Posts from the ‘Business Development’ Category
September 16, 2012
This post was partly inspired by an article by Seth Godin entitled Risk, Fear and Worry (and they’re not the same). I was having a particularly stressful week and getting into one of the “I don’t know where to start” moods. Reading Seth’s post made me realize that I was having troubles telling the difference between risk, fear and worry. As a result, I developed this simple approach that can be applied to anything: work, home, a new idea, a big project, starting a business, climbing Mt. Everest; whatever tickles your fancy.
Here’s how it works:
- Take blank page and divide it into three columns. At the top of the first column write “Worries”, on the second write “Fears” and on the third write “Risks”
- In the Worries column right down everything that’s keeping you up at night. Don’t worry about whether it’s rational or baseless. Just right it down. If it’s on your mind then it’s real and must be dealt with.
- In the Fears column write down what you are afraid of, i.e. what’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t deal with those worries?
- For each item in the Fears column, in the third column write down the risk of it coming to fruition. How likely is the risk (high, medium or low) and over what time-frame (urgent, non-urgent).
You now have the basis of an action plan. Take all the high and medium risk items from the third column and add them to your ToDo list as either “today”, “up next” or “some day”. Make sure you are doing something to make progress on all of the high risk items. If something needs immediate attention, deal with it as soon as possible. If it’s a high or medium risk item, but over a longer term, break it into smaller bite-sized tasks and tackle it over time, before it becomes an urgent problem. For things that are non-urgent and low risk, forget about them! Go through this exercise at least once a month or at the beginning of a large project.
You will be surprised that many of your fears and worries really low risk or things that you are really powerless to change.
How it works
Risks that have not been identified, quantified, and when necessary, actioned, create debilitating fear, and debilitating fear will turn into obsessive worry. This a natural phenomena that all of us humans experience and it’s a normal physiological response mechanism.
This technique works because you start with the often irrational worries, which are easy to identify. Then you pinpoint the real risks that can be addressed in a sensible manner. Going the other way, i.e. starting by identifying risks fist, doesn’t work as well because you really have no sense of prioritization or weighting. It’s kind of like packing your bags before you know where you’re going.
The technique works particularly well for teams. When you’re first starting a challenging project everyone has worries, but not everyone will express their worries because they may feel it’s a sign of weakness. Getting everyone to express their worries and fears helps to identify and prioritize the real risks and put actions in place to mitigate those risks. The key is never to criticize anyone (including yourself) for expressing their worries; they are real and founded. They just need to be quantified and actioned appropriately.
From my observations, the most successful people and teams not only identify risks early on and do something about them, but they also have a sense for things that they really have no control over in the immediate sense and decide conscientiously not to deal with until truly necessary. They are able to separate important and likely risks from non-important and unlikely risks and better able to execute and tackle long term goals.
Great, but what does this have to do with doing the “impossible”?
This technique can literally be applied to anything. Fear of failure is the #1 reason people don’t start something new (and risky). Whether it’s improving an existing company, starting a new company, cycling across Canada, changing your career, or landing a robot on the surface of the moon. Until you rationalize your fears it will never happen.
What’s keeping you from starting something new (and risky)? What’s keeping you from pushing your boundaries? Are you worried you’re not skilled enough? Are you worried you don’t have time? Are you worried your idea is not good enough? Each of these worries are just that: worries. You can learn. You can find the time or join a team. You can validate your idea.
One thing for sure, no one ever gets anything done by worrying, right?
January 12, 2012
I was starting to get a little discouraged about the new apps being launched lately. They all seem to be so “me too” and narrowly focused. That is until lately.
I’ve recently been hacking around with a couple of applications, or platforms if you will, that look really interesting and got my creative juices flowing: Twilio and Trello (and yes, they sound a lot alike but that’s just a coincidence).
Twilio provides infrastructure APIs for developers to build scalable voice and text messaging apps. Think of Twilio as cloud-based telephony. They’ve built a very easy to use and flexible platform for developers to dream up all sorts of applications. It took me a while to “get it”, but here’s how I see it: Twilio approaches telephony from the perspective of what a user wants to do. It’s not really for making simple telephone calls – although it can do that – it’s more for building integrated and interactive apps that use telephony as a feature. I see this user-driven approach as refreshing from the traditional telecommunications company.
