I finished my first ever Tough Mudder on April 20th with some friends. It was tough and muddy and very similar to a startup journey. I know it sounds crazy but I was thinking about my startup the entire time I was racing. It could have been the cold weather or the electric shocks but I learned several lessons during that race.
I have been reading tons of startup books lately and have learned a lot from all of them… Once in a while I run into a great book that is profoundly impactful and potentially life-changing. I have just started reading a new favorite and must-read for anyone interested in starting (and running) a business. The book is The Startup Playbook and I LOVE it so far. It’s not a how-to guide for building and running your company and it’s not a “scientific” book on business and company creation. It is a compilation of very successful entrepreneurs - about 4 or 5 pages on each person, introducing them, give you a little of their back story and why you should listen to them; followed by a couple of paragraphs on their “playbook” and finally a section of the “best advice” from this person.
The advice is great. The playbook is informative. But my favorite is their stories. I just could not help being super inspired by these people and just wanting to put down the book and go build my company :)… I am about a fifth through the book and want to blog about some of the highlights so far. I am actually reading this with a highlighter in hand, marking it up and taking notes – I almost never do that. I am hoping that I can come back to these series of blog posts in the future when I am down and need some inspiration and I hope it does the same for you and maybe make you go buy the book
We are all familiar with heroic stories of entrepreneurs These stories tell of easy, quick or inevitable success. In reality, there are almost always massive challenges, delays, setbacks, risks, and uncertainties Indeed, entrepreneurs and pioneers have to believe that their journeys will be successful; they would never have set out without that belief. But the journey is almost always hard.
This is a great definition of entrepreneurship and what this book is about
…[entrepreneurship is] jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down. This book is about airplane assembly, weather patterns, and flying intelligently.
This quote describes how I feel right now.
[during the discovery phase]… founders are typically roaming around in the darkness, looking for intellectual light switches to illuminate how their ideas stand up to customer needs and competitive offerings.
The introduction to the book has a very “cut to the chase” section where the biggest and most critical ideas of the book are summed up… Here are some highlights:
Your startup company must be rooted and flow from the founder’s innate gifts.
Ruthlessly focus on your biggest ideas. This is a personal weakness of mine and I am constantly fighting the urge to chase something “new and shiny”.
…choosing a maniacally focused path and betting it all is one of the hardest parts of the job and it requires the most courage. But it is often what’s required to truly win a market.
Build painkillers, not vitamins
If you can’t describe you company’s value as a painkiller, then I recommend you redefine and refine your business thesis.
Be ten times better
…be ten times better than your competitors. You cannot be incrementally better.
Be a monoplist
…their intentions were not predatory or abusive… simply a way to focus on building market-dominating companies.
I have been to many third-world countries and I have to completely agree with the author that “You’ve Won Humanity’s Lottery; Be Grateful. Take Risks.” This is true if you live in any developed country, specially here in America.
…we have a responsibility to take great risks because in truth, we have few true risks at all.
…if you cannot lead yourself, you cannot lead others.
startups are stupidly hard… the decision to pursue them is irrational because the experience can be such a torturous one.
Founder of TED - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Anderson_(writer)
Wherever you see rea engaged passion, that means there’s something worth investigating.
Don’t make big decisions at a time of weakness
Everyone knows that hiring the right people is critical to an organization’s success. But you won’t get the best out of them unless you let them help shape your vision.
Founder of DonorsChoose - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donorschoose.org
Scratch a personal itch
Get out of the way and good things will follow.
Crowdsource front to back
Founder of SPANX - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sara_Blakely
For some reason, Sara’s section was covered with my highlighter. I guess I liked what she had to say. The only thing I didn’t agree with her on is not sharing your ideas in their infancy. I see her reasoning but I prefer transparency and openness. One of my favorite thing that she said is that her father used to ask her “What did you fail at today?” I am definitely using this with my future kids because it makes it clear that failure is an indication that you tried something and that you shouldn’t be afraid of failing but embrace it and learn form it. Also, if you don’t fail then you are not trying hard enough.
…failures will eventually improve her efforts in a way that encouragement never could.
I was very clear in asking the universe to show me an opportunity and give me my own idea.
I love the following quote and completely relate to it. I know I want to build an awesome software company and have a very specific vision for it – from the office space, to benefits to culture to the kind of people that I would hire… But I am not 100% clear on how to get there.
Whatever you can think, you can create; just have a very clear vision… I’m not clear on how I’m going to get there, but I’m 100 percent clear that I will get there.
…don’t be paranoid: ideas are almost never stolen until they’re already thriving in the marketplace.
Don’t be afraid
Courage is acting despite of fear
Hire your weaknesses
The following is another favorite quote of mine:
Money makes you more of who you already are. If you are a jerk, it will make you a bigger jerk; if you’re insecure, you will become even more insecure…
You’ve got to have the inner confidence to believe in yourself when everyone else is telling you no.
