The blog post I wish I had read when I started out as an entrepreneur

16 December 2010

This is the blog post I wish I had read when I started out as an entrepreneur. It would have saved me a LOT of time and money. They say you learn a lot from your mistakes. But frankly, in start-up world, there are so many possible mistakes available for the making, one needs to cut out the silly ones and focus on making the interesting mistakes. The mistakes you can really learn from.

For example, building your product from scratch, following an enormous spec, not using existing components and not prototyping are very silly mistakes. Making an incorrect assumption about customer needs which you can test cheaply is not.

I was going to make this a list (surprise surprise) but then realised people prefer stories. So here is my (rather dry) tale that incorporates the blog posts Alex and I have read over the last 3 years that have influenced us most; and to the extent that Alex and I are approaching Hidden Little Gems, our new Facebook app, in a completely new way. More about that in my next post. Now – back to the story.

A long while back someone told us to read “Don’t Launch” by Eric Ries. It essentially explained the critical difference between a product launch and a marketing launch. Don’t do your marketing launch until your product is good enough to retain the traffic the marketing launch attracts.

From then on we regularly read Eric Ries and discovered many of the other brilliant principles he advocates:
The Lean Startup

Agile development (developing in sprints and iterating)

Minimum Viable Product

Pivoting until you establish product/market fit

From one of those posts I discovered the inimitable Netscape Founder, Marc Andreessen, who also wrote a brilliant article on Product/ Market Fit.

Through Eric I also discovered Steve Blank. Steve is famous for Four Steps to Epiphany – his big Customer Development idea. Where Eric focuses ‘inside the building’ Steve focuses on ‘outside the building’ i.e. getting the founders talking to customers. Steve’s book “Four Steps to Epiphany” is quite dry and he actually recommends people read a summary some other chaps put together!

Along the way we have also been introduce to two other highly regarded guys who are essential cogs in this landscape – the metrics specialists – Dave McClure & Andrew Chen. Without them we wouldn’t know what our users were up to and what we needed to do to fix broken or weak processes.

Dave is the broader more colourful of the two (as an aside he recently wrote a controversial, but very insightful piece on the decline of the VC industry). He also won legitimate fame for his AARRR! Metrics for Startups presentation.

There is another person whose work I haven’t read enough of yet. Alexander Osterwalder (of Business Model Generation fame)  essentially is the glue that pulls Steve and Eric’s thinking together in a summary as follows.

“This startup search process is the business model / customer development / agile development solution stack. This solution stack proposes that entrepreneurs should first map their assumptions (their business model) and then test whether these hypotheses are accurate, outside in the field (customer development) and then use an iterative and incremental development methodology (agile development) to build the product. When founders discover their assumptions are wrong, as they inevitably will, the result isn’t a crisis, it’s a learning event called a pivot — and an opportunity to update the business model.”

That last paragraph magnificently combines the series of reasonably well thought out positions we had discovered along our journey and re-arranges them into a clear cut, crisp, exciting, scientific approach to startups.

It’s changed our lives, our thinking and the way we are approaching our Snagsta off-shoot start up which is coming soon: Hidden Little Gems.

More to follow on that!


Measuring Worth?

16 April 2009


A long time ago, a clever man once said, “A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions” (the Roman Emperor Philosopher, Marcus Aurelius).

This may have been true in AD150 but is it still relevant in the always-on world of AD2009? These days a more common measure of worth is your connectivity. Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn co-founder) summed this up nicely when he said, “Your network your net worth.” One of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Top Life Tips is to, “go to more parties”. The express reason for this is to expand your network and expose yourself to more positive Black Swans.

A couple of weeks back we received an invite to a London networking event. The speakers were sold on the basis of the number of Twitter followers they had. This made me smile as it reminded me of recent conversations about the pressures and politics of maintaining relationships online.

Is the number of followers a true proxy for how valuable someone’s opinion is? I give you Britney Spears (903,274 followers).

