Creating A Startup is Not a Contest

5 years, 3 months ago
[ General ]

Dave Grohl of the band The Foo Fighters recently claimed that rock will never die. His point was simple. Keep it real, put in the practice, play with heart and make great music. There are no short cuts.

“You have to understand, we’re a really simple band. We think we suck and we try really hard to make good records and we practice.”

His sentiments reminded me of the startup scene. First time entrepreneurs often believe their path to success is a beauty contest. We’re immersed in pitch contests, incubator application processes etc that’s it’s hard not to get caught up in it. There is a lot of ‘putting lipstick on pigs’ going on in the startup world. That lipstick line isn’t mine, I stole that from a local tech investor lamenting the beauty contest atmosphere we’ve cultivated. Back to Grohl..

“Something’s got to give. It can’t be song contests on television for the rest of our lives. It can’t be the same playlists on every radio station for the rest of our lives. It can’t be music made entirely by computers with people talking over it the rest of our lives. It can’t go that way, it just won’t.

I feel like as a musician and a part of this rock’n'roll scene, I have a responsibility to make shit real, to not think about all of that other bullshit, not think about making music for money or promoting music for fashion, the contests. My responsibility is to make shit that’s real. Once you start doing the right thing, it will get better.”

Startups are businesses at the end of the day. Creating a new business is not a contest. I’m not suggesting you don’t apply for an incubator, pitch to investors, or try to win a local pitch contest. Just realize none of that has anything to do with building your business. If you decide to go those routes, make sure that you’re solving a problem *you* actually have! Think about what Grohl says, don’t let all that other bullshit distract you. Focus on your product, your market, your customer. Make shit real, deliver.

When Grohl talked about how they keep their focus, it reminded me of what we’re doing here at ThreeFortyNine

“we don’t pay attention to any of that. We have our own studio, our own label, and we do everything on our own terms”

We’re working hard to build ThreeFortyNine into our clubhouse. A place where people work hard together to build new tech businesses on their own terms. We’ll earn that freedom only through hard work and practice not by winning beauty contests. Focus on your customer and your product, product, product! Did I mention your product?

Build A Startup In One Night

5 years, 4 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

Have you heard of Startup Weekend?

“No Talk, All Action, Launch a Startup in 54 hours.”

Heard of Lean Startup Machine?

“Lean Startup Machine will change the way you view entrepreneurship forever — for the better”

While I’m only an outside fan of event’s like these, what I love most about them is their unrelenting focus on action based networking. Networking is second nature to established entrepreneurs. For the rest of us, it doesn’t come as easy yet. These events shift the focus away from networking for the sake of networking and instead get straight to the action. Through the action, networking occurs.

We already have a lot of networking, let’s get together and have a drink, events. What we need more of is, let’s get together and build something together. My question, would you participate in an event with the following framework that we’d run in conjunction with Startupify.Me?

  • One evening, starting at 7pm at ThreeFortyNine, ending whenever we’re done or pass out.
  • Project to work on is set in advance. We’ll need to build a process to select them, possibly taking on some hack-for-good projects? They will likely be new projects, however, we may have some that span events?
  • 6 to 8 attendees, ideally with diverse skillsets, ie not all coders.

Starting at 7pm, we quickly set the work agenda for the evening and decide on deliverables. Then we get to work and build it, in an evening. We’re not likely building a startup in an evening but you never know.

This is an opportunity to work on something tangible with people in your community. It’s a chance to get a taste of this whole startup thing. It’s a chance to try your hand at something you don’t work on all day at your work.

Interested? Please let me know? Comment below or email me directly with your thoughts.

PS. I’m working with Leila and Corey to bring a HackDays event to Guelph early next year. Update, registation page is up for Guelph HackDays on Feb 18th.

CTO School?

5 years, 5 months ago
[ General ]

While I’m not sure about the name “CTO School”, I like the concept but I’m curious what you think? It would be a semi-regular, evening seminar series intended to help techies who are in, or aspiring to be in, a technical leadership role at a startup. It’s meant for someone with development experience who likely has some team lead experience. Basically you’re the tech person on the hook for the product, or you’re hoping to be that person soon.

The format would likely involve an invited speaker who handles the bulk of the material for that evening followed by an intimate Q&A. We’d host it at ThreeFortyNine, which means we may be able to fit a pint in after we wrap up.

Do we need something like this locally?

Would you consider attending?

What topics need to be covered?

Can you offer up a better name?

Shit Hawt Mentors, How To Get You Some

5 years, 5 months ago
[ General ]

Are you starting, or running, a business? Are you an entrepreneur in the making? I’m going to give you a secret that will get you a ton of incredible advisors and mentors to help you move forward. I’m assuming you’re far enough along to know that building your own cadre of advisors/mentors is massively valuable. People you can take for coffee when your shit hits someone’s fan.