A serial entrepeneur and academian – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Blank
Note to self – read The Four Steps to the Epiphany
Along with the book you are holding [The startup playbook], The Four Steps to the Epiphany should be essential reading for every startup founder.
Steve says that Joseph Campbell recognized a pattern thousands of years old that recurs in mythologies across every culture: the heroic quest. Whether it’s Moses, Luke Skywalker, or Jesus “The hero puts together a motley team to heed the call… and sets out on his quest, undergoing trials, then a death and a rebirth”.
I setup a Startup Books group at http://www.shelfari.com/groups/102249/lists/read please join and add your books.
I am getting ready to venture on my own. My income is going to be drastically cut and by drastic, I mean, I will have no stable source of income and whatever I have will be about 10% of what I make right now. Needless to say, some sacrifices need to be made and some expenses need to be eliminated.
Subscription services are evil. No matter how good and valuable the service is, you will always use less than what you really need it for. That is why I love it as an entrepreneur and hate it as a customer. So I went through my mint.com records to try and figure out where all my subscriptions are. All I gotta say is WOW!!! I was pretty pissed off at the money I have been wasting all this time. Here is some of the services I cancelled to save money.
- Lifelock – $10/month
- Experian credit report/monitoring – $10/month
- Audible – $15/month
- AT&T Cell phone, called to cancel and the reduced my bill from $260 to $150/month for a savings of $110/month (good discussion on hacker news over here)
- Cable (Verizon Fios) – reduced plan and saved $30/month
- Hulu & Neflix – decided to keep Netflix and will cancel Hulu – $8/month
- AppHarbor Hosting (moved to MS Azure for 10 free websites) – $20/month
- XBOX live – $60/year or $5/month
- Crossfit $135/month, switched to Koko Fitness $125/month then switched to Liftime Fitness for $83/month – it’s a regular gym but I get free access to yoga, group excercises, swimming pool, jacuzzi, volleyball, rock climbing, basketball and a full gym and I end up saving $52/month
- Silver Eagle – shooting range – $35/month
- Massage Envy – $59/month (this was a waste because I always forgot to schedule a massage)
NOTE: It is not very easy to find recurring fees in mint.com and I had to manually read through my transactions. I added an idea over here, if you think this is a useful feature then please vote for it.
There are some services that I want to cancel but I “sort of” need them. If you know of cheaper or free alternatives then let me know.
- Balsamiq Online – $12/month (considering the desktop app with no subscription)
- Mindjet – $15/month (considering the desktop app with no subscription)
- Bitbucket – $25/month (considering hosting my own server or reducing user count to get to the free plan limit)
- Evernote – $3.75/month (very cheap, I could just keep it or I can change my usage habits and live within the limits of the free account)
“BUSINESS QUICKEN BANKING” charge of $10/month – I contacted wells fargo because I don’t recall signing up for that and they have been charging me for a year.
Tolls – since I will be working from home and driving less, I will probably save about $75/month
Gas – again, less driving – so, I will probably save about $125/month
Car Insurance – according to mint.com, I could save up to $900/year or $75/month. It’s on my todo list.
Mortgage – I refinanced while I have a paycheck and saved $250/month
Overall, if everything goes as planned and I don’t back down and change my mind or worse, add new subscriptions, the total savings will be around $950/month.
Do you have any money saving tips that could help me cut down expenses even more?
My co-founder and I have been reading a lot of startup books lately. If you are mildly interested in startups, you can’t escape the term MVP. MVP or Minimum Viable Product is a concept popularized by Eric Ries author of The Lean Startup.
In product development, the Minimum Viable Product or MVP is a strategy used for fast and quantitative market testing of a product or product feature, popularized by Eric Ries for web applications. – source wikipedia
A couple of weeks ago, we had our first offsite to brainstorm some ideas and clarify our vision and goals. We agreed on a new product and the goal is to get it out by the end of the year. I have been coding it for the past week or so and it is coming along nicely. But I can’t help thinking back to the MVP. I don’t want a half-baked product but I also don’t want to spend the next 3 months building something that no one wants… the solution is an MMVP i.e a Minimum MVP.
What’s the idea/product?
It is called Starter Web. It is a kick-ass starter web app to start your next web project, web startup or even to create your own MVP. This is no HTML template, this is a project that has all the fundamental pieces of every web app built and tested, so you can focus on YOUR idea and not the BS that you always have to do (authentication, payment processing, etc…)
Who are our customers?
- Web developers that build web apps for clients or for themselves that want to get a running start and don’t want to waste 60+ hours writing the same code.
- Entrepreneurs that want to build web apps and/or startups quickly and don’t want to waste 60+ hours rewriting boring code
- Wantrepreneurs that want to create a quick MVP to prove their concepts and are held back by the all the BS stuff they have to code just get to the fun stuff.
Why do you need it?
