Archive for March, 2011

Entrepreneur: Day 12

Start saying “NO.”

There’s a lot of things I want to be doing and that I want to get involved with.  There are three or four events all coming up that need help and I want to jump in and make sure each of them succeeds. After all, I’ve got all this free time, right? Well, there’s a part of me that says “Shut the hell up and get to work!” I caught my self today getting ready to contributed more time and effort, but when I stepped back and asked “Do I really need to get involved with this?” and “Is this more important to me than what I’m working on?” both answers came back a solid “No.” It’s great to get involved with community projects but you have to take care of your own stuff first. So focus, launch, grow and then get involved with a lot of other projects.

IdeaGen. (Entrepreneur: Days 9, 10 & 11)

Not a whole lot of progress over the past two days, basically refining strategic partner and investor pitches as well as getting access to credit and operating cash. There has been a huge breakthrough but I’m not yet prepared to share it.

But I can share this… Someone said to me over the weekend “Why don’t you start generating more ideas?” Well, for one, I don’t have a problem coming up with a lot of ideas. I need to focus on the one’s I’m passionate about and get those done first. But this discussion did remind me that a lot of people do have issues generating ideas. By accident I also saw The99Percent.com’s posting of Idea Generation and Execution.

I’ve had a number of discussions with my business partners that revolved around the difference in thought patterns between corporate people and entrepreneurs. It’s very hard for many to understand why someone would not or could not be a little more open minded, a little more creative. I’d written a post a few months ago about Innovators and Operators and how they approach the management of a business very differently. One through aggressive creation and the other through aggressive optimization. Both sides have their strengths and both have their weaknesses. But trying to get each group to change their perspective. This interview is from 1999 and shows how IDEO goes about looking at things differently. If you’ve used IDEO’s Method Cards then you’ll immediately see some similarities in their process and how the cards being to walk you through analyzing how things are used on a daily basis. Here’s a hint – take any established player in a market that has a low cost of entry (in other words it’s not pharma). Take one or two of their products and use the Camera Journal card to start your research. You will find a weakness in the product if you look hard enough. Do this several times with different companies and different products. At some point you’re going come to the realization that you could do better. It’s likely that you’ve found a new product.

Good luck.

By the way, here’s a link to the transcript of the interview.

Took the Weekend Off!

Ok, not entirely. I did get some work done but more importantly we went to the Grand Prix of St. Pete and met a lot of great people there. We were guests of Andretti Autosport and ExactTarget and both companies are tremendous professionals. We arrived around 9:30 for breakfast in Andretti’s hospitality area. From there we got to tour the garage where Marco Andretti’s and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s cars were being worked on. As we were getting the tour the team pulled Marco’s transmission in about five minutes. That alone was impressive. How they could work with us within inches of us I still can’t figure out. But as some of the Andretti crew said, “If it weren’t for the fans, we’d have no jobs.” We also got a tour of the motor homes used to work on the cars. Everything was spotless, the cars, the garage, the motor homes, everything.  We headed back for lunch where I bumped into @prebynski and @MitchNeff, great seeing you guys.

Around 12:15 we headed over to pit-lane to see Marco’s, Ryan’s and Danica’s cars as they were being rolled out for the start. A lot of work to get these cars to the start of the race, how the teams make this happen with us getting in the way all the time is exceptional.

For the start of the race we were sitting almost on the start-finish line. It was tough to tell what happened at turn one but there was a collective sigh of relief when Marco walked away from the Venom car after it was flipped over. One-hundred laps later and it was over. We enjoyed every minute of it and we really appreciate the hospitality of the Andretti Autosport team. I especially want to thank the ExactTarget team of Tim Kopp and Brian Tomey for inviting us to a great weekend.

