Luck plays an important role in successful startups. Whether it’s serendipitous interactions, amazing market timing, or coincidences that are just too good to be true, luck influences things more than people would like to admit. I was reminded of this today when reading Allen Nance’s excellent post titled Startup Grind: Allen Nance @ATLTechVillage. Near the end of the post Allen delivers an excellent line:
Luck doesn’t see an opportunity, luck doesn’t build a team, luck doesn’t deliver value to a customer, and luck has never taken a risk: people do.
Well said. Luck is critical, but without taking a risk, there’s no luck.
What else? What are your thoughts on luck’s role in a startup?
Quick, what are some common tasks you do regularly on both a native mobile app and in a standard web browser? Now, do you favor one interface over another? I’ve found myself using the native mobile apps more frequently than the web apps, even when sitting in front of my laptop.
Here are some example services where I prefer the mobile app over the browser interface:
Looking at the apps, the main reason I prefer the native mobile version is due to the streamlined nature of the user experience. The web apps work fine but they’re a combination of full application and marketing site, making it more cumbersome to complete the most common tasks. With a native mobile app, there are fewer features compared to the corresponding web app and use of context-aware features like the phone’s GPS improve the experience even more. Over time, look for mobile apps to grow even more important as the go to way to get things done.
What else? What are some native mobile apps you prefer over the web version?
Last week I was talking to an ambitious young professional that wants to get into the startup world. We were discussing ways to evaluate the potential of a startup — how big and successful it might be. In terms of evaluating startups, he offered up a serious concern of his saying that it’s easy for a big company to just knock off the software once a startup proves the need. With a background in real estate, he had seen ideas and strategies knocked off repeatedly.
Building a product that offers similar functionality to another product is straightforward. Building a successful startup or product line based on another successful startup is incredibly difficult. Here are a few reasons why software can’t just be knocked off to have a successful business:
- Switching costs and the network effects of using a product are significantly more important than one can appreciate without being in the industry and seeing it play out (think of salesforce.com as an example with high switching costs and Snapchat as an example that benefits from massive network effects)
- For each visible feature there are hundreds of behind-the-scenes features that can’t be seen or accounted for unless you have hundreds or thousands of customers (think of the iceberg example where only a small amount of the iceberg is above water and the majority of the iceberg is below water — unseen functionality)
- The Mythical Man Month still holds true whereby adding new software engineers to a project to speed it up actually slows it down (e.g. if a big company threw a bunch of engineers at a new product to get it done quickly, it would be worse off than a smaller team working in conjunction with customers over a much longer period of time, which is what a startup does)
So, it’s very difficult to copy a product and make it as successful as an already successful product with the same market and buyer.
What else? What are some other reasons why it’s so difficult to just knock off a successful software product?
Earlier this week I talked about the 3 Next Steps for an Entrepreneur Without an Idea. Now, the next logical topic is what entrepreneurs should do when they have an idea but don’t have any software engineers to help with a minimum viable product (assuming market demand has already been confirmed with eager prospects ready to sign up).
With an idea, committed prospects, and no software engineers, an entrepreneur should build wireframes using Google Drawing with Morten Just’s wireframe kit template (Balsamiq and Mockingbird are good choices as well but more specialized). Here are some items to keep in mind:
- Make a Google Spreadsheet with all the product screens including hierarchy, links, notes, etc
- Consider the minimum viable product and keep the screens simple
- Include as much detail as possible on each wireframe via notes but don’t clutter the user experience
- Share the wireframes with potential prospects to get their feedback
- Don’t set anything in stone and make changes in an iterative process
So, as a next step, an entrepreneur with an idea should start building product wireframes in Google Drawing and make the idea more tangible.
What else? What are your thoughts on next steps for an entrepreneur with an idea and no software engineers?
One of the financial questions investors are fond of asking, and entrepreneurs often struggle with, is that of bookings. Bookings are related to revenue but are at the front-end, before cash comes in. Bookings are best thought of as the amount of money committed to be paid to the company in the future, where the time frame can be any amount of time.
Let’s look at a few examples:
- A customer signs up for a one-year contract with $50,000 up front and $50,000 over the next twelve months but hasn’t paid anything yet — that’s $100,000 in bookings with no cash received and revenue to be recognized on a monthly basis as the solution is delivered
- A customer signs up for a two-year contract paying $2,000 per month with no up-front fees, making for $48,000 of bookings (the total contract value over the life of the arrangement)
- A customer is signs up paying $1,000 month with no contract and just pre-paid their first month, resulting in no change to bookings
Recurring revenue is the most important startup metric as it shows how much revenue the business will generate assuming no churn and no upgrades. Recurring revenue doesn’t take into account how much of the revenue is contractually obligated, whereas bookings is driven by contractually obligated revenue.
So, when an investor asks a question like “how much do you have in bookings”, be ready to answer it, especially for a specific timeframe (e.g. we have $500,000 booked for the next 12 months based on signed contracts).
What else? What are some other thoughts on bookings and how it relates to revenue?
There’s a rumor going around that investors write checks only based on the likelihood of making money. While making a good return is a high priority, there’s an equally high priority of enjoying the ride, and that comes down to personality fit. That’s right, investors are gauging how much they like the entrepreneurs as well as ability to generate a return.
In addition to personality fit, here are some entrepreneurial characteristics investors look for:
- Leadership – Startups require great people and great people require strong leadership
- Perseverance – Startups are hard, very hard, and everything takes twice as long as expected
- Confidence – With so many unknowns, it’s important to have visible belief in the direction and approach
- Work Ethic – Startup often require long hours and it takes a few years to develop a work / life harmony
Another way to describe it is that the entrepreneur has to pass the canoe test: would you enjoy spending a day with the person in a two person canoe on an open lake?
Never forget that personality fit is as important as making a great return.
What else? What are your thoughts on the importance of personality fit for investors?
Over the past 24 hours I’ve received several emails from colleagues at Dreamforce ’13 about all the cool things going on at the show. After reading the emails, and following the tweets, I realized that all ambitious software entrepreneurs, regardless of industry, should attend at least one Dreamforce event in person.
Here are a few reasons to attend the Dreamforce conference:
- Scale – it’s hard to get a feel for the size based on the pictures — being in person helps expand the mind to just how much success and influence a company can attain
- Energy – passionate communities have incredible energy and in the world of cloud computing / Software-as-a-Service, it doesn’t get any better than the excitement of the Dreamforce attendees
- Innovation – walking the show floor with hundreds of software companies exhibiting, many of them startups, helps fire more synapses in the brain about what’s possible
- Billionaires – it’s not about the money but there’s something inspiring for entrepreneurs to be around and shake hands with a billionaire (or two)
So, all software entrepreneurs should put October 13, 2014 on their calendar now and attend Dreamforce 2014.
What else? What are your thoughts on ambitious entrepreneurs attending the largest software conference in the world to expand their mind as to what’s possible?