Business is an art, not a science. That’s even more true in early stage ventures… but there is some science or at least a recipe to apply to your tech startup.
You read this stuff over and over, but you don’t really “get it” until you reach product market fit.
0.) Start with a geek and a hustler, or two geeks, but you have to be able to design, code and sell.
1.) Passion-Market fit – enough passion to stay in the space, especially if you are early.
2.) Minimum Viable Product – if you are not embarrassed by it, you did not launch it quick enough, BUT it must have obvious value.
3.) Product-Market Fit – do people like it? if you are not signing up users at a rate you are happy with, go back to step 1.
4.) Growth – figure out how to keep new users signing up.
5.) Sales – figure out how to profitably get paying clients.
6.) Scale – figure out where you can have the most impact on improving your metrics.
Notes: It’s easy to build a hobby, the idea is to build a business. What gets measured gets managed. I would strongly suggest you make an explainer video early on – make sure it’s in plain English without any tech speak. Think agile. Learn on the job. Build things people want. Build a business, not a product. Think big.
It’s been about a month since we launched TrustFabric Connect. Just over 300 people have signed up so far. We’re very happy with that number. We’ve had some good feedback and helpful comments. Thank you.
What is TrustFabric Connect?
Let me ask you two questions:
1) How many businesses are you a customer of? – or, how many businesses do you think consider you to be their customer? 20, 100, 2000?
2) If you change your contact details (address, phone number, email address), in how many different places do you need to go update your details?
With TrustFabric Connect you would know the number of business relationships you have, you would have more control and you would be able to easily manage your contact details. Best of all, you would have less interruptions in your life, because the businesses around you would know your communication preferences and would respect your (legal) right to privacy.
Sounds good? Help us make this a reality:
1) Sign up
2) Invite your friends (see screenshot below)
3) Suggest businesses that you would like to see on TrustFabric
Invite your Friends
If you would like to invite your friends from LinkedIn, Facebook (see notes below), Google+ or maybe your Address Book application, just export their details in vCard format. Go to your TrustFabric Connect home page and follow the “upload a file” link under the “Tell Your Friends” section.
We will only send one invite per email address, so don’t worry that your friend is going to get the same invite email from ten other people.
Win an iPad2
You’ll notice some stats on your home page: the number of friends you invited, the number who joined and the number of businesses you suggested.
We are giving away an iPad2, to somebody randomly selected from the list of our top 100 supporters. The more friends you invite the higher your supporter ranking.
The Early Adopter Hall of Fame
We will list the top 20 supporters on our website as soon as we reach 1000 users.
Pass it on.
Notes on the how to get vCard data out of Facebook via Yahoo!
Keith had a bit of a sense of humour failure about the SABC and their TV license drones this week. (The SABC is the South African public broadcaster.)
It’s safe to say the majority of the SABC are on special drugs that prevent their IQs from going above room temperature during office hours.
It’s not easy to be popular if you force people to buy something they don’t want or need. The SABC wants Keith to prove that he does not own a TV to avoid paying a TV license. A long time ago he did have a TV. Not anymore. The way to prove you don’t have a TV is to go to the police and get them to rubber stamp a letter stating that you don’t own one. Interesting that you need to prove you don’t have a TV.
I’m thinking.. huh?, why bother dealing with these clowns? They probably still have his home/postal address from ten years ago, but it seems they somehow have updated contact details.
This is where it gets interesting. Some business out there must be sharing personal information without their customer’s consent. Not only sharing, I’m pretty sure they are selling it.
Yes kids, there is a whole network of bottom feeders which scrub and exchange your personal information. Selling it to the people you probably never want to interact with. I suspect the people you are least interested in will pay the most for your information. Awesome little market right?
Is this a bad thing? I think it’s pretty obvious what my views are, but let’s look at it from another angle.
A while ago I had a meeting with a well respected ICT lawyer. I was telling him about TrustFabric. He seemed very interested.. but he did not really listen my story, he just assumed we were building something which would collect personal information which we could sell. So, I explained again and he looked a bit confused. Yes, we really want to give users control over their personal information. No, we don’t want to sell it.
Then he tells me about how he was involved in setting up a credit bureau in an African country. How this credit bureaus is a very positive thing, allowing credit providers to borrow money. Good for the economy etc. Credit bureaus naturally have a few deals behind the scenes to collect personal information and exchange financial information about people.
I don’t buy the idea that these information exchange deals are a good thing. I think you can build a credit rating (reputation) system in an open and transparent way while allowing people to selectively share personal information and keeping people in control of their information. I think it would be much better for a country and it’s economy if people understood the rules of the game. In this case the credit rating game.
Do you remember that scene at the end of Fight Club where they blow up the buildings which house credit data? Project Mayhem resets the credit card system. I think the personal information ecosystem needs a reboot. Companies should be forced to delete all personal information that can not be tied directly to an active customer relationship. Companies must only be allowed to keep information if the customer granted them a license to retain their information.
