swombat.com

daily articles for founders

Idea stagnation  

Noah Smith points out that the startup bubble can lead to stagnation of ideas:

I wonder if the Entrepreneurship Subculture isn't creating some unwarranted adverse effects. By putting entrepreneurs in such close and constant contact with each other, does the Subculture ferment creativity and cross-collaboration? Probably. But it also may inadvertently stifle creativity, by exactly the process that Steven Smith's research describes.

Noah suggests a solution: go on breaks, to the countryside or wherever is different from where you are. In his words, engineer a "change of context".

I can't disagree with that. Some of my best business ideas have occurred to me while floating about in the ocean or lying on a sunny beach. I wonder if that means I can claim my holidays as business expenses...

If you're stuck on a problem, going on a break is generally a good idea, but it's also a good idea if you're trying to generate ideas.

Business Model Environment  

Salim Virani, serial entrepreneur, Leancamp organiser and regular speaker at startup workshops and conferences, on the significance of the later part of the Business Model Generation book:

[The investors'] most consistent question beyond the value proposition, customer problem and target customers were about the growth and adoption trends, competition and market size. The investors were sizing up the opportunity by looking at the context and starting point for the business. It became clear that to explain the full opportunity quickly, the canvas had to be augmented with the Business Model Environment.

(...)

The Environment consists of 4 types of factor:

  • Market Forces
  • Industry Forces
  • Trends
  • Macro-Economic Factors

Worth reading if you're an aficionado of using The Canvas, as many are nowadays, and looking to get better at turning your business models into investor pitches.

Surviving and thriving in a two-sided market  

Here's a great analysis of two-sided markets by Des Traynor, with particular references to app.net. A taster:

Same-side network effects are those where strength of one side has an impact on its growth. It can be positive—Facebook, for example, is better with all of your friends on it, so you invite them. It can also be negative: Facebook is less attractive to advertisers when all of their competitors have already saturated the market.

Cross-side network effects are when the strength of one side has an impact on the growth of the other. They can be positive: the more readers a news website has, the more attractive it is to advertisers. And they can be negative: the more adverts a news website shows, the less attractive it is to potential readers.

Read more.

What goes wrong with startups  

Jessica Livingston (Jessica Graham?) at YC startup school this year:

We all know that a lot of smart and talented people start startups. You see huge numbers of startups getting started, and yet there are actually only a handful of startups that are big successes. What happens along the way that causes such failure?

Jessica's excellent article covers a number of typical failure modes. Particularly sad to me:

Not making something people want is the biggest cause of failure we see early on. (The second biggest is founder disputes.)

In the age of the lean startup methodology, spending years of your life making something people don't want seems like a shameful and avoidable waste. And yet it still happens, a lot! The lure of a good idea is such that people often don't realise that there are many ways to implement that idea, and that most of them are wrong. So they settle on the first approach, which is usually wrong.

As for the founder disputes thing, it's even more shameful. I'm right now in touch with a startup whose founders are splitting, hard, despite them having a highly successful product on their hand.

In any case, the article is a great introduction to the typical killers that might kill your startup, which you won't know about unless you're already well immersed in the startup culture and experience. Worth a read as a good overview of "things you don't know you don't know".

Standing out as a marketing strategy  

Under the guise of providing some practical examples of how they got the attention of big brands like Pepsi or AT&T while running a 3-person startup, Alex Debelov of Virool presents a great philosophy for getting early attention:

When I got there, I wanted to look professional, so I put on a suit and went to the panels. As it turned out, pretty much everyone in the room was dressed in suits. Since I was in my early 20′s most CMO’s/agency reps that I met assumed that I was looking for a job. When I would tell them about my company, they would just follow up with dazed, “cool, here’s my business card” and leave. I realized that I needed to do something different.

Good strategy is about pitting your strengths against their weaknesses. As a new startup, you are definitely not stronger at the traditional networking/marketing game than established players with a lot of resources. You don't even have time as an advantage.

Alex went on to trade his suit for a t-shirt asking "Need 1,000,000 views?" He boldly approached the CMO of PepsiCo on LinkedIn before meeting him in person. He irreverently placed letter flyers advertising his tiny company on every seat at a panel organised by one of his competitors.

