Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/plugins/system/sourcerer/helper.php on line 32
Startup Related Items
Friday Jul 31

Check this out!

Tweet & Follow

Startup Related Items

Wednesday, 29 January 2014 06:09
Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrintE-mail
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

In early meetings, if a VC ever asks you what your exit strategy is, you should run, not walk to your nearest…um…exit.

You want your investors to be more curious about how you're going to enter a market than how they're going to exit their investment.

Thankfully, I hear much less talk about exit “strategies” in the startup world than I used to.  Back in the day, no business plan was complete without a discussion of exit strategies.  And, they almost invariably came down to the same two options: Here are the list of companies that might buy us…and we could go public! exit icon

Today, most tech entrepreneurs don't even write business plans (which is good, because nobody reads them), let alone have a detailed discussion on potential exit strategies.

Here's why I think an exit strategy is an oxymoron.

The purpose of a business is to build something of value for customers — which in turn creates value for stakeholders.  When you're walking out onto the field, you should be asking yourself “how do I best play this game?” not “Hey, once the game is over, how do I exit the arena?”

Planning your exit is a good thing when entering airplanes, theaters and bar brawls (of which I have no clue, I've just been watching too much Banshee) — not when entering a market.

My advice:  Spend your calories crafting strategies for how you will build value, how you will connect to potential customers — and how you will differentiate yourself from everyone else.  Leave the exit planning for when you actually need to figure out an exit.

By the way, I have no problems with startups exiting.  Happens all the time, and is part of the circle of life in the startup world.  I've been on both sides of the table (sold a startup, acquired some startups).  My problem is when entrepreneurs are forced to unnaturally focus on the exit -- and mistakenly calling such things a "strategy".  

Wednesday, 18 December 2013 04:20
Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrintE-mail
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

There are many articles and blogs claiming to have THE list of things to do to find the perfect technical cofounder - as if it’s that easy to find a cofounder in general. From my purview at FounderDating, however, one of the most important and least-discussed (in the press, at least) questions is from technical entrepreneurs. For the last year the longest- running trending topic on FD:Discuss (the Q/A section of the site) is: how do technical cofounders evaluate non-technical cofounders? yin yang colorful

Why It’s Hard

When you’re technical and interviewing or planning to work with other people who are technical, you’re used to giving them objective “tests” that help you determine their abilities, white board problems, coding projects, pair-programming sessions. Even if you’re not technical and you have someone do a coding project, you can easily show it to technical friends and advisors and quickly get their expert opinions. Of course, this isn’t enough to decide whether you should work with someone -- especially as a cofounder -- but it’s at least cutting to the core of the skills question. (You also need to address the chemistry/personality question.)

Unfortunately, there isn’t a white board test equivalent for business folks that really mimics these (if anyone has one please share). You can get a rough idea of how they think, but there isn’t a concrete “result” to help you figure out if they are any good e.g. can they acquire customers, can they recruit someone, etc.

The Most Common Mistakes

You don’t know what you don’t know. And that leads many potential technical cofounders to fall back on criteria that seem important but are typically false positives. A few of the most popular characteristics people tell us they look for that aren’t good indicators on their own:

1. Expert in the field you’re interested in - I guess this is nice if there is no chance that the idea will change industries (read: almost never). But some of the most successful companies were started by people that had no experience in their industry, and that’s precisely why they were able to change it. Kevin Hartz didn’t have a background in ticketing nor did Max Levchin in payments. Often times having spent a career in an industry means you can’t re-think it.

2. Top schools or top companies on their resume - It’s nice to tout, but if you joined Facebook as the 4000th employee this just doesn’t tell you much - good or bad.

3. Built a prototype - This is helpful but only in that it shows they can DO and not just talk. But it’s unlikely you’ll want to inherit that code or that the idea will remain the same.

