Lightning Strikes: Why WhatsApp’s Success Isn’t Repeatable

lightning-strike-bolt-blackA long time ago, back before a time which we aren’t supposed to talk about (pre 2007), I used to have a podcast which talked about many different things, among them the future, innovation and politics, which I recorded on the road in the car on my way to work. I would rant and rave about all sorts of stuff, pointing out things that were happening, calling out stupid drivers on the road, and just talking generally about things that annoyed me.

At the time, there was this guy in the news who called himself a “reallionnaire” (found out recently that the guys name is Farrah Gray) – basically someone who, at a very young age, 14 I think, was able to go from rags to riches, and was now telling his story so that “you too can do the same!”. I made that the subject of one of my shows. Now I haven’t read his book, but I think I don’t really need to – its likely a pretty inspirational story, like all of these motivational books, now stop me if you’ve heard this one before – someone fights off many barriers to success, using a set of actions, which propels them into riches and success, And all you need to do is to the same thing – and you will pretty much achieve the same result. Kudos to him for being able to break out of what sounds like a terrible situation. And while his story sound pretty inspirational, what I’m trying to say is: Your Results May Vary. Greatly.

This kind of story is also pretty rampant here (without the extremely dirt-poor beginnings) in Silicon Valley – lower middle to upper middle class software engineer pulls a couple of his friends together, they work on a startup in their spare time, their startup launches, they get discovered, boom, the engineers are suddenly billionaires. Of course, the real story is that this happens so rarely that its news when it does happen. Like with WhatsApp.

Since the story broke that those not-quite-broke engineers who started WhatsApp years ago just sold it for $19b to Facebook, the tech media has been full of stories on – just like in the “reallionnaire” case, you too can be successful if you just, as they did, so the exact same thing.

Of course, when you look at the WhatsApp story, its completely different from the others where lightning struck. The WhatsApp folks build their user base over time, providing a quality product at a very reasonable price – they didn’t run ads, they charged for their product, they let people use it free for a year before charging a minuscule $1 a year to use.

Additionally, if you look at WhatsApp, IMHO, there is nothing really special about it – other than its huge user base. What really differentiates it from Kik, or Google Hangouts, or WeChat, or any number of instant messaging platforms out there – even going all the way back to ICQ (yes, I know I’m dating myself now) other than maybe the pricing model?

Also, there’s been another meme floating around about how your business should address a specific pain point – a need as opposed to a want. I blogged about this same thing myself when I talked about Haircuts, Pie and Cupcakes. Now I understand that people may have a need to communicate, but do they really have a need to communicate via WhatsApp? There is nothing really specifically interesting about it. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really address a specific need or want. I’ve eaten cupcakes, and WhatsApp is no cupcake.

So what my point? Simple. There is NO proven formula. There is NO single set of steps that you can take in order to go from point A to point B in order to be successful. You can become a billionaire by building a quality app and building a big user base over a long time, or you can become a billionaire by developing an app in a few months, attracting the right kind of attention and traction, then get snapped up in less than a year by some big tech firm.

There may be no specific set of steps – there is no specific criteria – on what is successful and what isn’t. It may not be pure luck, but its pretty damn close. There are, however, as few things that do make the difference – and its not about the app at all. Its about the people. Its about the connections. Its about being in the right place at the right time, talking to the right people at the right moment. That’s when the magic happens. It’s very, very close to pure, dumb, luck – you can’t engineer this stuff.

Ever read Black Swan? People read this stuff and and think – oh that’s interesting – then over time forget about it – but if you ask me its totally pertinent to many. many things in life, one of which is your startup being successful or failing miserably. Events like the WhatsApp deal may not be Black Swan like disasters, man made or natural, but they do come out of the blue. Just like lightning strikes, you can make yourself more susceptible to them by standing outside in a field in a thunderstorm, but that is still no guarantee that you will be hit. In fact, I’d argue that its much easier to be struck by lightning than to be struck as a billionaire by writing an app.

So how do you increase your chances of getting hit by lightning? You stand out in the rain. You stick out. It doesn’t matter if you’re startup cures cancer or provides and pleasant diversion. You just have to be standing in the right field in the middle of a thunderstorm with your metal helmet on – otherwise known as – building a network of people who can socialize your ideas as far and wide as possible. It’s all about who knows you – and who knows your product. You can’t make Black Swan’s happen, but you can increase the odds of getting struck by lightning.

