Work. Repeat. Win.

Repeat After Me

Repeat After Me

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how some startups get started and find traction I’ve been seeing some interesting patterns – namely one which seems to work in almost all cases, and that is simply repeating your message over and over and over until you get noticed.

Works for almost anything. If you blog, just blog like crazy and you will eventually get noticed. If you are an author, write and publish like crazy and eventually you will get noticed. If you are a musician, write, record and publish songs like crazy and you will get noticed. Just produce like crazy, and you will get noticed.

Famous blogger I know actually teaches a class where he says “just keep on blogging and eventually you’ll get noticed”.

The writers at a independent publishing house called Realm & Sands have put out a book called Write. Publish. Repeat. , where one of the key lessons they teach is: just keep writing. Produce like stink, get a ton of books out there, and eventually you will get noticed.

There is a little computer repair business near here called Cheap Squad who got customers by one of their founders posting their service on Craigslist 30 times a day! – after a while they got noticed.

I read in The Science of Marketing that there is really no such thing as over-tweeting. People who tweet more get seen more. And repeating the same or a similar tweet is actually a good idea, since some of your followers may have missed it at some point.

Of course, you old-line marketers out there will just say “but Chris, this is nothing new. Is what advertising is all about. If people see your message often enough and long enough, you will get customers” this is true. However, it used to be $$$ in order to get your message out. Now its free or cheap. Just requires labor. And if you produce content, no matter what kind of content it is, all you have to do is keep on producing it.

Moral: Work. Repeat. Win.

Not Everyone Is On The Net…

Oh Noes - How Can We Survive?

Oh Noes – How Can We Survive?

Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, I did a very short stint going door-to-door for Ron Paul (almost every house we hit they said “great ideas, but he will never win” – I always thought it was strange that that statement implies that people should vote for whoever they think will win instead of who they really feel is the right person) and I found out a very interesting fact, yes, even is what you’d think is super high tech Silicon Valley, a lot of people didn’t have internet, or they didn’t use internet for their news and entertainment. My compatriots knew this and had a DVD of Ron Paul’s speeches made up as a leave behind for those people.

Fast forward to today and you’re an independent media entrepreneur who’s got a Kickstarter campaign for a movie. The whole thing went really well, you’ve shot and edited and put the thing together and now you have to deliver a ton load of movies to your supporters. How do you do it? Well, its doubtful that they’d appreciate having to download it and get it somehow onto their TVs distributing over the internet – its not so easy and limiting your audience if you distribute via iTunes or Netflix. So what do you do?

You use something like DVD Replication by Idea Replication to press a create a pile of DVD’s, which you then mail to your supporters. Even with the tech we all have today – the best way to get big media to anyone is on DVD – this is until we finally have fiber and a billion gigabits every day to every home. Which will happen, but is still a few years away. Can’t wait, if you ask me.

For Those Who Bail From The Valley…

Home Page On the Range

Home Page On the Range

There’s plenty of people I know – usually some of my more radical libertarian and pacifist friends – who want to just get away from it all and live a much simpler existence, away from the craziness which is Silicon Valley. After all, even tiny houses are over half a million bucks here, and apartment rent is crazy expensive. You first notice that when most people drive around in nice cars, but live in tiny little shacks.

Plus, a lot of them have fairly secure jobs and/or are independent consultants who can telecommute. A few of them have even decided to move out of the country to Barcelona, or even Thailand, since they really can work from anywhere.

Some of the others I know sold their homes here and decided to move into the middle of the country, specifically remote locations where they can still get a big house and/or a lot of land – which they feel is great for their quality of life. However, they still need to be connected to the world – and in a lot of these more rural places, its difficult to get decent high speed internet – which of course is essential for these remote teleworkers – no internet connection – no work.

There is an option – a high speed satellite internet service through something like http://calera.biz, something even I pondered living here once when I realized that when my AT&T service went down for a few days my only options were that or Xfinity, neither of which I’m really happy with. I remember when these services used to be a lot slower than wired internet, but it looks like they’ve really kicked up the speed. In fact, next time I’m looking at switching I might give these guys a try, after all being a satellite service, they pretty much work anywhere. 

Yep, even surrounded by cows.

This has been a sponsored post for Calera.