What To Look For and How

As a non-technical cofounder your job ranges from product to hiring to taking out the trash. There isn’t one test or one white board problem to give, but here are the characteristics you should be looking for:

1. High FSO (Figure.Sh*t.Out) quotient - When you start a company or a side project there are few guarantees. Pretty much the only one I can make is that there will be a large body of work that comes your way that neither you nor your cofounder(s) have ever faced before. This heap of work will far outnumber the portion you have actually encountered. Can your cofounder figure sh*t out? And can they do it quickly? Being amazing at one thing is nice, but honestly not what you should optimize for in a cofounder. Founders are typically just “good enough” at a slew of things: fundraising, product, partnerships, etc. You can hire for the very specific positions later, right now you need an all around athlete –calls plays and executes at different positions

2. His GSD (Get.Sh*t.Done) quotient - The sheer volume of work that needs to get done when you start a company is, well, never ending. It’s great to be able to talk to crowds and VCs but given a list of 20 things that you need to do, can they prioritize and knock them off at an impressive rate (especially the ones they haven’t done before - see #1)? You should feel totally confident that when they say they are going to do something it will get done -- and done exceptionally well.

3. High Determination Quotient - OK, so I lied: There are two guarantees I can make about starting a company - the second is that you will get rejected (over and over again). Can this person handle that kind of negative feedback? How long does it take them to get back up? This is the reason having previously been a cofounder or joined a startup as an early employee is important. It shows that they’ve been to battle, have scars and are opting back in. It’s less the industry and more the psychological experience that matters. Paul Graham has a famous essay on Determination. Cliff notes version: “We learned quickly that the most important predictor of success is determination.” This means you need to work on something together long enough to hit a road block (or four) and see how they react.

4. High Communication Quotient - There are actually two parts to this requirement.

i) Can they speak your language? You can’t expect them to know as much about engineering as you do. But do they make an effort to understand? Have they worked with engineers before and comprehend the questions to ask? If you don’t know the answer, ask to talk some of these previous co-workers. A non-technical cofounder learning to code is an encouraging sign – not necessarily because they’ll be contributing meaningfully on the engineering side, but more as a helpful signal that this person is curious and wants to understand your language.

ii) Can they communicate with others effectively? This means investors, potential employees, customers. If you have a SaaS product, can they sell the first customer? If you have a consumer-focused product, can they go get an alpha group to test and then gather their feedback and work off of it? Can they present to a crowd and get them excited? That could mean a startup weekend crowd or a group of students; you don’t have to wait until you’re pitching investors to figure this out.

You may have noticed that you can’t figure out #s 1-4 in just a few meetings. The best way to figure all of this out is -- to work together first. Start a side-project. These quotients are exponentially easier to calculate when you’re working on something real together. It doesn’t matter if it’s the idea you actually end up working on, you’ll see far more revealed doing this than you will over 10 coffees or hypothetical white board sessions. Yes, that also means you can’t find the right partner in just a few weeks. So be constantly putting yourself out there.

These aren’t the only things to look for -- there are big questions around motivation and alignment and of course personality fit -- but these are much more telling characteristics than a resume-based checklist.

This was a guest post by Jessica Alter.  Jessica is the co-founder & CEO of FounderDating, the premiere online network for entrepreneurs to connect, share, and find co-founders. Previously, she led Business Development and was GM of Platforms at Bebo (before it was acquired by AOL). She is also a mentor at 500 Startups and Extreme Startups.



Looking for other startup fanatics?  Request access to the OnStartups LinkedIn Group.  130,000+ members and growing daily.

Oh, and by the way, you should follow me on twitter: @dharmesh.


Monday, 21 October 2013 08:16
Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrintE-mail
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

There is an unspoken rule: to launch a startup, you need to build a product, and to do that you need someone that can write code.

Whether that means chasing down a technical co-founder, learning to code, or even building that "Lean MVP" - the conventional wisdom is that without tech abilities you're nothing more than a dude (or dudette) with a Powerpoint.rocket launch

A growing number of startups, however, are quietly disproving this assumption. 

