Monthly Archives: December 2012

Q4 Reading List

Recent reading. 
Vea Kaiser: Blasmusikpop. Eindrucksvoll aber nicht perfekt.
Rod Stewart: Rod: The Autobiography. Very well written (probably not by himself) and really interesting. On many levels. 
Christoph Ransmayr: Atlas eines ängstlichen Mannes. Hochinteressante Fragmente, von denen jedes gerne länger sein könnte.
Eva Chapman: From Russia to Love – The life and music of Viktoria Mullova. It’s even worse than the title suggests. Neither reader nor subject deserve writing this poor.
John J. Ratey Md, Edward M. Md Hallowell: Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder. Parts interesting, most of it is crap. Very annoying.
Nicola Reiter: Firn. Schaut nach nicht viel aus, ist aber dann erstaunlich interessant.
Jörg Graser: Weißbier im Blut. Naja. Bisschen kurz gesprungen.
Donna Leon: Beastly Things. Solid.
Salman Rushdie: Joseph Anton. Fantastic. Unputdownable. Autobiography written in present tense, the third person. Jarring at first, then completely convincing.
Stewart O’Nan. The Odds. Excellent. Too short.
Jess Walter: Beautiful Ruins. Unputdownable. So much fun.
Tom Service: Music as Alchemy: Journeys with Great Conductors and their Orchestras. Well written and incredibly interesting.

Startup Checklist — Do We Have These Materials?

Working with a really interesting new startup in the social media management category, we came up with a number of materials that the startup should be developing over the next weeks and months. This may or may not be complete and it may or may not be relevant for all companies. But take a look and see if you have all bases covered.

1. A pitch deck, containing

  • Team and Where the Idea Come From
  • Customer Problem and Market Size
  • Solution
  • Customer Benefits and Business Model
  • Product slides:
    • Feature set
    • Architecture
    • Screen shots
    • Roadmap
  • Product Roadmap
  • Typical customer implementation: How long, how many people, networks, etc.
  • Competition
  • 3-year financials rough and 18 month financials in detail
  • Funding round sought (incl. cap table before and after) and use of funds (for what, for how long, to deliver which milestones)
Not necessarily in that order, but covering at least these items.
Why? Because this is what financiers expect. You’re not in fundraising mode if you don’t have it.
2. More evidence for the existence of a product and our competency to manage and develop and deliver one:
  • All the product slides defined above.
  • A Camtasia movie, if applicable.
  • A nicely formatted two-page datasheet that prospects can download and print out and pass around in their organization (this may not be priority #1, but I wouldn’t underestimate it).
  • Possibly a FAQ — which will probably be populated as the first wave of customer pitches take place.
  • A product-centric website: With a prominent “Products” section, offering screenshots, a big “Request Demo” button, pricing information on the different plans (Small vs.Professional vs. Enterprise) but w/o specific prices, etc. This here is a pretty good role model:
Why? Because IMHO we need to proactively put stuff out there so that people don’t mistake us for “product poseurs” (i.e. custom development shops that pretend that they have a product and they really don’t).
3. A document or PPT slide outlining my complete Solution Set for my VIP customers:
  • Pre-deployment workshops to establish baseline and to determine objectives and priorities for the customer. How many workshops, which participants, what outcome, what price.
  • Deployment roadmap: Which features will they get first (MVP), which 90 days later, etc.
  • Integration offer: How do we integrate into their publishing systems and how long does that take and what do they pay.
  • Training offer: How do we run training for users (classroom? CBT? webinar?) and what do they pay. 
  • Support offer: What level of support is standard. What options do we offer for gold-standard-VIP support and what does that cost extra?
  • Health check and monitoring: What services (by people and/or by machines) do we offer to ensure optimal service quality for our customer and for their media properties?
  • How do we ensure success and remove objections? (90-days free or, preferably, a money-back offer with a defined milestone that we have to reach).
Why? Because ONLY customers for whom this is mission-critical and career-defining will buy our solution before it becomes an industry standard. And precisely these customers want to get the maximum support and attention from us to ensure success. So we a. have to offer a complete package and b. we can charge for it and thereby maximize our revenue extraction.
4. Evidence for Thought Leadership
  • A whitepaper, explaining in high-level language, the customer problem, first from the business angle and then from the operational execution angle. And how this problem will not go away but get bigger all the time. And how it can be solved with technology. And what kind of technology to look for (easily integrated, real-time, console, etc.) — describing the requirements for the ideal solution. Outlining the immediate benefits (time and money and not wasting expensive resources on manual labor etc.). And the more long-term and more strategic benefits (highly engaged community, shifting business models, harnessing UGC, etc. etc.).
  • The same content, re-edited for publication in some kind of online or print publication.
  • A corporate blog, if appropriate. 
Why? So we stand out from the crowd, so that we’re more than a tool vendor, so that our claims re roadmap and solutions competency and workshop competency become credible.
5. MVP Outline and Corresponding Hypotheses
  • Feature set for MVP
  • List of hypotheses about customer problem that underly the MVP definition
  • Some discussion re how we can validate these assumptions quickly and efficiently (e.g. customer survey, focus group interviews, hiring a market researcher, posing as a market researcher, etc.)
Why? Because we need to figure out what our customers really want. Which is very likely different from what we think. If this sounds flaky you may need to re-read

