Mike Lu | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mike Lu

Background:  

Mike Lu is CEO of Triller, a music video app that uses artificial intelligence to create professional-looking videos in just seconds. The app, which has more than 23 million downloads, raised $4.5 million in a May 2016 seed round and $5 million in a Series A funding round in February 2018. Triller is based in San Francisco.

The Mistake:

My mistake was not setting the right expectations.

Early in my career, I was making mobile games for a company that had been acquired by a Japanese business for $200 million. After the acquisition, we were tasked with growing both the user base and the company’s revenue. To do that, we had to brainstorm around new mechanics that could engage the audience more.

We had all these big ideas and came up with a feature we positioned as this great thing that would grow and engage the audience and further monetize. So we set everything up for this big launch date — and then failed to meet those grandiose expectations. It was embarrassing.

We had set ourselves up to fail; no matter how well it would have done, it wouldn’t have lived up to the expectations we had set.

I made this mistake again more recently: We were in negotiations with a large studio and had spent many months going through various iterations of something it wanted. I had told my board things like, “Everything is going great! Very few companies get to this stage!” I was just painting this very rosy picture of our progress. Then we lost the bid in the last steps. 

Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid  to the point where you lose sight of what’s actually possible.

The Lesson:

When you launch a new feature or are tasked with delivering any kind of results, you want to set the right expectations for your users or your board because if it doesn’t turn out as intended, you’ve painted yourself into an unnecessary corner.

Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid to the point where you lose sight of what’s actually possible. It’s better to check yourself and then be transparent and honest with higher management about what really might happen.

For example, in my latter mistake, it would have been better for me to tell my board something like, “This may go well, or it may not go well. Realistically, there is a 20 percent chance this will go through.” Had I done that, we might not have felt as disappointed by what ultimately happened.

It’s hard because on the one hand, you want your investors to feel optimistic, but on the other hand, you don’t want to set super-high expectations and then not meet them all the time.

I’m also in the restaurant scene, and when it comes to food — especially in fine dining — people usually have made up their minds about your food before they even take a bite. That’s why a lot of restaurants market to lower your expectations. Why do you think no one really complains about the way McDonald’s food tastes? People kind of go in thinking, “I just need something to fill my stomach, and this will do.” That way, when they take a bite of the burger, they’re always pleasantly surprised.

Triller is on Twitter at @triller.

Photo courtesy of Triller

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