This sounds easier than it is, mostly because most companies have no clue which customer relationships are really active. So, maybe we just delete it all and start from scratch.. giving the customer control again.
You see, reality needs to suck.. for entrepreneurs to have fun fixing things.
People are always trying to pin down and define entrepreneurship. What does in mean to be an entrepreneur? How do we make more of them? Is it a passion for a new business. Working in a garage, living on a credit card? Is it writing 10 business plans a year? Is it luck? Maybe. How about this.. the ideal founder.. yeah, that’s a part of it.
I’m an entrepreneur. What do I think defines an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurs imagine new realities. That is what real entrepreneurs do. It’s their drug.
They walk around finding things which suck.. until they find something exciting enough to start asking “how might we fix this?”. Then they dream up a solution, sometimes a whole new ecosystem to support a new world they want to live in… and then they start convincing people that their new reality is stable enough to build.
A friend I played underwater hockey with used to say.. “sex is like driving a car: the guy in is charge of the accelerator and the girl is in charge of the breaks”. Things are often much simpler if you know your place.
Good entrepreneurs push the boundaries of the stability of their new realities. They are a bit nuts. This is good. They want to drive faster. Don’t expect them to make spreadsheets about their new worlds, that’s somebody else’s job.
Entrepreneurs are impatient idealist. The idealism part is key.. that’s how they latch on to an idea, commit to it and follow every opportunity which aligns with their new world. Entrepreneurs are able to convince people of the truth.
I was having lunch with Mia’s mom on Friday. I made some comments about religion. She said.. “but Joe, you have your own religion”. I said.. “sure, but it’s my religion, which makes it way cooler”.
When we were starting Frogfoot around the end of 1999… we were not really starting an ISP business. I wanted to live in a world with always-on internet at home and I wanted to play with Linux and cool networking toys. Cisco was expensive and MS solutions were lame, we needed to invent a new world.
When I dreamed up Teraco it was because I was pissed off with how telcos lock customers in with data centers.
When we started talking about TrustFabric in the middle of last year, we were not really starting a software development business. I wanted to live in a world with efficient relationships between businesses and customers. Our current reality of customer service sucks. I hate having to phone a call centre to update something simple. I want more power.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” — George Bernard Shaw
It’s fine when everybody thinks you’re bit nuts. You are actually just following the recipe and stepping on the right pedal.
Getting there is all the fun.
ps. If you agree with me about the current reality of customer service, go Like this page.
We seem to have a big problem about a simple thing: my name.
I go on holiday not to think about this stuff, but it’s been bugging me. I’ll be a good customer and not only point out the problem but also offer a solution. Here is my story.
Towards the end of August I book a return flight for my daughter and I from Cape Town to London with British Airways, premium economy, because it was a last minute thing. We get upgraded to Club World (~business class). I think this is the best flight I’ve ever been on.
I need to get to Boston for business so I book a flight with American Airlines.. which sucked. I’ll never do that again. So I’m sitting at Harvard (VRM+CRM) thinking let’s just book all the rest of my flights with BA. So I join the BA Executive Club frequent flyer program. It asks for a name and it seems to only allow 4 digits for a password. No problem. Not very secure. Maybe they think I’m going to try and remember it. I get (yet another) identifier as a username.. a string of digits.
Next, I book 3 flights.. Boston – London, London – Athens, Athens – London. I figure it’s kinda cool how the website used my frequent flyer profile to fill in all the usual personal information for booking a flight. Only snag is, it used my Common Name and not my Formal Name.
At this point I figure I might as well claim the miles from the recent Cape Town – London trip. I enter the ticket number. Nope, it’s not happy because the name in my passport (as used on this flight) and the name I use to sign up for online services is not the same. I get a message back saying “We will notify you if your claim is unsuccessful by email within 7 working days.”
Now my real problems start. I want to fly from Athens to London and the people at the airport are very confused about my Common Name on the ticket and my Formal Name on my passport. Blah, blah, usual lame process, dumb questions, supervisors, confused expressions.. I’m sure you’ve all had similar experiences.
I’m thinking, all I need to do is change my name in the BA website to prevent this in future. Nope. Can’t edit that field using their website, sorry.
I get back to London and I get a nice automated email from BA saying that they can’t match the ticket number with the name on the ticket. YES. FFS! We knew that from the very start. Now, seems they don’t allow me to respond to their email. Awesome.
The email says I should check the details and re-submit my claim or contact their service centre. I SURE AS HELL am not going to even try and phone a call centre to sort this out. I’ll rather give up and fly something else.
I bitch on Twitter, thinking.. let’s give this Social CRM thing a try. BA UK and BA US start following me on Twitter. Nothing more happens.
