Brian Ma's Blog (@zealoustiger)

Weekly insights from an Entreprenuer: To spend one year as a tiger is better than to live forever as sheep

Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Why you need a Co-Founder

By far, THE most important thing (and probably one of the hardest) about a successful startup is finding the right co-founder. I’ll leave it for another post to discuss what to look for in a cofounder and use this one to discuss a couple reasons WHY you need one:

cofounder

1) They challenge you – Your ideas suck, get over it.  I’ve been shot down so many times, I’ve lost count.  You need someone there to double/triple check you and keep you grounded.  What you think is awesome may not be what someone else thinks is awesome.

2) They keep you in check – Startups are draining – mentally, physically, psychologically, etc.  There are going to be many times when you think to yourself “what have I gotten myself into?  I should just quit now while I’m ahead.”  You might be right, but most of the time you’re wrong.  You really need someone there to tell you which one it is.

3) They help you quit your job – I can’t even count how many “wantreprenuers” I’ve talked to whose sole reason for not going at it full-time is because they haven’t found a cofounder.  They’re right.  Don’t quit your job until you can find that special someone that will take that leap of faith with you.  Startups are hard – you need the inspiration.

4) You need one to raise money – If none of the first 3 reasons made you want to go partner up with someone right now, then this will.  More than likely, VC’s and Angel’s will not hand you money if you’re by yourself.  Why?  Cause they’re thinking “if this guy can’t even convince one other person that their idea is good, why should I believe their idea is good?”  If you’re thinking about taking in investment money any time in the future, you can’t live without someone by your side.

I’ve been blessed with not one, but a group of cofounders whose skills complement mine very well, but I’ll wait to write about them some other time.  Until then, good luck finding yours.  You’ll know when you have the right people/person, cause you’ll walk into work everyday feeling thankful.

How to make your ideas stick

I’ve been a PM (Program manager) for the core of my career and one of the things that comes with the job is figuring out how to make things sticky. (Picture is of a glue truck that fell over and dumped it’s load everywhere haha)

That’s why I was so excited when I ran into this interview from the book “Made to Stick” that explores why ideas stick: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/01/the_stickiness_.html.  There’s some concepts that hit me really hard and I wanted to share because I think it’s super applicable to any startup trying to wrestle with bringing their idea to market.

1) Abstraction makes a great Computer Scientist.  Concreteness makes a great Communicator.
When you’re building a site for millions of average joes, it’s better to be concrete than to be computer scientists.

“Make people play on your turf by keeping things concrete. It is so much easier to bullshit with abstraction than with concrete examples. Don’t say, “I think we should devote more resources to evangelism among mid-market IT decision-makers.” Say, “Here’s a list of 500 IT decision-makers in the area around Salt Lake City. I want to invite them to a one-day conference on Sept 29. It will cost $60,000 to pull off. Who’s in?” Even if they disagree, it will be productive disagreement, anchored in reality.”

2) We are way too smart for our own good.  Our messaging needs to be dead simple.
Read the southwest airline napkin passage.  Here’s an excerpt:

“The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.”

3) Make the $100 bet

This is something I learned from a very wise adviser of mine.  When you’re in Vegas, the way to win big is not to split up $100 and make $10 bets here, and there.  That’ll just mean you lose some and win some and end up in the best case, with what you started with.  Take that $100 and make that one big bet.  If you win, you win big.  If you lose, it’s time to raise more money.

I know every entrepreneur can communicate their idea fifty different ways that sound good.  That’ll never work.  Put down the $100 bet.  Know your one core marketing message.  And stick to it.  Trust me, it’ll be much more compelling.

“Most entrepreneurs struggle for years to find a core message, but Kelleher started with his.  <snip-Just go read the section> Lots of entrepreneurs can tell you a dozen reasons that their product or service will transform the world. A good challenge for them would be to sort through the dozen reasons and pick the single most important one. It’s a worthy aspiration to paint a picture of the world that is simple enough and concrete enough to be sketched on a cocktail napkin.”

Just wanted to encourage all you startup peeps to mold your ideas/concepts into something that is plain dead simple.  Our else they won’t stick.  Now go read the interview, it’s very good.

Finding a startup idea

Whenever I tell anyone about what we’re working on, alot of them typically ask “How did you come up with that idea?” followed shortly by “Startup ideas are so hard to come by, everything’s been done.  If I had a great idea, I’d definitely do a startup.”

To which I usually respond by saying: “ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?  There’s so many ideas out there I wish I had a longer life so I could do a couple more.”

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at this list from YCombinator to spark some creative juices.

And btw, what really matters isn’t the idea.  It’s funny how much our idea has changed since I initially pitched it to my partners.  Your idea will change too, but what won’t change is the problem you’re solving and the passionate people that will bring that vision into reality.

