Archive for August, 2009

Do student interns work for startups?

August 28, 2009

Interns are an attractive option for startups. The benefits are clear. They’re low cost, eager to learn and need the cash. We have two developer interns working for our website motioning startup right now. The alternatives to interns are either expensive freelancers/contractors, low cost but inflexible off shoring resources or permanent staff.  I’ve posted before about finding and working with freeelancers or off shore companies. Despite the benefits care needs to be taken in finding the right interns and setting an effective working relationship.

YoungOnes Students Potential interns? ‘The Young Ones’ students (Source)

Our experiences goes against Seth Godlin’s and Loic Le Meur’s. Seth believes “internships are overrated” and “we (employers) are doing them a favour”. We’ve found this is not the case if you find the right people,  pay them and work together on clear objectives.

  1. Finding the right people – We directly approached 12 Universities and assessed 20 students. Our criteria was  they had paid work experience; were skilled in our development platform and they showed strong initiative.  We were lucky to find two motivated interns who had worked at Google and a London digital agency. We also thought it was better to employ two interns rather than one. With two they can share ideas and work out problems together.
  2. Paying  interns – Despite being a cash strapped and starved  startup we think it’s better to pay interns. Paying them changes the nature of the relationship because they are expected to deliver on objectives. Also interns who have paid experience expect to be paid for their next project.
  3. Clear objectives – Like all employees they need managing and trusting. Student’s aren’t dumb. Treat them as adults. Let the interns set their own objectives and work with them. If you’ve found the right interns trust them to solve problems and they probably will deliver.

Our experiences of interns so far is great. Yes, it does take a chunk of management time to get them up and running. But that’s OK, because if they’re good you will get that time back later on in the summer as they become more productive. I know several other UK startups including EveryCity and Huddle who also have employed interns. And they think interns are great too. Sam at Chinwag posted his positive experiences of their intern at Chinwag.

Our interns Dave King and Phil Howell have done an incredible job for us. I dread to think how far behind our software development would be without them. From our experience I would highly recommend interns. They bring new fresh ideas to the project and they’re eager to learn. But like all recruits you’ve got to find motivated, responsible and self disciplined individuals for it to really work. You can’t just blame them if it doesn’t.

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Do startups really need branding straplines?

August 19, 2009

Branding straplines (also known as taglines) aren’t just for big companies or films. There also great for startups. Like a startup pitch the written word needs to state very quickly what your startup does and will do for potential customers.  They’re not as easy to create as you might think. However they are extremely important to bring understanding and direction.

Alice_drink_meAlice in Wonderland
read the label (source)

Prospective customers and partners will only give your written words a few milliseconds  to make their mind up if  your service is a fit for their needs. A strong strapline brings a clear understanding, direction and clarity of purpose to customers and employees. We’ve found that straplines are not easy to create. They take time, effort and commitment. Which is why they are so powerful and effective.

This is a good article on creating straplines.  Once made you also have to deliver on your strapline promise. Otherwise your statement is meaningless and trust will be lost. Over the last few months we’ve found some company/startup straplines we’ve liked:-

  • Invent – Hewlett Packard still remains focused on innovating. This dates right back to the time the founders made things.
  • Experience Fanatical Support – Clearly Rackspace are committed to proving the best possible support. Rackspace’s branding artical.
  • Painless Billing – Again a very clear message. This time from FreshBrooks. Outsource your billing to remove the headache.
  • You Send. They Sign. Its DoneEchoSogn’s use of the classic three short statements. Very effective on what the product does and will do for you.

The top level strapline can build out with more detail into sub messages. Freshbooks is a great example:

  1. Painless Billing
  2. The Fastest Way To Track Time and Invoice Your ClientsThis second message brings more detail on the customers pain point and how Freshbooks will save their customers time.
  3. Send, track and collect payments quickly. Great for teams, freelancers and service providers. – Reinforcing speed and who the service is made made for.

We’ve worked hard on our straplines for our startup:

  1. Aware Monitoring – What we do is in the service name
  2. The easiest way to measure website performance – We make a complex thing much easier
  3. On-demand website monitoring with actionable alerts. Share reports in your business and with your customers. – We are a SaaS service (not software) and we bring useful results which can be shared.

So far we’ve used our strapline messaging for our service blog, launch page, company Twitter and on Crunchbase. Of, course we still need to deliver on the promise.. As Charlie Chaplin said “Words are cheap.”

Straplines embody the vision of an organization, no matter how small the company is. All product/company descriptions and messages  can be derived from the pitch and strapline. Its a like a pyramid of descriptions. This structure bring consistency of understanding and clarity of purpose to potential customers and employees.

The source of entrepreneurial determination

August 12, 2009

My MBA in Entrepreneurship didn’t refer much to  the importance of determination. Yet I believe that being determined is a key quality for entrepreneurs. Since I’ve been immersed in the real world of startups I found this idea to be very true.

