Category Archives: Networking

What’s the Role of a Non-Tech Founder?

An interesting article popped up on Harvard Business Review Blog saying “Tech Startups Need Non-Techies to Succeed” which touches upon very important elements startup founders need to think about.

In today’s age where software development is all the rage, and having a tech co-founder is seen as a must, many forget that a great company is not built on the product alone, but rather on a combination of product, marketing, sales, and overall good business planning.

Consider the software industry, where we have successful brands like Windows and Oracle. While these two firms have world-class intellectual properties, I think their true innovation is in the pricing model around their businesses. - Ndubuisi Ekekwe

Yup, the author’s right. At every event or meetup I attend, there is always a handful of startup founders that are building great new social-mobile apps. How are you going to monetize? What is your pricing and distribution strategy? I ask… only to hear “oh, we’ll think about that later, after we raise some VC money”. OK, good luck in going down that path!

Who needs business co-founders?

According to the Startup Genome report, “business-heavy founding teams are 6.2x more likely to successfully scale with sales driven startups than with product centric startups”. This makes sense, and the report also points out that “balanced teams with one technical founder and one business founder raise 30% more money“.

The fact is, a well balanced founding team is key for success.

While a lot of attention in the software startup is paid to the technology stack, prototypes, and the like, movements such as the “lean startup”, and “customer development” are getting a lot of traction because they bring to technology founders the common business sense they sometimes lack.

Steve Blank‘s customer development process, which talks about the business model canvas, for example, is a typical exercise someone with an MBA would know instinctively. For a programmer, not so much.

Who’s in the team?

There are many views about who should be in the founding team. Dharmesh Shah,  co-founder of the successful VC-backed HubSpot argues that first comes the Developer, followed by a Designer, an Inbound Marketer, and a Sales person. Naval, from VentureHacks, has a post about the power of two, a developer and a sales guy.

Enterpreneur turned investor, Manu Kumar, once gave a talk at an event I attended where he laid out his view of the perfect team. He said the founding team should have the following skills: developer, designer, and business. It could all be part of one person’s skillset but this is hard to accomplish, usually there are two or three people representing these skills.

A similar question on Quora has elicited many responses, some similar to what I outlined above, some a bit different.

Some food for thought.

Cool Startups at Pitch San Francisco

Pitch San Francisco ’11 is now over. An interesting gathering of over 90 startups presenting their products and services to VCs and the public, ended with the following winners:

Congratulations!

More Cool Startups

But other startups are worth mentioning. For example:

  • DealAngel: Could potentially do for hotels what HipMunk did for air travel, DealAngel has a proprietary algorithm that statistically compares hotel deals in an area to tell you which ones are actually good deals in a beautiful display that makes it easy to spot hotels and the best deals. According to Co-Founder and COO Bob Rogers, Expedia, Orbitz and the usual travel sites are not completely transparent when it comes to presenting you with the best price and they are aiming at disrupting this market. If they can crack the code and present users with a better way of saving on travel, that’s a huge market potential.
  • Let’s Listen: Yet another music site? Not quite. Let’s Listen is unique because it allows you to listen to music with your friends, online. It basically allows you and your friends to share your music library, then select a song to play and everyone will listen to the song at the same time while chatting. Simple, yet powerful. At first I was skeptic, but after watching my 15-year-old niece chat with her friends on Skype for hours while listening to music, I’m sold. Worth checking out.
  • CheckInOnMe: Want simple tech that works? I was impressed with this service. Imagine you are a girl leaving that late night study session at the college library, preparing for tomorrow’s exam. Now you have to walk all the way through the parking lot to your car or bus station. You activate CheckInOn.Me and every few minutes you get a text checking in on you. If you reply to the text, everything is fine. If you fail to reply or you reply without using the correct pass phrase, the service will alert your friends and family (you decide who) that something is not right. Is simple SMS tech used in a clever way. The possibilities are many (families checking on their kids, realtors going to other people’s homes, even babysitters).

If you missed this year’s event, make sure to sign up for the next one!

Finding Technical Co-Founders

This is probably one of the most asked questions of all, especially by non-tech founders (of course!). Yup, you have websites focused on posting startup jobs and others with the sole intent to help find tech co-founders. So why is the question still being asked?

