, where we worked on some great new ideas and projects together, and discussed the wide worlds of mind mapping, startups, and our respective places within them!

This week, I was excited to see that MindMeister founders Michael and Till have published an excellent (and highly popular) article on Techcrunch which I really enjoyed, so I thought I'd share it here, and also post a few reflections having read their story!

You can view the article "How we bootstrapped to 4 million users - and why google owes us €400,000" here: View Article

Here are the key lessons I take away from Michael and Till's MindMeister story:

Scan the horizon constantly

"Only dead fish swim with the current"

From knowing the team at MindMeister for some time now, I can tell you that they are one of the most forward-looking organisations I know, and they are always evaluating the latest technology developments to see what may (or may not) be relevant to their business. They experiment, learn, try new things, and push the boundaries of where they can take their products and business.

These are the guys that developed a Google Glass application for mind mapping, only to see Google pull the Glass project less than a year later. Michael's response when I asked him about it in our live video Q & A earlier this year? He simply says that is part of being at the leading edge: You take gambles on emerging technology. Some pay off. Some don't do much. And some will fail. Regardless of the eventual outcome, you can be seen as the guys who were leading the way, and this in itself will attract more innovators to your business.

For me, an important lesson here is that you must be aware of what's out there, before you can possibly try to innovate in line with trends and technology. However, as the brilliant expression about dead fish illustrates, you should not only look at innovation that aligns with trends, but also at possible ways to get ahead of the trends, by doing something that seems counter-intuitive or particularly 'left field'!

In broad terms, perhaps this is an area that we should work on more at Biggerplate, in order to develop better 'radar' mechanisms to help us spot what's out there? In reality, working closely with innovative companies like MindMeister and our other software partners is a great way for us (as a small business) to know what the bigger companies are paying attention to, and therefore what might be most relevant for us to explore and understand. Another lesson here: choose your partners wisely, and work hard to build a genuinely collaborative relationship that provides mutual benefit, including shared learning.

Stay hungry, and keep moving

"Whether you go left, or go right; it doesn't matter, as long as you keep on moving"

Till and Michael are entrepreneurs that I have admired for many years, and ever since we started working with them a few years back, they have acted as a great source of inspiration and advice for what we're doing at Biggerplate.

I admire the admission in the article that they perhaps "coasted a bit" and "could feel the company losing momentum" after they reached a certain level of growth. It's perhaps understandable that when you reach a certain level of success and stability in your business, you might take your foot off the gas a little having worked like crazy to get there over the preceding years. Make no bones about it, the life of a struggling entrepreneur/startup business is exhausting, stressful, and precarious. I should know...!

It's therefore unsurprising that achieving a degree of success might result in easing up a little, but Michael and Till seem crystal clear that you cannot allow it to happen. Again, the need to constantly check what's happening in the wider world seems to be a useful counter measure, as it may jolt you in to life again if the comfortable situation you've created is potentially threatened by something new in the market!

The key lesson for Biggerplate, and other other businesses out there who are yet to reach that 'comfortable' stage? Perhaps think now about the things that keep you and your team motivated, and ensure the next era of the business retains some of the things that drove you on through long hours, low/no salaries, and the numerous false dawns that came before! Always have the next big goal ready, and never settle for the stage you've reached.

Mind mapping is a growth arena

Anyone out there who says the mind mapping arena is not moving forward (and yes there are a few) is simply not paying enough attention to the arena. Or they are looking in the wrong places.

There is a huge amount of investment and innovation within the mind mapping space, and the leading companies in the space are working collaboratively, creatively, and intelligently to drive greater adoption of the mind mapping tools and processes. We're fortunate enough to work with most of them, and we see huge things on the horizon that should excite anyone who takes an interest in this space.

Perhaps more importantly, when you see the success and innovation that Michael and Till have created at MindMeister, you cannot but feel confident about the direction that the mind mapping sector is heading, and the people and companies that are leading it.

So what next...?

Upon returning from Vienna at the end of last week, I sent my team the usual post-trip review, containing some of the key ideas and lessons that I picked up whilst on my travels.

The top message for the team upon my return this time was simple: Biggerplate has 89,000 members. MindMeister has 4 million users.

There's plenty of room for us to grow. We've got great partners who share our ambition, and we're still hungry! The next era should be a great one, and we're (hopefully) bootstrapping our own way to substantial growth over the next 6 months and a bright future!

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Liam is the founder of Biggerplate.com, and tries (with varying success) to write about key projects and progress at Biggerplate, as well as the wider world of mind mapping and our place within it.
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