Pivoting for Profit

Just build a _____ profitable business!

David Heinemeier Hansson, This Week in Startups #46 (1:10:45)

My Lessons Learned - Make a Profit
My Lessons Learned - Make a Profit

Reflection

In the spirit of Agile, here’s my retrospective on when we realized the primary objective is to build a business & not to get funded.

Inflating Our Own Bubble

TechCrunch50 2009

Back in June 2009, I read about the TechCrunch50 2009 contest & while we barely had any running code, submitted an entry. My collaborators thought it was a bit of a stretch, but we all agreed it’s nice to set goals. So while trying to get a grip on what was required of us, I immersed myself in TechCrunch stuff. From what I understood, there was a common theme emerging – get funded & get out. And making it to the semi-finals only encouraged me.

I Think Our Bubble Has a Leak

Signed Copy of Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check
Signed Copy of Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check

We thought we had something that was so paradigm shifting, yet so simplistically obvious at the same time, that we’d have no trouble bringing on a CEO to help us reach Jason’s Promised Land. But it wasn’t happening like that. And as time passed, we realized that if we wanted to see our dream change the world then we couldn’t wait on someone else to make it happen.

Paradigm Shifting

That primed us for This Week in Startups #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson | ThisWeekIn.  Fast forward to 1:10:45 and there you have it.  It was paradigm shifting, yet so simplistically obvious. Just build a profitable business and the problem will be solved. Read his and Jason Fried’s Rework and you’ll get it too!

Trolling for Customer Development

The other day I was perusing Twitter when I saw Ben Yoskovitz’s

BeanSprout – a dating website for Business Development Partnerships: http://bit.ly/ivLRyf

A few tweets later, I was signed up and working with one of BeanSprout‘s founders – Artie Patel. I told him “Ideally, we’d like to hook up with someone like Localeze“. To which Artie responded; “They’re a customer of ours. Let’s see what we can do to help.”

Lessons To Learn

I’m actually planning on meeting Artie next week when they present at International Startup Festival – Montreal, Canada, July 13-15th 2011 where I’ll be volunteering for my Starving Startup ticket. Stay tuned for more details about how another startup delivered an awesome experience & whether it can help us learn to build a ______ profitable business.

(Thanks to Greg Meyer for tuning me into  experiences that @delivertheawsome.)

Related Links

Go out there and make some money!

Dan MartellTo Raise, Or Not To Raise | @MapleButter

The Twouble with Twetailer

Golden Rule of Branding:

  1. Choose a name that is your URL
  2. Don’t choose anything that paints you in a corner. With the word “tweet” in it, it’s painted into a corner.

— Mark Suster, referring to TweetUp at 6:11 into This Week in Venture Capital #2 with Mark Suster.

In the beginning

There was something familiar about Twitter back in December 2008 when I posted My Five Ws of Twitter in less than 10 minutes (video included). It wasn’t necessarily the short messages – like text messaging (SMS), even though those were its roots. It wasn’t so much the chat-like short messages either. It was something I recognized as an IBM MQ Series feature call Message Persistence – basically meaning, the messages are saved on some hard disk on some server somewhere on the network. So what? So as opposed to email, text messages, or, chat messages that are 1) unless they’re spam, are sent to a select group of people, and 2) can be deleted, Twitter messages are potentially in the public domain, persisted (save to some disk) and searchable.

The original idea behind Twetailer was to expand on those persisted tweets, as if they were MQ Series persisted messages and use them as a poor-mans’ communication channel. And just like MQ Series with its ability to have operating system agnostic clients communicating to the MQ Series server, there were already a whack of Twitter client applications out there like TweetDeck, Twhirl, Seesmic, etc. That way Twetailer could focus on the transaction engine and let its users choose their favorite client app. We even had free text messaging (SMS), courtesy of Twitter.

Hence the name Twetailer, which is short for Twitter Retailer.

Sounds like a plan, eh?

But Dom Derrien was concerned about relying on Twitter for these persisted messages, so, we decided to persist our own. Still true to our Twitter inspiration, we built a transaction engine that runs in 140 characters, or, less. As a Consumer, your initial request looks like:

d twetailer wii console locale:1235 us range:25 mi expires:2010-12-23

and subsequent requests could look like:

d twetailer rent twilight dvd

since we already knew your previous preference for location and default the expiry date to one month in the future.

Oh, by the way, Dom was right! To date, Twitter does not persist searchable messages beyond a few days, at best!

Too cryptic

While everyone we yakked to about the concept Where Demand comes to meet Supply loved it, they either didn’t tweet, or, thought the messages were too cryptic.

