MVP is not a shortcut

December 15th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

product development has been totally dominated in past few years by the ‘lean methodology’, preaching that we should all focus on less features, more iterations and a lot of customer interviews. all good and well, but i have also seen a lot of misunderstandings of this approach, leading to dysfunctional teams and products.

I believe the most problematic concept of all is the MVP – minimum viable product. everyone is pretty sure they know what MVP is, and yet, they continue to deliver either dysfunctional prototypes, or confusing ‘betas’.

sometimes, what people call the ‘lean mvp’ is actually just an excuse for sloppy design and coding. these i hate the most, and explain the fallacy with an engineering comparison:

MVP of a bridge is not made of two ropes, connected with occasional rotten wood planks that happened to be lying around. this lethal construction would serve only as a practical illustration of a concept, a sketch on the napkin, not even demo-ware yet.

MVP of a bridge is a healthy trunk carefully mounted over the river. you can use it to cross the river; you might have to learn how to walk it, but you can be sure it will carry your weight.

designing and building MVP is not a shortcut, it should take notable time and effort to do it.

If you want to understand the life of a startup entrepreneur, watch this video

January 4th, 2014 § Comments Off § permalink

New York
New York

New York (Photo credits: www.roadtrafficsigns.com)

The author is Terrence Kawaja, an investment banker in NY, who knows everyone and in spare time creates more or less funny spoofs of popular culture.

This is his latest video, which is essentially a rewording of the famous ‘sunscreen’ song. I find it incredibly accurate, chaotic and sincere description of everyday life of a startup entrepreneur.

aspiring entrepreneurs, angel investors, employees, their families, everyone should understand the ups and downs that we go trough, and this video de-mystifies it appropriately.

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we need a new profession: startup engineer

August 19th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Startup screen
Startup screen

Startup screen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Economic crisis is still the dominant topic in Slovenia, with worrying news and indicators popping up daily. At the same time, Zemanta has never been better, and is actually growing fast. Of course, because we are active on global market, rather than dependent on local economy. Except in one aspect – hiring.

We are looking for several new exceptional colleagues in our Ljubljana office. brilliant, smart, ambitious software developers. It’s not surprising that a lot of people are applying for the position, and I’m very happy to see that many of them actually fit the profile we are looking for.

I’m starting to call it startup engineer, to differentiate it from other software development jobs, like traditional IT, systems integrations or website development. many students coming from the universities here are not aware of the difference, and I think we, the startups, have to be very loud about how differently we work. here is a short list of the type of differences, would love to compile a longer one with your help:

  1. problem-solving: we are a product company, building a product of our own. there is no external client inventing and changing the specs all the time. there is no map of where we are going. we are learning with every step what the next step will be. thus there are not many repetitive tasks. every day actually brings new challenges. some people don’t handle such uncertainties well. startup engineers thrive in the challenge.
  2. freedom and flexibility: to a large extend we don’t care when and how you work. we expect you to do what it takes to understand the challenge well enough, to tell the other how you will solve it. hours, days, languages, locations are up to your judgment. some people cant handle this freedom. startup engineers love the freedom and grow with the responsibility.
  3. curiosity: the world is changing with incredible and accelerating speed, and we need to stay a step ahead of it. we need to understand the emerging technologies before they become standards. it takes extra time and energy, that doesn’t necessarily pay off always. startup engineers experiment and learn, because they cannot not to. sometimes that’s called being brave.
  4. global view: even when working on local problems, startup engineers have to understand the world at large, keep in touch with global trends, and think how the flap of the butterfly in silicon valley will affect us here and now.

there are several practical challenges that we are facing when trying to communicate why working in a startup should be attractive option:

  • I wish in the future, people looking to work as developers, would be aware of this difference well in advance. ideally even before high school, so that they can optimize their learning for the style of work that suits them best. we see a lot of very compelling candidates, that unfortunately end up working for banks and IT companies, simply because they don’t know that being a developer can mean very different things.
  • there is a prejudice that startup jobs are not stable enough, so specially young candidates are discouraged from applying for them. I find this mentality particularly cynical and obsolete. not only have I met a lot of very stable and healthy startups over the years, also the ‘stable’ companies are laying off incredible amounts of people these days, and government jobs are less and less secure as well.
  • some candidates, if they happen to know about startups, are convinced that they are not good enough to qualify. they don’t realize that what we need is first and foremost smarts and curiosity, and not PhD quality of theoretical puzzle-solving. at Zemanta, cultural fit is much more important than skills and experience. don’t negotiate with yourself.

