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.
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.
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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).
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 (email@example.com) to talk about it.
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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.
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?
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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:
Question - Why do visitors leave our registration flow after the first page?
Hypothesis - They might be leaving because page two has too many form fields present and this scares them away.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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Kathy 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.
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Do your colleagues have a choice word for you? If not, here's why you want them to…
Sometimes one word can make all the difference.
I was at a conference and a friend who runs a startup introduced me to one of his friends, who was looking for a new opportunity. “I’d like you to meet Joe,” he said. “He’s great.”
I’m sure Joe is talented. I’m sure Joe is skilled. I’m sure Joe is, in fact, great.
But I only remember Joe because of something that happened a few minutes later. Another friend introduced me to one of his product managers. “This is Michelle,” he said. “She’s relentless.”
In the dictionary, “great” means remarkable in degree or effectiveness. “Great” is a wonderful word, especially when used to describe someone… but like “awesome” and “outstanding,” “great” is used so often to describe people that it has lost much of its meaning. When just about everyone is great… no one is great. Great is no longer impactful or memorable.
When described as “great, however remarkable in degree or effectiveness he may be, Joe seems like – however unfairly – just one of many. He doesn't standout.
But “relentless” – who can forget relentless? Hear the word and you instantly think of someone so determined, so persevering, so persistent and tenacious that nothing, absolutely nothing, can stand in her way.
A “great” product manager you might forget. A “relentless” product manager you remember for a long, long time.
Authentic Positioning Matters – Especially for Individuals
Many companies, as Al Ries describes in his classic marketing book Positioning, try to own a single word or phrase in the minds of customers. For Mercedes it’s “luxury.” For Volvo it's “safety”. At my company HubSpot it’s “inbound”.
The goal of positioning is to create an immediate and direct connection in the minds of consumers; that’s what branding is all about.
Individuals need to think about positioning, too. Where Tony Hsieh is concerned, that word is “culture.” Where Eric Ries is concerned it’s “lean.”
So imagine you ask a colleague or a boss or a customer for to pick one word that describes you and they aren’t allowed to use words like awesome, fantastic, great, terrific, etc. They have to pick a specific, non-generic word. What word would they choose?
The word they choose – for better or worse and, where you’re concerned, intentional or unintentional – is your positioning in the minds of the people you work with. That’s how they see you. That’s how they think of you.
That is how they remember you.
What is Your Most Important Word?
The cool thing is, you get to choose how people view you. As long as your actions constantly and consistently match your positioning, as long as you are intentional in thought and action, you can determine the immediate and direct connection people make when they see, hear, or think about you.
What one word best describes you? Better yet, what one word do you want to describe you?
Here are a few possibilities – in the right circumstances these are all wonderful qualities:
· Ferocious (hopefully in a good way)
So, back to the original question: What is the one word that can transform your career? As you've probably guessed — it's different for everyone. But, if you can find yours, it can have a profound impact on your person brand, and hence your career.
A short, powerful exercise…
Make a list of the adjectives you want people to repeat after they meet you, talk to you, see or read about you... what do you want other people to think of when they think of you?
Make your list. Then boil it down to the one word you want to encapsulate you – and, in effect, your personal brand. (If you don’t, other people will definitely decide it for you.)
Decide how you want to be defined.
Now, share your one word in the comments below. If you can't quite get it down to just one word, that's OK (I'm an easy going guy) — pick 2 or 3 words. But, leave them in the comments. We're not going to hold you to it, but the simple act of writing them down and sharing them is super-helpful. And, it will help others come up with their words.
I'll kick things off with the words I'd like people to associate with me: creative.
Read, think, GO!
Leave your one (or two) words in the comments.
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As many of you may know, MIT is near and dear to my heart. As my co-founder, Brian Halligan likes to say, “HubSpot was born out of the loins of MIT”. As such, I like to stay in touch and speak at MIT as often as I can. Over the years, I've built up a relationship with many of the people there. The leader of the entrepreneurial efforts at MIT for the past four years has been my friend the energetic and successful entrepreneur himself, Bill Aulet. While my “geek center of gravity” style is different than Bill’s (“business center of gravity” but loves technology), I have come to really appreciate what he has been accomplishing at taking MIT’s entrepreneurial education/training efforts to a new level. Recently I got a pre-release copy of his book, “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup” and my appreciation was taken to a whole new level. There is an art and science to entrepreneurship in that there is a body of knowledge that can improve entrepreneurs’ odds of success significantly, and it definitely involves discipline.