Jason Freedman hit it spot on I think, with a blog post titled “Please, please stop asking how to find a technical co-founder“. You don’t have to go read the full post if you just focus on his simple advice:

You don’t find a technical cofounder, you earn one.

Jason, you nailed it.

 

The Founder Conference 2011 Recap

Having attended The Founder Conference in 2010 with a great lineup of speakers, great venue (Microsoft Campus in Mountain View), and good networking opportunities I was looking forward to this year’s event. Unfortunately not all went well this time around, but there were some positive things. The conference was held on 05/03/11 at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.

Here’s a quick recap for those who weren’t there.

Morning Sessions

Guy Kawasaki was the first speaker and focused on his new book, Enchantment. Guy is a really great speaker, but for someone that is supposedly in tune with the startup world I felt his standard powerpoint deck about his book could have been tweaked a bit to better relate to the audience (i.e. startup founders). Using examples like Ford, Apple and other big names work well for a mass audience that his book is trying to reach but how about bringing it closer to home and using some startups as part of the Enchantment story? Guy has delivered this same talk many times, so you can watch it online and judge for yourself.

Second up was Naval Ravikant, talking about The Rise of the Angels. Naval’s presentation was basically a repeat of a previous talk he gave at the Hackers&Founders meetup a few months ago. You can watch that presentation and judge for yourself. 90% of people I met said they had attended the meetup and so there was nothing new this time around, but others that had seen it for the first time enjoyed, especially knowing how AngelList is becoming a successful venue for raising capital.

Then there was a panel discussion with Loic Le Meur and Robert Scoble on “Building Traction with Social Media”, that had a few interesting insights, such as:

  • Think big. According to Scoble, some founders think only about reaching the local or national market and forget to go abroad, world-wide. That’s where European founders suffer, because they tend to create solutions for their specific countries instead of the whole continent or world.
  • The best way to make your idea/product viral is to tell a good story. Make it easy for people to spread the story.
  • The key metric to show investors is “how many people are actually using your product”.
The discussion also touched upon how to get press, how to recover from bad PR, and a few other topics. I expected more action items related to social media in particular based on the topic of the panel, but it was entertaining to listen them share their stories.

Afternoon Sessions

I liked the afternoon presentations better. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, had a great presentation where he shared all metrics he uses to track customer acquisition and customer engagement. For example:

  • Evernote has 9M registered users to date
  • 28K new registrations daily
  • 3.2M active users in any given 30 day period
  • Users that sign up for the free account and stay with them for 1 year have a 8% conversion rate (end up paying for the premium account), while users that have been using for 36 months convert at a 23% rate.
  • 38% of their active users come from the US, but Japan is the second highest market with 28% of active users.

I also credit Phil for the best quote of the day, saying:

Phil Libin’s Law: The number of things that will go wrong multiplies over time

That’s what every entrepreneur should have in mind, according to Phil who says you have to multiply Moore’s Law by Murphy’s Law and be prepared for bumps along the road.

Another panel came on, but this time it focused on founder stories of how they launched their companies. The questions were mostly about their experiences with the incubator programs they participated in, the conferences they used to launch, and lessons they learned from their experiences. Participated Jared Hansen, of Breezy, Aviv Grill, of Misomedia, and Olivier Desmoulin, of Supermarmite.

After that, twelve companies had the chance to deliver 1 minute pitches and to be critiqued by Brian Wong, in what was a really funny and engaging discussion. Most pitches sucked, which always makes me wonder why founders don’t come prepared for events like this, but I guess this can be a separate post. Companies pitching were (hyperlinks for those who seem to have a site):

Note: let me know if I missed any company and if there are sites for the ones I didn’t link to.

The next session was an interesting presentation by Tim Young, founder of SocialCast and About.me, talking about his now famous Magic of 5 Slides that ended being picked up by TechCrunch and generated 10,000 emails within 1 hour hitting his inbox, including some angry VCs for him disclosing his ideas on how to build a killer pitch deck. 