Entrepreneur: 1st Week Recap (+Days 7 & 8)

I learned three key elements this week:

  • Fear precedes making a decision, focus comes after you make a decision.
  • Keep an eye on mistakes you’ve made in the past (HBR’s latest issue is the Failure Issue) and learn from them. Take inventory of them. What decisions did you make, why did you make them and what were the results? Would you make the same decisions over again?
  • If you’re committed and passionate about what you’re doing then that will get other people pulling for you. In other words, if you give a damn it will attract others. Find a way to get those people engaged if you can.

If you’re putting your own startup together then take a look at the resources that SCORE has to offer. They also have webinars and online workshops.

For keeping track of all the things I’m now responsible for I’ve been using Things on the Mac. It’s at bit limited for anything beyond simple tasks so I’ve been playing around with Basecamp and now Zoho. I’m still undecided, Zoho gives a lot for a little money but Basecamp is really straightforward and doesn’t try to solve everything.

[edit] Add Apollo to the list – I haven’t created an account yet but the interface looks clean and straight forward. This is one I hadn’t heard of yet.

I’m taking Sunday off and going to the Grand Prix of St Pete. I went to the inaugural one a few years ago and it was a great race. Tonight I’m teaching my girlfriend who Mario Andretti is. This should be fun…

Entrepreneur: Day 6

This is going to be quick because I’m starving. Sales Strategy and Marketing Strategy are both 90% complete. For Marketing – leverage a strategic partner’s existing market presence to enable us to get ramped up quickly. Stress the benefits to their existing customer base and how this will allow those customers to stay using their product longer. That’s overly simplistic but we’ll figure the rest out as we go. For Sales Strategy – yes, we will have sales. That’s about as much as I can share.

What did I learn today? That the exercise I did yesterday (list all my mistakes) paid off today. Somebody wasn’t responding and we went with someone else. Probably waited a bit too long. So add that to the list: if you’re going to cut a service provider do it quickly and move on. It cost us time but no money, at this stage they’re equally valuable.

Entrepreneur: Day 5

Planning day. And looking for real estate. A good friend of mine, Brantley Smith, is the Director of Marketing and Interactive Media at The Continental Group.  It may be some time before I actually need the space but I’ve got a really good idea of what’s out there and for how much. He really hooked me up with some great comps and I really appreciate Brantley’s help in putting this together.

At this point the company name has been picked and a quick logo has been put together. By the end of Friday I’m looking to have the articles of incorporation filed and EIN paperwork submitted. Roles and responsibilities have been chosen by the three partners as well as initial number of shares and their valuation.

The product name has also been chosen and I’m putting the roadmap together, should be ready by Thursday to discuss with the rest of my partners. I’ve also come up with an initial list of potential strategic partners to begin contacting.

I also feel like I’m not getting enough done. Not working hard enough, not working fast enough. Not sure if that’s realistic or I’m just ready to haul ass and get this launched. Since I’m sitting around a lot more (as I’m now working Tampa Bayfrom the house) I want to get more consistent in my training. The bike has been sitting around for a few weeks – unfortunately the bottom bracket seized and it’s in the shop. Should be ready by Thursday. To prep I put together a quick schedule to start getting back in the groove. I usually train from 4:30 or 5 AM until 7:00 AM for 3-5 times a week. That’s a bit much all at once so for 2 weeks it will be 5-6:30 AM for 3 times a week. That’s about 85 miles a week. From then on I’ll add about 20 minutes a week and an extra session every other week. So in about six weeks I’ll be back up to almost 3 hour sessions five times a week. Personally, I like getting into the office already having my workout done. By then I should be able to post shots like this one of Tampa Bay.

Entrepreneur: Day 4

After digging through Guy Kawasaki’s book The Art of the Start again I realized I had something ass backwards. I was getting lost in writing the business plan and losing focus. In Chapter 4 Guy writes that you should write the business plan after you write the pitch. This is great advice – because now I’m not cramming a bunch of crap that a) nobody is going to read and b) …  No need for b), if nobody is going to read it then you shouldn’t write it. Writing the pitch first let’s you clearly see what points your trying to get across and in what order. So today I spend about 3 hours writing the pitch. It’s about 15 slides and still needs some editing. I doubt I can get it to 10 slides but It’ll be close.