While it would have been more appropriately titled “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to getting the Product-Market fit right when launching your high growth new venture as a standalone or inside a large company but also relevant to existing entrepreneurs who want to revitalize their startups” I realize that would have been a bit too long so I accept the shorter version. It really is a breakthrough guide on how to launch new products for entrepreneurs in a systematic manner. It is very complementary to what is already out there by Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Alex Osterwalder while deftly incorporating classics such as Crossing the Chasm, Blue Ocean Strategy, Innovator’s Dilemma, Democratizing Innovation and many more – as well as (humbly) Inbound Marketing. It pulls many different elements together very nicely in what Bill appropriately calls a “toolbox approach”.
The book is not only an invaluable framework (make sure to order early & sign up to get the poster – it is super helpful and very complementary with the book) but also has many interesting insights. The following are thirty five short highlights from Bill with convenient tweetable links so you can let your friends know about this and spread the good word of disciplined entrepreneurship.
31 Tweetable Insights from “Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup”:
1) Entrepreneurship Education Crisis: Demand soaring yet high quality supply does not scale; gap filled by storytelling [tweet]
2) To build scalable eship education, we need frameworks that are flexible yet rigorous; valuable yet not constraining [tweet]
3) Hypothesis testing is unquestionably great but the question is which hypotheses do you test & in what order [tweet]
4) 1st Law of Eship: The single necessary & sufficient condition for a business is a paying customer [tweet]
5) 2nd Law of Eship: WOM (Word of Mouth) is critical to success of a high growth startup [tweet]
6) 3rd Law of Eship: We are an attacker w/ dramatically less resources than the defender so have 2 b much more efficient [tweet]
7) 4th Law of Eship: We have to have the unit economics work in a reasonable period of time [tweet]
8) 5th Law of Eship: We have to have a core (something that will be unique & very hard to duplicate) to be great [tweet]
9) 24 Steps are grouped into 6 themes & starts not with your technology or product but with "Who is your customer?" [tweet]
10) The 1st hypothesis 2 test is whether you have a well defined target customer who has a problem & money 2 pay 2 fix it [tweet]
11) Disciplined Entrepreneurs r not driven by 1 customer nor by spreadsheets but by a well defined target customer group [tweet]
12) Once mkt is selected, must deselect rest. Deselect = discipline. Every1 loves to select; no1 likes 2 deselect [tweet]
13) Q: Is deselection important? Steve Jobs: "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do." - Ans: Hell yes! [tweet]
14) Build the company from the customer back & not from what you want out. Target Customer 1st, Product 2nd [tweet]
15) Primary Customer Research is essential: Walk in your customers' shoes - economically, emotionally & socially [tweet]
16) In eship, specificity wins & generalities don't - hence eship is about the quest for the holy grail of specificity [tweet]
17) Don't make your persona a composite, make it real person. This ends debates much faster & more effectively [tweet]
18) Validate your persona by listing 1st 10 customers & check to persona; also derisks & gives team confidence & focus [tweet]
19) "What can you do for your target customer?" - it must be specific, compelling & unique [tweet]
20) "How does your customer acquire your product?" maybe boring but essential - often overlooked [tweet]
21) "How do you make money off your product?" - unit economics of COCA vs. LTV must work [tweet]
22) "How do you scale your business?" - b/c limited resources, must start small & plan 2 grow big [tweet]
23) We need to train our entrepreneurs to have the spirit of a pirate & the execution skills of a Navy Seal Team [tweet]
24) "It is more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy" - Steve Jobs & embraced by MIT entrepreneurs [tweet]
25) MIT has spirit of a pirate ("creative irreverence" = hacking) but also enormous discipline hence success in eship [tweet]
26) Entrepreneurial Myth: "Entrprnrs are undisciplined" Wrong, great ones have enormous self-discipline [tweet]
27) Gr8 entrprnrs derisk risk & only bet when they know the odds are in their favor & there is a big payoff [tweet]
28) Fake it B4 U Bake It: Don't build until u have derisk market w/ real customers; build a site & market test 1st [tweet]
29) Don't build a plant to produce dog food until you prove the dogs will eat it. Logic is not enough, u need real proof [tweet]
30) Wisdom is scar tissue & scar tissue comes from failing & learning in the process. @24StepsofEship is based on wisdom [tweet]
31) "Truth will set you free" rather "Action will set you free" [tweet]
Which is your favorite? Which do you disagree with? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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The following is a guest post by Nathan Beckord. Nathan is founder/CEO of Foundersuite which provides software and templates for founders.