How many sites have you built a website before? What are the common features that you keep implementing over and over and over? What are the parts that you wish were just built so you can focus on your business idea instead of the generic stuff? I built and continue to build a lot of websites myself and I find myself repeating the same things several times. Sure, I will copy and paste a few things here and there or refactor some of it into some reusable library, but I still end up doing things over several times. I want something to get me started quickly on the next project. I ran into hackerengine.com a few months ago and thought “wow, that is freaking cool. I wish they had it in .net”. There is no .net equivalent, so I am building one.
UPDATE: I just realized that hackerengine is shutting down – this must have just happened because I was on their site 2 days ago. I guess there are 2 ways to look at this: 1 – there is not enough demand or 2- I have one less competitor to worry about.
The first thing I did is mind map the common features that I need in almost all web projects that I build. Here is a short list of the most important features that came to mind:
- User management: login, signup, password reset, forgot password, email verification, beta invitation code
- Email integration with Sendgrid (you can plugin whatever you need), email templates
- Payment management - Stripe integration for payment processing, product selling, subscription selling, promo codes and so on. Everything related to payment will work out of the box, all you gotta do is add your products or subscription plans in configuration and you are done
- Analytics – Integration with KISSmetrics - http://www.kissmetrics.com/ to track and measure all the important events (login, signup, view plan, subscribe, etc…)
- Affiliate management – affiliate, sign up, login, stats, payment, all working right out of the box to help you grow your business very quickly
- Admin Site – A kick-ass admin control panel that will allow you to do all kind of things: ban users, send invitation codes, setup coupons, products, plans, email users, etc…
- And a lot more
Questions: what do you think of these features? Too much? Not enough? Just right?
What does it cost?
Well, what is 60 hours of work worth to you? What would you pay to have all these things working on day one so you can focus on your REAL app? $300, $500, $1000. Seriously though, we are thinking of pricing it around the $299 to $499 range – any suggestions?
What do you get and how?
When you buy StarterWeb, you will receive the SOURCE CODE, specifically, you will receive direct access to our code repository. You can do whatever you want with it EXCEPT sell it as a template or open source it i.e. you won’t be able to buy it, and re-sell it or give it away as starterweb.org – NOT COOL :). The code is unit tested with 100% coverage with lots of integration testing for the most common scenarios.
What is the technology stack?
- ASP.NET MVC 4 (Razor + C#) – because the .net community needs love too
- Knockout JS
- Twitter Bootstrap
- SQL backened – the data layer is written using the IRepo pattern and you pretty much can plugin any database you like – I might implement a Mongo DB layer if there is enough demand.
Do you have a demo?
I am glad you asked. Here is a demo that I deployed ta Azure in less than 20 seconds. Side note: I have previously complained about the terrible deployment story on Azure but I gotta say, Microsoft gets it right again (on the 3rd version). I was able to deploy to Azure in under a minute using git – FREAKING AWESOME.
Remember this is only 1 week old (working part time on it), but it has the following features:
- Reset password
- Email verification
- “Beta” invitations
See it at http://starterweb.azurewebsites.net/ - you can signup using the invitation code “mvp“.
You can’t wait? Want it right now?
Let me know at @eibrahim or eibrahim @ gmail and you can pre-buy it for a discounted price of $149 which gives you a license to use it on 1 website (domain). You will get a say in the direction the project goes and you will get direct read access to the source code repository.
Thanks and please, please, please, give us feeback.
It doesn’t matter how good your product is, if you can’t market it, it will fail. My cofounder and I just spent the last few months working hard to release our first Windows 8 app and we have finally submitted it for approval last Sunday – very exciting. The problem is that we have been so busy working on the product that we haven’t had time to do any marketing at all.
The problem now is that I have a huge list of features I want to add into the next update of the product – so do I code or do I market? I LOVE coding, I know how to do it, I am good at it, can do it for hours and I just have fun doing it. On the flip side, I love marketing and the idea of it but I don’t think I am good at it and honestly, if I had to choose, I would pick coding every time.
My cofounder is not technical, but he is also not a marketer. The dilemma I have is that I know more than him when it comes to marketing and I am also better than him right now. I emphasize “right now” because I am 98% sure that if he gets into marketing and gets some initial hand holding, he will be better than me. So the real question is: do I code, do I market or do I help him get started in marketing?
If I decide to help him and since I, myself, am not a expert marketer then how do I get him started? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
I will list a few things here for him to look into but it will be great if you guys can help me help him by pointing us to any marketing resources, articles, tools, etc… PS: he is freaking bright and self motivated, so all I have to do is just list a few things and he will be all over it.
- Google Alerts
- Free Marketing: 101 Low and No-Cost Ways to Grow Your Business, Online and Off http://amzn.to/SZ2I65
- setup blog/tumblr
- setup twitter account
- setup facebook page
- SEO – search engine optimization
- A/B testing
- Youtube videos
- networking with key players
- guest blogging
UPDATE: Many of you are wondering what our app is. I am not ready to say yet, but stay tuned and follow me at @eibrahim.