Archive for April, 2009

5 ingredient’s to make a great entrepreneurial story

April 28, 2009

The power of storytelling shouldn’t be underestimated! I’ve heard it said that great entrepreneurs are also often great storytellers. Both Seth Godin and Brad Sugars told many great Entrepreneurial stories at their recent talks.  A good story allows the teller to effectively capture the attention of an audience and leaves a memorable underlying message. Of course, storytelling is nothing new. That’s what probably makes it so powerful. But what makes a great  entrepreneurial story?

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  1. A Challenge – on a noble quest or hero’s journey. The story of David and Goliath for example. People like hero’s who have overcome the odds to succeed. Entrepreneurs like Richard Branson who took on the mighty British Airways.  Only time will tell how our startup story turns out. The odds are stacked against us: software startups take more time and money to return on investment and VC funding is 40% down. Just as well we like a bootstrapping challenge 🙂
  2. The villain! This is closely linked to the challenge. Startups battle for survival in competitive markets. The entrepreneurial quest does not necessarily set out to fight mighty competitors but sometimes  they have to. The villain (BA is Branson’s case) then comes to embody the heroic challenge.
  3. Delivery – Great storytelling is an art. Its not easy. Like jokes, good stories are often amusing and fun. The teller needs to deliver an outstanding pitch, tempo and tone. It requires talent, technique and practice. The story also must be authentic. In 2007 I heard Dick Costello of Feedburner (Now part of  Google) talk about building and selling his startup to Google. Dick told a great story. He had crafted his storytelling working as a comedian for five years.
  4. A moral or meaning– This brings a personal and relevant meaning to the listener/reader. Something we can all relate to and learn from. The rights and wrongs of moral behavior are taught to us as children through nursery rhymes and stories. We continue as adults to look for the underlying meaning in situations.
  5. ‘..and they all lived happily ever after.’ – The emotion of hope and a belief that who dares eventually wins. Dick Costello had five failed startups before selling Feedburner to Google for $60m. A happy ending for Dick.

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A broken but triumphant
Shrek Gingerbread man

Seth Godin believes that  a ‘Wow’ product  and great story is vital for a business to succeed. However real stories can’t simply be made up, they have to be lived. Only then can the storyteller be passionate and real. To have an great story an entrepreneur most embark on a difficult and challenging business adventure.

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Geek n’ Rolla: Community, community, community

April 24, 2009

Mike Butcher of TechCrunch UK set a brisk pace at this weeks inaugural Geek n’ Rolla in London. The one day conference was packed with top Tech UK speakers including Inma Martinez, Andy McLoughlin and William Reeve. The Rock n’ Rolla gangsta theme was celebrating the UK’s entrepreneurial spirit. After all there are  very similar traits between entrepreneurs and criminals. They are both highly inventive, enterprising and resourceful. I and others felt the event created a real sense of community (a law abiding one that is).

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The event was supporting and building the UK Tech startup community for startups like ours (Aware Monitoring). Lashings of helpful and informative advice was given out throughout the day from: Andy McLouglin on building a strong team; bootstrapping from William Reeve; Lesley Eccles on launching big in the USA; and working with VC’s /Angels from Fred Destin / Nick HalsteadDaniel Tenner has a write-up of the talks in more detail. Some of the advice from the panel judging the 10 startup pitches at the event was brutally honest. I was really impressed with the standard of pitch. They were all very professional. Not a stutter or ummm amongst them. My money’s on the Booking Bug or Swiffen startups.

The networking was cosy with 250 people in a small space but it worked. I felt a real sense of community from the startups at the event and applaud Ian Hogarth for setting up community resources like startuptools. Mike Butcher did a really good job bringing everyone together. Well done, Arrington (Mike’s boss) would be proud ;). And I applaud any one who helps bring the UK Tech community together including the DrinkTank, OpenSoho and the Nott Tuesday organisers.

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The Americans really get their Tech community efforts right in The Valley. Yes, I know the UK doesn’t have the funding or the close ties with Tech focused Universities like in The Valley but that’s the point. Guy Richie can make hit films and we can make hit apps. People keep reminding me the odds are against our website monitoring startup succeeding as we are located in the wrong city and the wrong county i.e. as a Tech startup we should be in London, UK or better still in the USA. I say that doesn’t mean we won’t succeed! Loads of great Tech startups and businesses have come out of the UK including Last FM, BeboMessageLabs, Sage, etc.