I wish we could make this, ‘startup engineer’ a formal post-graduate university program. there are practical skills they could learn, to accelerate their growth, but these will change from year to year. more importantly, by having it as an option within formal educational system, we would be raising the awareness and actually giving some of the students a fair chance to realize their potential. creating it in collaboration with the actual companies would make sure the students end up with a bit more practically useful knowledge built on top of computer science fundamentals, and give them direct access to a pool of employers, that have been doubling every year.

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first three things every new startup founder/ceo should know

December 17th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

This post was inspired by an entrepreneur who I barely know from one of my previous lives, who sought a meeting because he was put in a position of running a startup. While thinking about what to say to him in the first 30 mins, I realized that it really can be boiled down to a handful of core truths. everything else is a footnote, or tactics. 

startup-curve

So, you’re starting a startup with a couple of your good friends? there are only two ways you could have ended up in this situation:

  • you are so smart, that you never had to really think hard about what you are doing with your life. you go where it takes you and make it work in your favor, and have fun while doing it;
  • or, you’re so dumb, you think doing startups is fun because it’s fashionable and you want to be just like mark

I sure hope you’re of the first kind, or that you are at least smart enough, to recognize yourself in the second description and give up while you still can.

Odyssey

Odyssey (Photo credit: tonynetone)

If you’re still reading, I guess you really want to know what it takes to run a startup. For explaining startup management issues, I really like the Platonic metaphor of a Sailboat. I might explain this some other time in more detail, because for today, we just need to be aware of the Guiding Star – when you are in the middle of the sea, without GPS, and with a couple dozen crew member who’s fates depend on your judgement, it clearly is important that you know which direction to sail to reach the destination.

It is no different in a Startup. you start a startup, because there is something tangible in your mind, that you need to make tangible for everyone else – a vision / an idea, that you see clearly, and can imagine how to do it. that’s your Guiding Star. thinking of that idea gives you strength to move forward, and to think creatively about shortcuts. discussing that idea makes other people join you on the journey, because of your ability to paint it so clearly for them, that they can see their role in getting to the end.

so here’s the heart of the advice for any first-time founder of a startup: never ever loose your Guiding Star. if you stop being obsessed with it, just stop.

Robin Klein taught me a version of this statement: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” the flip side of this statement is, that it is better to kill the startup, than to keep working on it without the inspiration of the Guiding Star. Here’s why: as Fred says, a startup CEO has only three jobs to perform:

  • communicate the vision, internally and externally
  • assemble the best possible team to execute on that vision
  • secure the resources the team needs

I would argue that if you have your Guiding Star – if you can really feel your vision, if thinking of it is making you do things rather than sit still – only then will you be able to communicate the vision. and if you can do that, you will assemble the team, and convince the investors needed to succeed.

inevitably you will choose the wrong direction sometimes. and you will be running short on cash. you will have to do hard practical decisions. but if you have the Guiding Star in front of you, the decisions will make sense, so they will be infinitely easier to make. even if you run out of cash completely, and you are forced to kill your company, if you do that while knowing what you believe in, it’s not a failure, it’s just a learning experience.

and lastly, one thing that has nothing to do with you or your idea. Odyssey needed 10 years to return home, and that’s exactly what you are signing up for – assume your startup will consume you as a whole for 10 years. keep that in mind while you are deciding to start it, and while you are doing your everyday decisions. only if the idea is such, that it would still make sense for you in 10 years time, than you can consider it.

good luck.

cynical reblog: Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs!

September 3rd, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

 

i whole-heartedly agree that this particular gender inequality should be fixed in the future, but are all women really so fond of wearing knee-long dresses that they can be the only representative of the ‘business dress’ ?

Happy Labor Day: Celebrating Women Entrepreneurs!

This weekend, we celebrate women entrepreneurs for all their hard work! By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0) In the past 15 years, women-owned businesses grew by 54% – there are more women entrepreneurs than ever. The 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States account for nearly 30% of U.S. businesses!

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via: www.women2.com

 

 

Have Startups Really Become Boring?

August 30th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

This article suggests that after 6 big exits, suddenly the whole space of web startups is less exciting and we should look to other fields.