What is Virool's relative strength? Nothing to lose. Some of Virool's approaches may infuriate competitors, but there's no chance they'll copy them any time soon. If Virool had done this at a startup event, they would have gone unnoticed, because everyone is in that position. But at a big industry event, it stood out.

The take away here is not to do things that will potentially piss off people in your industry, but to figure out what it is that you're willing to do to grab attention that will be effective and that no one else at the event you're going to is going to do.

That said, the techniques outlined in the article are all pretty cool and worth noting for future use...

Civilisation, productivity, and choice  

Here are a couple of very insightful posts from the prolific Seth Godin...

The first, about Civilization:

Given the opportunity, people almost always move from a place that's less civilized to one that's more civilized. Given the resources, we invest them creating an environment where we can be around people and events that we admire and enjoy. We move to places and cultures where we are trusted and where we are expected to do our share in return.

And yet...

There are always shortcuts available. Sometimes it seems like we should spend less money taking care of others, less time producing beauty, less effort doing the right thing--so we can have more stuff. Sometimes we're encouraged that every man should look out for himself, and that selfishness is at the heart of a productive culture. In the short run, it's tempting indeed to trade in a part of civilized humanity to get a little more for ourselves at the end of the day. And it doesn't work.

The second, about redefining productivity:

Machines can be more productive than people because once they're set up, they create more output per dollar spent. Lowering labor costs is the goal of the competitive industrialist, because in the short run, cutting wages increases productivity.

This is a race to the bottom, with the goal of cutting costs as low as possible as your competitors work to do the same.

The new high productivity calculation, though, is very different:

Decide what you're going to do next, and then do it. Make good decisions about what's next and you thrive.

First, apologies to Seth for quoting most of his posts here (not really in the spirit of quoting and linking), but I blame him: Seth has gotten into the habit of being so incredibly concise and succinct that most of his best posts are basically condensed down to the most important point and nothing else. That makes it very hard to quote just a bit.

Secondly, this is somewhat related to my recent article about doing more by doing less.

Being more effective in choosing what to do is what defines great productivity, not doing the same thing faster, because most of what we do is a waste. This concept is also at the core of the Lean Startup methodology, which aims to eliminate waste by eliminating things that have no value. It is at the core of good strategy, which is about applying limited resources in a way that maximises their impact, and saying no to ways that dilute their impact. It is at the core of most philosophies of improvement, because there is a fundamental truth at work here.

So here's a question to conclude this: who chooses what you do?

Do you make those choices and do you take responsibility for them?

Doing more by doing less

An article today from Jeff Atwood bemoans the plethora of todo apps and presents an argument against todo lists:

Here's my challenge. If you can't wake up every day and, using your 100% original equipment God-given organic brain, come up with the three most important things you need to do that day – then you should seriously work on fixing that. I don't mean install another app, or read more productivity blogs and books. You have to figure out what's important to you and what motivates you; ask yourself why that stuff isn't gnawing at you enough to make you get it done. Fix that.

I'm a big fan of that idea, and in fact have been toying with it practically for a while now.

It started with the decision to implement a limited size todo list, using my iPad and the Bamboo app to write tasks manually (and manually copy them over onto future days if they don't get done). I started with 10 tasks per day at most, with the idea that if I have to add another task to a day that already has 10 tasks, I have to move one undone task to a future day.

It worked relatively well, but I still felt swamped. So I reduced my task count to 5. And, strangely enough, I felt more productive.

See, the reason why we're not productive most of the time isn't that we're not doing stuff. I spend my whole day doing stuff, but that doesn't make me productive. The reason why we're not productive is that we spend most of our time doing the wrong things.

The pareto rule applies to the task selection as well as to the work itself. In fact, it applies even more harshly: you're an incredibly productive person if 20% of all the tasks you do actually are the right things. But most of the tasks we do are "busywork" - whether that's answering emails, chasing people for unpaid invoices, or, irony of ironies, keeping track of the status of things.

I'm not saying these tasks (e.g. chasing invoices) are not important in some fashion. They need to happen, certainly. But chasing invoices is unlikely to be the most important thing you could do today to achieve your life's goals. And that's assuming you even have life goals. If you don't, then 100% of what you do is aimless busywork.

Jeff's article prompted me to write out my thoughts on this topic, and so I'll finish with this thought that I've been ruminating for a while:

If you can, every week, figure out and do the one most important thing that you can do to achieve your life's goals, you will be one of the most successful people on this planet.