My stepson Newton (694 Facebook friends) loves the fact he’s “more popular” than his younger brother Richard (389 Facebook friends). Phil (646 Facebook friends, 433 LinkedIn connections, 244 Twitter followers) and I (232 Facebook friends, 431 LinkedIn connections, 251 Twitter followers) regularly pull each other’s legs about how ‘popular’ we think we are.

To finish off this post, here’s a list of people we’ve either met or hear about regularly who are attached to the Internet scene here in London. We’ve used Twitter followers to help us measure their worth. Not sure old Marcus would agree with our methods but here you go anyway:

London’s 50 Most Networked Internet People by Twitter followers (As of 14th April 2009)

1. Jemima Kiss


2. Mike Butcher


3. Nick Donnelly


4. Paul Walsh

4,094 follower

5. Paul Carr


6. Amanda Rose


7. Michelle Dewberry


8. Hermoine Way


9. Sam Sethi


10. Nick Halstead


11. Michael Acton Smith


12. Richard Morross


13. Mat Morrison


14. Nathan McDonald


15. Joff Arnold


16. Joshua March


17. Stewart Townsend


18. Basheera Khan


19. Andy McLoughlin


20. Benjamin Ellis


21. Sam Michel


22. Ben Way


23. Sophie Cox


24. David Terrar


25. Bindi Karia


26. Alex Hoye


27. Stephanie Robesky


28. Luke Razzell


29. Bastian Lehmann


30. Elizabeth Varley


31. Robert Loch


32. Sokratis Papafloratos


33. Nic Brisbourne


34. Mario Cacciottolo


35. Andrew Scott


36. Danvers Baillieu


37. David Langer


38. James Cherkoff


39. Nick Bell


40. Barry Vitou


41. Steve Kennedy


42. Chris Osborne


43. Emma Haslett


44. Fabio De Bernardi


45. Meriem Aissaoui


46. Robin Klein


47. Dug Falby


48. Nikhil Shah


49. Stephanie Bouchet


50. Paul Mackenzie Ross


The master version of  this list appears on the Snagsta website. View it here to share it with your nearest and dearest.

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Glastonbury for Geeks

25 March 2009

digmis South by South West (SXSW) is quite unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Here are ten things that made it unusual and amazing:

  1. The Parties
    Facebook, Google, Mashable, the list continues. Each trying to outdo the next with bands, breakdancers and DJs. With the exception of Pure Volume, perhaps…where the VIPs were separated from the regulars with chicken wire!
  2. Elevator Pitches
    Three times I left my hotel room and had already pitched Snagsta by the time I reached the lobby – now that’s an elevator pitch!
  3. Feedback
    People were only too happy to talk through your business and make constructive recommendations. Nothing quite like getting great ideas from people smarter than you that have done it all before.
  4. Content
    There was an astounding array of fascinating and relevant topics being presented and discussed on panels. At times there were up to 18 sessions on simultaneously! I only wish I could understand my notes…
  5. Serendipity
    If I learnt one thing it was say hello to EVERYBODY. One of the chaps in our party, Henry Mackintosh, helped out a panelist at the beginning of the conference he randomly met in the queue.  Bumping into her later on in the week, Henry mentioned the new service he’d just launched: twitterjobsearch. Minutes later she’d tweeted in to her 4000 followers. And then one of her followers re-tweeted it to his 30,000 followers.
  6. People
    SXSW is the place to finally meet all the people you’ve only ever ‘followed’, emailed or talked to on the phone. From Joe Shmo through to the Internet superheroes. I got to talk to Robert Scoble and a couple of the others and loved how genuine and approachable they all were. 
  7. Panels
    The debates were current and candid. With panelist challenging each other regularly and plenty of probing questions from the audience. And then there was the UnPanel (#kebab). A bunch of Brits high-jacked a room and set up an impromptu session called ‘Not Another Social Media Panel’. Less probing but more candid. Look at what happened here (though you kind of had to be there…)!
  8. iPhones
    I have never seen so many iPhones. 95% of the attendees had iPhones. Clear evidence that cutting edge mobile is currently only happening in one place.
  9. Twitter
    Despite occasionally having to endure inane micro commentary, I am now convinced of the value of this tool (if used with self-discipline!). It was used to track session topics, to contribute to panel discussions, to find people, to set up meetings, to broadcast party itineraries.
  10. BBQ
    You can’t come to Texas and not talk about BBQ. That and the rooftop bars are part of the quintessential Austin experience.