3 Ways To Screw Up A Startup

We're Going To Need A Bigger Screwdriver

We’re Going To Need A Bigger Screwdriver

Now, be honest, how many of you have done one (or all) of these?

  1. Just come up with an awesome new idea in the shower, code it and launch it. You have no idea if anyone is interested in your idea – you have no idea if the idea is any good – but since you’re a kick ass coder and you have some spare time between gigs – you just code it and get it out there…
  2. You launch your idea and then sit back and wait for immediate, intense success. You have delusions that you’ll be as successful as Instagram, day one. On day two you start ceaselessly tweeting and facebooking all of your friends trying to get them to use your product. No one visits your website or even responds to your posts. Some of your friends even defriend you – wondering why they friended you in the first place.
  3. After having your site up for a week – you shut the site down – calling it a massive failure and tell yourself that you are never going to put yourself through that torture again.

There are plenty of really, really great ideas. Of course, there are only so many ideas which people are really interested in. I think some famous talking head on Fox News once said that people aren’t really all that interested in politics – sex, love, money, food are all way more important – so if your shower idea doesn’t address one of those up front – are you really sure that its got legs? Maybe no one but you cares about solving this problem. Not a basis for a breakout business.

If you build it – they won’t come. As someone I respect once said – The Universe Doesn’t Give A Flying F**k About You – even though coming up with the idea and coding the idea SEEM like 99% of the battle – its really only 1% – getting the word out about your product is really 99% of the battle. And just bugging your Twitter followers and Facebook friends won’t usually cut it – unless your friends list includes some top tech bloggers – even then they’ve been inundated with stuff. Think actors and producers in Hollywood having scripts thrown at them. These guys get it all the time.

And finally – it always takes longer than you think. Instant, overnight success is very rare – despite the hype you hear. The above actually happened to me. My partner at the time told me to take the site down a week – yup a week – after launch – because it wasn’t getting any traction. Of course, we hadn’t done anything to help bring the site traction during that period either – except for maybe a tweet and a Facebook post or two.

To CES, Or Not To CES…

Soon To Be Common Practice, Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

Coming Soon: Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

That is the question – to suffer the slings and arrows of being involved in a overwhelming sea of new products with a zillion others, or to just say no and attempt to build your audience in other ways.

If you ask me – CES has really morphed into the “one tech show to rule them all” – in the absence of Comdex (which if you ask me, used to be the one show when it came to products like this) – if you can classify an “app” as “electronics”. Which apparently, you can.

Its funny – I was always under the impression that with things moving the way they are on the internet, that trade shows would just be a thing of the past. With the vast array of communications technologies that we have, do we really need to ever meet face to face? Ah, but there is nothing like real face to face contact – we have yet to figure that out – until of course we have life size android versions of ourselves which can mimic every aspect and nuance of our body language and are mostly pre-programmed to act like us and shun other androids of people we don’t like. But until then, there is nothing like the face to face contact.

I use business cards from moo.com, you know those little thin cards? I have a pic of my eyes on one side and on the other side my contact information. Every time I give out one of those cards I get a great reaction – like “Cool card!” and “I have to get me one of those too!”. The other day I was at a networking event and I gave out the cards and got the same reaction. but I also got one more. He said: “How are those working for you? Are they getting you any more business?”

Of course I’d never thought of that. Outside the “cool” factor – I’m guessing that they were memorable – I’m not sure they actually translate to more business in and of themselves. The more business just comes out of following up. You can make that initial contact with a plain old card – that’s not what brings you more business. The business comes out of that continuing contact. But if you make that contact in the first place, whether with a cool card or not, then it wont matter at all. So yes, CES if you can.

Mark it down for next year if you didn’t go this year. But, Chris, you say, what if I don’t have anything I can talk about there then? A year could be 3-4 startups from now! Trust me, you will.

As I said before, the road to success requires luck, the only thing you can do about it is to expose yourself and your ideas to as many people as you can. You never know who will pick it up or when your idea will take flight. 

It might be a depressing thought – but when it comes to success, and dating, and business – its a numbers game – you have to communicate your message to as many people as you can afford to – both time and money – and see who picks up. And always, ALWAYS, follow up. With everyone.

Latest Weekend Project: The Ultivator : No Pain, No Gain

ul

Happy 2014 all!