Rachel Elnaugh calls it the “pit” which you have climb out and Seth Godin named it the “dip” that you must see beyond. Paul Graham says its “The most important quality in a startup founder. Not intelligence– determination.” (point 5). But what does it mean to be determined?

terminator_fireThe Terminator movie

The Terminator machine has absolute determination to achieve its single objective. Entrepreneurs derive their determination from:

  1. Focus – There is alot of talk in business schools about vision and strategy.  A vision brings something to aim for. Laurence Peter said “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” With so much to do in a startup it can be overwhelming. Time can easily to burnt on doing things that don’t really matter.  Determination brings the focus needed to work on the things that do matter.
  2. Belief – Because startups have limited resources they have to believe in their vision.  The founders have to be determined  to energise  enough new resources to reach their goal. Mahatma Gandhi,  “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” If  founders don’t believe in what they are doing no one else will and others aren’t going to help.
  3. Committed – There’s is no getting away from it. Startups are hard work . The entrepreneur has to  fully commit and be determined to make the startup work. Peter Drucker said “Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”  The entrepreneur has to sacrifice other parts of their life’s to make it work.
  4. Consistency – Most business is based upon trust. Potential customers need to know that a supplier will deliver on their promises and they will be around in the future. The trouble is trust takes time to build up.  If the entrepreneur chops and changes too much this trust will not buildup. Patience and persistence on a single course is necessary. Build momentum through each successive achievement towards the startups overarching goal.
  5. Think skinned – Entrepreneurs are well known for their determination and tenacity. They have to be thick skinned to survive the startup emotional roller coaster. Everyone will give advice and “hundreds of people will tell you your idea is rubbish” says Richard Reed the co-founder of Innocent Drinks. They may even think the entrepreneur is insane. The entrepreneur has to be determined to press ahead if they believe in an idea.
  6. Flexible –  There is no point in flogging a dead startup idea! Once a new venture is started it can be difficult to see the difference between a set back or an idea that will never fly. Seth Godin believes that successful entrepreneurs know the difference between a dead-end and  natural dips. A startup vision and plan needs to be broad enough to accept change.
  7. Lucky – Entrepreneurs need to be lucky people. However, as  Ernest Hemingway said, “You make your own luck”. If the entrepreneur is  determined and locates themselves often enough in the right place where things can happen, they eventually will.

James Dyson is a classic case of determination. In 1983 his new idea was rejected by all the major house hold vacuum cleaner manufactures. He had the focus,  belief and commitment to manufacturer the new idea himself in 1993. During 2005 Dyson took a massive a 20.7% US marketshare compared to Hoover’s 15.6%.

Determination keeps us going when we loose all hope. Its when everyone and everything seems to be going against us. Determination is the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and being human. As Thomas A. Edison said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

New Aware Monitoring blog: One v.small step for man, one giant leap for us

August 7, 2009

Here at Aware Monitoring HQ we’re moving rapidly towards the beta of our new website/web app monitoring service. We’ve been very busy building the app. It takes longer than you want or expect to develop a web app. But that’s  quite normal. We released our launchpage six months ago.  Since then we’ve been very quite.  That’s about to change.

Apollo Launch

An Apollo rocket launch

We’ve set-up a new Aware Monitoring blog to keep you upto date with our final beta steps and launching the app. This will be our fifth blog: this one (obviously); Simon my co-founders blogE20portal.com home page and the E20portal.com blog – our adventure into the world of Enterprise 2.0.  Exciting times ahead!!

Learning from big & small startups successes

August 4, 2009

Just as you and your startup needs to learn from failures you should also learn from success. This is not as easy as you think. The vast majority of startup successes are small and subtle incremental steps. The startup that hits upon a instant meteoric rise to fame and fortune is rare. These are the ones we hear about in the news. We can learn from the small incremental successes within our startups, from our competitors and from the well publicised successes of others to build greater success with our businesses.

Reach for the Stars

Startups reach for the stars (Source)

Five sources of learning from success:

  1. Others successes – Learn from other startup founders, business managers, sports people, etc. Much of  where, when and how they succeeded will probably be different from your situation. Success is  often anchored to a  time and a place. However the fundamental principles of success remain the same. Understand these and use them. These principles are all around us: in books, the Internet,  at conferences, etc. Listen and learn from them.
  2. Successful startups – Where are other startups in your industry succeeding and growing in the current market? Understand their strategy: offering; route to market; and messaging. I’m not necessarily suggesting copying them. Use and adapt their successes to your own startup and target market.
  3. Investor advice – They are often brutally harsh but also honest. Get out there amongst the investment community. Speak to Angel’s and VC’s. Their opinions are based on experiences of what  they’ve seen work successfully. They may tell you your strengths and how you can play on them.
  4. Successful competitors – What’s working for your direct competition? Find out where they are  achieving success and improve on what they do or how they work. This could be their messaging, channel, pricing, etc. If the market is growing fast and big enough you could even simply copy them and share the success.
  5. Your own successes – Startup successes are often very small and subtle. Listen and look out for them. These small successes need to be connected to a startups overall goal and purpose. In this way they can be  built upon, nurtured and grown into much bigger successes.  Experiment with new ideas from others and learn from where they work.  Jason Fried of 37 Signal fame believes rather than just learning from failure “you should put most of your energy into studying your successes.”

In the classic book Good to Great Jim Collins refers to the flywheel analogy. The flywheel is slow and heavy to start and requires many small pushes. But once moving it has powerful momentum. This idea also applies to startups. Understand the fundamentals of small successes. Build momentum through each successive achievement towards your startups overarching goal. These early successes can easily be forgotten or missed. Look out for them and be persistent. Also be patient and keep focused on moving forward. As Benjamin Disraeli said “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”