We launched my startup Foundersuite in June of 2013 with nearly 800 startups on our platform, several strategic partnerships, and press coverage by VentureBeat.
Nearly all this traction came from hustling, pitching, and “launching” at 5 different startup events, at a total out-of-pocket cost of $883.
Here’s how we did it. You can do some of this too.
Event #1: Startup Exits Conference, January 17
What it is: Startup Exits is an event I produce two or three times a year focused on “hacking the exit process.” We run it at Rocketspace, and it draws a crowd of about 150 entrepreneurs and VCs looking to connect with corporate acquirers.
What I did: Since this event is my baby, I had the liberty of inserting a 2-minute preview of Foundersuite into the mix. To ensure the maximum number of eyeballs, I staged my demo right before the segment with John O’Farrell of Andreessen Horowitz, who I knew would be a big draw.
To avoid the risk of an embarrassing crash or bug, I mainly showed screen shots of the product instead of an actual demo. I also framed it as something coming down the pipe, vs. any kind of actual “launch”-- a very, very soft sell.
Result: By giving a “sneak peek” we were able to get initial feedback on our product (this was the first time anyone outside the company had seen Foundersuite.) The overall reaction was good, which provided a boost to morale. This event also served as a “deadline” to hit, which rallied the dev team and got us focused.
What I could've done better: We had a registration page to collect beta users, but it wasn’t fully baked-- 10% of those who tried to register got spit out of the system. Also, we had no structured way to collect feedback, which is so critical to do early and often.
Cost: Nothing. In fact I made a small profit on the event, which went straight back into development. :)
Takeaway: Of course, I had the inside advantage here. It takes some effort, but putting on events is surprisingly easy-- and it gives you a captive audience to pitch whatever you’re hustling. And no, I'm not suggesting you host events just to peddle your stuff. The event should need to exist and focus on delivering value to the audience.
Event #2: SFBeta “DeveloperWeek Edition,” February 4
What it is: SF Beta is a bi-monthly mixer held at 111 Minna, a bar-cum-art gallery in the SOMA area of SF. Roughly a dozen startups set up demo tables, and it draws about 150 attendees. This event was held to coincide with Developer Week, and it focused on platforms and APIs.
What I did: I printed up two Foundersuite t-shirts from Zazzle-- one for me, and one for my product guy, Victor. Huzzah! We were official! I also printed up stickers and business cards, and I brought along a 27” Apple monitor. At the event, we put out a cardboard box and offered free beer for developers in exchange for their business card, and we ran demos of the product all night.
Result: This event served as a good catalyst to finally get our “game face” on and produce some marketing collateral. It also forced us to polish and tighten our pitch. In the end, we got about 40 new beta users to sign up. In addition, we made friends with a few external developers, and got their perspective on the product vision-- useful, since we eventually plan on opening up an API.
What I could've done better: Realistically, it was too early for us to start courting developers; although there was interest in building on Foundersuite, there’s nothing for them to do (yet). It might be tough to re-engage later.
Cost: $250 for the demo table, $88 for shirts, and $100 for stickers and cards. Also about $60 for follow-up beers with a couple engineers.
Takeaway: Find a small or low-key event for your first “coming out” party; use it as a shakedown cruise to tighten the screws and hone your messaging.
Event #3: VatorSplash, February 13
What it is: VatorSplash is an evening event of about 400 attendees that includes an on-stage startup pitch competition, a keynote, and VC panel discussions. There is also a demo pit for 30 companies. It’s held about 3 or 4 times a year in SF, LA and New York.
What I did: Because Vator was held only a week after SFBeta, I basically recycled the demo table setup. For extra visibility, I printed a large foam board placard at Kinkos and duct-taped it to the wall behind the table.
Result: The demo pit was somewhat empty, except during intermissions. Nonetheless, we had a strong run of investors stop by and check out our software. These visits led to a couple great follow-up meetings with guys like Mike Walsh and George Babu, both of whom provided some awesome feedback. We also signed on about 40 new beta users.