Both my wife and I love our Fitbit trackers, but both of us find them a bit wanting in the motivational department.

A few weeks ago we were talking about the reasons most people don’t stick with an exercise program is usually due to the lack of real and proper, serious motivation. People just won’t make changes to their lives unless they receive a huge positive OR negative stimulus. For example, an obese person could visit the doctor yearly and be told that he needs to lose weight but never actually does it. Only if he survives a near fatal heart attack might he actually make the lifestyle changes in order to live longer.

Since a huge negative stimulus (having a heart attack) has been proven to get more people off their butts than a positive stimulus (wearing nicer clothes, being noticed by the opposite sex etc) we came up with the Ultimate Motivator – aka the Ultivator.

The idea is simple: You set a goal. If you meet that goal, you don’t get penalized. If you don’t meet that goal, then you do. I whipped it together in a weekend in Rails and Bootstrap. It might not look too good, but I think it suffices as a great example of MVP.

Right now it supports only Fitbit trackers, but I will be adding more trackers as well as more goals as I get feedback. The process is simple, you provide:

  1. The goal you wish to hit: we WERE going to make these extra hard, but we figured that people have all different levels that they’d like to reach and so we left this open. A step goal for the month.
  2. The charity you’d like your “penalty” to go to. We give the brunt of the charge to a charity of your choice, so even if you don’t make your goal, at least someone you like benefits
  3. The amount you’d like to contribute, pro-rated to how well you do: for example, let’s say you pledge $500 and make it half way to your goal, we only charge you $250. Make it all the way you pay a tiny admin fee.

The site sends an email with the users status daily so that they can keep abreast of their progress – it looks like this:

email

Let me know what you all think. Over the next little while, I’ll come back to the Ultivator and talk a bit about some of the other inspiration I had for this project – a little thing a few folks ripped out in 20 minutes called http://producthunt.co

This is pure MVP IMHO, there are a lot more things I’d like to add, such as the ability to track other things other than steps, but this is a good start.

Check it out here: ultivator.com

Coding On Christmas?

santa-needs-a-new-laptop

Santa Could Use A New Laptop

Well, not actually coding, just throwing together a quick burndown list of what’s left to do on one of the many projects I’m working on. Don’t you love it when you’re working on something and you can’t stop thinking of great ideas for making it better? When this happens to me I have to pour it into Evernote or something, otherwise I’ll forget it. Of course, prior to the internet it would all be in those composition books all us engineering types love to write stuff in. I prefer mine blank so I can draw all sorts of things – I was never very good at following the lines anyways.

But I digress. I used to have a running joke with one of my colleagues – whenever he’d ping me or call me on the phone he’d say “You working?” and no matter when it was – whether I was driving, attending one of my kids MMA classes, or watching TV, or even actually even working, I’d say “Always!”

Truth is, I AM kind of always working. I think the very soul of a startup entrepreneur is just like that – no matter where we are or what we are doing, we have this little engine in our heads which is constantly churning out new ideas. I think everyone has that little engine – some of us purposely shut it down and other just ignore it. But that thing kicks out some great ideas – yes, even on Christmas Day.

So I say unto you – let your little engine let loose with those ideas, and write them down as soon as you get them – you never know if with a little development they might turn into the next multi-billion dollar idea.

Yes, even on Christmas.

Are You In A Cowboy Startup?

cowboy-sunsetHave you ever had the feeling that you are going a million miles an hour, working like crazy, and no one around you knows whats going on, what you are working on, or what you are focused on doing? Well, yeehah! welcome to the cowboy startup, my friends.

  1. Does every founder have a different idea where the company is going?
  2. Do you careen from one project to another just to satisfy the next prospects demands?
  3. Is there a plan? If there is a plan is it being followed? Did you hire someone to attempt to keep to a plan (sometimes known as “adult supervision”), then promptly ignore them?

Yes, my friends, some of you can look around and realize that you’re in this situation right now. But what do you do? You believe in some aspect of the product, which is of course why you are still there, but for some reason, no one is focused on THE BIG PICTURE: i.e. what are you really trying to do?