 

Secret, Whisper, Snapchat : Anonymity IS Free Speech

Faceless2If you think about it, apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat and even Twitter (assuming that you didn’t share your personal details in your profile or with Twitter – or even create a fake persona), are not only perfect for our new age of outrage, they are the true embodiment of real free speech. Free speech has basically disappeared from the net, as fear of retribution has pushed people away from using their real and true persona to speak freely.

Isn’t it great when you can anonymously slam a public figure for being a jerk (or not a jerk, depending on how you feel about the following), whether it be Justin Beiber (jerky Canadian brat who thinks his fame lets him get away with anything), Anatoly Pakhomov (jerky Sochi Mayor who, I’m sure erroneously believes that there are no gay people in his city), or Jared Padalecki (who had the temerity to voice an opinion – God forbid we let people do that – on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman) with no fear of retribution. Isn’t it great when you can vent your anger and frustration and outrage at someone anonymously, and no one can get back at you for it.

Back when we first started talking to each other – we pretty much we had to speak directly to each other. Sure, we had ways of hiding speakers identities, like anonymous letters, through messengers and other ways. When you were outraged back then, you could write a strongly worded letter, or show up at the council meeting, or wherever you wanted to air your grievances and be heard. Of course, back then there was also a pretty strong filtering system which decided whether or not to actually broadcast your message. You had no choice in the matter – either the editors saw merit in your letter and printed it, or they didn’t and didn’t. I’ll bet that most of the anonymous letters received by newspapers back then never made it to press, unless it supported the same opinions as the editorial staff.

Human beings want to speak out. They want to be heard. But for the longest time, they haven’t had that option. But now we do.However, we are still used to an ephemeral world – where things live and die. We write something down on a sheet of paper, when we want to destroy it, we shred it or set fire to it. We are used to being able to destroy things when we don’t need them anymore – or they will affect us negatively later on.

We also love to vent when we feel strong emotions – its very therapeutic – and I’m sure that there are plenty of schools of psychology that support the outpouring of emotion onto paper. Unfortunately, we no longer live in an ephemeral world.

That world is over – and only now are we catching up to that fact. Most likely every single thing that you do online is being tracked and recorded somewhere. Even if you delete these tracks, my guess is that they are probably cached somewhere at whatever place you did whatever you did at – be it Facebook, Google, or any of the big 5 sites. Being able to just destroy what you did is almost impossible now – and we are only just coming to grips with that.

And not only is the online world no longer ephemeral, so is the offline world. Just using your smartphone to buy your coffee, or a credit card – creates an indelible, permanent stamp that you were in that place at that time. Just try to delete that record – you don’t even have the rights to it – its owned by the credit card company. As the internet of things grows, less and less of our lives will be ephemeral – everything that we say and do will be permanently recorded somewhere.

Look at wearables like Google Glass. If not Glass, probably in the next, oh say two years, the wearables form factor will take off – I’ve said so myself. These devices will be so useful in our lives that we will allow them to record all of our lives. And these previously ephemeral bits of our lives will be logged and stored forever.

Now on the one hand, this is not a bad thing – as we age and get more and more dependent on our machine sides (BTW, I did say that we are already cyborgs, didn’t I?) all of that memory in the backup brain will be very useful.

But on the other hand, do you really want that alcohol laced rage-fest about your last boss blogged to the world the afternoon after you were fired out there – I mean – at all?

We now get it – everything we do or say is out there – forever. And this is one of the reasons why apps like Secret, Whisper and Snapchat are so hot – people need to speak – but at the same time – they want the ephemeral nature of the old world to keep those thoughts from hurting them in future.

Based on my Whisper research, I can tell you that the anonymity – even if its not real – does allow one to speak freely – and that free speech, for some – is truly therapeutic in a world where many people have lost their way – on the one hand giving up any guidance from something like a religion, but on the other hand not feeling strong enough to be the master of their own destiny (I guess they never read Ayn Rand in high school)

So now that we know that – and we know that people want to be able to choose to make things go away – it should be very simple to add those attributes to your product – blog posts that disappear after a certain period – images that go away – as well the the ability to be timeless  but anonymous.

