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daily articles for founders

Here are 10 quality posts from the Founder's Library:

Anatomy of a landing page  

Very good overview of key elements of a landing page. Don't mistake the visual representation of it for the guideline. This link is useful because it highlights 10 key principles of a good landing page, which, in conjunction with the AIDA principle, will help you design an effective landing page.

Test your startup ideas for $20  

In the theme of validating and invalidating your business ideas, here's another approach.

Explain that your brother has a crazy business/product idea, and that he's about to get a 2nd mortgage on his house, raid his 401k and quit his job. His wife is a nervous wreck, afraid that they'll lose their house and retirement fund, and he's hit your parents up for seed money that they really can't afford to lose. Your parents and your sister-in-law have come to you for help to try to talk him out of his hair brained scheme.

Suggesting that it's your brother's idea is a good move, because people will often avoid giving negative feedback in person. With this approach, however, you'll really elicit all the negative feedback they can come up with.

What being on the front page of HN will do for you  

Noah Lorang reporting on 37signals' stockpile of data:

During that period, there were 24,826 first time visitors to any of our sites who we could identify as having first gotten to us via Hacker News (in all, we received more like 105,000 unique visitors from Hacker News, but many of those were repeat visitors). 97 of those visitors signed up, with more than 85% of them electing the free plan. This conversion rate pales compared to our average conversion rate, particularly for non-search-engine traffic.

When all is said and done, what's our likely financial outcome from Hacker News visitors for those 25 posts? About $300 total per month.

In short, unless your audience is hackers and other assorted startup geeks, if your marketing plan consists of "getting on Hacker News" you're probably screwed.

Some might object that 37signals is a special case, because everyone on HN knows about them already anyway, but this jives with my experience, that HN sends plenty of traffic, and they'll have quite a few insightful comments, and a few of them might even be operating in your industry, but the net benefit of getting on HN is advice, not traffic.

Being your own boss means taking responsibility  

One day, I walked by the kitchen and saw Cary washing the dishes. "Huh" I thought, "The CEO is pitching in. Cool." I figured it must have been his turn or something, and sort of forgot about it.

A week or so passed, and then it happened again. The kitchen became a ginormous mess, and then one day, there's Cary, washing dishes. Then it happened again, and again. Each time, he'd look up, and nod, then go back to scrubbing dishes. One day, I walked by the kitchen and noticed it was a huge mess. So I washed the dishes.

Being the CEO of the company isn't about power, authority, or glamour, it's about washing the dishes when nobody else will.

Being the CEO is about being responsible for everything. That said, I would hope that once he got some budget, Cary hired someone to do the dishes for the office for twenty bucks a day. Unless, of course, that was the best use of his time...

As a startup founder, I have found that the most dangerous frame of mind for me to be in is one where I think someone else will take care of it if I don't. Take responsibility, take action, and get results. No one else will do that for you.

The only situation where it makes sense to relinquish some responsibility is when you have a fully committed, on-board, competent cofounder. The rest of the time, you're on your own, buddy.

The processes that drive your business

Once your business has been running for a little while, and is starting to make a bit of money, it's worth spending some time to figure out what it is that drives the activity in your business.

Every business will have a different type of "driving process", but in all cases, they are activities (often meetings) out of which many tasks flow out.

The driving process for a project to deliver a piece of software will be the weekly or daily meetings to assign the tasks for the coming day or week. The driving process for sales is a sales meeting where currently active leads are reviewed and actions decided. The driving process for a service being provided to a number of clients might be reviewing the status of all the clients and deciding on next steps for each of them.

Some of those business activities need a certain rhythm in order to pick up momentum. There are various ways to achieve that, but meetings is certainly one of the most common ones. However, in a young company, meetings don't happen unless you make an effort to keep them happening - there's always something else to do that seems more appealing than having a meeting. Unlike the corporate environment, where meetings seem to thrive and multiply until the only thing being done is having meetings, startups have the opposite problem: startups are a toxic environment for meetings.

If, however, you know that a certain kind of meeting drives a key, critical process in your business, you will probably find it much easier to summon up the effort to keep that meeting alive - especially once you see the effect of the meeting on getting stuff done.

Two concrete examples

Here are two concrete examples of meetings driving key processes, taken from my own business, GrantTree. The two most important meetings we have are both weekly, and are scheduled on Monday morning, to drive the work for the rest of the week.

The first one is a sales meeting. We keep all our leads in Highrise, and the meeting consists of simply going through all the active leads in the database, adding any that are missing, updating the information on each of them, and deciding next steps for each lead. This creates a number of actions and follow-ups which end up driving the sales activity over the next few days. It's a clear, tangible, useful meeting.