Oh…did I mention the parties already??

A big thank you to the companies that sponsored us and the people from the Digital Mission that helped organise the event.

Austin & Brussels here we come!

5 March 2009


Hide under the table!

Hide under the table!

In addition to giving up several terrible vices too horrible to mention here, one of our key resolutions for 2009 was write regular blog posts again. We haven’t quite managed either yet but, in true Snagsta style, we will persevere.

Since our last post, two rather nice things have happened to Snagsta. First, we were selected by the wonderful people at Digital Mission to accompany them to North America’s biggest Internet trade show: South by South West Interactive or SXSWi for short.

If you’re not familiar with Digital Mission it’s run by Chinwag on behalf of UK Trade & Investment. Its 5 year mission is to explore strange new digital worlds, seek out new life and new civilisations and to boldly go where no man has gone before (or something like that). SXSWi will be the perfect platform for us to shout about Snagsta and hopefully make a few more friends across the pond. A big thank you to the insightful and unbiased selection committee.

Phil leaves to conquer America next Thursday. Please Tweet him @hofmeyr if you’d like to meet him when he’s there. 

Second, we were selected to present Snagsta’s wares at Plugg which also takes place next week. Plugg is a one day conference that takes place in Brussels next Thursday (12th March). Snagsta will be one of twenty companies taking part in the event’s Startup Rally. If you’re planning on being there please send a Tweet to me via @alexandermoore so that we can arrange to meet up.

As has become our tradition, we will end this post with a list. We’ve chosen one that might be of use to someone if they have been unlucky enough to be suffering from the effects of the recession. It was donated to us by the irrepressible Robert Scoble. It offers some great advice to anyone who’s just been laid off and might be looking for a job. Hope it helps spark a few ideas for those in need of some pointers.

What to do if you’re laid off in a recession

By Robert Scoble

1. Volunteer.

Let’s say you are going to be out of work for six months. What could you do with six months of your time? Make sure you come away with it with a great project under your belt. Why not volunteer your time with a charity that could use your skills? Not only will you feel good about yourself, you’ll come away with job experience so you won’t have a hole in your resume (building an IT system for the Red Cross looks damn impressive – saying you were “on the beach” for six months does not). Plus you’ll make great friends with people who are trying to improve the world (they are typically the kinds of friends you should have anyway).

2. Do the basics.

I got my NEC job by sending a resume into a job that I found on Craig’s List. Yes, my blog helped me AFTER I got the interview, but I got the interview just by having a great cover letter and an interesting resume.

3. See if you can keep coming into the office.

This isn’t open to everyone, but at Userland I kept coming into work everyday after the paychecks stopped. That made me feel better, plus it gave me the ability to use phones, stay away from negative situations (do you really want to be around family all day, everyday, who might remind you that you need to find a job?) as well as give you a place to work hard on finding your new job.

4. Start a blog on the field you want to work in.

Want to be a PHP programmer? Start a PHP blog and make sure you put world class stuff there. Link to EVERYONE who has a PHP blog. But that’s only the beginning.

5. Do a video everyday on YouTube that demonstrates something you know.

Loic does a video everyday. If you’re laid off you have absolutely no excuses. Get a cheap Web cam and get over to YouTube or Seesmic.