They're getting their first customers with minimal technology, and often no code at all. Instead of building fancy technology from the outset, they're hacking together inexpensive online tools such as online forms, drag-and-drop site builders, advanced Wordpress plugins, and eCommerce providers. 

They're jumping right in to serve customers in any way possible - heading right for their first paying customers. 

Most importantly, unlike the majority of their peers, by the time they start building a product, they already have a humming business.

How are they doing it?

Focus on Serving Customers Instead of Building a Product

Successful founders all know one thing: it's more important to serve a customer than it is to build a product.

This is the mindset you must get into when you start out. Most entrepreneurs are narrowly set on building a product that they lose sight of the real goal - to solve a problem for a customer.

Or, as Ben Yoskovitz eloquently put it,

"Customers don’t care how you get things done – just that you get it done and solve their pain."

Replace Technology with People

Think about the hardest part of the business you want to build. The part that would require the most complex development - the true innovation that no one else does.

Can a real person perform these tasks manually? 

For many startups, this was the secret to massive success:

David Quail is a super talented software engineer, with one exit already under his belt. He wanted to solve his ultimate annoyance: scheduling meetings over email. 

David's original idea was to build an artificial intelligence tool that could read an email chain and automatically schedule the event. But this would take months if not years. 

His shortcut to launching a business ASAP? He simply set up an email address for his customers to "CC" that forwarded to him, and did the work manually at first to prove that customers were willing to pay.

Over time he automated more of the service - but not before he already knew there was clear demand and was making revenues.

Another example - a marketplace:

Tastemaker is a marketplace connecting interior designers with homeowners for small design gigs. They started by contacting interior designers and building a physical list of those interested in extra work. 

They then asked their network who needed help with interior design - and made the connection, processing payment themselves. 

The Tastemaker founders used pen and paper to solve their customer's needs and prove the market. They then built their online platform in parallel (which eventually became their core business).

You've probably heard many famous stories like ZenLike and Tastemaker. They range all the way from companies like Groupon or Yipit (raised $7.3M), to Aardvark (acquired by Google) and Diapers.com (acquired by Amazon). 

What did they have in common starting out? At the core of many businesses, instead of fancy algorithms, you would have found the founders themselves, like the "man behind the curtain" in the Wizard of Oz, working hard, acting as the secret sauce.

Use These Off the Shelf Solutions

While your core tech might in fact be a service starting out, you can wrap it with an online presence, digital interactions, and the administration of a true technology business. 

In short, you can act, look, and smell like a fully automated online company that employs a posse of software developers and an in-house graphic designer.

* Use e-commerce services to accept payments and even subscriptions using "hosted payment pages" - requiring zero code.

* Let your customers interact with you through sophisticated online forms you can publish (and brand) using drag-and-drop editors.

* Build a support knowledge base and community forum with Zendesk, Uservoice, or GetSatisfaction

* Use copy-paste widgets from around the web like contact forms, Skype buttons, live chat, etc.

* Use simple-yet-sophisticated website creators to publish your central website and glue together all the tools into one presence. Strikingly and Unbounce are great for beautifully designed landing pages. 

I could go on listing these forever (well, I did here). As you can see, the web is full of tools that let you conjure entire features with the click of a mouse. 

The key is to always search for what you want before reinventing the wheel. Chances are someone has already thought of how to make your life easier.

The Hidden Treasures of Wordpress

To most of us, the Wordpress brand connotes a free blog, or a simple way to create a content website for non-technical folks.

But the true magic of Wordpress is the ability to extend its functionality to create many kinds of web platforms - while keeping your hands (mostly) free of code.

Wordpress itself is free, and you can purchase inexpensive plugins that automatically transform your website into a membership site, ecommerce portal, social network, and even daily deals site.

Instead of spending thousands on a designer, you can buy a high-end theme for around $40 and customize it to your brand. If you have a bit more saved up, you can hire a local Wordpress expert for a few hours of their time for small custom tweaks and a personal tutorial. And, if you don't want hosting headaches, you can use WPEngine (hi, Jason!).