A few key points he raised during this presentation are worth repeating:

  • Think about the traditional deck versus telling a story. Tell a story, don’t give a presentation.
  • It’s not a pitch, is a religious conversion. Make people believe in your vision.
  • Don’t confuse idea with product or company. VCs fund companies.
  • Use only 30% to 40% of your alloted time to present your story.
Next up was Tommy McClung, talking about how he started CarWoo as the 2008 recession began hitting car makers and dealerships nationwide. Great story of how you can succeed and the importance of timing.
The final session was a pitch feedback panel with Rebecca Lynn, Jeff Clavier, George Zachary, and Tim Young. Some companies (don’t remember how many) had 4 minutes each to do a pitch (with slides) which were then picked apart, I mean, critiqued by the panel. Although I didn’t jot down their company names they were part of the original group of 12 that had presented earlier in the day. The best of any live pitch session like this, is to hear the feedback of the panel, and learn from the presenter’s mistakes how to better prepare for when is your turn on the spotlight.

Conference evaluation

Comparing to last year’s event, The Founder Conference 2011 was very weak. Some sessions were good but overall I was expecting much higher quality, especially not being the first time of this event or the organizers. Here are a few things that I hope they read and take as constructive feedback:

  1. Venue was horrible. Parking, for instance, was terrible and the staff wasn’t helpful in telling us where to find parking. And there was no Wi-Fi.
  2. No Wi-fi. Come on guys, a startup conference without Wi-Fi? And don’t blame Gooogle.
  3. No food. I’m not talking about lunch, but at least some cookies or something during break is not much to ask.
  4. No questions during sessions. This was perhaps my biggest issue, you listen to great people talk and can’t ask them questions?! Wow.
  5. Panels too weak. I was hoping for more insightful questions asked to the panels. Next time, I suggest opening up for attendees to ask questions so it’s more interactive.
  6. A/V sucked. There were many problems with sound, microphones, and slides. Some testing beforehand is in order.
On a scale from 1 (horrible) to 10 (outstanding) I would give the conference a 6. There were some good speakers and the networking, which is one of the most important aspects of the event, was good (I met several great people). The lesson is to learn from the mistakes and put on a better show next time.

Bootstrapped Startups Now Have MicroConf 2011

With so much talk about Angel and VC funding and a new startup bubble forming, is refreshing to see that self-funded startups still have a place to go to share ideas and best practices. That’s why MicroConf 2011 is worth checking out.

Put together by veterans of the startup world, Rob Walling and Mike Taber, MicroConf is a conference that was born out of the passion that the founders and their followers have for the bootstrapped and micro-ISV startups. Rob and Mike run the highly successful Micropreneur Academy, a site that teaches you how to get your startup off the ground and has a very active community. Is exactly this community that has been clamoring for some time now for a place where they can physically meet and exchange ideas.

If you are thinking about starting your own business, if you are a bootstrapped startup, or if you are a one-man show (micro-ISV or single founder startup) then this is a conference worth checking out.

To register, go to the MicroConf 2011 website (or click image below).

Conference Details

  • June 6 & 7 in Las Vegas, NV
  • Hosted by Rob Walling and Mike Taber

Speakers Include

Who Should Attend?
Anyone launching a startup with no outside funding who wants to hang out with and learn from 225 of today’s leading founders and entrepreneurs.

 

Calacanis at His Best!

Vaporware Labs hosted another night of Startup Grind, an event that has grown to hosting over 200 people since its humble beginnings of a handful of entrepreneurs exchanging stories at the company’s office in Mountain View, CA.

Last night we had the pleasure of seeing a fireside chat between Jason Calacanis (famed entrepreneur beste known for Silicon Alley Reporter, WebLogs, Mahalo, and his controversial comments in the startup world) and Derek Andersen (Vaporware Labs). Jason talked about the early beginnings of the Techcrunch 50 conference, his early days at the Silicon Alley Reporter, and the characteristics of a good startup founder. Jason was also nice enough to hang out long after the talk was over and didn’t fuss about being harassed by the mob of startup geeks that formed around him. Thanks, Jason!!!

The whole event was recorded and will be uploaded to Youtube shortly, so I’ll link to it when is live. Definitely worth seeing.

Startup Grind hosts monthly meetings and it’s free. Check out upcoming events at their meetup site: http://www.meetup.com/Startup-Grind/

UPDATE: The video is up, see link below.