And yes, that's true even if you forget to do some menial tasks like chasing invoices or renewing your driving licence.


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.

Startups and growth rate  

Under the guise of providing a new and updated definition of "startup", Paul Graham provides a fascinating insight into the way YCombinator focuses their startup founders. The key is a focus on relentless, week-on-week growth

We usually advise startups to pick a growth rate they think they can hit, and then just try to hit it every week. The key word here is "just." If they decide to grow at 7% a week and they hit that number, they're successful for that week. There's nothing more they need to do. But if they don't hit it, they've failed in the only thing that mattered, and should be correspondingly alarmed.

It's an interesting way to drive activity, to be contrasted with the "Lean Startup" approach that focuses on validated learning. Certainly YCombinator is successful with it, no doubt about that. However, YCombinator startups benefit from the regular input and insight of a set of people who, individually, have broad, deep and long experience building, watching and helping startups in many contexts. Collectively, these people (Paul G, Jessica, Harj, Paul B, Garry, and many others - and let's not forget the network of YC Alumni) represent, by far, the greatest concentration of startup-relevant experience, wisdom and connections in the world.

And even so their success rate is very far from 100%.

Competing incubators, accelerators, and indeed startups, would do well to bear that in mind before they try to emulate this model without the same advantages, and instead of trying to copy the focus on growth, they perhaps should try to reproduce the impressive support system that enables such an approach to work.

Respect for the Samwer Brothers  

Richard Oakley:

Based primarily in Berlin, the operation is largely a 'cloning' one, centered around the identification of potentially-lucrative and somewhat-proven tech-based products in established markets such as the US and UK, copying them, and rolling them out into emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and Latin America, at a massive scale.

To better explain the general view of Rocket Internet, consider this comment on HN:

They're incredible at what they do and that isn't building innovative, new businesses. They've probably made more successful (in terms of revenue, exit, etc) web businesses than anyone else has. They've scaled up ideas into big companies by bringing on a lot of capital.

I don't respect them because they don't use this to build new, long term businesses and tear into others intellectual property but I can acknowledge their success thus far.

What people seem to consistently fail to see (usually until I point it out in conversation), is that the Samwer brothers have built a hugely innovative and groundbreaking company in a nascent industry, in which their company is by far the world leader.

That industry is startup arbitrage - the art of taking the good ideas of slow-moving startups and implementing them in markets that are still missing them.

Rocket Internet has cloned Square in Europe? Well, why isn't Square in Europe already? It's too hard? Rocket Internet proves that it can be done, and quickly.

In short, Rocket Internet, like all other arbitrage companies, are simply making the market more fluid, liquid, and more competitive. I am sure that in the future there will be many more companies like Rocket, and future founders of ambitious startups merely need to count this as part of their expansion plans.

The age of ignoring markets like Europe, Brazil or China until later is over. Startups with global ambitions need to be aggressively international from day one now - or pay a fee to startup arbitrage companies, the first of which is Rocket Internet.

This is probably the most important meta-innovation in the startup world since YCombinator (who themselves fund competing startups in different markets).

Start charging right away  

Ilya Lichtenstein:

A lot of startups, especially SaaS startups, are extending their free beta for far too long. So many companies seem scared of pulling the trigger and asking their users to give them a dollar, and evolve from users to customers.

(...)

Their fear is justified, because the second you start charging for a product, all of the bubbly bullshit falls away. The market is cold, rational, and effective. It doesn’t care about your lean startup methods, your rockstar team, or your fawning tech press. All of your assumptions, vision, business plans and pitches are irrelevant.

Money line:

You’ve either built something worth paying money for, or you haven’t.

One of the basic mistakes I made on my previous business was that although we had real users right from the start (just a month and a half into the development), we didn't charge for a year and a half. And therefore we didn't really start learning until a year and a half had passed.

I covered some of the issues with that in my article on fitting your product to the right market.

One good way to get over this hurdle is to work with a natural and competent salesperson. Salespeople will not shirk away from asking customers for money, right now, today.

SaaS pricing model and revenue  

Hot on the heels of the pricing experiments article the other day, here's a practical case study by Patrick McKenzie, discussing advice that he gave to Server Density (who is one of our happy clients at GrantTree!), that led to a doubling of their revenue per customer.