Wordpress is one of the most incredible tools on the web for non-technical entrepreneurs. There's a bit of a learning curve, depending on how you want to use it, but definitely a faster option than finding a developer or learning to code. 

It puts fate into your own hands.

Put It All Together

Go back to that core customer need, and think of how to satisfy it by any means. Now how can you make that solution accessible? What would the process be for finding you and reaching out? How can you charge and provide support? 

Chances are good that you can pull it all off yourself. If not, consider starting a bit smaller than you originally imagined, if only to start generating revenues today and fund your development.

Once you have your first few customers, you'll have a very good picture of where your business is going, and what technology you absolutely need to build - and very clear motivation. 

Does working this way pay off? 

Tech companies started this way have sold for between $50-$540 million, or have gone public. They are growing at double digit rates. And they launched in a matter of weeks or months - not years.

If this approach makes you uncomfortable - that's great. It's a sign that you're learning to think differently. However, entrepreneurs presented with this approach often have similar gut feelings:

What Will Investors Think?

They will think you are clever, resourceful, flexible, persistent - and know how to focus on the right things.

To quote one of our investors, Len Brody, on his portfolio: "I call them the workaround culture... [they] just work around anything - and you have to."

If for any reason they are put off by your creativity and resourcefulness, then you're not talking to the right investors.

What About Scaling?

This is a very understandable fear. It's a scary situation to think, "Great, we got our customers, and now we're going to disappoint them."

Don't let that thought paralyze you. Growth is rarely if ever a black and white, rocket-ship-spike. It's a steady process that leaves you plenty of time to transition between solutions.

In other words, there's a spectrum between do-it-yourself and full-robot-revolution. You might hire a few people in the meantime (with the revenue that their hire would naturally generate) while also developing a scalable technology.

As most entrepreneurs will tell you the way you get your first 50 customers certainly won't be the way you get your first 5,000. 

For those of you feeling held back by your lack of technical skills - or deep in development muck  - ask yourself, what can you do *today* to get your first customer. 

Give it a shot. In contrast to paying a developer, you don't have a lot to lose. Do whatever you need to do to get your business going. 

Remember: you're not here to build a product - you're here to solve a problem. And you certainly have the skills to do that.

***

Want more specifics, examples, and tools? Check out my newest Skillshare course, How to Launch Your Startup Without Any Code (use code ONSTRTPS for %15 off)

This is a guest post by Tal Raviv.  He is the co-founder of Ecquire.


Looking for other startup fanatics?  Request access to the OnStartups LinkedIn Group.  130,000+ members and growing daily.

Oh, and by the way, you should follow me on twitter: @dharmesh.


Monday, 14 October 2013 08:46
Attention: open in a new window. PDFPrintE-mail
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

tl;dr:  If you work in the business of software the one must-attend event is the Business of Software (Boston, Oct 28th  –  30th 2013)

Note from Dharmesh:  This is a guest post from Patrick Foley.  I normally don't post articles that promote an event — but Business of Software is not a normal event.  It's the ONLY conference that I've spoken at 5 years in a row (an am speaking again this year).  It's the only conference for which I stay at a hotel in Boston (5 miles from where I live) just so I can hang out with the people attending the conference as much as possible.  It's that good. You should attend.  (Note: I am not affiliated with the organizers, my selfish reason for convincing you to go is so I can meet more awesome people).business of software

ABSTRACT: If you’re not satisfied with some aspect of your career, go to a great conference like Business of Software. The best conferences can dramatically alter your perspective and ultimately change you.

Four years ago, I attended my first Business of Software conference. Back then, I was a technical evangelist for Microsoft, and since my customers were other software companies, I thought I knew all I needed to know about this “business of software.”

