Startups – Lots of Questions

Startups have a lot of questions and doubts. Here is a small sample of what I get. They are in no particular order (there may even be repetitions).

  1. How can I support myself?
  2. Should I start a service company or get into products?
  3. How long will it take to break even?
  4. How will I convince my family?
  5. How essential are co-founders?
  6. How do I find a co-founder?
  7. How much money will I need before I start making some money?
  8. How long do I need to support myself (and family) with my own savings?
  9. Should I start on my idea while I am still working? Are there any legal issues I need to be aware of?
  10. I am technologist. Can I learn marketing and sales?
  11. I am marketing/sales guy. How can I get a tech guy to work with me?
  12. I have several ideas. How should I go about picking the right one?
  13. Should I build products based on my ideas or should I look for problems to solve?
  14. How many people  do I need on my team before I start?
  15. Should I do a funded startup or bootstrap it?
  16. How do I bootstrap?
  17. How do I get funding? How long does it take? What are the chances of getting funding?
  18. What if my product fails?
  19. Should I work out of home? Should  I find a co-working space? Should I have a good office?
  20. How can I attract people to my startup when I can’t pay them much?
  21. Should I build a product that is independent or build something on an existing platform?
  22. Should I use open source technologies or commercial technologies?
  23. I don’t know anything about finance and accounting. How essential is that skill for a startup?
  24. How long should I wait before deciding whether I have traction or not?
  25. Should I sell my products/services entirely through my website? What if my customers are not web visitors?
  26. There are hundreds of thousands of apps in the marketplaces. Is it too late to get in?
  27. My product is similar to the other product but much better. Is that a good idea to start with it?
  28. How do I get my first few users?
  29. How can I find people to test my product and provide feedback?
  30. Should I give a free copy to me beta users? Does beta make sense any more?
  31. What is an MVP? How do I decide what features go into an MVP?
  32. How do I get my first few paying customers?
  33. How do I scale to a few hundred paying customers?
  34. How do I price my product?
  35. Should I price less than my competition, or more?
  36. How would people find my product?
  37. How much money should I spend on advertising?
  38. I am not a designer and they seem to be a rare breed. How important is design for the first version of my product?
  39. How can I find talent? I want do build on Python/Ruby but I seem to bump into .NET or Java or PHP programmers only?
  40. What are the tech skills I need to learn before starting? There seem to be a formidable list – PHP/Python/Ruby/Java/C# for the server, HTML/CSS/Javascript for the client and knowledge of configuring servers.
  41. What marketing skills do I need before I start?  There seems to be another formidable set – SEO, Writing captivating messages, call to action, website analytics, growth hacking, direct mail campaigns, designing surveys?
  42. What is all this stuff about inbound marketing/content marketing/curation? They never taught me any of these in my engineering course or even in a few entrepreneurship classes I took.
  43. Should I start with a Freemium model? Why? Why not?
  44. People keep telling me to find a niche. I have no idea how to go about it. Who can help?
  45. Every one I talked to, asked me what my business model was. What the heck is it?
  46. When I come up with an idea, how do I know whether some one already implemented? How do I find out?
  47. When I talk about my idea, my friend says that he vaguely remembers seeing something similar? Should I still go ahead?
  48. My idea for the product is not new but it will make life easy for users. Should I still do it?
  49. Some one said that a new product has to be 10X better than a similar product? What if it is just 1.5x better or I don’t even know how much better it is?
  50. Is there a place where I can ask all these questions?

Add your own to the list.

Impact of Cloud Computing – Part 2

As Cloud Computing‘s adoption increases, it starts changing the way Businesses, Governments work. Here are a few links (one small sample) of how Cloud impact industries and governments. As it spreads, it will change the business models, IT delivery models and even the way governments (local and global) work together.

There will be a few outlier applications like Cloud as Brain which are now in their infancy but have lots of interesting future possibilities.

Cloud Computing Seen Cutting Into 2014 IT Industry Growth

Greater corporate use of cloud computing services will drag down revenue growth for information technology hardware and software suppliers, says Barclays in its 2014 global technology outlook.

“We believe the deflationary impact from the cloud ($1 spent on cloud infrastructure actually results in several dollars coming out of other IT end markets) should prevent IT spending from growing meaningfully in 2014 and 2015,” said the Barclays report. “We believe global IT spending will remain challenged in the lower single-digit growth range,” the report said.

but (the cloud) still creates opportunities for the next wave of tech companies

How Cloud Computing Will Help Your Small Business

Faster Testing for New Ideas

Since everyone has access to company documents, employees and teams can test out new ideas and models in real-time. There are no messy email chains, no stacks of copied documents, and no memos floating between desks. If you’re trying a new strategy, a new plan for a project, or new creative work, everyone in and out of the office is involved at once, increasing efficiency. Answers about whether the new implements are effective come much faster since ideas and results are there immediately for everyone to see.

Among the most promising ones are faster iteration of new ideas and easier IT.

Cloud as a Brain Platform

On November 14th, IBM announced it was opening up its Jeopardy-winning Watson technologies as a cloud service and development platform.

