Thursday, 25 February 2010

human first

human first. Does not mean 'saintly' just means to stop and think about what is important.

Do not ask me why i'm putting this in a blog about likeourselves but its 12.34am and as usual I'm in an odd mood around this time. Its like I've either been drinking or have a hangover and yet all I've been doing is working.

Anyway, back to the point. Somewhere in the last couple of decades we seem to have got the words 'economy' and 'society' the wrong way round. Everyone talks about 'GDP' and lots of other economic indices and they seem to have forgotten the point... the economy is there to serve society. What is the point of having a decade of boom if, during that decade, kids are stabbing each other in the street. By law we should force the politico's to speak social indices first and then relate them to the economy.

James Goldsmith had it right all along.

Here he is way back in 1994 predicting the future. That man had class (he died and that sucks):






Tuesday, 23 February 2010

highrise?


ok, so highrise (the crm system) highrisehq.com offers several plans. the cheapest is $24 but only allows 10 'deals'. That's fine, i don't want to use deals. So i sign up. I spend a couple of hours getting familiar with it and structuring my marketing plans / contacts to fit with high rise structure and vice versa. I create several 'cases' e.g. blogs / media / blogs-london / forums / media-tech and then i find out that there is actually a limit on the number of cases too. The limit is 5. This limit was not stated on the plan when I bought it.

That said, highrise, after having checked out some other sites is a decent product. They just need to make their 'limits' clear.

right, back to another focus boost. Currently at mr.mango's place, in the other room but still running webcam... very strange. Although he's working on another project, he's pretty much helped out every day with his comments. Two founders working on separate projects can still do wonders in analysis of each others work. Also, he started development on the same day as this project did. His marketing research has followed a similar path.


Sunday, 21 February 2010

crm for inbound marketing, financial crashes and world poverty

customer relationship management - what is it in this context? its something that helps us manage our sales/marketing contacts by listing who they are, what category they belong to and our communication over time

why do we need one? Well, if I end up going to contact several hundred blogs, dozens of news/media channels, twitter, facebook, linkedin, digg etc etc I will come across hundreds of contacts. I will have hundreds of communications running. I will not be able to keep them in my organic RAM. Also, when this marketing team expands beyond just myself (the other co-founder is still to complete his finances and begin hardcore on this and we don't have any interns yet) then it will come in use to work on one system rather than through my email, for example.

well, me and my webcam/focus boost startup buddy mr.mango as he shall be known for now tried out sugar crm. Its more enterprise level and not inbound marketing startup level application. There were so many things to click in order to get something done that I figure its not for founders in a small team but for employees that require a disciplined data entry in order to produce great management reports. There is a free and paid version. Its a good CRM for a larger companies as the free version has a lot of functionality.

Currently, I'm going with highrisehq.com from the 37 signals team. Its a bit like CRM for kids but thats perfect for me. Its easy to use and does what I want simply. New people will learn it quickly. Job done. Free for a month and then $24 bucks up to 6 users per month after that. I considered excel sheets, gmail (using labels) however, I have to think of the future team and highrise does the job.

This is a boring post. CRM is a boring word. Its used too often to mean too many different things.

er anything exciting happening? yeah, more work. The developer is currently orchestrating a masterpiece. However, he's the sort of developer that builds the worlds most powerful infrastructure and enjoys doing that but does he also enjoy the softer front end stuff? Some dev's hate html. I can imagine they especially hate xhtml running on multiple platforms where each browser reads it differently. Damn you multiple platforms.

Talking about multiple platforms, the need to build multiple different applications for multiple phones e.g. iphone applicaion, palm-pre application, android app etc etc is the greatest misuse of talented human resources I can possibly imagine when for several decades, they've spent time building up common web communication standards. Diversity may be the spice of life but internet was built on one standard of communication and that's why we have a world wide web. On top of the web, you can diversify and over time the best will rise to the top. For now, in our current state of evolution, give us one web, give us one platform. Where are the adults??? Where are the leaders of business who can think bigger than their own share holding?

