Guide To The Startup World | Lost and Founder, by Rand Fishkin

Sandro Maglione

Sandro Maglione


"Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World" is the story of the creator of Moz SEO Rand Fishkin. He shares his experience in the startup world, highlighting all the mistakes and lessons learned while building Moz.

The book is full of great advice for everyone who wants to build a startup. Moreover, it is really a full guide to the startup world. The author shares real stats, money earned, emails sent, and personal experiences in the most 'Painfully Honest' way possible.

He reveals what it really takes to be the Founder of your own startup, and what challenges and obstacles will you meet in your path. The goal is to learn from the mistakes of others in order to be better prepared for your own journey.


Screenshot of the current version of result of this startup world guide, the Moz SEO website homepage,

Moz SEO ( homepage: "... simplify SEO for everyone through our software, education, and community."


Transparency is making the choice to reveal even the most uncomfortable truths with relentless candor. Transparency isn’t the same as honesty. Honesty is saying only things that are true. Many founders and startup teams are honest (in that they don’t directly lie).

But transparency requires digging deep to find and expose what others would normally leave unsaid and refusing to take the easy, quiet road.

It’s tackling the conversations that make your stomach turn and your voice get caught in your throat. And like nearly everything in the world of startups, swallowing the bitter pill now is vastly superior to letting the disease of opacity fester.

Rand Fishkin

A company is not only the product that sells. Every company has a brand and a reputation that must be earned year after year. A company is also made of people, and those individuals will determine the success of the whole system.

Being transparent means sharing your ideas, your beliefs, and your values with real candor. Have the courage to speak up when something is amiss, knowing that all the people around you, friends, colleagues, and users, will listen with an open mind and support you.

In the long-term, a culture of mutual trust and transparency will open a world of possibility, raise happiness, and bring productivity and real success.

Rise to the Challenge

You’d be surprised at how people rise to a challenge once they know that there is a challenge.

Rand Fishkin

One dangerous mistake to avoid is to hide problems and challenges from your employees because you are afraid to alarm or stress them in their work. In so doing, you will find yourself struggling alone to save a difficult situation which may cause real problems for everyone if not solved.

Instead, be open and share the situation with everyone. You will be glad to see how your people will rise to the challenge and solve together whatever problem needs to be faced.

Reach and scalability

There are two traits fundamental to an effective product-focused business. The first is reach (i.e., the ability to influence a large audience). The second is scalability (i.e., an aptitude for growing revenue far more quickly than costs).

Rand Fishkin

A successful startup must consider its potential reach and scalability.

  • Reach: influencing a large audience. You will be able to expand your business, collect more data, and improve and find bugs and errors faster.
  • Scalability: you will be able to become profitable, more effective and productive.

If any of those two is missing, you should reconsider your business model, trying to find new opportunities to make your product idea more sustainable.

List your Failures and success

If you’re a founder, make a list of the previous successes and failures you’ve had in your career, and of the elements of running a business with which you’re familiar and comfortable. Chances are high that your weaknesses will be the items not on that list.

Rand Fishkin

Every journey is different and unpredictable. Your initial plan will have to face the real world and real users, and often times things will not turn out as planned.

Every founder must know his weaknesses and asses his success and failures. You will eventually find patterns that will reveal your shortcomings and the mistakes you are prone to make more often. Focus your energy on improving your weak points.

Raise money from VC

If your startup raises VC, but you’re unwilling to do high-risk things that could kill your business nine out of ten times but might make you a unicorn, you’re not aligned with the venture model.

Rand Fishkin

VCs invest in many companies looking for the big hit, the unicorn investment which will pay back the risk and failures of many other small losses.

Therefore, they will encourage you to grow as much as possible, with the hope that their investment will multiply exponentially over a long period of time (usually not less than 8-10 years). If your goal is to manage your own time and make your own decisions for your business, the venture capital model may not be for you.

Core values

It was because letting even a few people (and this example I’m sharing sadly wasn’t alone) break our core values repeatedly without visible action from leadership led to the normalization of discordant behavior.

Rand Fishkin

Your culture will make or break your company. You must always support and be coherent with your core values, in business and life alike. Once you start making exceptions and allow people to break those shared values, they will lose meaning and will become useless and dangerous.

Even if it means losing money or firing people, do not hesitate to act when your core values are at stake.

Friend co-founder

What’s wrong with starting a company with friends I already have, whom I know I get along with, and whose interests and passions match my own? It’s not additive. Together, my peers and I of similar background and identity combine for only a very slight bit of extra perspective.

Rand Fishkin

You are the average of the 5 persons you spend the most time with. This principle is also valid for a startup. If everyone has the same education, the same knowledge, and the same experience, no one will be able to bring extra perspective and ideas.

Try to find people that think differently than you, who are open to sharing their ideas and challenge your assumptions. Those people will be able to spot your weaknesses and solve many more problems that you did not even know existed.


Be wary—accountability without the means to control it is a recipe for frustration and disaster. Those who are held to account must also be given the freedom to own (as much as possible) the inputs that can affect their success.

Rand Fishkin

Accountability means explaining what is the problem and why is important and then leaving to the person the freedom to solve the problem in his own terms. This principle works great as long as this person as control over all the inputs that affect his own success.

Do not make people accountable for a job without leaving them the freedom to actually be able to solve the task assigned. Otherwise, you risk causing more harm than good, bringing stress, frustration, and unhappiness.

Build trust

When we show care and trust with the people around us, and believe that they care for and trust us, too, something remarkable happens. Our collective work becomes more than the sum of its parts. We’re able to achieve better results while peculiarly feeling less like the work we’re doing is … work.

Rand Fishkin

Do your best to build a culture of trust and mutual support. When you go to work knowing that all the people around you care and believe in you it is not anymore about work, it is about becoming better together, working for the good of the company and the people that make it be.

Thanks for reading.

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