I spoke at Guelph web maker meetup recently about how to quit your crappy job. The talk was a tongue in cheek way to talk about what a real business is. I used Josh Kaufman’s definition, which is this:

“Every successful business (1) creates or provides something of value that (2) other people want or need (3) at a price they’re willing to pay, in a way that (4) satisfies the purchaser’s needs and expectations and (5) provides the business sufficient revenue to make it worthwhile for the owners to continue operation”

Most startup folks think they need Fred Wilson, Guy Kawasaki and Clay Shirkey as advisors. While I’m sure those guys would be great to chat with, you don’t need them. I’m not suggesting you turn them down but what you need are folks who have experience building real businesses, ie those 5 points above. Chasing rock star advisors is a massive waste of time with questionable returns. To continue that metaphor, most rock stars are so far removed from the required grunt work of an early stage touring band that they can hardly relate. Can they write a cheque, make some intros? Sure but that’s likely not what you need today.

For someone who has yet to start and run a successful business, your available pool of mentors includes everyone who has done just that. For me, my mentors include the woman who owns my local coffee shop, the guy who cuts my hair, my bookkeeper, the hot dog cart guy downtown, etc.

At their roots, even sexy tech startups are still just plain old businesses. Yes those folks can’t help you decide whether to build native mobile apps or html5 but those are the easy parts. Stop chasing or waiting for the rock stars. Trust me, they will be lined up at your door once you have your thriving business alive and growing. Go out now and buy a coffee for a new mentor, share with them and most importantly, listen!

Every great sitcom eventually needs a Robert Downey Jr but he’ll gladly sign up for season two. No one wants him for their pilot.

A Few DemoCampGuelph Changes

5 years, 5 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

After DemoCampGuelph18, I realized it was time for some changes. No reason to psychoanalyze it but I woke up the next day ready to call it quits on this event. I said to my wife that I may have hosted my last DemoCampGuelph. Over the next few days I shared that feeling with a few folks in our community who attend the event and the responses were actually quite energizing. People seem to like this little event. So instead of walking away, let’s try a few changes, if you’ll humour me.

Finding Demos

I do not want to chase people to submit demo pitches. It’s a lot of work to find people who want to demo. So let’s distribute that work. I’m looking for 5 volunteers to help me with this. All that I’m asking is that you make the commitment that you will find us two people who will submit a pitch for a demo spot. That guarantees our selection committee will have at least 10 demos to choose from. Please contact me directly if you’re willing to make this commitment and help us find great demos. I will make sure to recognize your efforts publicly at our event.

Music

Having live music after our event was an experiment. For some reason I never took it beyond ourselves. Part of the motivation of having live music was to provide a means for our local arts and music scene to collide with our tech scene. That isn’t happening as we’re doing it today. We’re basically exposing a single artist to the tech scene. So this time around, we’re going to promote the music show on it’s own. The intent being that when we wrap up, some music fans will trickle in and they’ll have no choice but to co-mingle with us techies.

Thoughts? Feedback?

A Startup Gateway Drug….

5 years, 5 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

The most consistent response to my Startupify.Me pitch is some variation “oh, that’s very different than what I thought you were doing”. I’ve long known that this effort would require pounding the pavement and pitching it in person. There just isn’t anything quite like it that we can refer to. That means I’m either innovating with this model or I’m insane. I’ll get back to you on that….

In the meantime, let me clarify some of the key points.

Forced Exit

We are not a custom development shop focused on building prototypes for clients. We will turn over our entire team every 6 months. All the developers exit at the end, ideally into a new business they’ve helped prove. For the client, we offer an opportunity to find the technical cofounder this new business demands. For our developers, this is your chance to step into a new business and ride shotgun.

Built To Accelerate

While we are talking about creating startup companies here, it is a unique model. We want these new products to have the best shot at survival. What our client companies bring to that is an existing business. They have an experienced team who has created value, marketed it, sold it, delivered it, and done it all within a financially viable model. Ie, they’ve proven they can run a business. Some, or all, of those are what a new entrepreneur needs to learn in a hands on fashion. Once Startupify.Me has proven this new product can get to it’s market, we now have everything required to truly accelerate it. We don’t need to find angel investors. We don’t need business mentors. We don’t need a market, a sales team etc.

Scale

All our clients have existing businesses. Most of those businesses are services businesses, which means each dollar in is tied directly to people, which means they are difficult businesses to scale. As well, most of businesses are necessarily connected to their founders. What we’re offering those client’s is a chance to co-create a new technology based product business. It will certainly have to leverage their existing business but in the case we’re successful, it will scale well. The leverage points may be technology they’ve built to deliver their services better, their client base, an ability to access a particular market, etc.

We have a few more spots left on the bus for client businesses and software developers willing to take their first step down this entrepreneurship path. Let me know if you’re either of those!