So stop making excuses.  Just do it.  You don’t need a great idea.  Just a great team and a real problem.

Customer is #1

I’m at the Bellevue Honda dealership right now and was pleasantly surprised at the exceptional customer experience here. Pleasantly surprised because I’ve been here at least 4 times a year and this is the first time I feel appreciated enough to tell people (aka blog) about it. The funny thing is that I realized it was just one guy that made my day. Ironically, I don’t know his name – so I’ll just call him customer service guy #1.

I’ve always believed that customer service is key to any business and that applies to online businesses as well. Best example I can think of, Craig from Craigslist answers all of his own customer service emails. Craigslist? They must have a bajillion emails a day and answering all of them personally? Amazing.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it takes a significant amount of effort to call in for maintenance, drag myself out of bed at 7am in the morning, and take an hour out of my day to sit at the shop.

Thank you customer service guy #1. You deserve a promotion.

Incorporating a Company

The past few days I’ve read myself to sleep everyday… with a incorporation book.

I’m never going to be a lawyer… that stuff bores me to tears. But it’s SOOO important. It one of those great necessary evil things in this world – kinda like taxes.

I’ve searched all over for references and books on how to do this and Page’s podcast has been the best help by far in the process. Highly recommended: It’s located here.

So, we’re on our way to getting incorporated. Will probably be our biggest expense yet, but well worth it. Startup life, here we come.

corporation

Startup: Company Values

At Zillow, occasionally, we’d have an all hands meeting to talk about Company Values. Everytime we’d have one of these, I’d be bored.

Last week. I was in a weird position. My company was getting to the point where company values were becoming important. So now, it’s my turn. Man, I should’ve paid more attention.

After much reflection, contemplation, and debate, here’s what we’ve come up with. Company values:

Transparency –
By far the most important value. Honesty, integrity, and moral character. Transparency is both a value of our people and a value for the site itself. Transparency encourages trust, trust begets teamwork, and teamwork fuels passion, innovation, and adventure.

Passion –
A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position. With Passion, there is supernatural hard work, determination, and perserverance. Work is no longer work with passion. Nothing great in this world has ever been accomplished without Passion.

Team Player –
“Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.” – Michael Jordan.

Innovation –
Innovation = Intelligence + Creativity.
The intelligent are those who understand that they know nothing. Hire people smarter than you.
The creative are those who are insane and not afraid to get shot down time after time. Learn to be insane.

Adventure –
Life is an adventure. Never live a day without making something out of it. Take risks, have fun, make mistakes, and learn from it. You will never discover new land without losing sight of the shore.

There’s also a secret company value.  I’ll leave that one a secret for now.  :)

Google’s Genius: User Experience

We’ve had a very busy week last week generating mockups and writing specs for our product. Lots of exciting stuff happening – I’ll blog about some of it and save the SUPER EXCITING stuff for later.

I ran into Google’s User Experience Guidelines a couple days ago and thought it was really good. Here their top 10 list:

1. Focus on people – their lives, their work, their dreams
2. Every millisecond counts
3. Simplicity is powerful
4. Engage beginners and attract experts
5. Dare to innovate
6. Design for the world
7. Plan for today’s and tomorrow’s business
8. Delight the eye without distracting the mind.
9. Be worthy of people’s trust
10. Add a human touch.

They’re all quite good, but I’d have to say #9 deserves to be higher. What can be more important than a user’s sense of trust for the site? If they don’t trust your site, they won’t come back, they won’t tell their friends about it, and you’ll lose customers. Trust. It’s important.

Big BillG at UW

I just finished watching BillG talk to the UW gang in a Live webcast (you can watch the archive here) and have drawn a few conclusions:

  • UW students are idiots. At least in terms of asking questions – they were SOO lame. Seriously.
  • UWTV has awesome technology. It took me only a couple clicks to get to the webcast live. Visuals were great, audio was perfect.
  • BillG is a great man – Legendary entrepreneur, visionary, and of course philanthropy extraordinaire.
  • But BillG’s creative force is slowing – he is no longer the 100 pound gorilla that he used to be. His ideas are still great. Just not GREAT.
  • There is room in this world for little naive entrepreneurs like us – so many problems yet to be solved

Microsoft is the last of it’s kind where the original founder is running the company and it is very sad to see the Legend himself go, but Big Bill has done more for the world in a couple months than most people can claim to have done in their life-time. I respect the man greatly.

That said, I’ve been to way too many BillG talks already and even though I look up to the man like no other, this particular talk at UW? Useless. Especially the Q&A portion. Spend your precious time elsewhere.