swombat.com

daily articles for founders

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

Learn to think big and small  

Gabriel Weinberg:

You should learn to think big. It's the precursor to choosing an ambitious startup idea, which I also strongly recommend.

But...

However, [thinking small] may make you just as much money. And that's an important distinction. Thinking big and making money are not the same thing. If your goal is to make money then an indie company (like my last one) may be your best bet, or some other industry altogether like finance.

And...

The trickiest part about thinking big is you still need to think small at the same time while executing. You need that grand vision, but you also need to bring that back to today in the form of strategy, goals, priorities and of course your very next steps. Being able to articulate both the big and small in a succinct way that makes plausible sense is a signal of a great entrepreneur.

So actually, Gabriel's initial title ("Learn to think big") is not quite right, as he admits himself, though he mostly looks at the "think small in order to execute" side of things.

I'd focus on the second quote: if you want to achieve some kind of financial success through your startup (which probably should be one of your primary goals for your first successful startup, before you embark on moon shots and change the world), then think small. Think today, tomorrow, next month, think how do we make this fly now. Learn how to make the now work, and when you have that sorted, then cast your eye further out and start to think bigger.

That's the advice I'd give to a not-yet-successful entrepreneur. Think small, focus, make it work, then grow.

Why blog?  

Gabriel Weinberg on why and whether he should blogs:

It's not an easy decision, and one that is constantly in your face, simply because blogging takes a lot of time. A good post may take 3-5 hours when all is said and done. That time (for me) is often directly taken away from other professional activity, so the opportunity cost is quite high. In other words, I must have a good reason for doing so or else I really shouldn't be doing it.

Gabriel lists 4 key reasons:

  • Writing leads to understanding: writing things down forces you to think through them more logically.
  • Writing blogs helps you get over your fears of putting your opinion out there: in this, it's very much like public speaking.
  • You can reach the right people: building a following will help you reach an audience with other things you have to say.
  • You can stand out: having a popular blog is a great way to stand out in your field.

I agree with all these reasons and they are great reasons to blog. Personally, I have a few other reasons:

  • I just enjoy it. I love writing, expressing thoughts in the written medium. Throughout my life, I've always spent a good amount of time each day writing things. Whether it has been fiction writing, posting on message boards, commenting on HN, chatting on IRC or even blogging, writing my thoughts out is something that I can't help doing each and every day.
  • Blogging is an opportunity generator. A lot of really excellent opportunities have come my way because of blog posts I'd written. This ranges from coverage from sites like LifeHacker, Slashdot or TechCrunch, to essential business deals that made a big difference to one of my business ventures.
  • It serves a purpose. I like to share useful lessons with others. I'm a big believer that when good ideas spread, we (humans) all benefit. It makes sense to take part in the spreading of good ideas.
  • It's as essential as having business cards: although this is changing these days, with Twitter taking the place of a blog, I still feel like an entrepreneur without any kind of personal or startup blog is a bit strange and incomplete.

I'm sure there are many other reasons to blog. Fundamentally, I think the best reason is because it's just fun.

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 Marketingâ„¢".

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.

Cheap startup advertising  

Rob Walling, following on an earlier article about the half-life of traffic sources (go read it if you haven't yet), describes some concrete ways to use paid advertising to get some bursts of usage that (if your site is sticky enough) will then hopefully result in some customers or at least some validated learning. He covers:

  • Niche Advertising
  • Google AdWords
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit

Each is broken down and detailed. Definitely worth a read if you're considering using paid advertising to drive some initial traffic to your site. As Rob points out:

To conclude, I want to reiterate what I said early in this article: unless you have deep pockets think of advertising not as a long-term traffic strategy, but as a testing tool to improve your website and find out more about your ideal visitor. Few bootstrapped startups can withstand the cash outlay required to turn advertising into a marketing activity with a positive ROI, but that shouldn't keep you from testing the waters to find out for yourself.

Advice for a young entrepreneur  

Tony Stubblebine starts with the following (well presented) advice:

  1. Surround yourself with interesting people;
  2. Focus on the right things (which means, ironically, figuring out what the right things are);
  3. Be useful.

He ends on a little zinger:

There's basically two ways to be financially successful as a company. One, you could rely on time-tested business fundamentals. I call this the Warren Buffet model.