What I could’ve done better: I should have hired someone to run the booth, as the action was really in the main ballroom. Also, the event had an after party featuring the BSD-heavy band, Coverflow-- think VCs and ex-Facebook execs. If I’d been really ambitious, I would’ve rallied for some additional networking fun.
Cost: Zero. My friend Russ Bertuccelli was one of the sponsors and hooked me up with a free table, and we used the collateral left over from SF Beta.
Takeaway: Don’t be discouraged if a demo event is slow or mellow; it's the quality of the interactions that matters, not the quantity.
Event #4: Launch.co Festival, March 4, 5, 6
What it is: Along with TechCrunch Disrupt and DEMO, the Launch Festival is one of the largest startup events of the year. It’s put on by consummate hustler and promoter Jason Calcanis, and is held at the cavernous Design Center.
This thing was massive-- 50 companies demo’d their wares on stage over the course of three long, grueling days. The organizers claim 6,000 people registered, and I’d estimate that at peak times, close to 4,000 were actually there. The list of VC judges and sponsors reads like a startup founder’s dream. In short, this was showtime.
What I did: First let me start off with what I didn’t do-- I didn’t land a spot on stage, though not for lack of trying. I used LinkedIn to see how I was connected to Jason, and then worked every connection, avenue and back-channel to get intros and endorsements. He was responsive, but no stage time for me; however, I did get a free demo table out of these efforts.
Since this was such a large show, we pulled out all the guns. I brought along Victor and also hired my charismatic friend Rebecca Harris to run the booth with me, and that was money well spent. Not only did she master our pitch in about 15 minutes, but it allowed me to get out and wander the halls, which led to some great strategic partner discussions.
We also ran a “mildly guerrilla” marketing campaign at the show; for example, we changed our tagline from the plain “Startup Management Software” to the more provocative “Tools To Get Startup Sh*t Done” and plastered this slogan on our t-shirts, materials, and signage. Right before each lunch break, I would fan a dozen Foundersuite stickers on the lunch tables, which surprisingly, drove a number of people to our booth, while Rebecca did the same at the coffee stations.
Result: This show set in motion several things that, four months later, are still paying dividends. For example, we did a deal with Hack Reactor to use their students for a few projects. We also landed a free Ruby engineer for the summer via a deal with Innovation Norway. I met the folks from Draper University, which led to a speaking gig to their entire student class, and we struck marketing partnerships with two incubators. In addition, we gained about 150 new users and collected an absurd amount of feedback and new product ideas from the hundreds of folks who stopped by our booth.
What I could’ve done better: I still ruminate on how we could have better hacked the application process to land a spot on stage; we were probably dinged a few points when we temporarily took down the beta wall, as Jason saw it and called us on it (this conference is aimed at startups in stealth, who are making their first real debut).
Having a dubstep-blasting rainbow bubble machine (or at least a full-size banner display tower) might have helped, as the level of professionalism WRT booth accessories was a notch higher here-- our neighbor had a futuristic police car with a siren and flashing lights, while we were still using our cardboard box with the “Drop Your Card, Win Free Beer” call to action written on the side in red marker.
Cost: Parking was $15 per day x 3 days = $45. Rebecca cut me a deal and charged $240 for two days of demo help. New T-shirts and other collateral was about $100.
Takeaway: If you pay for-- or get selected into-- one of the large demo events, don’t hold back; such events can “make” your fledgling company.
Event #5: SFNewTech, April 24
What it is: SFNewTech is one of the longest running demo events around. Once a month, six new startups take the stage for an efficient format: 5 minutes of live product demos, followed by 5 minutes of audience Q&A. It’s a fun and casual vibe, held at a nightclub.
What I did: I got a slot as the third speaker to take the stage. Since Foundersuite has a lot of moving parts-- e.g., we have 4 separate software modules as well as template collections-- it was a challenge to demo it all in under 5 minutes. Thus, I gave a super-quick, high-level summary of everything, then drilled into one module, Investor CRM, to show the user flow.
During the demo, I focused mainly on the value proposition for the founder-rich audience. I also spent roughly 20 seconds of the opening explaining why we’re doing what we’re doing-- our mission-- and about 20 seconds at the end showing where we’re going next, which was a nice way to “bracket” the core content of the demo.
Result: This event generated about 55 new users, some great social media activity, and we got a cool video out of it. Also, a writer for Venture Beat was in the audience; he followed up afterwards, and we gave him the exclusive on our launch coverage.