The changes involved moving from variable pricing to fixed plans, and targeting their pricing more at the corporate end of the market, but you have to read the article itself to get the benefit of Patrick's insights. It's not about the answer, it's about the thinking process behind the answers. On that note, Patrick's comments on Hacker News, answering specific questions from the HN audience, are incredibly valuable too.

I wish I'd read this 5 years ago when I was starting Woobius. If you're starting a B2B SaaS business, read this attentively.

The Fool on the Hill, with commentary

Disclaimer: I love this song.

Day after day,

The Fool appears to keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

Alone on a hill,

The Fool seems to like to place himself in a location where he's unlikely to have much of an impact.

The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still

The Fool is not very proficient in proper use of body language or facial expressions, presumably on account of not spending enough time hanging around with other people.

But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool,
And he never gives an answer,

People have picked up on the fact that the Fool doesn't care about communicating with his fellows, and since he deliberately adds nothing to their lives, they are not interested in making time in their busy and (to them) important lives to sit next to a still, grinning mute.

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

The Fool has some smart ideas (though, as it is unclear what century he lives in, and the idea that the Earth goes round the sun has been widely accepted since about 1700, they may not wholly be his ideas). He also seems to believe that having an idea is enough - you don't need to do anything with it after the idea occurs to you - and so he is content to sit on a hill with a potentially important idea locked in his head.

Well on the way,
Head in a cloud,
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud

This is somewhat confusing, but it seems like the Fool is actually talking. However, if he believes he is speaking with a thousand voices simultaneously, then it is no surprise that:

But nobody ever hears him,
or the sound he appears to make,

Perhaps the Fool is not actually talking, but just having a discourse with himself in his head. This would certainly enable him to speak with a thousand voices, particularly if he is, as the song seems to hint, insane. Insanity would also explain why:

and he never seems to notice,

Most people who are speaking notice when people are not paying attention, let alone when they simply can't hear anything. Those who don't notice that are usually either dead or crazy.

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Execution is for inferior people. Ideas are everything.

And nobody seems to like him,

That's not very surprising, considering the Fool doesn't seem to like anybody either, and just thinks he is superior to all the others (as we'll find out later on in the song).

they can tell what he wants to do,

Perhaps the only puzzling line in this song. How can they tell what he wants to do? My best guess here is that people have noticed that all that the Fool appears to want to do is to sit quietly on the hill grinning to himself. That's why they can tell - by extrapolation from the fact that that's all he does.

and he never shows his feelings,

I think we've already established that the Fool has some severe communication issues. Therapy might be a good course of action at this point.

But the fool on the hill,
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

This appears to be the only useful idea the Fool has come up with - assuming he did come up with it himself, rather than just read it in a widely available science textbook.

Ooh, ooh,
Round and round and round.

Yep.

And he never listens to them,
He knows that they're the fools

As mentioned earlier, the Fool clearly has a superiority complex (or perhaps an inferiority complex masquerading as arrogance). Intelligent, wholesome people don't regard everyone else as fools. In fact, the most intelligent people tend to be humble, friendly, open-minded, and so on.

There's a hint of bitterness in this, too. It seems that maybe the Fool would like to communicate his ideas to others, to make the world a better place, connect with his fellows, and so on, but he can't seem to understand why nobody recognises his natural genius, even though he hasn't bothered to try and communicate it.

They don't like him,

Let's face it, we wouldn't like him either.

The fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning 'round.

Ooh,
Round and round and round

Some practical advice to the Fool

Ideas are not everything. Everyone has millions of interesting ideas in their life, but most people do nothing with those ideas. To be exceptional and worthy of respect (if that's something you care about), you also need to do something with those ideas - at the very least make some effort to communicate them to others. Certainly, an idea that remains locked in your head until the day you die might as well not have occurred.

We are not superior to others merely because of our ideas. Actions speak louder than words, and words speak louder than ideas. Turn your ideas into realities, and you are a God among men, imprinting the reality in your head onto the physical world. One side-effect of doing that is also that you realise that all humans have this seed in them, and you respect them for it.

It's worth investing some time in learning how to understand people and communicate with them. Often, the tallest hurdle in changing the world is not physical impossibility or even the difficulty of getting the right insight, but the inertia of people's minds - ours included. Knowing how to influence people can turn a Fool into a Great Man who will be remembered by History.

In conclusion

Reading too much into popular songs can be an amusing exercise.