Trello is a very flexible, multi-purpose collaboration tool. Two things really impress me about Trello: first the incredibly responsive and dynamic interface. The developers, Fog Creek Software, have deployed the latest bleeding edge technologies to build Trello: node.js, Coffeescript, WebSockets, MongoDB, HTML5 and CSS3. I can make a change on the screen of my laptop and see the change propagate to my iPad in less than a second. No need to save and update. Trello gets me dreaming about the whole new generation of web apps that these technologies could spawn.
The other thing that’s impressive about Trello is its multi-purpose functionality; you could use it for anything from keeping a personal todo list to managing a complex business process to building a house to designing a new product. Trello is working on an API and I could envision integrating Trello with other business applications.
Hopefully you’ll share my excitement.
What new platforms have you looked at lately? I’d love to hear from you.
November 21, 2011
You have a startup idea. Great! Is there a market for it? Let’s find out! A promo page is a great way to find out if your idea resonates with someone in the market.
On Thursday, Dec 1st, Pascal Laliberté (@pascallaliberte) will show you how to gauge the market for a startup idea using analytics tools and a promo page.
Pascal is a Business Analyst at the University of Ottawa and maintains a blog at pascallaliberte.info. The is the second time Pascal will be presenting at TeamCamp. You’ll love his enthusiasm and his passion for usability.
In this session, you’ll learn how to use analytics tools to help you widdle down to a killer promo page. You’ll learn how to track clicks to gauge user interest, how to discover your audience by learning how they got to your page and how to know which version of your promo page creates the best response.
Part 1 : Analytics tools and how to use them
We’ll look at approaches for analytics, some definitions, a round up of a few tools you can use like Google Analytics, Clicktale, Google Website Optimizer and Adwords. We’ll also get technical with a few examples of click tracking code and A/B testing tricks.
Part 2 : Group exercise
By working with one or two of your examples, we’ll figure out together the steps to get to a testable promo page. This will be a group exercise, so bring your ideas!
When: Thursday, Dec 1st, 6pm – networking, 6:15 – start
Where: The Code Factory, 234 Queen St., Ottawa, 2nd floor (ring the buzzer to take the elevator)
September 2, 2011
I was struck by a statistic in a very good post by Kapil Kale, co-founder of GiftRocket, on the OnStartups blog. Kapil noted that 83% of the ideas in Y Combinator’s W11 batch fell into the category of Making something difficult easy. The other 13% of submissions fell into the other 2 categories of: Making something expensive cheap; and, Making something that entertains.
While I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw that statistic, I still think it’s interesting and worth talking about, in particular, why are so many web developers working on services that make things easier – which is a hard sell if you want to make money – as opposed to working on a service that makes something expensive cheap, which at least has a clear justification for paying for? I think the reason is twofold:
1. Techies are good at making things easier – if you’re a software developer it’s “hardwired” into your brain. You build some code that helps you do something faster and the thinking is that others will find it easier too.
2. There’s a lot less risk involved in building a product that makes things simpler than ones that make expensive things less so. If you make something easier, and folks don’t agree with you, well they can just go back to the way they were doing things before. If you make something expensive cheap, my bet is that they’ve justified the purchase of your product based on future savings, and probably went to some trouble to switch to your product, and if they don’t get those savings you will have one unhappy customer who will want their money back and maybe some of your blood along with it.
What’s the best type of idea to go with if your trying to build a viable, money-making service? I think the latter: making something expensive cheap. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Plus charging for said service should be an easier sell.
Now, one could argue that making something complicated easier is the same as making something expensive cheap on the basis of the axiom “time is money”. But I don’t think that’s what Kapil is talking about here. For one thing, people tend to undervalue their own time (otherwise we would all have personal assistants) and second, if there’s a direct relationship to money it really belongs in the second category, making something expensive cheap.
There’s too many developers out there working on applications that make things easier, and not a enough working on things that make something expensive cheap.
If Y Combinator has 83% of their participants working on this first kind of idea – and I think Y-Combinator does a pretty amazing job at weeding out poor ideas – then think about how many developers are working on “making things easier” as apposed to “cheap”. That might explain why there are so many free apps in the app stores.
I believe the future of the North America’s competitiveness depends on the latter, i.e. making things that are costly less so.