Proof that there are very few adults running the world:
1. financial crash: children taking big risks, ignoring consequences, running to daddy to fix it and then (soon) taking big risks again before running off to a farm and playing alamo.

2. poverty: given enough resources to stop all poverty forever, we spent our time playing cold war games followed by consuming crap we never needed and always knew the money could be used better elsewhere

in 50 years, (assuming things have improved) they'll look back and say 'what a bunch of tossers'

then again, we might be the generation that changes everything in one go (10 years... it'll take 10 years)

I seem to have gone off track.



The Grind

Last night, I felt the grind. Went through 200+ ideas in the ideas dump sheet in 4 hours of focus boosts and ranked them, added them to existing execution plans and documents, put notes against them for future development stages etc. It was not as intense as the marketing research 200+ posts that I had to filter as that took more work, however, at 3am, its a grind.

The grind was a necessary and a quality enhancing grind. Its a refinement of several months of dumping down ideas that came to mind. If my past work pattern is right, this will pay off. I've never done the quality grind in any workplace without a pay off before. However, once again, these are words and superstitions. The only thing that matters is the measurable result.

Bought my 'inbound marketing' book written by brian halligan and dharmesh shah of http://www.hubspot.com. Looks good. A lot of the research I've done over 3 weeks is reflected within that book but they have a refinement on ideas which I definitely need. For example, I've researched on inbound marketing techniques and how to apply resources to each channel but they have specifics on how to set up funnels and measure resources. Interesting. I think some of their ideas are very good for product based businesses... in fact, I'd say you'd be crazy not to use their ideas for product based businesses but they also apply to likeourselves. For some it may cover ground you can read in lots of different places but they put it together in one book and I need a book because I like to spend time reading away from the laptop.

Its a sunday. At some point, i need to get out and go talk to users again to refresh the idea. i'd like to do it with a rough working raw site but development is not there yet. Instead today I will run multiple focus boosts and start on filling in marketing targets and material. I estimate that this will involve a minimum of 120 hours of work for just the first set of targets and to setup material for those targets. Some of it will be fun but some of it will be THE GRIND. I'm going to earn that fraggin (thanks bsg) beer this summer.


Tuesday, 16 February 2010

stress and release

ever done a really intense exam, got up, come out and everyone is flushed, emotionally wide open, energised and talking about it? good feeling afterwards right? job has been done. Imagine its the last exam of the year, all of a hot summer lays before you and you have a celebration party to go to and right now someone sticks a cold beer in your hand. Remember that rush of feeling that goes through you? WOOOOOHOOOOOO

I want that feeling.

I want people who use the site to have that feeling.


Saturday, 13 February 2010

yeah

i'm pretty sure i'm supposed to use this blog for something related to this website which does something other than look like an outpouring of my struggles and advice on startups from an ongoing perspective

maybe we'll get investors and they'll tell me to shut up or tell me what I'm actually supposed to be writing about. I refuse to research other companies blogs to work out what I could write on this one. I don't know why.

recent activities:
yep, still the marketing beast but now i feel a touch more stable. The research is paying off. I've now thought about the 'viral engine' of the site. I know I will use some decent metrics to work out the impact of various marketing channels. I've got around 200 items on my marketing research list to prioritise and organise. (and 200 more on my ideas page, some of which relate to marketing). They will be ordered and entered into an execution plan. I can feel the superstructure developing around me and while I feel a predictable inevitability of the companies future, I'm still on very unsteady ground until I've qualified with users if i've hit 'product market fit'

happy valentines day to my laptop, its my current one and only true love and I will spend all day today with it, stroking the keys to generate text and eating dinner with it while watching a movie (eating from a plate in front of laptop while watching youtube videos on the financial crash... watch max keiser... he's funny)


Friday, 12 February 2010

hangovers, faith and corporates

i can sometimes be at my best when i have a hangover. my edgy energy is gone, my brain has cooled, its focused on one thing at a time because i'm just too damn fubar to do any more than one thing at a time. I was out to say bye to a friend heading off to abu dhabi to work for 2 years and I was also there to get opinions on the project.

