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? Wouldnâ€™t I always wonder? Wouldnâ€™t I regret it? Wouldnâ€™t it eat away at me over the years?
And, thatâ€™s when I realized that I didnâ€™t actually know if I was good enough because I hadnâ€™t really failed in life (at least not professionally). Most people donâ€™t really fail. We tend to take the job that we think weâ€™ll succeed in. We are hesitant to reach. And, if we do reach and succeed, then we donâ€™t reach again.
The only way to know how good you might be at something is to fail trying it.
And, thatâ€™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.
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. [â€¦] 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? [â€¦] 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.
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 thatâ€¦ 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 â€” even or especially by the participants â€” 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.
As the title suggestsâ€”and the tips proveâ€”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.
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 corporationsÂ and his ownÂ 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?