What I could’ve done better: I wish I’d lost about ten pounds and got a decent night’s sleep before going on stage. :)
Cost: Free; the ringleader, Myles Weissleider, is a friend.
Takeaway: Getting stage time in front of a large audience of target customers is extremely efficient marketing.
...and that’s how we successfully hacked our launch. Net-net, our results by the numbers:
5 pitch events
~5000 relevant people exposed to our product
~300 new users of our product + an additional ~500 new users via viral loops
2 partner deals
1 speaking gig
3 interns, all technical
1 major media placement (and several smaller ones)
Lots of fun and new friends
Total cost: $883
...a pretty decent ROI, IMO. But remember, your mileage will vary (I had some inside connections which kept costs relatively low)
Nathan @foundersuite @startupventures
Want more? For the extended mix, I now present “Key Tips & Lessons Learned”:
• Use the novelty of being the “new new thing.” The period between your private beta and your public launch is a special time, when interest levels and curiosity about your startup run unusually high; you basically have a brief window where you can leverage the lure of the “sneak peek” to effectively generate buzz, get feedback, and make friends. Use it to your advantage.
• Be an all-consuming, feedback-eating machine. Events are Customer Development on steroids-- so figure out a structured, efficient way to collect and process the avalanche of feedback and ideas you will get. To be honest, we didn’t do a great job of this-- I’m still finding business cards and scraps of paper with user comments scribbled on the back. But the feedback we were able to process has been priceless.
• Play to the motivations of the event producers. Almost all of the event organizers I worked with were cool people, genuinely motivated to see startups succeed. But they are also building their brands, and / or trying to turn a profit on their productions. They are looking for interesting companies that people will talk about, and in doing so, create a halo effect around their event. Be that interesting company. Make it memorable for their audience.
• Pay it forward. You may have noticed that I was “hooked up” for free at nearly every event; this wasn’t by accident. In most cases, when someone set me up with a demo table or pass, it was 10% because I’m a nice guy, and 90% because I’d helped him or her out on some previous initiative. No one’s keeping score; but when you’ve been paying it forward long enough, it’s amazing how receptive your network is to helping out when it’s your turn to ride the startup roller coaster.
• Being cheap increases your ROI. Demo events are fun a great way to engage potential users and investors in a casual, low-risk way. But they take a lot of time and energy; in the case of the bigger ones like Launch Festival, they suck up the better part of a week. They can also be expensive-- TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Alley will set you back $1995. Work your network for the free booth hookup, or ask the producers for the “pre-funded startup” rate. Volunteer to work the door in the morning, or offer to promote the event to your network for a free pass. (Related note: It helps to have built a network that folks are interested in leveraging).
• Start the SEO clock ticking. Many startup founders repeatedly delay their launch because they’re not “ready,” and I definitely get the desire to avoid putting out a bunch of crap too soon, as public scrutiny can be brutal. But as Paul Graham eloquently writes, startups need to release early and often; in addition to getting user feedback, there’s a ton of value in making some noise and laying down an online presence early in the game. For example, it helps you to establish your social media voice (something we did way too late). Also, getting your logo on a few high-traffic sites will help boost your SEO; both the Launch Festival and SFNewTech events are still driving a steady flow of organic traffic.
Still here? Color me impressed. I’ll leave you with a few tips for hacking your onstage pitch and demo booth:
• Make your demo short and sweet. Get your product demo to < 3 minutes (5 minutes max). Keep it high level-- skip all the tiny product features and nuances that are important to you, but often turn into a confusing rat hole for people seeing your product for the first-time. With a shorter demo, not only will you be able to talk to more people over the course of the show, but you’ll have better attention and retention of what you’re offering.
• End with a call to action. What do you want people to do after they’ve listened to your demo? Do you want them to register on your site? Introduce you to users? Give you feedback? Invest in you? The CTA may differ depending on who’s listening; for example, at the SFBeta event, we printed two giveaway cards, one for developers and one for users. Each had a specific call to action of what we wanted to happen next. Bottom line: if you don’t have an “ask” connected to your demo, then you’re just expelling warm air and sound.
• WIIFT? For on-stage demos, build your pitch story line using the “what’s in it for them” framework (them being the audience). In other words, don’t show what your product does; rather, explain how it benefits your users, who ideally-- if you’ve picked your event right-- are also the folks listening to you onstage. If you can’t use the WIIFT approach, at least explain why you’ve built what you built. People love origin stories and mission-driven companies.
