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10 Ways Startups Can Say No

Nice quote from Warren Buffet from John from Beacon Maker. “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.” More startups die from doing too much than from lack of opportunity.   Think about this when; You’re thinking about new features. Either remove another feature or SAY NO. You’re thinking about new customers/markets. Either stop focusing on your current customers/markets or SAY NO. When someone asks you to be white label. Either say yes and only be a white label, or SAY NO. When a deal looks like ‘once in a lifetime’. Either sell them the same way you sell to everyone else, without derailing your roadmap, and without changing your focus, or SAY NO. When an investor says that you should change your focus to something you don’t know about or care about. Think very very carefully and even then probably SAY NO. When a customer says they will pay you for a feature you don’t think all customers need. SAY NO, or at least “not right now”. When a new platform comes out and people ask you to support it. Unless your existing platform is not nailed completely, SAY NO. When you get invited to more than two events per week, […]

Sydstart 2014

Buy Your Ticket To Sydstart Now 2014. That is the year, and that is my goal for Sydstart. 2014 attendees. Wow. Huge. I gave one of the first talks at the first Sydstart way back in 2008 when there was 50 people in a free room at the Australian Technology Park. I’ll always remember the words on the website. “It’s time we put a rocket under the startup industry here.” This year is at the Sydney Entertainment Centre and we want it filled with energy and entrepreurs and geeks and hackers and hustlers and robots and ninjas and pirates. What you’ll get out of going: A day immersed in tech startups. You will see more than 50 new tech companies you never knew existed. You will meet more than 50 people who have energy, ambition and are kindred spirits. You will learn at least 10 new things. You will get introduced to at least 5 new products that you will try and love. You will be amazed at how big and exciting the Australian technology industry actually is. You will hear at least 5 things which will make you laugh. You will see at least 10 tee-shirts with cryptic messages that initially you don’t understand but then laugh at a […]

Tech Co-Founder Roundabout

It’s hard to find a tech co-founder to build a business with. Ask Liz at YouChews. It’s even harder to build a tech business without a tech co-founder. The reason it’s an issue is a bit of a circular reference. Don’t Have a Tech Co-Founder: Startups are risky. So it’s hard to attract funding early. So you don’t have much money to pay people. So if you can’t pay people and you’re not a coder then it’s hard to create a product, that gets traction that gets funding to pay people. Maybe a 1% chance of success. Have a Tech Co-Founder: Startups are risky. So it’s hard to attract funding early. So you don’t have much money to pay people. Since you’re a coder, you make a MVP in your spare time. Your MVP gets some traction and either makes some money so you bootstrap or it helps you raise some money. Maybe a 5% chance of success. Other Reasons Why It’s Hard Uncertainty – building a new product that does a new thing in a new way isn’t just hard, it’s risky. You have to learn which takes time (if you are a programmer) or money (if you aren’t a programmer). Startup tech companies is a contact sport. You […]

First Flearner Advantage

One of the delicate contradictions that are important for startups is an impatience for action, but patience for results. Speed You have no money, you have 1,000 competitors, customers have never heard of you and you have 39 mistakes to make before you get it right. You need to move fast. Launching fast is critical. Not because of first mover advantage, but because you start the process of learning straight away. First mover is actually a disadvantage in innovation.* You are doing something new and you have to learn the lessons. That costs time. It only becomes an advantage if you learn faster than anyone else. Otherwise you expend all of your resources and the next business starts from first base due to your efforts. The other reason to launch fast is that no amount of work in advance can make it perfect. You don’t know what you don’t know, and indeed nobody knows. There are at least half the things you need to know that can only be learned by doing. The smartest, most experienced people developing the most feature rich, customer focused designed product is still a bundle of assumptions. Indeed the more thinking, the more you put into it the more assumptions that are combined together. This […]

Location still matters for tech businesses

Despite more communication and collaboration tools than ever, having a tech business team in the same location is still a big factor in increasing your chance of success. I got some flack when muru-D launched a ‘national’ program but wanted everyone to come to Sydney. From my experience working with more than 100 startups around the world and seeing many more is: Yes, it’s possible to run a team globally, but it is significantly harder than having them in the same room. This is why: Forming takes time. If the company or the team is new, it helps to  have lots of small moments which aren’t about the business to form the relationship. Your chance to have a chat over coffee, food, drinks goes way up and that is where trust and depth is established. Words aren’t enough. Online communication tools miss body language, emotion and other elements which are critical in young relationships but also in difficult moments. Emails, instant messaging, project management tools and user stories are limited. Tiny sharing. Getting a business working, especially a new, innovative idea isn’t about day long workshops, spreadsheets, or moments of brilliance. It’s 1,000 little conversations that slowly move you towards your vision. They sound like this: “Hey, what do you […]

Exit or Stay?