Two, you could rely on the greater fool theory, which is that with enough hype, smoke, and mirrors you can find a buyer who is an even greater fool than your investors.

(...)

So much of the startup world is arrayed around the greater fool theory that I felt like my best chance was to build a company that was independent of that system. I think of bootstrapping as a very slow form of raising money. But now that we've done it, I have a reliable stream of income and never have to raise money again. It's really just at this moment in time that we can switch from doing whatever it takes to survive to actually testing our ability to make a major impact.

To be fair, there are situations where you do need the extra money to grow extra fast, or else you lose. Groupon is a good example - had they not executed so brilliantly and quickly, they would have been eaten alive by the dozens of clones which emerged everywhere.

I'm a big fan of getting profitable early, but it is neither the only way, nor the universal best way.

Start something small  

Joel Gascoigne:

What I'm starting to notice more and more, is that great things almost always start small. Most of us know that Branson started the Virgin brand with a student magazine, but Virgin is just one of many examples which shows that the reality is counterintuitive: actually, the best things we know and love started as tiny things.

I've found that if I look into my own life, I find similarly that some of the most important achievements I've made started as little projects. My startup Buffer itself is a great example: it started as a two page website and in addition the short blog post describing this process has now turned into a talk I've given more than 30 times.

This applies in other areas of life - programming, for example, has Gall's Law:

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.

3 Lessons from launching a product  

No completely new advice in this article, but a very good point about design/usability of your first version:

However, your first design shouldn't matter. You should be solving such a huge need that users and customers will do anything to use your product to solve their needs. When your hair is on fire, the look of the firehose doesn't really matter.

If poor usability or bland visual effects push away early adopters, then you haven't actually solved an important problem (at which time you pivot).

As Sean mentions earlier, though:

Not all advice is created equal (...) If the advice doesn't sit well with you, don't blindly follow it

Not all startups are created equal. Not all startups are solving a hair-on-fire problem. Twitter, which he uses as an example later in the article, certainly did not solve any critical problem initially.

How to work with designers  

At some point in your startup life, you are going to have to work with a designer, even if you're a designer yourself. Knowing how to give good design feedback is a useful skill in that context.

Here are the key points:

  1. Make sure you're giving the right feedback. Don't give feedback on the content when it's all filler content.
  2. Evaluate based on whether it achieves the design objectives, not whether you like it.
  3. Not knowing anything about design doesn't stop you from seeing whether the design meets your business goals.
  4. Don't try and spare the designer's feelings. When the design doesn't work, say it.
  5. Be direct. Don't spend 5 minutes to say "This design sucks".
  6. Start with general feedback over the whole design and then drill into specific elements.
  7. Relate feedback to goals and user needs. Don't be subjective ("I don't like this") or prescriptive ("Move the buttons over here").
  8. Don't redo the design in photoshop and send it to the designer as feedback.
  9. Ask questions as the design is being presented.
  10. Don't give contradictory mandates.
  11. Set up a time to go over the feedback in a structured way.

Worth reading for the details on these points. I would add one more point, in the spirit of Orwell's famous essay:

  • Break any of these rules sooner than accept a design that just doesn't work.
How to stop startups from failing in 4 common ways  

Most articles listing ways startups fail are not very interesting. There are millions of ways startups can fail.

This article by Elad Gil is different, because it offers some concrete advice about what to do to prevent each of those issues: running out of money, team implosion, a living dead company, or a bad board/investors. Have a read.

Hustling your first $25k of seed money  

Fred Wilson on AirBnB:

The Airbnb founders came out of the summer 2008 Y Combinator class. They came to see us right after pulling a great stunt at the Democratic Convention in Denver (in which Obama was nominated). They bought a bulk supply of generic cheerios and made up these cereal boxes. They sold these Obama Os for $4 a box and sold 8,000 of them, raising $32,000 to provide seed capital for their startup. I asked them if they'd leave a box of the cereal for us and it has been sitting in our conference room ever since. Whenever someone tells me that they can't figure out how to raise the first $25,000 they need to get their company started I stand up, walk over to the cereal box, and tell this story. It is a story of pure unadulterated hustle. And I love it.

Do you have someone on your founding team who can hustle, someone who figures out ways to squeeze money out of practically everything ? Those are worth as much as top engineers.

more