To enable these “Watson-powered” applications, IBM’s offering has three parts:

A Watson Development Cloud (which some are labeling the “Watson Cloud”) that includes tools and an API to attract application developers.

A content store that serves as an information clearinghouse for data providers.

A talent network of people with the skills for cognitive development.

Cloud Computing May Save U.S. Government $20 Billion A Year

A new study suggests that adoption of cloud offerings — particularly Platform as a Service middleware and application development tools — can cut the cost of U.S. government application development costs to the tune of $20.5 billion a year.

G2G and Cloud: Five Counties Work Together in the Cloud

Five southeast Michigan counties are collaborating using cloud computing. The chief elected officials of Oakland, Macomb, Genesee, Livingston and St. Clair counties announced Wednesday that they are utilizing G2G Cloud Solutions to improve services and efficiency while saving taxpayers money.

Meta

If you are interested in “Cloud Computing” you may also want to take a look a couple of my previous posts.

How Will Cloud Computing Impact Software Industry?

Assessing the Coming Impact of Cloud Computing on Outsourced Solutions

I track Cloud Computing and other similar topics using TopicMinder (one of our InfoTools). It aggregates several news feeds, filters them and delivers daily email alerts.

The Startup Centre Open House

There were probably over 50 people (may be 70) at The Startup Centre (TSC) open house yesterday.  It was fun. Vijay said something significant “it is not about The Startup Centre. It is about the startup eco-system in Chennai”.  A few random thoughts:

  • Lots of new faces and many familiar ones. TSC is a hub. It is a magnet.
  • It is a bit of a brewery. It is one of the new places to be, if you are interested in entrepreneurship.
  • You need not be an entrepreneur. You can just be curious about entrepreneurs or some one who wants to help them (like an angel or VC). You can be working somewhere and wondering why people start their own companies.
  • It is a place for startup conversations. You always learn something new. You always meet someone interesting.
  • I have been a regular (well almost). Now that it has come a bit closer to where I live, I will visit it more frequently.
  • It is a place to hangout and talk tech. Or talk business. In this new place the atmosphere is just right.
  • Yesterday, at the open house,  I met a young group of students from IITM. Two of them are doing their PhD. They want to do a startup that has nothing to do with their PhD topic. Fascinating.
  • Chennai’s entrepreneur ecosystem is taking shape. There are many groups that complement one another. TSC is one to go to if you are just starting.
  • If you are a techie, hangout in Chennai Geeks group. Many interesting discussions take place both online (on Facebook) and offline in our meets.
  • If are an entrepreneur or wannapreneur, attend a few Chennai Open Coffee Club meets. Some of the most interesting people I know in Chennai, I met there.
  • If already found your startup and planning to grow – Filter Kapi is the place. Check it out.
  • Every city needs a bunch of these groups. That is how you build an eco-system. We need to pull in the acadamics. Right now they are a bit of an island.
  • TSC, as I mentioned before is a good hub. Naru hangs out there. Suresh does too. If you don’t know them, you need to make it a point to know them. Just one conversation with each one of them can teach you so much.
  • TSC attracts people like Murali D. Have you met him? You should. Try to sit with him and chat about the entrepreneurs he meets. He can tell you a lots of fascinating stories.
  • Vijay is tireless. He is trying to sow seeds of startup ecosystems, wherever he can.
  • n50hrs is an experience you can’t afford to miss. It is one of those events that will make you wonder why you are not a startup yet.

If you just want to see future unfold, right in front of your eyes, you want to go to a few of these meets – TSC, TiEChennai, Nasscom Emerge and now Product Nation with its Round Tables. They all add up. They are all trying to bootstrap a startup eco-system. They can use all the help and encouragement, they can get. Jump in. Participate. You will be happy you did.

How To Be Interesting

 

 

 

 

How to be interesting – How can you resist a book like that? Here is a little teaser so that you can go get the book and enjoy it.

why_be_interesting

 

Of all the reasons my favorite ones are  – in order to banish boredom and “because you can”.

how_to_be_interesting_

 

I love it when a simple graphic  and a few words can say so much.

In fact:

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.

from Cheer’s Lyric

There is a comfort in echo chambers. It is a bit difficult to pull yourself away, especially when you are having such a good time.  BTW, how many interesting people do you really know?

 

BookLog: Andromeda Strain (A Second Reading after 40 Years)

I just finished reading it (for the second time). I read it almost 40 years ago.

It is an amazing read. If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. If you love Science you will enjoy it even more.  When you read a book, a second or third time, you notice a lot of things you miss the first time.

The story is about a Scoop satellite that goes off its trajectory and lands in a small town (of about 50 people) in Arizona, USA. A team goes to retrieve it and finds a lot of dead bodies. They die too. A second team lands and finds that the entire town is dead but for two people – an old man and a baby. Those are the only two clues in addition to the satellite. The story is about the research that follows to identify the problem.

I think it is the first book of MC I read and I think he was very young (probably in his early twenties) when he wrote it.

