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Monday, 14 October 2013 08:46
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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.


Friday, 20 September 2013 08:56
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Every company has ideas that come up (sometimes frequently).  And, based on the stage of the startup and the degree to which the idea is unconventional, there are always good, rational reasons why the given idea can't possibly work.  There are also bad, irrational reasons too.  The problem is, it's hard to tell the difference.bad idea

Here are some of common reasons why something won't work:

1) We've debated this several times before and have decided it wouldn't work.

2) We've tried this before, it didn't work.

3) Doesn't really fit our sales model.

4) It's not appropriate for our industry.

5) It might work for tiny/small/large/huge companies, but we sell to tiny/small/large/huge companies, and it won't work for them.

6) Our investors/board would never agree to it.

7) It might work, but we can't afford the risk that it won't.  (Note: When someone says “it might work…but…” they're almost always thinking: It won't work)

8) Our team/plan/pitch-deck is not really setup for that.

9) We could try it, but it's a distraction.  (Note: This often means “I've already decided it's not going to work, but I can tell I need to convince you we shouldn't try it…”)

There are many, many more reasons why any given idea won't work, but the above are a sufficient sample for this article. Oh, and by the way, I have at various points in time made all of these very same arguments myself (“I have met the enemy” and all that)

2 Mental Exercises To Try

Now, here are a couple of mental exercises to try when you or you or your team is stuck.

Exercise #1: What if I told you that it's working really, really well for XYZ Company?  How do you think they made it work?

The idea here is to assume the idea is good and has worked for a company very similar to yours.  Then, ask yourself (or your team):  Now that we know it worked for them, what do we think they did to make it work? 

What this does is mentally nudge you to think about how to work through whatever the obvious limitations to the idea already are.

Example: I know that nobody in our industry uses a freemium model because the infrastructure/support costs are just too high.  But, we just learned that XYZ Company is launching a free version.  What do we think they did to make it work?

Exercise #2: What if we had the proverbial gun held to our heads and we had to do [x]?

The idea here is to assume/accept that the decision to implement the idea has already been made — presumably by some higher authority.  Now, assuming that, what would you do to make the best of it?

Example: Our major investors just told us that before they can agree to funding our next round, we need to build an inside sales team.  They think inside sales teams are the bomb.  We can't afford not to listen to them — what do we do to make the best of the situation?  If we had to build an inside sales team, how would we go about doing it?

Note:  In neither case am I suggesting that you mislead your team (or yourself, in case you're like me and have conversations with yourself late at night).  These are meant to be mental exercises, just to help drive discussion and analysis.  Though I'll confess, there is a small part of me that wonders what would happen if one did make the hypothetical seem real (at least for a short period of time).

What do you think?  Any mental tricks or tactics you've used (or thought of using) to help break-through conventional thinking?


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.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013 03:56
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After conducting nearly 100 interviews with some of the world’s best growth hackers on Growth Hacker TV, I have become keenly aware of a certain tension that is in the growth hacking ecosystem. Some growth hackers choose to emphasize the process of growth hacking while others choose to see growth hacking as a set of tactics that can be applied to various scenarios.


First, let me define the growth hacker’s process. There is no one single agreed upon order of operations, but a growth hacker’s process is based loosely on the scientific method. If you can remember high school, the scientific method is basically the following:


  1. Question - Why do visitors leave our registration flow after the first page?

  2. Hypothesis - They might be leaving because page two has too many form fields present and this scares them away.

  3. Prediction - If we have more registration pages, but less form fields on each page, then our completed registrations will increase in statistically significant ways that could not be the product of chance.

  4. Testing - For the first 2 weeks of September we will run an A/B test, showing 50% of new visitors our current registration flow, and showing the other 50% our new registration flow which increases the number pages but decreases the fields per page.

  5. Analysis - The results show that our new registration flow had 27% more completions than our current registration flow, and this is statistically significant enough to conclude that we should implement our new registration flow.


Here is where things get interesting. Some startups will actually use this scientific method (or something similar) as a means of gaining insights about their product, thereby enabling them to make progress. Others, however, will not have a rigorous process like that listed above, but they will instead use the results of other people’s experiments. Put another way, some startups have a process, other startups just implement the tactics (best practices) that are the results of someone else’s process. If someone read about the above experiment on Quora then they might adapt their registration flow without a scientific process in place to support such a move.scale tradeoffs


The question is, which kind of startup should be applauded and which should be reprimanded? It might seem obvious to celebrate the rigors of the scientific method and side with any startup that uses such a process. However, I think there is a case to be made for both kinds of companies. Obviously, if someone doesn’t run the experiments then we will never arrive at the tactics in the first place. The tactics are the byproduct of someone’s hard work and that should be appreciated, but think about how the scientific community actually operates. The scientific method is a tool that serves the entire scientific community, and the results of that tool are often fair game for the community. Scientists don’t expect each other to run every relevant experiment for their personal endeavors. Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Why can’t a startup simply use the results, as discovered by their fellow entrepreneurs in lab coats, as a benefit of the community?