I think the UK Tech scene is going from strength to strength. The community brings so many benefits: Sharing of ideas; sharing of problems; sharing of resources; sharing positivity and sharing ambition. After all, together we are stronger 🙂

Summer of Love: Geek n’Rolla, Internet World, djangocon, FOWA Tour & Fuel

April 20, 2009

Simon Oxley, my co-founder, and I are attending several UK/European conferences this summer. If your also going to be at any of these let us know and we’ll hook-up. We’re really looking forward to them all 🙂

geeknrollainternetworld

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Tips and Tales from the Brads (Brad Sugars & Brad Rosser) PART 1

April 17, 2009

I’ve recently attended two business talks from Brad Sugars and Brad Rosser. They are both from Australia and run business coaching companies. Their talks were entertaining and contained some golden nuggets of advice:

Brad Sugars

Brad Sugars is a charismatic man and a wonderful story teller. He had the audience in stitches. To get his message over Brad told many amusing tales his farming origins, family life and helping small businesses to grow. His claim to fame is having retired at 24 and then again at 30 after achieving great  success.

crocodile_dundeePaul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee), Not Brad Sugars,
but there are some strong similarities

Brad’s secret ingredient to wealth is to “sell something many times”, “if someone else can do the work with your company get them to do it” and use then entire sales funnel to get results. Brad’s talk was on How to Succeed in a Recession! He sees the downturn as an opportunity as do I. Here’s what he had to said:

  1. Strategy (Have one!) – A very good point as many business don’t seem to have one.
  2. Know your numbers – Rachel Elnaugh also said this at her talk
  3. Cuts, make them but don’t cut the people – Simultaneously they are  biggest cost and greatest asset. Good people are hard to find so keep them.
  4. Retain, Keep the Grade A & B good customers and sack the D customers –  Tim Ferris talks about firing the 80% of the customers who only produce 20% of the profits (point 10). I love the 80/20’s rules!
  5. Advertise – There are great deals to be had out there – Now is the time to be brave and spend! Your competitors probably aren’t.
  6. Give stuff away, to entice potential customers in –  Free works (if done right i.e. have a strategy)
  7. Add value, Treat customers special – Customer service is king
  8. Stop discounting! – The impact goes straight to the bottom line
  9. Close door sales – time limited offers
  10. Recruit, good new staff – Now is a good time find ‘cheap talent’
  11. Learn to train, Staff and yourself –  We all should be doing this anyway. Brad seems very keen on learning. He boasted that he’d read over 1400 books in his lifetime.
  12. Invest – Now is the time to buy – Brad believes a good business should save funds during the buoyant economic  times (Summer) and invest during the inevitable downturns (Winter) when prices are low. However I believe this Winter is going to last and be deeper than the usual economic winter.
  13. Be different,  Or you will only compete on price – Excellent point.
  14. Have fun – Easy to forget sometimes.
  15. Get a coach – Here comes the sales close – Hold onto your cheque book 😉
  16. Under promise and over delivery 🙂 – Great customer service again.

I highly recommend Brad Sugars talks for the entertainment value if nothing else. He’ll be back in the UK next year after building his new house in Las Vagas. As I said he is a character.

Surfs-up startups: Where to be on the innovation wave?

April 15, 2009

A friend recently reminded me of Gartner’s Hype cycle. It got me thinking which part of the curve should  a Tech startup aim play in?

gartner-hype-cycle-july-2008Gartner 2008 Hype Cycle

Note Gartner  predominately focuses on the Enterprise business market. Although their right on the money in the consumer space with Microblogging i.e. Twitter’s rise to fame during the past year. The Gartner graph reminds me of  Geoffrey A. Moore‘s great startup book Cross in the Chasm and Rogers Technology Adoption Lifecycle graph. If your a tech startup and haven’t read it – read it now!

moores-chasmtechnology-adoption-lifecycleGeoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm adapted Technology
 Adoption Lifecycle graph

I think startups should try to take advantage of Gartners ‘Visability’ curve growth.  PR opportunities can be maximised with everyone listening/talking about what’s new/what’s hot. However funds may run dry if a startup is completely reliant on the hype growth and doesn’t reach a healthy exit before the wave crests. Ideally, startups also need to be selling beyond Moore’s “Chasm” into the ‘Late Adaptors/Early & Late Majority’ which is where the higher revenues lie. All this is easier said than done.