Next Wednesday night we’re having a discussion about exit or stay. I’m hosting it and the fire-side, audience included chat is with Mike Cannon-Brookes and Stu Fox. Mike tweeted some pre-reading which is really worth it. http://recode.net/2014/01/13/great-companies-dont-have-an-exit-strategy/ The point of the article is that if you really love your customers and really want to build a big company that changes the world then you don’t ever want to leave it. It’s like having a pre-nup for a marriage, you’re setting up to leave. So Stu Fox is taking the role of the ‘vulture’ capitalist, saying “Sell, sell, sell!!!”. OK, no, he’s not doing that at all. The reason I asked Stu to join us in this chat is because he made some great points about how exits can be good for the entrepreneur and also good for the ecosystem. From my chat with Stu, here are my thoughts on why an exit can be the right thing to do; Change. Your circumstances may change, the customers may change, the market may change. Any of these may mean that the original vision and the passion to build towards it is no longer strong enough to sustain you. In this situation it may be best to sell the business and find a new […]

Hustler Hacker Test

I have a particular way I test to see if people have what it takes to do startups. When I meet someone who says they’d like to work on a startup I ask them to send me a URL to their idea in 24 hours. I try and clarify that I’m not after the full business or a working product. Just a URL to something. This shows me a couple of things. How do they articulate their idea to customers. Not pitching it, actually trying to sell something. Can they actually put together a site in 24 hours. There are 50 services that let you create a free site, blog, landing page. Launchrock, WordPress, Squarespace If they’ve been tinkering on it for a while but haven’t got anything out to the public, do they have the courage to finally share it out. Most people wait too long to put something out there. Response to feedback. They came to me for some thoughts, and I gave them some advice and they took it. No matter how small. It’s the start of the track record of execution. Some of the different responses I get: “But I’m not a coder?” – you don’t need to be. If you have to wait on coders […]

No Exit Strategy

There was a dinner last night of a bunch of great tech entrepreneurs last night and as hoped the conversations got quite fiery with a big topic being how do Australians approach exit strategy. I’ll get to that in a second, but I wanted to first share an amazing moment that happened at 11.30pm. There was only six of us left at that point – Matt Dickinson, David Kowalski, Oliver Palmer, Mike Cannon-Brookes, Dean McEvoy and me. Oliver said, as a closer to the event “Well, let me know if I can help you guys with anything in Singapore. Immediately Matt, Dean and Mike said “What about Tutor On Demand?” which is a company that went through Startmate which a few of us indirectly have tiny fractions of equity. Their first thought was how they could help someone else. That really typified the attitude that makes this industry great to be a part of. So, back to exit strategies. We were all throwing our 2 cents in about how we can help grow the ecosystem and the conversation went a bit like this. A: “ESOP and lack of Series A is really hurting us.” B: “Yeah, I don’t like that excuse. We’d have more capital if we had more founders […]

8 Napkin Questions For New Tech Business Ideas

Podcast Hotel Paper Napkin Originally uploaded by websage These are the ones I use. These are for when one of the people following you on Twitter ask to have coffee to tell you about their new application which is like Facebook crossed with Chumby but better… You get the question, and what I’m looking for thrown in for free. 1. What is it? Simple 2. Who is it for? Targeted, identifiable 3. Why do they need it? Pain, valuable 4. What is the market like? Validation, gaps. 5. Why will this win? Unique, defensible. 6. How does it make money? Clear, real 7. How big could it be? Huge, high margin 8. Who is the team? Committed, done it before. Bonus: 9. What do you have to do next? Now you have all you need to snap some good questions back and keep writing away on that napkin. P.S. No matter even if the plan is the suckiest stupidest idea since pets.com always always encourage, support and tell them to go for it if their heart believes in it. Much better a passionate failure than a life of quiet desperation and regret.

Tech Entrepreneurs And The Gambler

1st climb of Mt. Rainier July 2003 Originally uploaded by TroyMason I’ve been thinking about two great quotes and the conflict; “Never, never, never give up.” And… “You gotta know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” It’s a tough call, with no right answer, but I admire the tech entrepreneur for turning up each day and fighting it out.