Go With What You’ve Got

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There seems to be a very hacker culture here in the Valley that favors the builders and developers and engineers are basically impossible to find. They are put on a pedestal of sorts and rightly so to the extent that they can build things – they can make your idea a reality.

However I would encourage people who have website / app ideas who do not have the ability to program or code not to let that stop them. There’s so much more to having a product or service apart from the ability to code it up.

I’m a designer. Everything starts with the design for me. If I have an idea, I start designing it. I code some – mostly just the front end – the stuff people see. I don’t necessarily have the ability to code it all from end to end. I don’t let that stop me. I’ve launched a ton of sites despite my lack of backend coding skills. How have I done that? Usually I’ve managed to convince people to help me – either by paying them or partnering with them.

Brandon agreed to help me with Pinstagram only AFTER he saw what I had designed and built and that it was good. If all I did was just talk about it, I sincerely doubt he would have taken me seriously and that he would have been so enthusiastic to help. Once he saw that my vision of the product had potential and I had put skin in the game, then he was on board.

In my journey as an entrepreneur, I’ve seen many ideas and businesses take form, and they weren’t necessarily started by tech people who “built” stuff. Groupon started from The Point, but the initial version of Groupon itself was supposedly a WordPress plugin. Dabble was founded by a couple on non-techies and I love it. I love that they started out with just a WordPress site – and the sign up form was a WordPress contact form plugin. By the time I talked to them they were having classes everyday with people paying $20 a class. They had no tech.

I love the folks at DealDecor. They have what can be best described as a Woot/Groupon for furniture. They were moving tons of furniture by the time I talked to them and they still didn’t have a tech team. Amazing!

It can be really depressing to see all these young tech folks from MIT, and Stanford, or exGooglers and exFacebookers come up with an idea, get lots of funding if you are not a tech person and want to pursue the same dream. However I’ve also seen nontechnical people prove the business before they even had tech. I’ve seen business analytists able to raise money from their business plans; I’ve seen writers leverage their internet fame to fund their ideas.

Leverage the skillset you have. If you can code, great – code. If you can design, then design. Use the skills that you have as a starting point, a foundation to what you need to build. Use that to show others the idea has merit and rally people to your cause. If you think you have a good idea, just start doing what you know to make it a reality.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Top 10 Quotes from Mark Cuban

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I recently read Mark Cuban’s book “How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It”. It was a short read but full of valuable nuggets of insight on his approach to business. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that he’s been on the show Shark Tank which I also enjoy.

Here are some great quotes I highlighted from the book:

Lesson #1: Always ask yourself how someone could preempt your products or service.

Always run your business like you are going to be competing with biggest technology companies in your

The only thing any entrepreneur, salesperson or anyone in any position can control is their effort.

Everyone has got the will to win; it’s only those with the will to prepare.

Win the battles you are in before you take on new battles.

Treat your customers like they own you. Because they do.

Moral of the story: Make your product easier to buy than your competition…

The best salespeople are the ones who put themselves in their customer’s shoes and provide a solution

Know your core competencies and focus on being great at them. Pay up for people in your core competencies.

It’s not in the dreaming, it’s in the doing.

Popularity: 26% [?]

MVT: Minimum Viable Team

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There’s a pretty big movement in the tech startup world now around the idea of a lean startup. Terms like customer development, continuous deployment, and mvp (minimum viable product) are thrown around. MVP refers to the most bare bones version of a product you can build and release and still call it a product. The idea is to not spend two years locked in a closet building the “perfect” version of the site, do a massive launch, only to find out nobody wants it and it doesn’t solve anyone’s problems. Build the most basic version, put it out there in front of customers and see if the thing has legs and iterate.

I think the MVP is a great idea and eliminates waste. What a lot of people don’t talk about is team makeup. What’s the minimum required amount of people and what roles do you need in order to build a successful web product.

Like everything in life, it depends. There are also a lot of counter examples that I think it’s hard to make a generalized statement. In Apple’s case, the minimum was an engineer and a business guy: Woz and Jobs. I would argue though that the particular business guy also had an eye for product and that’s not something you always see. Which brings me to my point.

More and more, I see the really successful ones require you to have strengths in these 3 roles: technology, design, and sales/marketing. These are in no particular order. Without technology, you can’t make the product work. Without design, it’s not intuitive, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing. Without sales or marketing, nobody knows about your product or you can’t get people to buy it. I’m not saying you can make a successful company if you don’t have those 3 components, but it will sure make it a lot easier and increase your odds.

