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daily articles for founders

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

The copywriting difference  

A simple tip from Alex Pankratov that applies to almost every aspect of designing a product:

Simply changing the email subject from "Email Confirmation" to "Please confirm your email address" increased the number of completed subscriptions from 51% to 82%.

37Signals have harped on about it before too. Copywriting is design.

And then, there's also the fact that new users will fall back on text before other visual cues, as pointed out by Jennifer Boriss. Text matters.

How not to recruit cofounders  

Like many other technical people with startup experience, Tristan Kromer gets approached by non-technical founders and is tired of people making basic mistakes in their pitch to him. Here's his list of don't's when approaching a technical cofounder:

  • Don't bullshit. If you don't know, say so.
  • Have more than an idea to offer.
  • Don't ask for an NDA.
  • Be clear. If you can't be clear even this early in the relationship, working with you will be a hassle.
  • Show that you can do it by yourself.
  • Know your metrics.
  • Don't make up words to describe your way of working.
  • Don't negotiate about share percentages.

The last point is interesting:

If you offer me 1% of the equity, I’ll do 1% of the work. If you offer me 25% percent, I’ll do 25%. If you offer me 60%, I’ll insist on only taking 25% and I’ll work 24/7 for you.

It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but makes the point that if you're arguing about percentage points already this early in the startup, chances are the relationship will struggle. If you want to encourage loyalty, err towards generosity (but only with committed cofounders).

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.

Starting out? clone threewords.me  

Gabriel Weinberg suggests, quite rightly, that aiming to build something like threewords.me is a great approach to startups for a new entrepreneur.

I couldn't agree more. It's the "throw things to the wall and see what sticks" approach, and also what I would recommend to myself if I could travel back in time. This impatient approach may not be the best for building a great startup, but it is the best for building a great entrepreneur.

Dilution infographic  

I'm not generally a big fan of infographics. I basically consider them the "lolcats of dataporn", if that makes sense - cutesy pictures that appeal to people who are obsessed with the act of acquiring more information, but never really figure out ways to use it in any way because they're too busy acquiring the next piece of dataporn.

However, sometimes, an infographic can be a great way to explain an idea visually. That's the case for this one, by Jess, reposted by Mark Suster, which conveys, both visually and with numbers, how share dilutions work in practice.

Enjoy, but don't let me catch you watching porn again!

How to hire a salesperson  

At GrantTree, I've had the opportunity to see a great salesperson at work (my cofounder!). The difference between having such a person on board and not having them is dramatic. It's make or break, for a business whose bread and butter is selling a productised service like R&D Tax Credits.

That said, having such a salesperson on board as a founder, and duplicating them (and therefore scaling the sales side of the business) are two different propositions. The second one is as hard - and as essential, if you want to grow - as the first.

The danger, for a small startup, with hiring a salesperson when you don't know how well they do, is that you might end up hiring the wrong kind of salesperson, one that's not adaptable and aggressive enough to get the sales in the loose, uncertain, indeterminate environment of a startup.

Given the importance of this type of decision, helpful articles like this one by Anand Dass are pretty essential:

A good way to assess if he has these skills is to test this through the interview process. Just as in technical interviews you would expect a candidate to write code to provide his technical chops, asks the candidate to develop a sales plan if he were hired. But unlike a technical interview, give the candidate a few days’ time to come up with a plan. This will involve researching the market, doing some preliminary analysis and would require some back and forth for the candidate to understand how your product would fit with the market. This is also a great filter for weeding out the uninterested who are looking for a ‘job’ rather than something more purpose/mission driven.

Enjoy and bookmark.

Time management for startups  

HackFwd offers some essential tips for time management when you're a startup founder:

  1. Know the difference between busy and productive: it doesn't matter if you're working hard, if that works won't be delivering results for your business.
  2. Know the value of your time: as an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to outsource time-consuming work that needs to be done but doesn't bring much value to your business. Use that freedom.
  3. Organise your contacts and calendar: this seems like the weaker advice on the list. I can't think of many cases where spending time organising your contacts is time well spent for a startup founder!
  4. Recognise your rhythms: Instead of assuming that every hour is equal, be aware that you have daily rhythms which mean that some hours each day will be more productive than others. Spend the productive, clear-minded hours on things that need them, and keep mindless tasks for mindless hours.
  5. "Scheduled maintenance": Everyone needs to recharge from time to time! Take holidays. I'd expand that to weekends, too - working 7 days a week every week will eventually burn you out.

Apart from number 3, those are all great tips. Full article here.

How to hire a programmer  

Jeff Atwood outlines a solid process for hiring programmers:

  1. First pass a few simple "Hello World" online tests.
  2. Ask to see their portfolio.
  3. Hire for cultural fit.
  4. Do a detailed, structured phone screen.
  5. Give them an audition project.
  6. Interview in person.

Jeff rightly emphasis the "cultural fit" test. We may all bemoan HR departments and their psychometric nonsense, but poor cultural fit does, in practice, seem to always lead to trouble down the line.

Attention infrastructure vs fundamental businesses  

Great post by Garry Tan, cofounder of Posterous and now designer-in-residence at YCombinator, about the difference between infrastructure businesses and fundamental businesses.

Attention infrastructure businesses like Facebook, Google, Twitter et al:

  • require significant capital infusion;
  • are high-risk, high-reward;
  • tend to be created by technologists.

Fundamental businesses:

  • earn money immediately;
  • are less risky upfront;
  • can still go huge.

This turns out to be a valuable framework for identifying viable Internet startup ideas. Are you building something that could become infrastructure? Or are you building a fundamental value-generating business that uses the infrastructure? Both are amazing business models, but have radically different risk profiles. But as Apple has reminded us today -- it's good to be king.

Worth closing with a perhaps obvious point: frameworks are just (sometimes very useful) ways to analyse things. Reality is often more complex.

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.

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