Where’s your startup on the wave?

Cloud Computing: ‘Old wine in new bottles’?

April 9, 2009

I attended the Salesforce.com Cloudforce event in London this week and found this great introduction to Cloud Computing on the event website:

Mark Benioff of Salesforce is leading the charge against on-premise software. However the idea of Cloud Computing is not a new one. We had a false start earlier this century with ASP (Application Service Provider).  Before that Bureau services have been available for 45 years!  Today we have more acronyms in this market than you can shake a stick at – Cloud Computing aka Software-as-a-Service or on-demand services, etc.  All these names have the same underlying principle: a multi-tenant, pay as you go and elastic on-line service.

Is the latest title Cloud Computing a case of ‘Old wine in new bottles’? Perhaps it is. However technology has now enabled the old Bureau type services to be delivered with the rich GUI we have now come to expect from our PC’s and Mac’s. Cloud Computing – A new service 50 years in the making 🙂

5 Startup Steps to finding & working with freelancers

April 7, 2009

As there are just two of us (Simon Oxley – my co-founder and I) in our startup we need outside help. We’d love to employ full time permanent staff but without external funding or product traction it’s too risky. The challenge is to find high quality external resources and keeping them focused on the project. Find the right fit/match and your onto a winner. This takes time and a bit of luck.

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Finding a good freelancer takes effort, requires teamwork & can be risky

So far we found freelance and company resources through our friends, Elance, 99Designs and LinkedIn. My friend Martin Wright at the new Web2.0 Surgery has asked me to post on our experiences working with freelancers:

  1. Where to find help? – As a startup we don’t have a long list of trusted suppliers. Trust takes time and experience working together. The next best thing is to ask your friends or rely on marketplace reputation e.g. Elance. We’ve been making lots of new friends at networking events over the last year. Many of these contacts are now on our LinkedIn contacts. Through LinkedIn we identified 12 local freelancers for our front-end web design/dev work. In the end we chose Luc Pestille because he had the right skills and understood our needs.
  2. Choosing right person? Keegan is one of the best freelancers we’ve worked with. We found Keegan through 99Designs and used him for our logo, business cards, Launch page and a new blog for Bootstrapping. Why did it work so well? We’ve now experienced working with logo designers and Keegan is an experienced designer with flare. We explained succinctly what we wanted and he understood our needs accurately. A good freelancer really gets under the skin of the requirement and turns it into a great product.
  3. How much to pay? – The saying goes “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” – James Goldsmith. As a Bootstrappping startup costs need to be kept down but cut too much and the job maybe be badly done. The deal needs to be a Win/Win outcome for both customer and supplier. Also remember that money is not the only motivator. If the company/freelancer is genuinely interested in the project and passionate about the work they will do a good job.
  4. Rules of engagement – My co-founder Simon has done a fantastic job in the architecture and prototyping of our new website monitoring app. Unfortunately there is only one of Simon. So we’ve used an offshore company to do much of the bulky development work. All projects should have a job specification/scope in place including  project timescales, a payment schedule and copy write/IP transference.
  5. Keeping focus – It is always useful to meet the people you are working with. This brings a personal aspect to the relationship which helps to work problems through. However its not always possible to met face to face when off-shoring.  Positive feedback is vital to keeping freelancers motivated. A note of warning: don’t interfere with the creative process once work starts. If you have done your homework and found the right resource get out the way. Otherwise you may do more harm than good.

We’ve benefited using freelancer by finding expert resources and only paying for them when we’ve needed their help. Its important to get alternative quotes because costs vary a great deal and be prepared to pay the going rate. A word of warning: don’t loose too much internal knowledge of your product. This knowledge brings the flexibility required to rapidly respond to customer needs and the ability to innovate ahead of the competition.

A Big THANK YOU :)

April 2, 2009

I would like to Thank all my readers for an amazing two months growth on this blog. I must be writing things people want to hear.

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I bet any startup would kill for a sales graph like this during the recession. Oh look, here’s a SaaS (Software-As-A-Service) providers sales revenues with major growth in the current recession:

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The results of a recent survey from Gartner shows that almost 90% of organizations expect to maintain or grow their usage of SaaS.

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Click her for a free copy of the report. Our startup Aware Monitoring is definitely in the right market 🙂