Mobile First? Yes and No.

All year long you could hear them shouting from the rooftops: “Mobile first!”. 

Fred Wilson:

I’m starting to think a unifying vision for all apps should start with the mobile app, not the web app. And so it may also be mobile first web second in
designing web apps these days.

Mark Suster:

 I know that “Mobile First” has become engrained in developers minds. And that’s a good thing.

 In the last weeks, on the other hand, we have heard a different tune from some people:

Fred Wilson

Building an audience on mobile is a bitch.

And, in a really insightful and must-read contribution from Vibhu Norby:

The Android and iOS platform set us up to fail by attracting us with the veneer of users, but in reality you are going to fight harder for them than is worthwhile to your business. You certainly need a mobile app to serve your customers and compete, but it should only be part of your strategy and not the whole thing.

This is a critical discussion for anybody starting to design their roadmap and trying to get their priorities in order. Make sure you understand Vibhu’s arguments and explain how they apply to your product, business models, and target market.

My gut feeling would be to go web-first for on-boarding, administration, monetization. But design your client experience for a seamless mobile experience and don’t be afraid to deliver a simple, but elegant experience for the desktop as well. I think that we’ll see more and more simple, fast, and elegant desktop applications with seamless UI transitions to their mobile counterparts. These days I am impressed by applications such as Tweetdeck or Sparrow.

On the purely mobile side I am impressed by e.g. letterpress because of the sparse and beautiful tiled design that works amazingly well on the iPhone and feels like a breath of fresh air, especially when you see it side by side with the more traditional design of Apple Game Center. Which looks shockingly baroque in comparison.

Are We Fundable

An amazing number of teams that come up and ask for recommendations, help, or hands-on support in finding external funding. No real surprise given the sheer number of incubators, university entrepreneurship institutes, pre-seed funding programs from the various sources and programs. 

The bad news: 9 out of 10 are not per se fundable. And either need to go home or work hard to fill the gaps. 

Here are some simple filters that should help you look in the mirror and assess what you see:

Are we a team? One person is not a team. Two people who have met at a founders’ speed-dating event are not a team. Two MBAs and one engineer are not a team (if software is at all critical to your idea). Three or four people who have worked together for at least six months and are now more enthusiastic about their idea and each other than when they started out – that could be a team!

Do we have a product or can we build one? Can it be built? Can we build it? Is it a product, not a feature? All the usual caveats apply. If we don’t have a product, then how do we get people to take the leap of faith required that they will let us build one? 

Do we have a market? How do we know that there are dogs that will eat our dogfood? Do we understand, and I mean really understand, our customer and what their pain is and how we help them and why they will buy from us and why they will buy now? How many customers have we actually talked to? 

Passing these filters is necessary, but by no means sufficient. 

Next apply these two sanity-checks. Ask yourself:

  • Would I invest in this? If these guys came to me would I feel compelled to put my hard-earned cash on the roulette table? Or would I hesitate? If so, why?
  • Can this be and can we run (or at least start) a 10/20/50/100 million company? (This question courtesy of Christian Ehl). You’ll never know if you can run the beast but you’ll certainly need to be able to get it off the ground.

If you have good answers to all of these you may proceed. Otherwise it’s back to the drawing board.