Pricing experiments  

This article provides a great overview of a lot of insights and lessons from studies about pricing over the last few decades. It covers a number of approaches:

  • Decoy pricing
  • The magic of number 9
  • Anchoring and the contrast principle
  • Straightforward pricing
  • Pay what you wish
  • Offering 3 options
  • Price perceptions
  • How to split test prices

Each point is covered in enough depth to be useful (this is not one of those "7 ways to tweak your pricing" articles that provide nothing useful. Have a read, and you'll probably learn something.

Fighting online fraud  

Fraud can be a huge issue for online businesses, for a number of reasons.

First of all, fraud can affect you even if you've done nothing wrong: any customer can request a chargeback, for spurious reasons, even if you did deliver the service as described and they made use of it. The ultimate decision about whether the transaction was fraudulent will then often rest with the issuing bank - i.e. the customer's bank. Unsurprisingly, those usually side with their customers.

Another big issue is that merchant banks (those that provide you with a merchant account) are usually very strict about how many chargebacks they will allow before they start investigating your account and possibly closing it down. Typical figures are 1% - of both transaction volume and amount. So, if you have 150 monthly customers, and just 2 of them turn out to be fraudulent (or one of them causes two fraudulent transactions in that month), you could end up being investigated because that's more than 1% of your transactions. If you have less than a hundred customers, a single chargeback could cause you trouble.

You might think that your payment gateway will help you with this by detecting fraud patterns across their entire network, and therefore saving you from obvious fraud... but in practice they don't. It's your job to write algorithms to detect obvious or likely fraud and figure out how to convey that to what might either be a strange customer, or a fraudster.

So, with that in mind, this is an excellent article to bookmark, written by Eran Galp, as it goes into a lot of detail about how you can detect and deal with fraud for a variety of payment methods, like Paypal or credit cards.

B2B is so unsexy?

Dan Shipper:

When I tell people I do B2B software I get some very interesting reactions.

“Why do B2B? It’s so unsexy.”

And that’s true. B2B is unsexy in that I don’t build things that my college friends want to use. But that doesn’t mean it’s unsatisfying, or somehow inherently less valuable than a social/consumer product. In fact, I’d argue that the opposite is true. Spending every day making someone’s life easier is awesome. Especially when that someone actually wants to pay you for it.

Just you wait till you tell them that you're helping businesses get government funding.

I'll take unsexy but profitable and making a tangible, quantifiable difference to people, over sexy and fluffy and bleeding money like it's going out of fashion, any day.


What's the use of stories that aren't even true?

In Salman Rushdie's excellent book Haroun and the Sea of Stories, there's a striking scene near the beginning where Haroun, the child of a famous storyteller, confronts his father by repeating a line that was previously parroted by a narrow-minded neighbour:

What's the use of stories that aren't even true?

Oh boy. What a scene. The question is a slap in the face of his father, of course, and Haroun spends much of the story (which I gather might be imagined rather than true) making up for this mistake, through fantastic adventures in a universe where two factions are at war: those who tell stories, and those who want all stories to end and silence to reign.

So, what's the use?

When it comes to the great written works of humanity, almost all of them are fictional. Whether you look deep into the past, to Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or in the less distant past, to authors such as Herman Hesse, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Tolstoi, Dickens, Victor Hugo, and so on (the list is not endless, but is long), fiction dominates any sensible list of the Greatest Written Works of Humanity. Here or there, a work of non-fiction might peep in and even claim a rightful place, but few seem capable of comparison with the "stories that aren't even true" when it comes to telling eternal Truths.

For this is where fiction is so much better: at the telling not of factual truths that anyone can observe, but of greater Truths about life, about what it means, what it's about, how to live it, how to enjoy it and be happy and find a purpose. To observe these Truths, one needs very good eyes indeed, and telling them directly is almost impossible. Instead, a great author must tell a story that illustrates the Truth that they experienced and observed. If they do it extremely well, it becomes a kind of distilled life experience that the reader assimilates and which changes their understanding of life in subtle and important ways.

If you're looking for truth, then non-fiction is great. If you're looking for Truth, however, you have to look into stories that may not be true but are True.

Startup stories

Which brings me nicely to the subject of startup stories. In my writings on swombat.com, I've endeavoured to always be factually true when telling a story. I don't make things up. However, I am also a lover of fiction and, as argued above, I feel there can be more Truth worth telling in fiction than in fact.