My sense is that going forward, apps who force an identity requirement will become less and less prevalent, and those who allow a sense of anonymity will prevail.

So get anonymous people – your users want it.

 

Artists Should Not Work For Free

i_am_an_artist

Just Cause Its Free To Deliver Doesn’t Mean It Should Be Free, Period.

Spotify’s latest move to make all of its services free (since they raised a quarter billion dollars) is just the latest strike against paying for content.

For a while now the perceived price of content has been under fire.

The source of this probably came about during the late 60′s with Stewart Brand‘s infamous comment:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

Note the part that stuck: “information wants to be free“. Ugh. But also notice that in the next sentence, he talks specifically about distribution.

While Brand was referring to the cost of distributing the information – the meaning of this has been stretched and pulled like taffy over time to extend over to the cost of the entire creation of “information”. And since this quote – all kinds of content have morphed from physical media – LPs, CDs – VHS tapes, DVDs, printed books, magazines – to information. So, its true – while the cost of distributing the information has approached zero, only in some of these areas has the cost of creation actually dropped.

For example, it used to require musicians for an artist to record, mix and release tracks of music. Recording studio space had to be secured, costs were high, as was the barrier to entry. But nowadays, free and low cost software can turn anyone into the next Skrillex (well not anyone, you need to still have the talent). In that industry the costs of creating the media have dropped, as in film. The technology required to make an independent film has dropped precipitously, so as above, anyone with a little talent and a smartphone can create a compelling vision. Not so much for writing though. The craft of writing really hasn’t changed all that much – sure the tools have gotten more sophisticated, but unless someone has created some kind of automatic writing engine which just takes concepts and spits out stories (I’d pay real money for that one), that mostly requires butt-in-seat time.

In all of this content creation – we may have shaved down the cost of the recording and distribution – but the time – and time IS a cost – and skill of the artist required to produce quality work – have remained the same. The skill to write a good story, to take a great picture, to produce an awesome track, to move people emotionally with film – those things have great value. It is my assertion that that value is being whittled away, bit by bit, by the audience – who just look at the recording and distribution costs nearing zero, as a reason that the entire cost of the object, including the time and skill the artist put into creating the work also should be zero.

When these things were physical objects, people gladly paid for them. For some reason, now that they are information – people want them to be free. We can lay the blame for this cheapening at the feet of many places – the distaste of people for what they perceive are the excesses of capitalism, the wrecking of the concept of a free market by places and services like Fiverr and iTunes, the open source and shareware/freeware software movements (on the one hand, the unfettered exchange of software is a great thing – but on the other hand, there are thousands of programmers out there, who, slave like, code for no compensation. And when people get used to you producing something for nothing, then why pay something when you get something for nothing?)

How do Fiverr and iTunes wreck a market? In a true free market, (like eBay, which is not perfect but closer to a free market) prices are set by an agreement between buyer and seller – they agree to a price where both the buyer and the seller walk away pleased with the deal – the buyer getting fair value for their money and the seller getting fair value for the time that they put into creating the product. Even fixed price markets, like Etsy, allow a seller to set a price – and there is even room for some negotiation. Places like Fiverr, where every service is one price, perverts this beautiful process, by forcing every product, content and service from shooting a video, or recording an audio track, to writing a blog post or a short story, to a single price. This sets the value ahead of time – no matter how much effort the seller does or does not put into the creation of the content, the price is the same. And in order to provide good value to the buyers, the sellers typically over deliver. Expectations are incredibly high, and the review and rating mechanisms are overly harsh to the sellers.

Since often these marketplaces often feature one of a kind created physical items, even those items are tarred by the same brush – even physical item prices – original works created by artists – suffer the same fate.

The artists are constantly getting screwed down. Probably partially based on the mistaken belief of the buyers that the full “costs” (as opposed to just the recording and distribution costs) to create a musical track, a video, or a book, or a photo, get lower and lower, the “price” a buyer should pay should also get lower and lower. Eventually, buyers will expect all content to be near zero – or even free.