The Accidental Project

5 years, 5 months ago
[ General ]

During university I spent a few years living in an eight bedroom house in downtown Guelph. Every year we’d host a Disco Inferno party complete with what you’d expect, costumes, kegs, music and all associated mayhem. We’d sell tickets and typically sell out months in advance. I’m assuming we hosted a decent party.

Every year when we’d start selling tickets, people would offer to contribute to the party. We were offered bands, sponsors, larger venues etc. We were offered some tasty party favours.

What’s this have to do with anything? Given some measure of success with your project or startup, you will attract a crowd. That crowd will want to be involved. You’ll meet some great folks who are interested in seeing your project flourish. You’ll meet some folks who are only interested in riding your coattails. Success and commitment are huge magnets.

In all cases, you cannot let external forces drive your project. You have to stay focused. Decisions and actions have to be explicit and justifiable. Don’t hire people because they offer to work for you. Don’t accept investment because people offer you cheques. Don’t take on mentors and advisors because they offer you help. Building successful businesses isn’t an additive, the more the merrier process. It’s about focus and making difficult decisions. It’s often more about what you choose not to do rather than what you choose to do. Stick to your path, don’t let the noise of success distract you from what got you there.

(PS. These are problems I dream of having someday!)

What you aren’t doing….

5 years, 5 months ago
[ General ]

I love apps like pleaseRobMe. A while back I pitched the idea to our team of a distraction blackout plan. The plan was….

  • We all agree to uninstall all distraction applications from our individual machines, ie email clients, twitter, facebook, linked in etc.
  • We setup a single computer in a public location in our office where we all have an account. That account has all our previously mentioned accounts.
  • We all commit to only interacting with the selected distractions when we’re on that single computer. So you need to go to that computer and use it to check your email, twitter etc.

The obvious idea is the public phonebooth, ie introduce some basic peer pressure into your usage of these apps. “Hey Brydon, you’ve been on the email a lot today, busy day or not?” Work when you’re working, play when you’re playing.

The context was driven by us as individuals as we are all struggling with these distractions. The conversation wasn’t driven by how ‘the man’ can get everyone off facebook. Now, we didn’t ever actually try this but I intend to in the context of Startupify.Me.

It will be volunteer only. We may write a basic app that allows you to sign in. Once signed in, the app will troll your various distraction apps and humiliate you in some fashion if you break the rules, ie use them while NOT using the public machine.

Thoughts? Would you and your team try this?

I’m Hiring… Startupify.Me

5 years, 6 months ago
[ General ]

If you haven’t had a chance to peek at I’m working on at startupify.me, please do. Yes, the copy sucks, site design is terrible and the name is embarrassing to say out loud. If you can battle through that, what you’ll hopefully find is a program intended to serve two core customers. One is existing businesses with a mandate to develop disruptive software product innovation without destroying their core business. The other is employed software developers who are startup curious and ready to take their first step towards that.

We’re a halfway house for software entrepreneurs. We’re a gateway drug for the startup scene. I want to hire you for a fixed period of time(6 months) and during that time focus on getting you on the next step. I hope that next step is you being a technical cofounder in a new venture we’ve jumpstarted together.

I need your help today. We have client’s ready to start working with us now. Our greatest need right now is finding and hiring those software developers ready to take that first step towards being technical cofounders or startup founders.

These folks are currently working in software development roles. They’re highly successful in their dayjob but slightly disillusioned with the work world around them. Outside of work, they’re highly autonomous. They’re creators, they likely run community events, organize people in their community and are generally magnetic personalities who still manage to get stuff done.

If you are someone like this, or know someone, I want to meet them! They don’t have to be ready to commit. They just have to be ready to have a coffee with me and discuss my plans. Please share this, spread the word

DemoCampGuelph 18…And You!

5 years, 8 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

I/we need your help! We’re low on demo applications for our next event on Sept 21st. What I’d like to do is get some of you sharing publicly what you’d like to see demo’d at our event. Frameworks you’ve heard of but haven’t had a chance to play with? New OS’s or distros that you’d like to learn more about etc.

If you’ve attended before, what are some sweet demo’s that you’d like to see? Write up a blog post listing them all, preferably with a link to http://next.demoCampGuelph.com so people can sign up to attend or submit demos. Or just use this tweet link to share on twitter.

Bottom line, maybe if we ask, we’ll receive. Some demos I’d personally like to see?

  • Anything to do with the Hudson/Jenkins split. Compare the two etc.
  • I’d love to see a 5 minute all out terminal/ssh/emacs/vi whatever shell demo that leaves me wondering what the hell just happened. Then post the script somewhere for me to figure out what went on.
  • Something zombie related….just because.
  • I dig plug computing so anything to do with it.
  • For that matter, if anyone can get their hands on some raspberry pi, that’d be dreamy!
Thanks ahead of time for helping out and spreading the word so we can have great demos in a couple of weeks.