There are very few people that have any real faith that something will come of this project. Most just laugh. Maybe its the way I tell the tale. I get excited about it and what I should in fact do, is get them excited about it. The only thing that matters is what you actually produce and up until you actually produce it, expect and deserve to be laughed at. Its all talk until you make something, successfully market it and have people using it in large enough numbers.

Most people I talk to, work in corporate environments with layers of management and structure. Its very hard for someone from that background to fully empathise with you if you are in a startup because they are not aware of the intensity of it. I reckon I'm going to be pretty damn fried when I finish this startup. I don't feel that way after a corporate job, it does not have the same intensity. I was telling someone last night how hard this can be, she was saying something like 'what? you don't think anyone in normal companies works hard?'.... o_O I was not comparing to her, I was comparing to myself. I've worked in corporate environments... many of them. It does not compare partly because there are things I do which I was paid well for previously, now, I don't even count it as work.

I've worked in a startup before as an employee and that was nothing compared to this experience in intensity but even then, when I left the startup and went to the corporate environment, I was a bit of a shock to the system. I did not understand departmental resource politics. There were problems they had meetings over which I would say, I'll fix that later today and there would be silence. Why?They were thinking about 1. future responsibilities, 2. budgets, 3. resources, 4. who gets the blame if something goes wrong etc etc but I came from a company where you swept the floor, made sales calls, built systems, did marketing, rewired networks and anything they else the could throw at you. It took a while to fall into corporate thinking where lines of power are easily crossed... and fair enough... it is someone's job that could be affected.

Corporates are good for giving a lot of people a lot of jobs. They manage projects startups could never dream of managing because it takes dedicated career minded professionals in long term jobs with lots of experience to do those jobs. They are the biggest, the richest and in all probability you are more likely to become wealthy rising through the ranks of a corporate than you are by being in a dot com. Regardless, a corporate job just does not have the same intensity and bite of being utterly responsible for your own future. No back up. Why did we have a financial crisis? partly because we have social security and don't feel the need to save. Why does Asia save? no social security. No backup. When your own survival is on the line based on your decisions, you work harder. There are no second chances on this project. That's what I was thinking about last night on the train heading back. The thoughts count for nothing unless put into practise.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

the marketing beast

The more I read the more I am certain. Marketing is a beast that makes software development look like a walk in the park.

Ideally, in order to be able to handle marketing, I would like to be a super charming, empathetic, masters in mathematics grad, copyrighter, coder and marketing channel project manager with a great CRM system all in one.

I can do bits of all of these things but I would have to be at my very best on every subject matter at every point in the day to carry this off.

why?

project manager: to be able to handle all the marketing channels and enter them into a CRM system in order to manage the sheer volume of contacts and communications made

copyrighter: to create copy for all the blogs, directories, press releases, emails that this will require.... customised for each different type of channel

coder: to be able to code a system to track and manage the returns made from each channel

super charming & empathetic: to be able to meet users and get from them, their true opinions on the product

mathematics grad: to be able to evaluate the returns from each channel, estimate the exponential growth from each and, taking resources into account, to decide where to focus effort for the best return.

Its actually a frightening quantity of work and I've got to do it. There is only one other part timer on the team and he will be helping with talking to end users out there. Hopefully I can get some interns to help us on this. It will be a good experience for them too.

I had the foresight to say, early on in the project, that I would spend 50% of the time on marketing. However, its one thing to say it, its another (having done the research) to have to do it.