There’s been a recent meme floating around the internet from a photographer, tired of his customers expecting him to work for very little or free, wrote and posted an ad on Craigslist asking for people to work for him for free, since everyone expects him to work for free – or very little:

Titled “Pro Photographer Looking for People to Do Their Job Without Pay,” the photographer decides it’s turnabout time. “I am a photographer,” the shooter writes, “and since people are always looking for free shoots I assume that they must also do their job, or provide their services, for free.”

“I am looking to hire all types of people to do all sorts of jobs for me, as long as I do not have to pay anything,” he continues. “Just think, you will gain more experience, and I will put the word out for you and let everyone know what wonderful work you do.”

I know a number of photographers, writers, videographers and musicians who are seeing it too – although the time and skill to create quality content has not changed, the price expectations has truly plummeted, to the point where one can no longer support oneself creating content, unless it’s a physical object. Only physical objects seem to hold more value, and the market which prefers physical objects is getting smaller and smaller.

What is the future path for content creators? Do they go down the path of open source developers and give their content (source code) away for free, only to make up the money in other ways (training and documentation)? I’ve read plenty of articles about how bands can’t make a penny on selling music, but make up their money in concerts and sales of physical goods. But what about writers and others? Even now, a book making its way up the charts Write, Publish, Repeat, is advocating giving away your first books for free, in order to satiate an audience that wants everything for nothing. I’m not sure that simply bowing to that pressure is the right way to go – which is why when I published my first fiction book, I priced it at what I thought was a reasonable amount, which would pay for my time and skill in creating the book.

In 2007, I filed for a patent on an idea to create a true media marketplace, where content creators and content purchasers could reach a fair price on the cost of the content – pleasing both the buyer and the seller. Since then, we’ve culturally forced down the cost of content to the point where a system like that might never allow the content creators to receive full and proper value for their time and skill.

There may be some solution for content creators in a crowdsourced environment, where some kind of bidding system would allow both the creators and the buyers the ability to reach a reasonable price for content – allowing the content creators to continue to do what they do best – create quality content – and give the buyers better content at a reasonable price.

We simply need to bring a true market back to content, and stop pushing the price near zero. We have to reassert the value in the time and skill required to take that beautiful picture, write that moving story or lay down that groove. Like never before, we have the technology and the networks in place to create a true free market for artists. Who will take the first step?

Curation: Necessary Yet Broken

filter

Not sure that these are the best filters for your content

Curation is necessary. But it’s also broken, very broken.

Please let me know if you don’t see this post on Facebook -oh wait – you couldn’t possibly tell me if you saw this because you didn’t see it. Facebook does its own curating of content from your friends and family – I could tell that this was going on over the course of time but now its gotten ridiculous – I now ordinarily miss things people who are important to me send, and my stream is full of junk – mostly ads. It takes time to scroll through the crap to get to the good stuff – and even when I see the good stuff I only seems to get a small taste of it. Makes me think of World Of Warcraft in some sense – the gamemakers purposely force you to wait periods of time before things happen in order to force you to use the product longer – I’d be very surprised if the same isn’t going on with Facebook, Twitter and most other firehoses of data.

I understand – curation is a necessary process in order to surface the most relevant information – there is no way people have the time to sift through everything coming at them in order to get at what they want. But like what’s happened with Google’s dominance and the loss of  the long tail, the same thing is happening with our social feeds.

While curation can be algorithm based, people based or a combination of both, what is happening to our social feeds is the same thing that happened to the long tail – since most people interface to the world via a small cluster of sites – and all of those sites use these algorithms – most of what we see is algorithm based. And its my supposition that these algorithms have been tweaked in order to produce the most revenue, as opposed to provide the most relevant results. In this way – curation is broken. We aren’t getting what’s relevant to us – we have to search and search to find the relevant stuff – and if this keeps going, eventually we will be back to the same hierarchical model, even for social feeds. The internet is in grave danger of shutting off all access to all of the creativity which made it an awesome place in the first place.