I’m not saying that you should drop whatever you’re working on and look for ways to save people/businesses money. Go ahead if you want: it’s less risky and probably a lot more fun; and you’re gaining good experience. But if you want to earn a living out of your business, I suggest you focus on the latter.
July 29, 2011
Formstack provides a nice little pdf of a “perfect landing page“.
They’ve done a nice job of identifying all of the key elements of a good landing page and why they’re important. But is it the “perfect” landing page?
There’s really no way to tell because the “puck” is always moving. What might have been considered the perfect landing page 10, 5 or even 2 years ago, might be considered ugly and ineffective today. Web technology is constantly changing and more importantly, design is constantly evolving. Why? HTML is evolving, devices are changing, UI is improving, bandwidth is cheaper, etc. etc. To paraphrase Wanyne Gretzky, somehow we need to figure out where the puck is going to be rather than where it is now.
One of my favourite landing pages is Boxee.com.
It’s innovative, it’s attractive, I understand exactly what they’re selling, and it’s obvious where I sign up. I come away thinking Boxee is cool (for a geek anyway) and I’d like to have one. I’m amazed I even spent as much time on the site as I did because, well, I already have enough devices in my house to choke a horse. But they did attract my attention, that’s for sure so from a design objective I think they did a good job (it’s also where I first discovered Foster the People .
On the other hand, there’s Netflix.
It seems to have all the elements of a “perfect” landing page, but it looks like something out of a Readers Digest Ad. But who cares? Netflix has gained a considerable market share in Canada and I think it’s a great service. It get’s the job done.
I think the difference is that if you’re a new startup, and nobody knows you, you better put the time and effort into your landing page. It will likely be the first impression of your service. And don’t dismiss how important that is, no matter how great you think your service is.
Formstack’s pdf is serves as a great reminder the kinds of things you need to consider for your landing page. But don’t copy it, otherwise I guarantee that by the time you’re ready to launch, the “puck” will have moved to another spot.
What do you think? What is your idea of a perfect landing page, now and into the future?
July 20, 2011
Many “startup gurus” will tell you that if you’re working on a startup and things don’t look good you should “fail fast”. I like to look at it a little differently; I believe that rather than failing fast one should put more effort into starting right.
The word “fail” brings with it connotations of ‘F’ grades and wasted time on canceled projects. Fail is a negative word; it generally means “you suck”. That leaves us with a bad feeling. Having an objective of failing fast is simply another way of saying: give up when the going gets rough. In my view, if you start with the idea of failing fast you’ll lack the perseverance and tenacity you’ll need to make a go of it.
Instead, when developing a new idea for a startup set realistic goals and then test against them. In his book “Start Small, Stay Small” Rob Walling suggests setting a goal of generating $500 in revenue for the first year of your online startup. Five hundred bucks. How hard can that be? (Actually it is, but that’s a subject for another post.)
The point is, if you pick a number, it makes you think about what you would need to charge, how many customers you would need to sign up every month, and working backwards, how many visits you would need to your site and what channels will bring visits.
Now you can start forming a hypothesis, i.e. if I my product reaches a target market of x people and I spend y on advertising (or whatever) it will generate z in revenue. This is something you can literally do on the back of an envelop. It won’t take long for you long to see whether your idea is viable. If your hypothesis passes scrutiny then go for it.
Now you have an objective. Every website visit you get, every conversion that translates into a sign-up tests your hypothesis. From there you make adjustments, you tweak your idea, you work with your customers, you try different channels, etc., etc., but you don’t fail fast. You persevere.
I’m not saying you spend the next 3 years banging your head against a wall. Nor am I suggesting you mortgage your house trying to make a bad idea work. If you need 100 signups per month and you’re only getting 1, then you better rethink things, and perhaps abandoning your idea is the right thing to do.
But even then, you haven’t failed. Think of what you learned from your mistakes and how you’ll be able to apply them next time. That’s what they mean by the “school of hard knocks”. But it’s not failing.
So abandon the idea of failing fast. Instead, think about starting right: have a hypothesis, test against it and adapt.
PS – thanks to Ian at The Code Factory for inspiring this post.