6. Don’t get lazy.

It might seem dire, but if you work it you WILL find a job. Some of my friends went on vacation, started drinking, or generally just hung out with their families. Those people took a LOT longer to find a job than the friends of mine who approached their time off with these tips.

7. Take a little bit of time to work on family and health.

You probably haven’t been paying enough attention to these two things. This is the time to start some healthy habits. Give up smoking, if you’re doing that. Drink less (the temptation will be to drink more, don’t give in). Get more exercise. Yes, I should take my own advice (I went for a long walk this morning in Davos and had fish last night).

8. Make sure you spend at least 30% of every day trying to find a job.

That means working on your resume. Getting your cover letter finished. Sending out resumes. Searching the web for work. Networking. Etc. At first your time spent on these tasks should be a lot higher, but after weeks of watching the job sites for jobs and having your resume checked over by 10 of your friends you will naturally have more time to spend on other things.

9. Go where the money is.

If you are laid off and you haven’t sent your resume to Matt Mullenweg this morning, why not? People with new funding are the ones who are hiring. You want to work for them, so do what you can to at minimum get an informational interview. Why don’t you interview Matt for your blog? You never know, he just might give you an interview and that might lead to a discussion about how you could fit into his company. Even if it doesn’t, at least you get an interesting interview with someone in the industry who is seeing success. Other employers want to be like Matt, so if you have some insights to his success you might be surprised by how that gets you job interviews.

10. Go to any job networking session you learn about.

All of them were valuable to me, even though they didn’t necessarily bring me a job. Part of it is just feeling like you’re doing everything you can to get back on your feet. It’s an attitude thing. If you have an attitude that you’re going to work at this that will come across and will bring opportunities to you.

11. Don’t feel bad about taking government assistance.

You’ll need it to pay your bills. I took it and it helped me get over that tough period.

12. Always have your suit ready.

Some interviews happen fast “can you be here this afternoon?” The one who is ready will get the interview.

13. Show your friends your resume and cover letter.

Don’t have any friends? Now is the time to make some. Call up some interesting people and ask for an informational interview. This is particularly key if you work at a big company and are getting laid off. I watched people at Microsoft get laid off and the ones who had tons of internal informational interviews got new jobs fast. The key is to meet people everyday and get in front of them. Not to beg for a job, but to do research on the industry you want to work in. You’d be amazed how showing some interest in your industry will get noticed itself.

14. Do things that will get you to be recognized as a world leader in the field you want to be in.

15. Are you a programmer?

Build something and put it up! Share your knowledge on your blog (give tips you’ve learned). Are you a program manager? Those jobs will be tougher to find, but you should demonstrate that you are a great manager of people as well as that you’re expert on the kinds of things you want to do. Demo! Demo! Demo!

16. Go to every business event you can attend.

Can’t afford to get in? Me neither and I have a job! Hang out in the hallways. You never know who you might meet. At minimum you’ll get interesting interviews for your blog. Have your resumes ready.

17. Learn from Loic Le Meur.

How did he get thousands of videos uploaded on Seesmic everyday? He networked. He visited tons of journalists, bloggers, executives. He is a consumate networker (you should watch him work the halls here at the World Economic Forum).

18. Make sure you take advantage of any help your former employer is offering.

Sometimes they have retraining or other programs that might help you land an even better job.

This list is available on Snagsta here.

10 lists to inspire you in 2009

23 December 2008


I was talking to one of our users yesterday and he was complaining that we hadn’t updated our blog (with the exception of Mr Moore’s posts he said he quite missed our stories).

We’ve been so busy road-testing the site we haven’t had a chance to finalise our tagline competition so the wine is still on my desk – quite a testament to our self discipline in these trying times. Reviews from our first batch of users back inside Snagsta have been fairly promising. Thanks to those of you who have sent us feedback.

The original plan was to give all our readers a Mont Blanc pen for Christmas but out of respect to all the bankers that have lost their jobs we thought something humble would be more appropriate.

Instead we thought we’d share some of our favourite lists with you.