The other day, I was looking at a post I had made about my latest fiction novel. Beside the like button was a button I’d never seen before – “Promote” – I’d seen this for other things, but not near a post before. I clicked on it and a modal window came up. The wording was very interesting:

Promote an Important Post

Now you can promote this post to move it higher in friends’ news feeds and help them notice it. Any post that you pay to promote will be marked as Sponsored

Total: $6.99 USD

Yep – Facebook is extorting cash from me in order to post a post of mine on my friends timelines. I guess that unless I spend $7, my post will be relegated to the backwaters of Facebook, never to be seen by anyone. Is there an “Invite To Like” feature…?

Remember all of those people who exhort that you should be active on social media in order to build customers for your business? That social media is a free way to build and advertise your business? Forget it. Fairly soon, if not already, you’ll need to pay the cabal of internet fronting sites a fee just to allow people to see your personal message – not just marketing your site.

This is, of course, a nightmare to startups and other firms attempting to gain some kind of traction. The chances that someone will see your message are diminishing rapidly. There was a day, once, when you could set up a blog or a website, be reached via a search engine, and could build your audience. Nowadays, both algo based and human curation conspires to keep those companies out of the public eye.

And human curation, in some cases, is no better. There are plenty of places where startups and new businesses are featured, and in some cases, being listed on those sites is a make or break for those businesses. Alas, you can’t just apply for your startup to be listed on some of these sites – the curators of the sites sometimes don’t even accept submissions for possible inclusion – in their judgement, unless they personally stumble across a site, or a friend suggests it – it can never get into the inner circle for consideration. Your typical startup needs all of the promotion it can get in order to help gain users and traction – and once again these gatekeepers feel that their judgement is superior to others.

Being exclusive is great, unless you are the excluded. There is nothing more disheartening to a startup than being told that “due to the curators wanting to maintain the quality of the site, we’ll let you know if we let you in” – and then never hearing from them again. It’s like the internet has become high school again, with certain cliques letting only the cool kids in. Everyone else is left out in the cold.  Even if you have an awesome idea – if they decide that you don’t rate – you don’t rate.

So what is the answer? Well, I see a few things happening:

  1. People are going to start to get fed up with the results that they are getting – possibly enough to leave Facebook for something else – but what. Teens are already bailing in a big way – I’ll bet that relevance ending up in the reason list along with not wanting to hang with the parents.
  2. Facebook will need to improve relevance in order to keep people
  3. Third party interfaces to social platforms will gain more prominence as they pull together more relevant social feeds than the sites themselves
  4. New curation methodologies will start to show up – we can’t just go on the way we are now.

The important and interesting stuff used to be hard to find. For a while there, it was a lot easier to find. And now, its getting hard to find again – but this time – its our choice to do something about it – we have the people and the tech and the communications networks to properly surface the most relevant stuff – we just aren’t doing it yet.

Talk about another “next hot space”…

 

How to Create A New Logo For Your Company In 10 Minutes For $0

Just like to reveal our new corporate logo:

hflogo200x200

 

Yep – that’s right – our new corporate logo for our firm hellofuture. Pretty cool, eh?

So you wonder – how can I get as cool a logo as that? Well its very simple. It literally took me about 5 minutes to think it through and maybe another 5 minutes to develop. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Think about your company and what it does. hellofuture welcomes the future in a happy, positive way, with a hearty hello! – note the exclamation point.
  2. What do we welcome? Well, the future of course. We don’t shy away from change. In face, we EMBRACE change! – And where is this future? Well, its in front of us, or that > way…
  3. So, if you take the end of the “hello!” which is the exclamation mark and the > representing the future, you get !>
  4. Which looks OK, but not amazing. So I loaded up my trusty old standby graphics app, Paint Shop Pro 8, which I’ve used since, like forever. I also downloaded a snappy font from dafont.
  5. Also, I selected two colors (#C63E40  and #4863A0) which recur in most of my work, in order to tie it all together.
  6. Finally, in order to point the arrow up – I mean who wants an arrow to be pointed straight or down? – I turned the whole shebang counterclockwise 30 degrees.
  7. I stepped back and looked at my handiwork. Not bad at all

Of course the first thing my partner said was “well, now you will have to reprint all of your business cards” To which I said, “ah no, that’s ok” I like my business cards exactly the way they are. And if you’ve seen them you know they are pretty memorable…

card

Course, if you don’t think you can do it on your own, I highly recommend fiverr for work like this. You can get some pretty decent stuff for $5.

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.

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.

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’