The second meeting is the tax credit process review meeting. We track the status of all our clients in Trello, and go through all of them (active or inactive) to make a conscious decision as to whether actions are needed, what actions should happen this week, whether a client needs urgent attention, etc. This creates a number of actions and follow-ups which end up driving the tax credit process for the week. It's also a clear, tangible, useful meeting.

Those are the key drivers for GrantTree: sales and delivery. Each business will have its own specific driving processes, which will result in different types of meetings (or even things other than meetings!). I'm not suggesting that your business should have the same structure as mine - however, what you should do is think about what those key driving processes are for your business, and see if giving these activities a weekly or daily rhythm helps to make them more effective.


What could go wrong?  

Leo Widrich:

"What could go wrong?", is the one line that brought us to where we are today. It is the one sentence that helped us to outsmart any enemy, as we could pre-empt their attacks, built caves with better protection and make sure our children and theirs will make it through many summers.

(...)

On behalf of "Yes!" and on behalf of daring, it is my sincere belief that thinking "What could go wrong?" can't bring us any good (anymore).

Instead, I think it is of the highest importance to learn (and learning this I think we must, as none of us are born with it) to start asking ourselves and everyone else "What could go right today?". And then, go do that right thing.

While the sentiment of this article is right, I have to pick a nit about this "discarding 'what could go wrong?'" business.

"What could go wrong?" is still incredibly useful, because it is a risk exploration question. Successful entrepreneurs don't ignore risk, they minimise and embrace it. To do that, they need to be very aware of the risks - i.e. of what could go wrong.

We can never be aware of all the risks (and that is a risk, or meta-risk, in itself). However, we can make a decent effort to think about the risks and come up with ways to mitigate or minimise them so that "what could go wrong?" is no longer unknown and unlimited.

Smart entrepreneurs knowingly take risks with small potential downsides and large potential upsides. For example, in starting Buffer, Leo took the risk that it might not work and waste some of his time (unlimited downside), minimised that into "it might not work but we'll focus on proving that it works as quickly as possible" (small downside), and therefore reaped the large upside of a successful, rapidly growing startup.

Ignoring risks would have meant building Buffer with no validation to a full-featured version 1 before launching it, and then perhaps finding out that nobody wants it.

How to keep your sanity during launches  

Launches happen. That's true both in the startup world and in the corporate world. Sometimes they're quiet (when you sneakily release a feature and slowly apply it to your whole user population), and sometimes they're very loud (we've launched! sign up now for a first-day 50% discount today only!).

No matter what your development process, if you build cool stuff for a living, at some point you will launch something, and then all hell will break loose. Paraphrasing Michael Lopp: Launching a product isn't going to kill you, but it will try.

Here are Erin Bury's tips on how to survive:

  • Make sure all hands are on deck before, during and after.
  • Know that you will encounter technical difficulties.
  • Know that some people will attack and criticise you.
  • Make it easy for people to share their feedback and set aside time to respond.
  • Don't miss the PR opportunity.
  • Spread the word to the network of founders and customers that you know.

The last one is a great point. Don't just launch online - tell everyone else too.

Self-employed vs business owners  

Derek Sivers makes a great point, illustrated by an engaging story:

There's a big difference between being self-employed and being a business owner.

Being self-employed feels like freedom until you realize that if you take time off, your business crumbles.

To be a true business owner, make sure you could leave for a year, and when you came back, your business would be doing better than when you left.

This is absolutely correct, and, as Derek mentions is straight out of Michael Gerber's E-myth book. Gerber makes a number of other points. I strongly recommend reading the book.

Bootstrap marketing  

Spencer Fry:

A quick Google search for "bootstrap marketing" brings up a bunch of useless nonsense. The results are either in the form of "Top 10 Bootstrap Marketing Tips" or "Bootstrap Marketing 101" guides. They're outdated and uninformative — full of obvious suggestions such as: "you should blog" and "use Twitter to get the word out." Not to mention that all the ads are hurting my eyes. So here are some things you can do that won't cost you a penny and will hopefully give you an "aha" moment.

There follows an excellent list of atypical "bootstrap marketing" approaches that aren't usually covered by other blog posts on the topic:

  • Let your users market for you (in other words, make your application viral)
  • Give paid accounts away for free
  • Issue refunds when you have to (note: I actually believe that if a customer isn't satisfied, I don't want their money, so I will always refund on request)
  • Provide great customer service
  • Show that the website is active
  • Build your reputation as a founder

Great read, as usual from Spencer.

Sell the dream, not the job  

Some great advice on startup recruiting from Roger Ehrenberg:

You're not hiring to fill a role; you're selling a dream. This doesn't mean being fluffy (which engineers hate); it means clearly articulating the company's big vision and how the right person will help the company disrupt and transform the market.

The rest of the article is worth your while too. Every founder will find themselves needing to recruit someone some day, and those early hires determine the fate of your company, so you have to hire the best you can.

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