• Staff appropriately. Always have at least two people giving demos-- crowds come in waves, and a solo founder won’t be able to efficiently process the queue. But never have more than three booth staffers out front-- that just makes for a crowded booth and will scare people off.
• Usher along the salesmen. One of the annoying parts about having a table or booth is that you’re “captive prey”, and inevitably, you’ll get booth visitors who feign interest in what you’re doing, but who are really trying to sell you something-- banking, insurance, HR services, etc. Without being an ass, quickly end the conversation by asking for their card, saying, “awesome-- thanks for stopping by” and shaking their hand. Remember why you’re there: to talk to as many interested, relevant parties as possible. Keep the pipeline flowing.
• Be polite (ish) to competitors. Another annoying element of the demo table is when competitors come sniffing around. A key identifier is when a person has obviously intentionally turned their name badge around, or tucked it under their sport jacket. I don’t suggest you worry too much about this-- most attractive markets are plenty big enough for multiple firms. But one way of heading this off is by asking them where they work before launching into your demo-- then if it’s clearly a competitor (or an investor in a competitor), give the abridged demo version without the secret sauce.
• Have fun with it. You’re living the dream, pitching and hustling your startup baby. ‘Nuff said.
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Do you sometimes lack confidence? Good. Because truly confident people sometimes feel insecure. They sometimes feel uncertain. Show me someone who claims they are confident all the time and I'll show you someone who's not truly confident.
First things first: Confidence is not bravado, or swagger, or an overt pretense of bravery. Confidence is not some bold or brash air of self-belief directed at others.
Confidence is quiet: It’s a natural expression of ability, expertise, and self-regard.
I’m fortunate to know a number of truly confident people. Many work with me at HubSpot, others are fellow founders of their own startups some of whom I've met through my angel investment activity. But the majority are people I’ve met through my career and who work in a variety of industries and professions.
It comes as no surprise they all share a number of qualities:
1. They take a stand not because they think they are always right… but because they are not afraid to be wrong.
Cocky and conceited people tend to take a position and then proclaim, bluster, and totally disregard differing opinions or points of view. They know they’re right – and they want (actually they need) you to know it too.
Their behavior isn’t a sign of confidence, though; it’s the hallmark of an intellectual bully.
Truly confident people don’t mind being proven wrong. They feel finding out what is right is a lot more important than being right. And when they’re wrong, they’re secure enough to back down graciously.
Truly confident people often admit they’re wrong or don’t have all the answers; intellectual bullies never do.
2. They listen ten times more than they speak.
Bragging is a mask for insecurity. Truly confident people are quiet and unassuming. They already know what they think; they want to know what you think.
So they ask open-ended questions that give other people the freedom to be thoughtful and introspective: They ask what you do, how you do it, what you like about it, what you learned from it… and what they should do if they find themselves in a similar situation.
Truly confident people realize they know a lot, but they wish they knew more… and they know the only way to learn more is to listen more.
3. They duck the spotlight so it shines on others.
Perhaps it’s true they did the bulk of the work. Perhaps they really did overcome the major obstacles. Perhaps it’s true they turned a collection of disparate individuals into an incredibly high performance team.
Truly confident people don’t care – at least they don’t show it. (Inside they’re proud, as well they should be.) Truly confident people don’t need the glory; they know what they’ve achieved.
They don’t need the validation of others, because true validation comes from within.
So they stand back and celebrate their accomplishments through others. They stand back and let others shine – a confidence boost that helps those people become truly confident, too.
4. They freely ask for help.
Many people feel asking for help is a sign of weakness; implicit in the request is a lack of knowledge, skill, or experience.
Confident people are secure enough to admit a weakness. So they often ask others for help, not only because they are secure enough to admit they need help but also because they know that when they seek help they pay the person they ask a huge compliment.
Saying, “Can you help me?” shows tremendous respect for that individual’s expertise and judgment. Otherwise you wouldn't ask.
5. They think, “Why not me?”
Many people feel they have to wait: To be promoted, to be hired, to be selected, to be chosen... like the old Hollywood cliché, to somehow be discovered.
