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“Don’t Overwork Yourself” The 5 Lessons Alek Matthiessen Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing serial entrepreneur, Alek Matthiessen, who has founded multiple 6-figure apps, featured in NY Post, Mashable, and Cult of Mac.

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Lucy: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?

While in college, I was always building businesses. I started with a few CPG companies and quickly realized that they were too expensive and too slow to start. That turned me onto technology companies, where I built my first internet company during my senior year at Brown. Unfortunately, after 12 months of hard work and countless all nighters, a dose of reality hit, and the business shut down. My businesses hadn’t worked, but I’d realized I love the work of a founder, so I knew I was always going to be an entrepreneur.

Lucy: What do you think makes your business stand out? Can you share a story?

I’ve always loved to read. I can enjoy reading anything – from Russian Literature to Michelle Obama’s latest biography. When I graduated from school, however, I found myself not making time to read books. I felt like these amazing books were coming out rapidly, but the idea of spending 2 months reading a book wasn’t realistic.

I thought to myself, there really should be a way for me to get the big ideas from these books without spending 2 months on them. There should also be a way for people who can’t afford books to still learn the insights. That’s when I built a mobile app where you can read or listen to the big ideas from best selling books in 15 minutes.

Lucy: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

I’ve always believed in building products that solve your own problems, so I’m working on a new mental health app that uses cognitive science to treat mental health challenges like trauma, anxiety, and depression.

Technology has created a world of mental health problems for people, so I think it has a responsibility to also help solve them.

Lucy: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

“Awaken The Giant Within” by Tony Robbins. This book stands out because I read it when I was 18 years old and didn’t have any direction in my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I did know I had a strong sense of ambition, and I thought I could really change the world. Tony Robbins’ book gave me the framework to find out what I wanted to do and showed me a roadmap on how to execute on it.

Lucy: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a 20-Something Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1 – Never be afraid to learn something new.

When my first technology business failed, I had to do a lot of soul-searching. One of the things I realized was that if I was going to start a technology business, I need to learn how to code. I failed out most of the computer science courses at Brown, so I didn’t think I was smart enough to learn. That’s what I came across a course about Swift for $10 online. I bunkered down and decided whatever it took I would learn how to code. If I hadn’t done that, there’s no way I would have been able to go to multiple 6 figure apps and sell my first company by 25.

2 – Be your favorite customer.

Whenever I’m thinking about new ideas, I always start with what do I want to exist in the world? And then move on to the question, what currently exists in the world and what’s wrong with it? The last question I ask before I really get down to work is what is a lightweight version of what I think can be an amazing solution? If you’re building something new, you have to be your own favorite customer. Otherwise, you’ll end up building something nobody wants.

3 – Trust your instincts.

As a twenty something founder, you don’t have that much experience in business. When you lack experience, it’s still important to trust your gut. When I was raising money for my first start-up, everything seemed off. The conversations with investors, the terms, the strategy, my instinct told me it wasn’t a smart move to raise money from them. I ignored it, and we ended up having to part ways a few months later due to strategic disagreements. Just because you don’t have a lot of experience, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still make a strong decision.

4 – Focus on retention.

When your first getting started building something new, you’re going to be really excited when you get sales. You should celebrate moments like this because you convinced someone to pay for your product or service. After a brief celebration, however, you should be highly focused on retention. Retention will let you know if you have a really good product and will ultimately determine the health of your business.

5 – Don’t overwork yourself.

As a young founder, people are going to try and give you tons of advice. One of the things that they will try and tell you is that you need to put your life into your business. That’s not entirely true. You should work hard, yes, but what you work on is much more important than how long you work at it. You should push yourself, but now so hard that you lose your creative edge (the thing that got you here in the first place).

Lucy: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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