All this got me thinking – if I forgot to write the pitch first, what else am I forgetting? I took another 90 minutes or so and wrote down all the mistakes I’ve made with other ventures. So here it is. You might be able to make out some of them. They range from “bad partners” to “Focused too much on what we could do rather than what we should do.” In terms of “bad partners” that stems from a small investment fund I put together when I was 23 to invest in internet stocks. This was 1992 and when someone said they were a “high-roller” I believed them. That was dumb. I found out later that he was with Amway. Bullshit detectors had clearly not started to form at that stage for me. For “Focused too much on what we could do…” I didn’t put a stop to endless feature creep when I should have. This was a few years later and the product got unwieldy and was just too much to deal with. Other examples of where I bombed were “Not calling someone on their bullshit” when I should have. It may have saved a few people and a lot of embarrassment for others. If people make absurd statements then it’s your responsibility to make them prove it. There’s about 20 examples in the picture but the final one I’ll cover is “Tried being everything to everybody.” My mistake on previous products was to put in tons of “stuff” and have something for everyone. I don’t think most of it ever got used. All the time that was spent creating it could have been used make the one or two really important features bulletproof. I really lost track of what problem I was trying to solve. So every week or so I’ll review the list, just to make sure I’m not repeating old errors.

Entrepreneur: Day 3

With the weekend wrapping up I’m finally, back home. With all partners present and working for the entire weekend I can honestly say this much: there’s a great chemistry between us. To me, that’s the most important part – we can overcome anything but personality conflicts. They’ll rot the team and you’ll get nowhere but pissed off. The “no asshole rule” is now in aeffect.

On the drive back I had a good three hours to get more of the business plan worked out. The financials are pretty much done at this point with the exception of building out staffing. The prototype is up and running – needs some more work but it’s coming along nicely. One thing I’m trying NOT to do is have more of the business plan complete than the product.

I also had time to finish Seth Godin’s Poke the Box. Typical of Seth, I got about $5k of value for about 5 bucks in the Kindle store. One thing that really stood out was the contrast he drew between “flux” and “risk.” Flux is all the stuff going on around us. Risk is the potential of failure. He goes on to explain that the real risk is in not doing something new, of not jumping into the flux and building something. Anything. And do it now. I highly recommend the book and it’s only a few bucks.

Even on a limited budget for the next 18 months I went and splurged on a Keurig. I figure between my girlfriend and I we spend about $6.31/day on coffee most days, on some days we’re as high as $10. The Keurig was on sale at Macy’s for about $140 so I should be at break-even between 14 and 22 days.  Not only that but it takes me about 10 minutes to get to Starbucks and back so I’m also saving an hour a week that I can put towards getting the company up and running.

Entrepreneur: Day 2

Weekends are work days too. Covered multiple business models and worked out next steps and timelines. All without Starbucks and a shower. Oh, I’m learning how to go cheap on everything too.

Entrepreneur: Day 1

Up at 5 AM, plowed through all the emails from friends and family that were wishing me luck. As I’m writing this I’m heading for north Florida to work on fleshing out some additional opportunities. It’s 2PM. Left at 10. I think I’ve hit every Five Guys Burgers on the way as well as The Hard Rock Casino. Not the best use of time to be sure. To make up for it, I paid off my car. I started updating the business plan, the Executive Summary, Market Opportunity, Financial, and Bio’s were mostly completed last week. The three partners, including myself, had also worked out the initial number of shares, their value, and when we would file an 83(b). If you’re not familiar with the 83(b) then grab a copy of Do More Faster and take a look at the “To 83(b) or Not to 83(b), There is no Question” by Matt Galligan. There’s a great explanation of what your exposure may be and how to deal with it early on.

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