“Michael Crighton’ s the Andromeda Strain centers on an investigation of a pathogen newly imported from outer space. The researchers struggle to understand the probable organism because it is so unfamiliar to them. In one interesting passage the character Leavitt proposes to his colleagues that black cloth, a watch and granite are living things. 

Our definition of life is limited by our experiences that create a frame of reference. We define life based on the life that we have observed, but. … what if we discover new possible life forms that do not fit currently accepted descriptions of organisms? Would that mean that they are not living or that our definition of life is too narrow?

 

The impressive aspect of the book is reading about  the planning that went into building a research facility before it was needed. The chain of events that get triggered by the falling of the Scoop satellite shows another amazing level of a system that functions. We don’t really think about the money governments spend in anticipation of future needs and planning to prevent disasters.

The research lab described in the story was pretty sophisticated (even for that time) and I wonder what it will be like today.

I could not help thinking about the role of computers in the story. I kept thinking how much computers of today would do it differently and how so many technologies can help.

My final thought as I was finishing up the book was –  “how can you prepare for the unknown”? Planning the Unplanned  is a fascinating discussion that covers this a bit.

The book left me with an immense interest in learning a lot more about Science.

Planning The Unplanned

I found this really fascinating:

All decisions involving uncertainty fall within two dis­tinct categories-those with contingencies, and those with­out. The latter are distinctly more difficult to deal with.

Most decisions, and nearly all human interaction, can be incorporated into a contingencies model. For example, a President may start a war, a man may sell his business, or divorce his wife. Such an action will produce a reaction; the number of reactions is infinite but the number of probable reactions is manageably small. Before making a decision, an individual can predict various reactions, and he can assess his original, or primary-mode, decision more effectively.

But there is also a category which cannot be analyzed by contingencies. This category involves events and situations which are absolutely unpredictable, not merely disasters of all sorts, but those also including rare moments of discovery and insight, such as those which produced the laser, or peni­cillin. Because these moments are unpredictable, they cannot be planned for in any logical manner. The mathe­matics are wholly unsatisfactory

from the book Andromeda Strain (when I searched for it, found this link too)

Learning Programming In a Classroom vs. Interning

The difference between learning in a classroom vs. interning:

In the classroom, you’re given projects that are meant to test what you already learned, rather than send you on an excursion to find out what’s possible. Further, you don’t usually have to form a meaningful discussion out of describing the technical details of your project with people who aren’t programmers. When your academic experience of programming is one of being the carpenter that sits behind the scenes and quietly builds projects to predefined specifications, suddenly being given the command of an entire ship and being asked to lead an expedition to a new place is both exciting and daunting.

Here are some strong reasons to intern at startups and community efforts like Learning Games Network. 

  1. You are sent on small expeditions where you need to learn things by yourself. Good organizations give you broad specifications and enable you to explore.
  2. You are allowed to fail and learn from failures. You can try different methods and different approaches.
  3. You get guidance when you need it but good organizations give you time to learn at your pace and figure it out for yourself.
  4. You get to watch and learn from experts and peers. Some times, you learn things that you may not even know that you need to know.
  5. The best part of internship – you learn how to learn, one of the most empowering skills you can get at an early stage of your life.

Trying to Create a Better Product? That Strategy is too Vague.

From Law of Perception – Marketing for Geeks

Ries and Trout say, “Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.” Sometimes the best product does not win.

However,

Quite frequently, perception is merely an exaggeration of reality.

I like this advice:

Don’t try to create a “better” product. That strategy is too vague. Instead, try to create a product which is better for a specific group of  people with specific problems that are not being solved very well by others. That specific group of people will perceive your product as the best (emphasis is mine).

I like it because, it lets me enter a marketplace where there are other products but they don’t satisfy the needs of certain classes of users.

Let me take a specific example. We have a product – TopicMinder,  which can provide you topic based alerts. At a broad level, it can be perceived similar to Google Alerts. However, when you dig deeper, for specific research needs, it is better than Google Alerts. Google Alerts are broad. We are deep. So even though Google Alerts are perceived to be better (and free).  We are starting to get users who came to us, because they do not get what they want from Google alerts.

Luck and Serendipity

From Paul’s  Newsletter article – Success is for the lucky

It doesn’t matter if the past 10 ideas you launched did well. It doesn’t matter if you have the best advisers on the planet. It especially doesn’t matter if you use an existing model that someone else has used with a ton of success.

Paul talks about several other factors which seem to lead to success but really do not. I love his conclusion.

This is the only common thread with successful entrepreneurs: they keep trying different ideas until one sticks.

How True! Past performance is no guarantee of future success. I have seen this (and experienced it) from my own ventures as well as several friends of mine.

Skills For A New Age

As technology becomes ubiquitous, it also replaces the need for certain skills. Is that good or bad?

technology makes us both dumber and smarter.  In our technological age, we use machines to do many things we used to do for ourselves, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we’re getting worse at performing certain tasks.  We have been engineered by evolution to conserve our limited capacities by adapting to our environment.

A very thought provoking article.

  • What are the skills of the new age?
  • What is the Math of Learning?
  • How much higher order can we get in thinking?
  • What can we do that machines can’t do?
  • What skills do we need to cope with change?