Startups Have Gotten Very Boring

In the wake of the Facebook IPO, something funny has happened to the world of startups. Suddenly, startups feel very boring. VCs and entrepreneurs say they feel it too. “I do feel a bit like that, but then again that could also just be the startups I’m happening to see,” one investor said.

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via: www.businessinsider.com

I find that to be bollocks.  There are still things on the world that can be improved or fixed trough web-based technologies, and that will never change. Sure, bio-tech and similar are emerging and creating new exciting spaces, that will bring improvements to our lives, and might generate bigger returns for investors in the next decade, but if returns are all that makes something exciting for someone, well, why don’t you go live on an island somewhere.

Startup is not your job

August 22nd, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

Startup.com

 

Startup.com

Startup.com (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m sure most of you think you agree with this statement, but I bet you are making tons of inefficient decisions because you are trained to expect certain things from your ‘work environment’ aka Job.

But the startup really isn’t a job. To build a startup you don’t need an office, until you actually know why you do – for instance after you have several non-founding team members.

And you most probably don’t need those employees, until you actually know to the hour what they need to do so the founders can build the startup.

And you don’t need vacation, because you don’t have a job. You might need time to think about the pivot, but that’s not vacation. You might need to rest your brain, but don’t expect you will actually unplug. Your entrepreneurial brain can’t unplug. You don’t need time off. If you think you do, you’re in a Job and should stop thinking it’s a startup, because it will fail.

Startup is not a job, it’s just you wanting to achieve a change in the world / other people’s behavior, not taking no for an answer, because you don’t know how to stop, and constantly thinking about a shortcut to the next obstacle on the way. Startup is just a group of people and technologies arranged around the founders that represent the currently shortest way to change the behavior of others. It is the founders passion, and in that it’s similar to works of art – you can’t help yourself but make it work.

Everything else is secondary. Specially (fancy) office space, (expensive) employees and (long) holidays.

 

Future of Advertising Industry Online

August 21st, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Last few months we’ve witnessed a birth of an almost whole new industry. Here’s a good summary:

The Entire Advertising Industry Is Shifting To This Strategy

Native monetization is a fast growing form of digital advertising that is changing the complexion of the advertising industry in New York. Native advertising refers to ad strategies ad strategies that allow brands to promote their content into the endemic experience of a site in a non-interruptive, integrated way.

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via: www.businessinsider.com

Slovenian Startups: it’s personal

August 18th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

 

Roughly three quarters of the webpages of Slovenian startups don’t say who the founders are. Not on the front page, not on the about page, nowhere. Most of the list the tax ID numbers and official address of the company, but not the names of the people running it.

This is a catastrophe! Are you trying to hide your head in the sand until the success ‘happens’, and only after that will you collect the credit? The founding fathers of America wrote their names on the Constitution, before it was a success.

Every young company has two major challenges when it comes to public communication:

  1. how do I tell enough people we exist?
  2. how do I make them trust us with their money?

The best answer to the first one is – go out of the office and talk to people on events and in their native environment. It’s also a great way to get to know your core audience inside-out.

But for the trust issue, the absolutely best remedy is for the founders to be put up front, essentially saying loud and clear: “Trust Me”. Don’t just trust the words I’ve written (they are wrong), don’t trust the design (it’s bad), don’t trust what you heard on the street about us (it was probably wrong), trust ME, I believe in what we are doing, I believe we are changing the world into a better place, and should something bad happen, I will feel ashamed to death.

So startup founders, please, write your names everywhere you can and be proud of it. There is no other way your startups will succeed.

 

big exits are not for the common people

August 16th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

 

This article made me think, that as a young entrepreneur, one has to realize that the big exits that are presented as success, actually require a very specific state of mind, which most of normal people would never submit themselves to.

Yes, if you are a startup entrepreneur and you hope for a billion dollar exit, chances are it’s not going to be smooth like Instagram’s, but convoluted like Facebook‘s, and you’ll have to piss off and disappoint a lot of people on the way.

Was the Social Media Tech IPO Boom a Big Scam?

Was the Social Media Tech IPO Boom a Big Scam? Billion-dollar cash-outs at Facebook, Zynga and Groupon. Abysmal stock performance. Tweet Jake Rajs / Getty Images Over the last year-and-a-half, several of the most prominent social media companies in the country have sold shares to investors in high-profile initial public offerings.

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via: business.time.com

Are you sure you want to do it? I’m not.

 

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