Obviously, I was wrong. For three days I listened to amazing speakers like Jason Cohen (founder, WPEngine) explain how the different personal goals of founders have an enormous impact on their business actions – meaning you should pay more attention to advice from founders with similar personal goals. I was inspired to hear Peldi Guillizoni (founder, Balsamiq) explain how he built his business – and how his journey actually started while working for a big company (hey, just like me!). I was shocked to hear Joel Spolsky’s very intimate description of how funding really works. I learned measurement concepts from Dharmesh Shah (founder, HubSpot) that I didn’t even know were knowable. I was genuinely moved by the stories from these founders and all the other brilliant speakers. And that was just the first year for me (more great speaker videos from 2010, 2011 and 2012).

At a great conference, the attendees are as important as the speakers. Many of the people I’ve met at Business of Software have become my friends and advisors. One became my cofounder in my first effort at a building a software company (a story for another day). There’s a bond that develops among Business of Software attendees that’s hard to describe. Part of it is that the speakers are highly engaged attendees themselves – something you don’t see often – this is their community, their tribe, and the speakers clearly look forward to being a part of the event from both sides of the stage.

There was something about attending that conference in person that shook me to my core and sparked a passion for learning how software companies really work and what makes them successful (spoiler alert: it’s freaking hard). Yes, I already worked for one, but Microsoft is HUGE – I was a deckhand on a battleship. Although I was working with other software companies, I was ultimately selling to them … you don’t learn how things really work in that situation. I even had a podcast that allowed me to speak with some brilliant founders … but it took being in a room with all these people at once to change me. BoS changed me. (I wrote about that special year and even have a manic podcast episode describing it.)

Great conferences like Business of Software aren’t cheap, but they’re a great investment. Microsoft paid my way to a couple of conferences a year – that’s a HUGE perk of working for an established company! If you work for a company that has multiple layers of management, then they probably have a conference budget already. Use it! I attended Business of Software on Microsoft’s dime in 2010 and 2011. Last year, I took vacation time and paid my own way, because I was preparing to leave my job.

This year took me in another direction. When it became clear that my product company wasn’t going to work, it was still time to leave Microsoft, so I reluctantly returned to consulting. I was a consultant for 14 years before joining Microsoft, and I’m pretty good at it – but I still felt defeated. Sometimes you just gotta lick your wounds, recover, and figure out a new path. I figured I’d build up my financial resources for a few years as a consultant and then try again to build a software company.

But then a crazy thing happened … a few weeks ago, a couple of friends that I met at Business of Software contacted me about a job. They have a small, very successful software company, and they think I could help with their next stage of growth. WOW! I didn’t see that coming. I’ll have my hands in all parts of the business, improving anything I can and learning everything I can. It’s not a startup (they’ve already found product/market fit), but it’s actually a better fit for me at this point in my life, because it provides greater financial stability, and it will allow me to experience how a successful company operates. A while back, I asked Jason Cohen for life/career advice, and this was exactly the sort of situation he said I should be looking for. It’s PERFECT.

I’m sure you can guess the call-to-action of this post by now … sign up for Business of Software and GO. It just might change your life. The best work I did for Microsoft stemmed from Business of Software. Then it inspired me to leave Microsoft and pursue work that I like even better. And now my dream job FOUND ME because I went to Business of Software.

My new company and I haven’t actually finalized my role or my start date yet … we’re going to formalize things in 2 weeks at Business of Software … I hope to see you there! It’s going to sell out, so you need to jump online and order your ticket now. My understanding is that it’s going to be several hundred dollars more expensive next week (if you can get in at all). If you’re on the fence about going, feel free to contact me (pf@patrickfoley.com) to talk about it.


Looking for other startup fanatics?  Request access to the OnStartups LinkedIn Group.  130,000+ members and growing daily.

Oh, and by the way, you should follow me on twitter: @dharmesh.


Page 7 of 624


Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 94

Warning: Illegal string offset 'active' in /home/superdeb/public_html/v1/templates/rt_mixxmag_j15/html/pagination.php on line 100