The Wookie Story
Next, a story about a guy named Wookie. There once was a Debian developer who changed his name to “Wookie”, formally. Yup, that’s a valid name. Nope, you don’t need a surname. It seems if you want to be a BA customer a Surname is required. Weird that governments don’t seem to require surnames but they do.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all drop our surnames. I’m saying.. who are you to tell me what my friends can call me? If I want to be Han Solo that should be cool. I get to choose my Common Name. As long as there is some Formal Name which matches the name in my passport I should be able to fly without confusing anybody right?
Esmeralda: “What is your name?”
Esmeralda: “What does it mean?”
Butch: “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”
— Pulp Fiction
So kids, what did we learn?
Never fly with American Airlines.
We don’t want more identifiers. We have too many data silos already. In fact I don’t want to worry about updating my data in one more system.
You can’t assume my Common Name is my Formal Name. That’s just dumb.
Social CRM is pretty lame. Maybe you can detect when somebody is unhappy on Twitter, but you probably can’t really help them in 140 characters. Do you really want to wait until they are unhappy anyway?
I figure people don’t mind so much being a number in your system if you allow them to be a smart number. In fact, I’d love to be just a number.. my number, the same number in many systems.
The way this should work.. I should control my personal information. I should be able to create a relationship with BA and share my travel profile. I get to choose my Common Name and provide my Formal Name. If I change my information on my side it should reflect in their system. Simple.
ps. I did later dig around the BA website and found a place where I can enter passport details and a Formal Name. I’ve yet to figure out if it uses that for future ticket bookings. I’m not happy that I had to dig around to find it.
UPDATE 2010/09/16: No response from BA. I give up. Maybe I scared them by actually proposing a solution.
After some honest reflection, I feel like I got my ass whipped this week.
Why do I think I was a muppet? My Silicon Cape pitch sucked. I pretty much made a fool of myself in front of about 450 people. Sure, it reads ok, but it’s not going to convince anybody to use it or invest in it and I got the format totally wrong.
What can you tell 450 people, who have all had a drink or two, in only 60 seconds that is going to stick with them?
Obviously, what’s going on in my head (I think about this stuff most of the day), is a whole orchestra of ideas. How do I get a single instrument to play a note in the heads of people who are new to these ideas?
Well, it’s not by explaining how it works. It’s by asking the right question. Let me try that pitch again (I’ll just image the 450 people for now).
Hi, I’m Joe and I’m here to tell you about TrustFabric.
How might we, allow you, to take back control of your personal information and allow you to selectively share that information in a way you will trust?
This is our challenge. Let me say that again.. (a bit slower this time)
How might we, allow you, to take back control of your personal information and allow you to selectively share that information in a way you will trust?
We have solved this problem. We are currently running an invite-only alpha service. Come ask me for a business card if you would like to check it out.
This is all you can do in 60 seconds. Now I know (-;
I figure it’s good to get your ass kicked every now and again. Somebody told me it’s the best time to learn about yourself.
I’m happy this happened now, 3 month in.
There is a slightly deeper reason why I think I felt like a muppet and I only realised it now. In the life of a tech start-up there is an interesting mode-change when you start making your idea public. It’s cool to be working away and having a small number of people ask about your little brainchild.. they want to know. It’s a whole different sport to try and get a big number of people interested.
I figure an idea like ours is not something people just jump on when they hear it for the first time. They have to realise the problem first and the problem may be hidden to them for a while. It’s a process of discovery and triangulating the hints that there is something very wrong with the world as it works today.
I’m taking a week off to spend time with Mia.. and then the next 3 month phase begins.
Last night I gave the first public presentation about TrustFabric at the GeekDinner. I think it went well. A number of people asked to join our alpha service and there were some good questions after the talk, which makes me think people “get it”.
It was a fun GeekDinner. The Royal Cape Yacht club was a nice venue. Very good turnout.. pretty much exactly the number that was catered for (75).
At first I was a bit worried that this month’s GeekDinner planning just did not want to gain momentum but, living up to it’s name (Spontaneous Sprout) it spontaneously all just fell into place at the end. Interesting talks, good food and some quality geeky networking.
I presented a few ideas around the need for TrustFabric at a Talking Heads session last night.. part of the Infecting the City movement.
There were 100 visitors and 50 “talking heads”: 4 * 20min sessions with 2 people.
I was expecting to get feedback from more than 8 people, but at least this way they could all ask questions and I could figure out their concerns.
I had to explain why peer review and open source is a good idea a few times.
Most people loved the idea. At the end of the session I asked them to say if they would use it by placing a card in a red or green box.
I got 7/8 (yes votes).
The person which I think voted that she would not use it was a muppet.. but then again I guess I’m supposed to say that. She obviously did not get the idea.
The other cool bit is that over the break/stacks time I was walking around and overheard somebody who attended my session explaining TrustFabric to his friends. Seems to suggest it’s word of mouth-worthy.