So, this is a thought that I'm struggling with, as far as writing for swombat.com goes. Does fiction have a place in business writing?

Experience is very valuable in business, where many crucial decisions are made on hunches, based on incomplete data, and good fiction is very good at distilling experience that normally might take a lifetime to accumulate, and transmitting it in a few hours.

Clearly fiction is not the appropriate mode of writing for all startup advice. A "how to use LinkedIn" written as a suspense novel would most likely be a terrible idea (though rather original), but it seems to me there are many other valuable lessons of business that could be better illustrated by fictional stories than by factual articles. Those are the ones that you might capitalise as Lessons as opposed to lowercase lessons (I do like to play with capitalisation).

I'm very keen to hear what other people have to say about this. Please do let me know your thoughts - by replying to this if you've received this article by email, by emailing me directly, or by posting comments on Hacker News if this does get on HN (Update: here it is).

Some obvious disclaimers:

  • Fictional stories should be clearly advertised as such. Making up stories and presenting them as factual anecdotes is obviously misleading and wrong. Writing short fictional stories to explain business wisdoms, though, seems ethical.
  • Clearly verifiable theories should not be told as fictional stories - they should be verified and told as fact.
  • However, "profound truths" as Niels Bohr called them, which have the characteristic that their opposites are also true, are well suited to fictional story-telling.
  • "What's the point?" To partially transmit experience normally available only to those who have been running businesses for years, to those who haven't.

Outbound VC dialing  

By Mark Suster; if you get an email that looks like:

Hi [entrepreneur],

I hope all is well. I’m an investor at [Big Name, Large Fund VC] and recently came across [Your Company].

It looks as though you’ve built a very interesting business, and I’d love to spend some time getting a better understanding of your future plans for the company and if there is an opportunity to partner with [My Firm].

In case you aren’t familiar, I’ve attached a brief overview on our firm. [It's big, well known & we've invested in all of these really cool companies]

Do you have time for a half hour conversation over the next week or so? What fits your schedule?

Looking forward to speaking,

Name

Then:

He’s an analyst, which means he’s very junior – probably 24. He’s on a fishing trip. No reason not to call him but I wouldn’t get too excited about it. Sorry.

We got a few of those calls at Woobius, and yeah, they all amounted to exactly nothing.

Even if you're talking to a partner, funding is nowhere near being in the bag. But if you've been contacted by an Analyst who's just fishing for information, then the right response, as Mark puts it, is a polite no or "yes, if".

Read Mark's full article here.

All content is marketing  

Yet another great article by Des Traynor. This one makes the obvious-once-you've-said it but rather subtle point that all content that you produce is marketing.

The phrase “Content Marketing” describes marketing by attracting potential customers with content that interests them. All content should have that goal however, not just the stuff produced by the “content marketing” project. Blogging, eBooks, and webinars are universally regarded as marketing materials, but other equally important content like FAQs, Docs, Press Releases, Welcome messages, etc. sometimes fall into some other bucket of “Content That Does No Marketing™”.

Bullshit. It’s all marketing when you’re doing it right.

Des goes on to offer some solid tips for getting your content to be just right so that it does market your product or service. Read more here.

Dispelling the overnight success myth  

Joel Gascoigne is doing a series about overnight successes - or rather, successes that may look like sudden events until you find out about the long history of persistence behind them.

This one is about Tom Preston-Werner, one of the cofounders of Github:

The most interesting thing I see with Tom’s story so far, compared to what happened next, is that the link between the two is very strong indeed. Tom’s life for the many years before GitHub was immersed in web design, web standards and open source. This is the area which GitHub catered to. The other illuminating thing is his explicit learning from Gravatar that having a business model is crucial. I think this alone is what triggered Tom and his co-founders to build something with revenue from the start and bootstrap GitHub all the way to a company able to employ 100 people with no outside funding.

Tom (and his Github cofounders) was involved in building things-that-might-have-been-startups for quite some time before Github. And then they saw an opportunity to really kick ass and build something extremely viable as a business, and they were ready, both from the perspective of their technical expertise, and in terms of their business mindset, to make the most of it. Github had incredibly good timing, but it was also very, very well executed.

Joel also has another article in the same vein, about Kevin Systrom of Instagram.

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