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

Tag Archives: Startup

Why do a startup?

Because you’re frustrated with some problem or inefficiency and you think you know how to solve it.  You see other people suffering and it pains you.  You need to solve it.  And you need to solve it now.

Too many people are into the “startup thing” for the wrong reasons.  Money, power, impact, influence, social status, ‘coolness’, etc.  Focus on the problems, solve it, and all those ‘other’ things will come. If you’re in it for the wrong reasons, you’ll find yourself (and your team) burning out very quickly.

startup

Forget about the money.  If you’re solving the right problems well, that will come.  Hopefully.

5 tests: Are you a startup guy/gal?

Startup people are rare.  Actually, I take that back.  People that dabble in startups (side project here and there) – plenty.  People that are willing to risk everything and go at it full force – rare.  So what is it that makes someone a “startup junkie”?  Here’s what I’ve gathered from observing successful startupers:

You want to change the world – This one is pretty obvious.  You want to have an impact and you want to help people.  You see things that are inefficient or problems that people just overlook and it frustrates you to no end.  There’s a constant bell that rings inside your head everywhere that you go, whatever situation you’re in.  “There has to be a better way”.

You’re stubborn – People think you’re crazy.  Even worse, they think your idea is horrible.  But despite all that, you don’t listen.  You believe in yourself and your idea so much that you tune them out.  Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but it doesn’t matter to you.  No one’s going to sway you because you’ve made up your mind.  Lets just hope they’re wrong.

You embrace failure – Failure doesn’t irk you, because you know failure like the back of your hand.  You know you will fail.  You’ve stopped fearing it and now just expect it.  Your job is not to not fail, but to not fail so much.  And when you do fail you know how to respond – by learning.  Each failure only builds you up.  And when you fail, you’ll know – cause there is no one else to blame.

You’re financially stable – Lets talk practical.  Everyone who throws themselves at a startup venture first calculates their risk.  And $$ is a big part of that.  Financial stability doesn’t mean you have millions of dollars.  It just means you can support yourself for a while (at least a year) even if some disaster happens.  Though hard to control since it really depends on your environment, (age, family, relationships, connection to money, savings, market, economy, etc) there are definitely little things you can do to make yourself less risk adverse.

Thought of being a drop in a bucket of water drains you – It actually physically drains your soul.  You’re tired from all the energy you spend pulling down the red tape only to get your project approved 6 months later when you don’t care anymore.  You’re tired of politics.  You’re tired of not making an impact.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a ton of awesome large corporation people – you’re just not one of them.  The comfy couch is not you.

puppycouch

Do you fit these criterias?  If so, you are one in a bazillion.  Get off your couch and do something.  Live the dream.  Fix the world.

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.

Glassdoor.com Launches

I’ve been excitedly anticipating the launch of Glassdoor, partly because it’s led by my old mega boss Rich and partly because I knew it was going to be very close to what EggSprout is trying to do.

It is. And they’re definitely doing some really cool stuff. In their own words,

“Glassdoor gives you an inside look at companies from those that know them best – employees. You can see company ratings, reviews, and salaries – all for free.

We built Glassdoor for a very simple reason – because we believe that work matters.

At our core, everyone craves meaningful work. We want to know that all of our blood, sweat, and tears matter. We want to know that all of those hours away from our family aren’t for nothing. We want – we need – to believe that we are serving a higher purpose, and that the world is better off because of our work.

Amen. Couldn’t have said it any better myself. Techcrunch has great coverage about what they’re about if you want to know more.

Which still begs the question – Does this kill EggSprout? Actually, no. In fact, we think we’re pretty complimentary to each other. To explain why, I’d have to reveal a whole ton of secrets about our stealth startup.  I’m not quite ready to do that yet.  Soon… soon…

If you’re really dying to know, gimme a comment below, we’re going to be inviting some VIPs in to preview our beta soon.

Seattle Tech Startup Networking

I need to head over to the Seattle Tech Startup meeting in 10 minutes, so I’ll make this a quick post.  Even though all the presentations at the meetings are really informative, the best thing about these meetings is definitely the networking.  Every entrepreneur I’ve talked to has met someone through someone through someone else would eventually landed them a financing deal = $$.

The unpredictability of startups never ceases to amaze me.  And no, networking is not equal to Facebook.  Cause if it was, it’d look something like this:

Startup: two months recap

One month after I took my first step to start my new adventure, I wrote a quick recap about what I’ve been up to. In keep with that tradition, I figured it’d be cool writing up a recap for month #2.

When I left Zillow, I wrote down some simple goals for myself:

  1. Become a well-known blogger
  2. Have a successful startup in a year
  3. Get in shape and Lose 40 pounds

And here’s what I’ve done to work at those:

  • Goal #1: Blog
    • Started this blog. Recently bought zealoustiger.com – there’s nothing on there yet, I’m trying to figure it out. Stay tuned. :)
    • Setup my girlfriend with her blog: www.jpharm.wordpress.com
    • Setup and starting to blog on EggSprout: www.eggsprout.com/blog
  • Goal #2: Startup
  • Goal #3: Get in shape
    • I’ve kept up the 3 mile run/day. It’s starting to get easier now.
    • Been eating less and healthier – it’s way harder than it sounds.
    • Lost 20 pounds already. That’s 50% to the goal!

Everyone asks me how much I work. You can see my day’s hourly breakdown in the one month recap, and it hasn’t changed since then. Still about 12-13 hours of work a day, 7 days a week. But seriously, when you’re working for yourself, it isn’t work at all. I’m learning SOO much, having so much fun, and lovin’ it.

“To spend one year as a tiger is better than to live forever as sheep”

Program Managers and Powerpoint

Today, I spent the ENTIRE day on powerpoint. PM’s get made fun of all the time for their seemingly lack of any skills at all. Everytime I talk to one of my developer buddies, I always get the same old question. “So what DO you do anyways?” And then they go on and on about how PMs just get coffee, schedule meetings, hang out, and such nonsense.

Why does no one care about my amazing powerpoint skillz?! This is what we do all day: (All done in powerpoint. Amazing huh?)

Note: I did not do this. I actually spent the entire day on powerpoint drawing mockups and writing the startup’s functional spec. Not terribly exciting, so I thought a video would be cooler.