July 18, 2011
I really liked Robert Graham’s post on cold calling customers for customer development. Talking to people you’ve never met before within your chosen niche market to get ideas for developing a product or service can be really tough. Too often, we get overly focused on making a quick buck and we forget that what we’re really trying to do is help our customers to be successful. It’s also why so many mass marketers (i.e. “make money online!”) make us developer types sick to our stomachs : they’re really out for themselves, not their customers.
Robert tells how he first started his cold calls by asking for a 10-15 minute interview as someone who had a business idea around solving their problems. People smelled a sales pitch and “checked out”.
Then he changed his script. Robert decided he need to understand his customers better and that a better way to do that would be to write a blog on the subject. When he explained to people that he wanted to know more about what they learned through running their business, every person he spoke with said “yes”.
Why? Because people love to share their successes, and their problems, along the way. Robert’s approach allowed him to first gain trust that he was truly interested in their business and not just out to make a quick buck.
As software developers, and entrepreneurs, we need to “get into our customers’ heads” to really understand how we can use our skills and expertise to help make our customers’ lives easier.
Stop thinking about the “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow and start thinking about helping your customers to be successful and you will automatically create value. In turn, people will be happy to pay you fairly for your services.
July 8, 2011
I can’t count the number articles, posts and books I’ve read on whether you should “bootstrap” an idea into a business or whether you should seek outside funding. As with virtually everything I’ve come across over the last 2-years, the answer is: “it depends”.
Clearly, if you have a good idea and the resources – tenacity, knowledge, time, skill, a source of income (or perhaps very forgiving parents) – you should try to bootstrap your company. On the other hand, if you lack one or more of those above attributes there are some fantastic angel investors and incubators out there that are willing to invest in your start-up, even before you get your first paying customer – usually for a substantial cut of your business (think of Angels as highly-paid consultants).
However, either way the principles of starting a business are the same no matter which direction you decide to take:
- You need a good idea: one that’s easy to understand and solves a real problem (notice I didn’t say a “great” idea);
- You need to find your target market and validate your idea before you invest a lot of time and money into into it; and
- You need to execute, i.e. build it and sign-up some customers - preferably paying customers.
May 10, 2011
In the immortal words of Lord Admiral Nelson, many start-ups find the best approach to launching a business is to “never mind the maneuvers, go straight at them”. But is this really the best way to approach it? In Nelson’s case I’m pretty sure he knew who his “enemies” were and realized that speed could be your best asset. But for a start-up that can be risky and expensive.
Believe me, I know how it feels when you read about that latest awesome technology and can’t wait to build that wonderful web application everyone’s going to flock to. But the reality is that your wonderful web app has to solve real burning problems if you are expecting customers to pay you for your service. The last thing you want to do is spend months building a product only to find out no one wants it.
At the next TeamCamp we’ll discuss two methods that can help you test an idea for under $100. While they’re blindingly simple, they will also force you to think through your idea before putting it out there.
If this interests you come join us at the next TeamCamp:
Where: The Code Factory, 246 Queen St., Ottawa
When: 6pm, May 19th, 2011 (talk starts at 6:15 sharp)
April 14, 2011
You think you’ve got a great idea for a web application: how do you determine if there’s a sufficiently sized market for your product to make it worth your while? How do you make sure that the market segment you’re pursuing isn’t so big that you’ll either be crushed by the competition or run out of money before you make a buck? You spend time evaluating your niche, that’s how!
Last week’s TeamCamp introduced the concept of the Micropreneurship. A “micropreneur” is a technical entrepreneur intent on stay solo that has learned how develop and market one or more profitable products. We talked about @robwalling‘s approach outlined in his book “Start Small, Stay Small” and we all agreed this was a great approach for TeamCampers.
Next week we’ll start to apply one of the principles outlined in this approach: finding a niche. For Micropreneurs niches are the name of the game. Finding the right nice to pursue will result in less investment in time and money to build a product, lower marketing costs, less competition and higher profits.
This will be a working session to explore together how to apply the approach to some of the great ideas we have twirling around in our heads.
When: Thursday, April 21st at 6PM
Where: The Code Factory, 246 Queen St., 2nd floor (ring the buzzer to take the elevator to the 2nd floor)
Note: As we will be discussing ideas anyone attending this event needs to review and agree to the TeamCamp Participation Agreement