Truly confident people know that access is almost universal. They can connect with almost anyone through social media. (Everyone you know knows someone you should know.) They know they can attract their own funding, create their own products, build their own relationships and networks, choose their own path – they can choose to follow whatever course they wish.
And very quietly, without calling attention to themselves, they go out and do it.
6. They don't put down other people.
Generally speaking, the people who like to gossip, who like to speak badly of others, do so because they hope by comparison to make themselves look better.
The only comparison a truly confident person makes is to the person she was yesterday – and to the person she hopes to someday become.
7. They aren’t afraid to look silly…
Running around in your underwear is certainly taking it to extremes… but when you’re truly confident, you don’t mind occasionally being in a situation where you aren't at your best.
(And oddly enough, people tend to respect you more when you do – not less.)
8. … And they own their mistakes.
Insecurity tends to breed artificiality; confidence breeds sincerity and honesty.
That’s why truly confident people admit their mistakes. They dine out on their screw-ups. They don’t mind serving as a cautionary tale. They don’t mind being a source of laughter – for others and for themselves.
When you’re truly confident, you don’t mind occasionally “looking bad.” You realize that that when you’re genuine and unpretentious, people don’t laugh at you.
They laugh with you.
9. They only seek approval from the people who really matter.
You say you have 10k Twitter followers? Swell. 20k Facebook friends? Cool. A professional and social network of hundreds or even thousands? That’s great.
But that also pales in comparison to earning the trust and respect of the few people in your life that truly matter.
When we earn their trust and respect, no matter where we go or what we try, we do it with true confidence – because we know the people who truly matter the most are truly behind us.
So, what do you think? Are there qualities of truly confident people that I've missed? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments.
Note: The original version of this article was published as part of my participation in theLinkedIn Influencers program. The article was very well received. It got 1.1 million views and has generated 4,000 comments. This is v2 of the article with some minor edits. -Dharmesh
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This following is a guest post by Jonathan Gebauer. Jonathan is the founder/CEO at exploreB2B, based in Berlin, Germany.
There is a lot of talk about startup hubs world wide – the places where the next Facebook will originate from, the next Instagram, the next Pinterest. I am from one of these places, Berlin, the capital of Germany. There is no lack of technology startups in this city.
But to be a place where new technologies and innovations thrive – well, there are a lot of things missing.
I was born in Berlin, I live here and we founded exploreB2B here. I breathe the air of this city and feel at home. But when we started, the air tasted different – I thought I could feel a vibe in the air that consisted of innovation in the startup scene. Today I know: this taste was more hype than vibe.
A story that got me thinking
Let me start with something that has recently happened to us, and which inspired me to write this article. I received an email from a US based VC which read: “Hey, we love what you are building at exploreB2B, let us know if you would like to talk to us.”
(I am sure Silicon Valley startups receive these every week.)
So far so good – naturally I wrote back. When they found out that we are located in Germany everything turned stone cold. They replied how sorry they were but since we are located in Germany, they would need to inform their European team and they would get in touch.
Their European team never got in touch. So far, not so global.
This is no big deal – it just got me thinking. Why is it that the European arm of a Venture Capital firm seems to think and act so differently from their U.S. counterparts?
This also was not the first time something like this happened to us. The story of our PR failures has already been published. We Berliners often make ourselves believe that Berlin will become the “next Silicon Valley” – but being second does not matter. Silicon Valley is not going away – so: who cares about Berlin?
The exceptions: Berlin startups that reached international fame
There are, of course, exceptions to the general rule. Innovative tech companies that reach international fame and success. Let me list the few that come to my mind: Soundcloud, ResearchGate, Aupeo, Wooga.
The same timespan in the US has brought us: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Dropbox, Zynga, Box, Yammer, Foursquare, Twitter, Quora, Groupon, LinkedIn… The list goes on.
There are a lot of things missing here. And the successful cloning of successful US startups (which happened with Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupon, and many more here in Germany) is not the same as innovation.
Tech is not global – why no startup hub can really prosper without Silicon Valley’s support
At first glance, Berlin seems to have it all. There are startup competitions every other day, meetups, hackathons, conferences, … There is a network of business angels and investors, the city has had a couple of exits recently. A couple of tech blogs write about the city’s tech companies (both in German and English). With Ashton Kutcher’s not-so-recent investments in Amen and Gidsy a slice of Hollywood glamour was introduced. The area in the city center where most startups reside likes to be called “Silicon Allee” now – noting a resemblance to Silicon Valley.