The value of research cannot be underestimated. Its without a doubt the foundation to everything done on this project so far. The initial 2 week intense (and then ongoing) research on potential competitors gives so much confidence. The worst thing I could have done is to ignore what else is out there. That strategy can work but it feels wrong to me. Look at them and don't be afraid and then look at where they might be going wrong. That brings confidence. 2 weeks of research followed by a summary of key points.

For marketing the research has been intense so far and I'm not done yet. However, I can't imagine anything worse than 1. building the project 2. figuring out a marketing plan afterwards.
There is so much material out there, based on successful dotcommers experiences that to not look at it would be insane. I've already gone from incredible naivety to advancing my ideas a great deal and I still don't know jackshit.

I guess when you are thinking of building something you have to qualify that its 'something that people want'. Far better to spend a month on qualifying (as opposed to a week) than to spend 2 years working on something which does not work. For marketing the concept is similar, you've spent all that time building it, you need to equally have a solid plan for people to see it and use it. It needs an equal effort if not more. However, these are all assumptions for now because I have no real experience of marketing. Its going to be emotional.

... the likeourselves product changed 'massively' over that one qualifying month - almost a completely different product. only 50% of the core of the idea remained the same.




Sunday, 7 February 2010

once it was a pain barrier, now its barely an itch

before this startup I went through a number of pain barriers on a previous project I built. It was a behemoth... around 10 times the size of this current project and is/was more of a product based business than a dotcom.

I realised one about this current project that I don't have compared to that other project. When I think of something I know I need to do, it just gets done or at worst listed in my plan with absolute commitment to completing it. Some of these things are damn huge in themselves and will take grinding quantities of work to do. However, now I just mentally accept it without barely a thought. Its something that has to be done and so it will be done. Time will be put aside, plans will be made, it will be executed and it will be completed.

In the first project, I bitched and moaned to myself and went through emotional ups and downs thinking about how much extra work that was going to take. It involved real mental pain. Amazing how things change.

The funny thing is, all this work I am doing now is just preparation. It does not even count. You can say this is obvious but when you work this much on something and you might come out with nothing (other than brilliant experience of course)... its a hard thought.

Running a startup toughens you up, focuses you, makes you productive in the extreme. It gives objectivity and clarity. I'm hoping I've been toughened up enough to have thought through the current project sufficiently to be building something people want.

That's another lesson I hope I don't have to re-learn. If I'm going to spend 2 years, post launch, trying to turn an idea into a success then I hope to have spent at least 2 months pre-launch making sure that its something people want and the market is actually there for it. I've done the research, summarised it. Myself and my one remaining (although currently tied up in personal finances) partner have both spent time to qualify it. This makes me feel far more grounded than if we had spent a week on thinking it up and then going headlong into it without researching and qualifying it. Screw the experience and objectivity and clarity and so on... its good but either way I don't want to spend years on a fuck up project. I'm all in with this one.



Friday, 5 February 2010

ease up before you go to bed

you know that pomodoro technique thing? the one with the intense 25 minute timed focus boosts? well you might want to ease up on that before you go to bed... otherwise, there's no sleep for you.

25 minutes focus, 5 minute break, 25 minutes focus, 5 minute break, 25 minutes focus, brush teeth, go to bed, guess what happens next.... you may as well drink an extra strong black coffee and then a can of red bull

marketing

i mean... wtf
marketing?
wtf is that?

i know how to get software built and i know how to do testing and god knows what. plenty of material on it too.... however, I'm a marketing noob. If i have a product I'm sure many people definitely want to use... how do i GUARANTEE that they will see it, know what it does and use it in as short a period of time as possible?

so i've been researching. I've developed a 'marketing plan'. I seem to be following all the common steps and I don't like it one bit. why? because of parkinsons law. If someone is given 3 months to find 100,000 users then that person will take 3.5 months and bring back 80,000 users. I'm going to try 2 strands of strategy.