The truth is, there are pros to both ways of thinking, which I’ll list below, but I don’t want us to view growth hacking as only a process or only a set of tactics and simultaneously miss the community aspect of our enterprise. Here is how I see things:


  • Pros of Process Oriented Startups

    • Without process oriented startups we would have no tactics.

    • They are able to find new growth hacks when old ones cease to work.

    • By understanding the process, their implementation of any given tactic will be more nuanced and effective.

    • They are more self sustaining, able to use the community, but not be entirely dependent on it.

  • Pros of Tactic Oriented Thinking

    • Allows smaller startups, with less funding, to implement tactics very cheaply.

    • It is an entry point into growth hacking which is more accessible than experimentation, even though it might lead to experimentation later on.

    • Not every experiment needs to be ran by everyone. Some best practices are near universal and can just be applied. We all do this to some degree whether we realize it or not.


So, what is the answer to the dilemma? Is growth hacking a process or a set of tactics? Well, both, and here is what that means practically. If you are in an organization that has a growth hacking process in place then see yourself as a part of a larger community. We are grateful for your work, but you don’t need to be pompous about your place in the universe. Share what you find, grow our collective knowledge base, and understand that not every company will imitate you, and that’s ok. If you are in a non-process oriented startup that is still trying to use growth hacking principles then be extremely appreciative of the companies that are supplying these best practices, and consider creating your own process so that you can give back to the community as much as you take from it.


Startups aren’t going anywhere, and growth hacking is here to stay as a robust methodology for growing them. Whether you are in the lab, or reading the research paper that was spawned from someone else’s lab, understand that this is a community, not a zero sum game.


This article was a guest post by Bronson Taylor who is the host and co-founder of Growth Hacker TV, where the experts on startup growth reveal their secrets.


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.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013 11:15
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draumurDanceKathy Sierra was once among the world’s most popular tech bloggers. On her smart, funny, and vivid blog Creating Passionate Users, she tackled neuroscience, presentations, and how to build software that makes users kick ass. She helped develop the reader-centric Head First series of books for O'Reilly Publishing, and traveled the world giving speeches at tech events. 

But in 2007, just as I took my first tentative steps into the world of social media, that all came to a screeching halt. Sierra became the target of a campaign of online harassment so severe that both Sierra and blogger Chris Locke ended up on CNN discussing the case.

Since then, she's lingered in almost total obscurity online. She threw her considerable passion and drive into learning to ride Icelandic horses as an experiment in better understanding how people learn and what it takes to achieve mastery.

But she stayed off the internet. For a while she was on Twitter -- then she left even that behind.

Over the course of my startup and social media adventures for the last few years, I took heart knowing she was still out there. She would pop up anonymously to comment on blog posts I had linked to via Twitter. I would email to see how things were going.

I went to see her in California in January 2012. We rode her horses and talked about the impact of gamification on learning and productivity. It was invigorating to see her mind in full swing, albeit privately.

But she didn't blog again; not for more than 6 years.

But Now, Kathy's Back!

As of this week, one of my all time favorite bloggers has returned to the world of blogging and the internet at a new site she playfully calls Serious Pony, in a salute to some of her favorites: The Oatmeal, Commander Taco, and Lonely Sandwich.

“I missed blogging,” she says. “For the past couple of years I kept telling myself that I was going to start up again.”

On her new blog, Sierra will write about a few topics that have become important to her during her hiatus. One is exploring new research on how to develop skills and knowledge, which Sierra calls “how to be bad-ass.”

Another topic is what Sierra calls “the API of you,” which is about the ways companies use gamification and other techniques to manipulate consumers, and how to spot those techniques and resist them.

“There are a huge pile of books that have been published in just the past few years about how to manipulate, seduce, and make things addictive -- how to work on people’s brains,” she says. “But the number of books designed to help you fight back, as a human, as a consumer? It’s like one book,” she says.

Her first post -- "Your app makes me fat" -- playfully digs into the topic of products that drain cognitive resources.

We're looking forward to hearing much more. We’re especially excited about her return to blogging because Sierra, who inspired our founders so much we have a conference room named after her in our newest expansion, has agreed to speak at HubSpot’s INBOUND conference in August. This will be her first public appearance since her return. We can't wait to hear her talk on Word of Obvious: competing in a post-word of mouth world.

Want to hear firsthand what makes us such big fans of Kathy? Attend her talk and many others at INBOUND 2013. Fans can save 30% off the ticket price with offer code KATHYSIERRA. 

This was a guest post by Laura Fitton (@pistachio), inbound marketing evangelist at HubSpot. Dan Lyons contributed to the reporting for this post.


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.


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