There also is a lot of talent in the city – talent, which startups can hire. Three universities and multiple “Fachhochschulen” offer a supply of well educated developers and marketing minds while the city’s historic background shows a tradition for risk-taking – including the risk to start your own company.
But technology and innovation needs more than just founders and employees.
It needs a community and this community needs to include established tech people and companies as well as access to the traditional economy. Not just people who are new to the industry but also professionals from companies of any size and stage. It needs access to the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Google. You need to be able to see the shining light of Bill Gates talking on stage. You need investors who have a crap-load of money to invest on nothing but a crazy idea and feeling in their gut. You need access to marketing experts that can give advice, to tech companies that provide exit perspectives.
Berlin does not have those things.
Silicon Valley can provide this to other so called startup and tech hubs. It does so in some cases. But other tech hubs currently only exist by way of Silicon Valley’s support. They get as big and as successful as Silicon Valley allows them to be.
We Berliners might not admit that this is a fact, but we do know it in our hearts. A common first prize in our startup competitions is a trip to the valley. Or office space in the valley. Or a trip to attend a tech conference Or… You get the picture.
The consequences for young companies
This situation forces companies in other startup hubs to adjust. In Germany, the Samwer brothers face a lot of criticism for their cloning operations of international and US startups. It is true: they have been involved in cloning Groupon, Facebook, Zappos, Pinterest, Fab, Amazon, and many more. What is also true, is: This is a way to deal with our situation. Cloning companies also means you have access to information on how marketing strategies will perform and how you can achieve growth. When expertise and support is lacking, this is a valid way to replace it.
Another strategy is to prepare for an early exit. Selling your company early for comparatively small sums seems to be quite common in Germany – creating concepts for a global approach is not. The latest example for this is the formerly hyped startup Gidsy (which got famous by the Ashton Kutcher investment) – which just sold out to a competitor in a not so glamorous way.
There is no tech community in Berlin – just a startup community. This makes it hard for companies to break out of the startup hemisphere. Gidsy was criticized for its lack of professionalization, but you have to ask the question: How can a group of crazy founders get professional if there is no community to help with the process?
The few exceptions to these rules are companies and founders that usually readjust their geographic locations sooner rather than later. Soundcloud has offices nearly everywhere, others are moving their operations to San Francisco.
How to bend the rules: A way out for those that still want to think big
I do not like rules that cannot be bent – and I do not like to go small when others hit it big. I like to compete and I do not like failure. I did not invent exploreB2B for a small audience and I do not want to think small. In a world where creative minds are thinking up solutions, there are always options to become more competitive.
Those of us being unlucky enough to have founded our companies in places like Berlin, London, Paris or Sao Paolo still have a lot of options – the whole tech industry was created by people who bent the rules but refused to be bent by them.
In the beginning I told you about a VC not noticing where we are located – well, this sort of thing happens to me all the time. I receive emails, tweets, Facebook messages asking me whether I will be able to come to a meetup in San Francisco, or New York, or London… I always answer: “Hey, I am in Berlin.”
Most of the time the next message is: “Ok, give me a call when you are back.”
The way out for us is to stop worrying about Silicon Valley. In today’s world it is like any other place in the world: a place on the map.
I get emails from London, have Skype calls with bloggers in France, worked with a PR agency in the US (that didn’t go so well…), had articles published on an Australian blog (Big thank you to Jeff Bullas).
The community we need is there – you do not have to see people face to face to be able to get their advice. When you are creating a company on a global scale stop thinking narrow. Never limit yourself to the things you can do in your city.
By doing that we will force Silicon Valley to do the same. The big investments might not yet have reached our startup hubs, but they will come.
We need to stop picturing ourselves in direct competition with Silicon Valley – Berlin will never become “the next Silicon Valley”. But it does have its own strengths. As does London, as does any other city in the world. Each one of those places should play on its own strength – instead of highlighting its shortcomings in comparison to the Bay Area.
For Berlin, I can think of a lot of strengths: the talent supplied from universities, its geographic position and its history of being a place where eastern and western Europe unite, its history of being a place where people take risks.
We need to play our local strengths – and remove our weaknesses by acting globally.
Think less local.
We are entrepreneurs, we are founders, we are innovators. We were born to break the rules.
What's your take? What should entrepreneurs do to make tech innovation truly global?
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