1. the anti-parkinson law strategy
2. the structured scientific hard work approach

the first one will be the wild crazy, go for gold, make the absolute use of insane methods of driving up user numbers in massive volumes in short periods of time e.g. taking a massive chance on an insane viral technique as opposed to the standard viral stuff. The second one will follow my marketing plan which is more traditional (and by traditional, I mean that we will use web 2.0, social networking and every other freebie easy marketing method possible.) This will also involve costing my time e.g. if i calculate that my time is 10 squid (pounds) an hour then if i spend 2 hours (20 squid) on generating 20 users to the site using method A and using method B i generate 40 people in 2 hours then i should spend more time on method B. This all sounds painfully boring but necessary, i'd also like to spend 6 hours on 2 crazy wild ideas with a smaller probability of hitting gold.

All in all, I must say, this marketing thing is both damn damn hard and could be fun. As a founder, I need to be behind this as its hunger that counts as much as anything.


Thursday, 4 February 2010

for this project, i've hired a developer. I spent a long time thinking about which person to go for. I went through people with many years experience. I took the time to run through their previous projects, their skillsets etc etc... and at the end of it I went with a guy who was 2 years out of university with the least experience out of all of them. So far, its one of the best decisions I've ever made. He's just brilliant.

Some luck is involved and a lot of hard work and careful thought. I have a good solid specification written using axure rp wireframe tool which is brilliant and allows me to layout the full site (with buttons acting as hyperlinks to the next page so you can see what the site will look like and how it flows) although I wish I could afford the full version which is over $500, however the trial version alone has helped me create a full spec. Its easily the best wireframe tool i've seen. The other nice looking one is balsamiq although I did not get to try it properly... however its very neat and pleasant to use from what little i saw. axure is just solid for me though, they did their hard work there and it always shows.

I also researched hard on the technology and did my best to think through all the major obstacles we would come across including terms and conditions restrictions. In the past I have not been a good administrator but nowadays i write down everything in google docs. There is a master spreadsheet including tabs like: research (where i covered around 70 or 80 competitor / similar / related sites), marketing research, finance/revenue, risks, ideas (where i dump any ideas and after a time i do 'must, should, could, would like to' against each one) and many more. I did a massive information dump including a first rough layout of the major pages in a google word document. So there was a lot of work which i had to refine to then create this one specification.
The initial research phase was 2 intense weeks, after that it was a month of thinking through and dumping information on the technology platform and initial rough layout and thinking through obstacles. Then it was 3 weeks getting that first specification completed and i'm currently still refining it as I go. Normally it might not take 3 weeks to do that specification after the first week but the axure tool was so damn good that i could see the entire site and it made me think hard about the full process and so i've already ironed out many dumb and obvious usability problems early on.

So, when I was able to give Den (the developer) the full specification, it instantly allowed him to get a feel for the full site and see the likely technical problems he would come across.

So combine that work with the guy who has the hunger to work on it and wanted to work on something exciting and interesting. He loves to code and here is a project which he wants to work on and gets paid to work on and also its his first solid project to add to his online portfolio. So far, he's been going at a hell of a pace and its only been 8 days. I told him that I can afford to pay 40 hours per week max but his hours are his own i.e. work when you want, however you want in that week.

I'm not sure if this will work with everyone else, it does however help to
1. pick someone who loves to code
2. give them an interesting project to work on
3. make sure you've done the work on the specification and basic logic.
4. communicate regularly and be open and honest and tell them your side of the work too. they are, in every way, a team member

In fact I hope, in the future, he becomes part of the team that runs it too.


when you think about doing a startup and you know its going to take lots of work, when you actually start doing the work, you realise there is a huge difference between work that produces an output and just sitting there having a brain fidget for 12+ hours. You also realise that you might be a lazy and inefficient and easily distracted scum bag.... like me... so how do i now efficiently work through a 12+ hour day?

several things:

1. read this, pomodoro technique - http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/
2. get yourself a focus booster app - http://www.focusboosterapp.com/
3. if possible, find a friend, use gmail webcam and make sure they have focus booster too
4. write down the 20+ things you need to get done in 25 minute slots in that day
5. do the focus boosts and count how many you've done at the end of the day
6. Compare how many you've done each day

I'll describe it another way. Each day i get up, switch on my laptop, make a gmail voice + webcam call to a friend who is also doing a startup from his home also. We both write down the 20+ things we need to get done in that day (or try to get done). We open up the focus booster app and hit GO! The focus booster app counts down from 25 minutes to 0. In that time, we do not talk and we get that 1st activity done in complete focus without facebook/twitter or any distractions. when the 25 minutes is up, the bell rings and we get a 5 minute break to chat, facebook, walk around etc. Then another 25 minutes begins. Every 4th 25 minute break, we take a longer break (15 minutes to half an hour). At the end of the day, I count how many I've done - which means, how much focused work did I actually do today!

Now lets compare this to what i'd normally do. I open up laptop, I start working on something, i get distracted whenever i want by looking at guardian.co.uk, bbc.co.uk, facebook, timesonline, youtube etc. My brain skips around every couple of minutes and my concentration span never really goes beyond 10 minutes. I can do this for 3 days and never actually get anything productive done.

Last night, with focus booster (on my own this time... you don't need a webcam buddy but my webcam buddy has a similar reverence for the focus boost so it works well) I did 3 hours of solid work related to a first draft marketing plan. Previously, I thought this would take days of research. It took 3 hours.

I think the productivity ratio is 1:3
for every 1 day i do focus boost, I could easily spend 3 days waffling through the same thing. On top of everything else, it gives me a positive feeling that I can achieve my aims because I know I will be productive enough. That said, you can be the most productive person on earth and build something which seems great to you but if no-one actually wants it, then its goodnight charlie. Qualify it!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

the last 2 months

what will the blog talk about?

It will change as the idea progresses. Maybe the purpose of this will be to communicate with users, get feedback... i don't know. For now though i'll talk about startups! and the journey we take and I'll randomly throw in other stuff as i go along.

me? i'm pk, 34, born and bred in london, currently married to my laptop working on this startup.

what has happened in the last 2 months?
Well, I had an idea and since then i've hopefully developed it into 'something people want' (thanks for that y-combinator). The 'team' behind it, was supposed to have been 4 people but 1 had dropped out, 1 started off well and then became overwhelmed with work from his normal job, the last full co-founder is dealing with a personal financial clear up and so cannot give time to this at the moment. All 3 are working full time in other 9 to 5 jobs. This makes me the only full time member of this project and therefore doing 95% of the work and currently the only one financially contributing to it too. However, I'm fairly rabid about this project because I've already had some experience and so I know that this is an opportunity. I figure, if you have not done it before, you can say 'I believe' but its a fuzzy belief. Then, when it starts happening, your belief builds up in layers. In time they'll come round.

Here's an early lesson I've learned. How do you split a company given this situation? Well, its difficult if you are just trying to assign portions to everyone depending on how much effort they will make and currently few are making an effort but plan to do so in the future. Currently I'm juggling several ideas all following the same rough trend, which is a Vested share scheme with a 1 year cliff. see this link: http://thestartuplawyer.com/incorporation/what-is-four-years-with-a-one-year-cliff throw that in with options based on part time work which might go full time and you'll see roughly what i'm getting at. Should you just split it equally? HELL NO. There is nothing worse than working your ass off for something which others do not contribute to and yet they get an equal split of it. It will be your biggest regret and if you can't be open and honest about it in the beginning resulting in getting hurt later. Protect yourself and your team and your future with sensible share splits from the start which are dependent on effort made - that is why a vested share scheme makes sense... however its probably only one of many options out there. I need to find more.


What is the product? well i'm hoping if you are reading this blog then you already know. Its not launched so I won't go into details yet.