I’ve come across this a bunch of times in my startup lives and I can tell you its not easy trying to focus people – especially high powered, high performers, who seem to be doing fine in their paths. Especially some coders I know, hell they’ll start coding before they even know what they are going to do. Gold star for enthusiasm, but if the company pivots right after you start, then your code is wasted. I’m all for agile, but sometimes people push it to extremes and start with no spec at all.

Say for example you are doing a social networking clone. I’ve seen coders leap into action and code a stripped down Facebook clone in a day. The day after, the founders decided to focus on search instead. Oh well, the coders says, at least I can use some of the code for the new build. Oh, but next week they have a demo for a publishing house! Can you scrap everything you’ve done and come up with a working demo which scrapes all social media for book information and displays it in a responsive design?

One thing all successful startups have (or at least HAD when they first started) was focus. They did one thing and they did it well enough to gain enough traction to win. Think UNIX, not Windows – every command does one thing, every startup does one thing, and does it well.

If you can’t wrangle your cowboys to focus, it might be time to ride off into the sunset. Just sayin’

If You Aren’t Mobile, You Are Behind The Curve…

mobileapps2…and being behind the curve is not the place to be at the moment. There are new startups every day, each either carving a new place in the market with an interesting new product, or doing being an improved me-too startup.

If you’ve focused on making your web based experience awesome, that great – but you’ve probably not hit the biggest and growing section of the market – mobile users. In fact, a startup (or any business for that matter) without a mobile strategy, or at minimum, a mobile app, is in danger of being left in the dust.

What are you going to do? You can either a) either a kick ass mobile developer who’s probably in high demand at the moment because everyone is moving quickly to build mobile apps b) begin the arduous process of learning to build an app in Objective C for iOS, Java for Android, or one of the many all-in-one SDK’s like Titanium Appcelerator or PhoneGap, all of which really are truly arduous for the non-coder or c) use an app builder software, which will generate and submit apps for you, using a combination of things like CSS3, HTML5 & Javascript (AKA all-the-latest-mobile-tech). For simple apps (and more complex ones if you are willing to do a bit of b) above) there are plenty of great choices which can get you started off for free or a minimal fee.

Take for example one of the easiest to use and fully templated ones called appypie.com (Great name, but makes me hungry every time I hear it) – I personally created an app, a simple one mind you, but I created an app for for Android and iOS in less than 5 minutes. Now, I used the standard template that they gave me (and they have about 30 main templates – for everything from generic business templates, to fitness apps, to with about 27 modules that you can mix and match between them) and it would take longer if you’d like to put in your own custom images and really think about what your mobile app needs to do – but its a great way to get into having a mobile app quickly and for very low cost. I think the top price is about $33 a month for a true white label with no appypie branding and submission to all app stores etc. Good deal when you consider the typical cost of mobile app development.

It’s a great start for most startups who don’t have very complex mobile requirements from the beginning and may be all that you need. I haven’t dug too deep into more complex apps (I’m in the middle of two projects myself that need a mobile version and am considering appypie for one if not both of them) but I’ll likely test both of them through appypie and see if its suitable for either and report back.

I’m curious – what you all all use for you mobile development platform? I’m sure there’s plenty of hard core – native or fuggedaboudit folks out there – but for those others, what have you used successfully..?

The Hard Way, Or The Easy Way?

easy-hardThere are so many entrepreneurs that I come across with fantastic business ideas, but a lot of them just take a hell of a lot of work – I just wonder why they persist at them, when there just seem to be so many other problems to solve and that aren’t as difficult.

Case in point: I was working with an entrepreneur awhile back who had, at first blush, a fantastic idea. It wasn’t mind blowing, world changing, but not a bad idea at all. First thing he wanted to do was rip out a prototype, which wouldn’t have been too difficult, but it did require that a key technical hurdle be met. So instead of doing that, we sat and went through the specs, the design and the market. As we kept on going, we realized that that great idea, would be really, really difficult to implement, had a tiny, low value market, and that the rest of the market actively wanted to maintain the status quo of terribleness.

In the end, I left the project, all attempts to convince the entrepreneur that this project was just too difficult, failed. He was focused on his vision, this difficult vision, and no one could sway him otherwise.

Take a look at your vision: are those roadblocks worth surmounting? Do you really have a product which serves a market with demand? It is not only a great idea, but one that people with money actually want? If you don’t meet that criteria, maybe you should be working on something else.