  1. Things to do in the Bay Area / Northern California (Michael Kalmar)
  2. No fail date places in London (Rebeccah Rumph)
  3. 5 places so good I almost don’t want to tell you about them (Steve Catling)
  4. Highly recommended podcasts (Burak Alpar)
  5. Clues you’re getting old (Marie Foster)
  6. Picture books every child should be given (Dianne Hofmeyr)
    This user, who I might be related to, has made some great lists – check out the ones on travel. Thanks mom 🙂
  7. When insults had class (Richard Pickering)
  8. Things to do in and around Cape Town (Nick Pickard)
  9. The best places to kiss in Paris (Vanessa Vettier)

    And finishing off with something on the racier side…

  10. Food to get their knickers off (Neil Foreman)

Have a great Christmas!

Sunning ourselves at FOWA

30 October 2008


Earlier this month, we paid a 2-day visit to FOWA (The Future of Web Apps exhibition and conference) in East London.

We were in the Sun Lounge as guests of the magnanimous Stewart Townsend (the man of a thousand shirts) but a stone’s throw from a particularly excellent surf machine (Phil managed to stay on it well over a minute, me, slightly less).

Stewart invited us take part as we recently signed up to Sun’s excellent Startup Essentials programme.

Thanks to him we got to know Duncan from hosting company EveryCity, Glenn and Angela Shoosmith (husband and wife) from BookingBug (who won one of Mike Butcher’s several TechCrunch Pitch events) and Charlie and Sophie Cox (brother and sister) who have just set up Worldeka. There were also a couple of other people you might have heard of… the young lad in the photo with the halo is Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. I saw him speak and was impressed with his sincerity but a little disappointed that he skirted some key issues and didn’t stick around for any questions.

The presentations were good and there were always some interesting folks wondering into the Sun Lounge. Learned a few things about Facebook Connect, Microformats and OAuth too so all in all it was a good couple of days. Thanks Stewart, we owe you one.

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We all love Paris… but which one?

26 September 2008

I took my daughter to school for the first time this week. I had been given clear instructions to be there at least 10 minutes early before the gates opened at 9. This was understandable, given my tradition of waiting until things are in full swing before I arrive (some people call this being late). Fine for a party, not so fine for school. So you can imagine how pleased I am with myself when I arrive at 8:45. And I am not even sweating because I haven’t rushed. I make small-talk with the other parents. My daughter chases their children. We take a little photo in front of the school to celebrate the moment. I then put on her ‘smoke’ (she can’t say ‘smock’). I even put it on the right way around. At 9 am, right on schedule, the gate opens and we neatly flock into the school. As I walk in a smiling lady introduces herself as Melissa the head teacher. I proudly introduce myself as dad and tell her how exciting this is. She kindly absorbs my excitement and tells me I am at the wrong school. You see there are two schools called Sunshine House in the area.

I tell you this story to introduce an interesting problem with software called Entity Resolution. Amongst other things, it deals with resolving identical names. When you talk about Paris do you mean Paris France, Paris Texas or indeed, Paris Hilton?  Or what if there are two Paris Hiltons (now there’s a thought…)? My good friend Jane Silber (from Ubuntu fame) pointed it out to me last year when we were first thinking about Snagsta but it’s something we have only started grappling with recently. The problem is addressed in a variety of ways. Geotagging adds metadata tags that has a physical location in it. Some software looks at the context: the associated links or words in the sentence can often provide the answer. We’re looking forward to seeing how its going to work on Snagsta.

Note: the fact that whether I am talking about Paris France or Texas I am generally still thinking about Paris Hilton is a problem that software has not yet managed to solve… and probably the subject of a completely different type of blog post 😉

Time to sign off, it’s Friday afternoon, and just like at school, Alex has started ringing the bell and is shouting: “Boys & girls, tidy up time! It’s tidy up time!”

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photocredit: my unusually talented (yet humble) friend Meriem Aissaoui