Tag Archives: startups

Entrepreneurship and the Possibility of Real Failure

In 2007 Vini­cius Vacanti quit his highly-paid job in fin­ance to take on life as an entre­pren­eur. In a short post describ­ing his reas­ons for doing so, Vacanti says that most of us haven’t faced the pos­sib­il­ity of real fail­ure, and entre­pren­eur­ship is a way to test your lim­its by attempt­ing to cre­ate some­thing of real value:

A scary idea star­ted creep­ing into my thoughts: what if I could build some­thing? Wouldn’t I always won­der? Wouldn’t I regret it? Wouldn’t it eat away at me over the years?

And, that’s when I real­ized that I didn’t actu­ally know if I was good enough because I hadn’t really failed in life (at least not pro­fes­sion­ally). Most people don’t really fail. We tend to take the job that we think we’ll suc­ceed in. We are hes­it­ant to reach. And, if we do reach and suc­ceed, then we don’t reach again.

The only way to know how good you might be at some­thing is to fail try­ing it.

And, that’s when I decided it was time to test my lim­its. It was time to really reach. It was time to quit my safe job and walk straight into almost cer­tain star­tup fail­ure.

There’s noth­ing mind-blow­ing here, admit­tedly – I just love how Vacanti phrased this.

Marketing Lessons for Startups

When Ilya Licht­en­stein offered free mar­ket­ing advice to star­tups (as a way of thank­ing the Hack­er News com­munity) he received over 150 requests and set to work. Cer­tain pat­terns star­ted to emerge in his advice, and so he decided to pro­duced a three-post ‘star­tup mar­ket­ing les­sons learnt’ series (parts two and three).

There’s some fant­ast­ic advice to be found in the series – for both those inter­ested in mar­ket­ing gen­er­ally and those begin­ners act­ively involved in the craft. For example in the Artic­u­late a Clear, Spe­cif­ic, Com­pel­ling Value Pro­pos­i­tion sec­tion:

I’m sure you’ve heard the old copy­writ­ing man­tra of “list bene­fits, not fea­tures”. Take that to the next level. Take the single most import­ant bene­fit of using your ser­vice, and make that your head­line. […] If you’re build­ing a B2B app to man­age payroll, “Cloud hos­ted SaaS payroll for your busi­ness” is not a good head­line. “Spend less time wor­ry­ing about payroll” is a bet­ter one. “Cut payroll man­age­ment costs by 37% instantly” is even bet­ter.

And from Find Your Tar­get Mar­ket, and Seg­ment the Hell out of Them:

When asked who their tar­get mar­ket was, many people respon­ded “small busi­nesses” or, worse, “any­one”. Alright, fine, you sell your SaaS products to small busi­ness in the US. But what kind of small busi­ness own­er con­verts the best for you? Which cus­tom­ers are most likely to be prof­it­able cus­tom­ers? Who is most excited about your product? You have been track­ing these things, haven’t you? You don’t have the budget to tar­get all small busi­nesses, so start with a spe­cif­ic niche or industry you think your product has par­tic­u­larly strong appeal for. Selling time track­ing soft­ware? Start pos­i­tion­ing as time track­ing soft­ware for account­ants, or dent­ists, or land­scapers. How about tar­get­ing a spe­cif­ic task or fea­ture and find­ing people look­ing for that fea­ture only? […] Build super niche land­ing pages or, even bet­ter, micros­ites tar­get­ing each spe­cif­ic mar­ket seg­ment you want to go after, emphas­iz­ing the spe­cif­ic bene­fits of your product to that group only.

Preventable Startup Mistakes (That Caused the Downfall of Seven Startups)

Veri­fi­able, Wesabe, Storytlr, TwitApps, Vox, Swiv­el and EventVue: All com­pan­ies or products that no longer exist after pre­vent­able prob­lems caused their down­fall.

37signals col­lects their stor­ies so that we don’t repeat the same mis­takes, present­ing a set of brief post-mortems on failed star­tups.

The recur­ring issues seem to be: solv­ing prob­lems that the world isn’t ask­ing for, not hav­ing a feas­ible rev­en­ue mod­el (spe­cific­ally, the dif­fi­culty in mov­ing from a free to a paid ser­vice), the com­plex­ity in scal­ing an idea from a pro­to­type to a func­tion­al product, fail­ing to artic­u­late clearly the bene­fits the product will bring and fail­ing to focus on the most import­ant product/feature.

In addi­tion, there’s the issue Wesabe encountered: com­pet­ent com­pet­i­tion in the form of Mint:

Mint focused on mak­ing the user do almost no work at all, by auto­mat­ic­ally edit­ing and cat­egor­iz­ing their data, redu­cing the num­ber of fields in their signup form, and giv­ing them imme­di­ate grat­i­fic­a­tion as soon as they pos­sibly could; we com­pletely sucked at all of that… I was focused on try­ing to make the usab­il­ity of edit­ing data as easy and func­tion­al as it could be; Mint was focused on mak­ing it so you nev­er had to do that at all. Their approach com­pletely kicked our approach’s ass.

You’ll hear a lot about why com­pany A won and com­pany B lost in any mar­ket, and in my exper­i­ence, a lot of the the­or­ies thrown about — even or espe­cially by the par­ti­cipants — are utter crap. A domain name does­n’t win you a mar­ket; launch­ing second or fifth or tenth does­n’t lose you a mar­ket. You can­’t blame your com­pet­it­ors or your board or the lack of or excess of invest­ment. Focus on what really mat­ters: mak­ing users happy with your product as quickly as you can, and help­ing them as much as you can after that. If you do those bet­ter than any­one else out there you’ll win.

via @zambonini

Developing a Web App on a Shoestring Budget

As the title suggests—and the tips prove—this brief guide to get­ting a web app up-and-run­ning on a small budget requires, well, a budget (as opposed to no budget and doing it all your­self). The steps:

  • Cre­ate a clear wire­frame mod­el
  • Out­source the devel­op­ment
  • Use an open source con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem
  • Start a design con­test
  • Lever­age the cloud

There are a couple of good resources to be found in the guide, but it’s worth doing your own research first, too. I say this mainly because design con­tests are quite a con­ten­tious issue.

Microsoft, Google and Startups Compared

After vis­it­ing both the Microsoft and Google cam­puses to dis­cuss Stack Over­flow (Google Tech Talk: Learn­ing from StackOverflow.com), Joel Spol­sky dis­cusses the sim­il­ar­it­ies and dif­fer­ences between the two cor­por­a­tion­s and his own small com­pany.

What I’ll prob­ably remem­ber most about the trip is what I learned about com­pany cul­ture and how it’s affected by scale. Giant cor­por­a­tions such as Google and Microsoft are like cit­ies full of rel­at­ively anonym­ous people: You don’t actu­ally expect to see any­one you know as you walk around. Going to lunch on either cam­pus is like going to the cafet­er­ia at a huge uni­ver­sity. The oth­er 2,000 stu­dents seem nice, but you don’t know most of them well enough to sit with them. Mean­while, a typ­ic­al lunch­time at my com­pany is like Thanks­giv­ing din­ner: There’s a big meal you get to share with a bunch of people you know and like.

I par­tic­u­larly liked Spol­sky’s reac­tion to his dis­cov­ery that while Microsoft’s cam­pus-wide Wi-Fi net­work is closed-access and requires regis­tra­tion, Google’s was free and open: “I had to won­der: What might we be doing at our com­pany that is sim­il­arly a waste of time?”.

It made me think: What might I be doing that is sim­il­arly a waste of time?