You might say, Larry and Sergei were two engineers and Google isn’t exactly known for design but we’re talking about edge cases here. Not everyone can be like them. A lot of developer types would like to think that they are the MVT. Being able to build the product is just one leg of the successful stool. Sure you can sit on that stool, but it’s wobbly. Design is another leg of the stool and I’m glad to see that nowadays, user experience and design has become a key component in many companies. That’s still only two legs and is not stable. I think the biggest and most crucial piece of the ingredient is sales. Sales is what makes everything run.

Being on the design and tech side, I’ve always thought that if I could just build it, people would use it and somehow it would build on itself. I’ve come to realize that organic viral growth is the exception and not the norm. The antidote is of course great marketing and or sales. I don’t think enough people realize how important sales is in the tech industry. People giving you money to make their problem go away is absolute validation to what you are doing.

And there you have it – the three legs of the stool that is the basis of a successful startup.

Popularity: 3% [?]

How To Get a Technical Guy To Work For You

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I recently went to a networking meetup and met someone who had an app idea and was looking for a technical guy to be a partner or a cofounder. Invariably people chime in and say that you should go to the Rails meetups or some other technical ones. You’ll definitely find technical guys there but I think that’s just scratching the surface of the problem.

The real problem is convincing them to work for/with you. There seems to be a real shortage of developers and designers, especially in the bay area. There are so many exciting startups that have traction to work for not to mention the giants like the Facebooks and Googles. Those companies are offering great salaries with great benefits. On top of that, any able developer can apply to the numerous startup incubators and try to get their own idea off the ground. With so many appealing choices open to them, the idea of working for an idea guy for a few measly points is not going to be attractive unless you can show why they are more likely to succeed working or partnering with you.

How do we do that?
Prove the business. I love entrepreneurs who validate the business before investing a penny on tech. One great example is Dabble. People can take any class offered on Dabble for $20. Anybody who has a skill can offer to teach classes. When the site first started out this was a simple WordPress site with a sign up form widget. People sign up to teach classes and people sign up to take classes but there was no magician behind the curtains. When my friend Jessica Lybeck and her business partner started this site, they didn’t immediately hire a programmer to build the system. They just used WordPress and a WordPress plugin. A different entrepreneur would have build a pitch deck before starting this. Another entrepreneur would have probably spent a lot of money building the site so that people can sign up to teach and learn and built out this whole system.

Presell. I also love it when entrepreneurs have clients lined up to use the product. This maybe because they were presold based on a presentation or marketing material or they signed a letter of intent to use the product. Even better, sell – meaning get their money first before you even have the product – that’s the ultimate validation. They want it so bad they’ll pay you to make it happen. Sites like Kickstarter are great for something like this – it gets people to commit their dollars if they really like your idea.

Be open about your idea. This is probably the number one turn off for developers – when people come up and say I’ll give you a piece of the action only if you sign an NDA. News flash – your ideas are not new or original. I can’t tell you how many times people tell me an idea as if it was the next best thing since sliced bread and I tell them – oh have you heard of [X] app or [X] website? Do your homework people. Know your space inside and out. Who are the players, who are the competitors, what’s the market etc. Don’t worry about people stealing your idea. They are too busy doing their own idea.

Popularity: 3% [?]

The Difference Between Just Showing Up and Moving the Needle

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According to Woody Allen, “80 percent of success is just showing up.” If that’s true, I would say the other 20 percent is sheer perseverance to make progress, or move the needle. Showing up is just the baseline, but it’s not enough.

Back when I practiced martial arts very seriously and it was a huge part of my life, I would train everyday or nearly every day. Sometimes I’d hit a plateau for months where I wasn’t making any progress. I thought that just by showing up every day consistently, that was making a difference, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t pushing myself so I wasn’t making any gains. I was in my comfort zone doing what I could do and not training trying to do what I couldn’t do.

If you want to move a stone to build the pyramid, it’s not enough to just show up and push. If there was not enough force to move the rock even an inch, simply showing up everyday to push it will not get you a pyramid. However if you put in enough force and effort to move it even an inch, eventually you will have something.

I think it’s like that with any craft. If you don’t the same thing you’ve always done, you’ll likely get the same results. If you do marketing and are not seeing new customers, doing the same thing over and over isn’t likely going to change it.

Popularity: 6% [?]

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