How to paint yourself out of a corner

Twitter is still a force to be reckoned with. But so is email and so is the web and so is text messaging and so is Facebook and so is Google Talk and so is iChat and so is Android and so is iPhone and so is yada yada yada. Cryptic, shmyptic!!! Our  Twitter-inspired transaction engine has an open application programming interface (API) allowing us, or, you to build more client apps than ever before. Nonetheless, we have to heed the outside-in advice of  those we respect.  So we’re keeping http://twetailer.com as our project name but moving forward with http://AnotherSocialEconomy.com.

Thanks Jason, Mark & ThisWeekIn

A big thanks to Mark Suster, Jason Calacanis and the rest of the crew at ThisWeekIn for helping us paint our way out the corner. I’m pleased to say we have gone from the single Twitter Stream to multi-stream and from Twetailer to AnotherSocialEconomy.

Thoughts

Has anyone out there been faced with a similar situation? Did you stick with your ‘program”, or, re-positioned yourself?

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Maybe it’s time that there be a (social software) service that’s only for kids

edu.cyn.in – Social Software in Schools

Maybe it’s time that there be a service that’s only for kids.

Jason Calacanis at 1:13:29 into TWiST #50 Anniversary Show

Lon Harris, Creative Director at ThisWeekIn brought up an interesting story on Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, who sent out an e-mail Wednesday morning asking parents to help him get all of his students off social networks and keep careful track of their text messages.

“Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today! …”

— As covered by New Jersey Principal Asks Parents To Ban Facebook, Social Networking, Text Messaging – wcbstv.com

His basic concern is about bullying & how these social sites empower cyber-bullying. In response, Jason & Lon go on about how to deal with children, the Internet & even offer a few novel solutions for the car / auto-insurance industry. (I love the Key one, myself.) But, my favorite prosposed solution was Jason’s at 1:13:29 into the show:

Maybe it’s time that there be a service that’s only for kids… I think maybe that’s the solution

In all fairness, Jason doesn’t know about edu.cyn.in but I thank him for the words of encouragement, again!

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Kool-Aid Being Served Here

#1You do not get credit before you do the work

Jason Calacanis, TWiST #47 with Niel Robertson (0:11:17)

If you’ve never heard of Jason Calacanis, then you owe it to yourself to check him out on one of his many ThisWeekIn episodes. I had the privaledge to demo to him once & he’s a character & a half! This past week he went after Generation Y – well 80% of them. And to be quite honest, I agree with him. Check out my own experience – My First Demo Pitch. Are All Retail Sales Associates Like This?

Living the Ultra Light Startup Life

Having lived and died the start up life during the dot com days and after reading everything on the right sidebar under Pivotal Reading, I’m now a proud ultra light startup entrepreneur. (See What are the characteristics of an Ultra Light Startup?.) With Guy Kawasaki‘s autographed copies of Reality Check & The Art of the Start tucked under my pillow at night, I have no trouble admitting to living off my faithful wife, dipping into my two beautiful children’s savings accounts the odd time and yes, there is a line of credit. So, if this was your reality, how would you go about soliciting help starting your startup?

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Work-For-Attribution. That’s what I called it back in my post The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 2 and that’s what’s in my Copyright Assignment Agreement. At least that’s the politically correct way of putting it. But lately, I just refer to it as Drinking the Kool-Aid.

The Pitch

Here’s my scoop

  1. I have no money.
  2. I’m living off the kindness of my wife & kids.
  3. I’ve done the startup thing & I’ve done it all wrong. Just Read Guy Kawasaki’s books for more examples.
  4. I understand the value of lawyers & accountants, so they get paid first and that comes out of my line of credit.
  5. If I understand my accountant – Sheldon Miller, correctly; banks just want the interest on your line of credit. VCs’ have a different kind of interest.
  6. If I understand my lawyer – François Senécal, correctly; pay for what’s in the critical path to getting your product to market.  Don’t pay for things like; “but what if one day Google buys this thing for a gazillion dollars?”.
  7. If I understand Guy Kawasaki correctly, paying for things that may never happen simply reduces the likelyhood they will.

Here’s what I believe

  1. I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that love what they do but not necessarily where they’re doing.
  2. I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that desperately want and can do more than what they’re do now.
  3. I believe these people just need an opportunity.

If you’re one of these people, then here’s what I’m offering you

  1. I’m offering you a chance to build your own micro startup doing things exactly the way you want them done.
  2. I’m offering you a chance to go beyond resumés and looking backwards when all you want to do is look to the future.
  3. I’m offering you a canvas, silly putty, a stage for to show the world what makes you so hot.

Here’s the Risk

  1. You have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
  2. You have to sign a Copyright Assignment Agreement. Typically, when you sign one of these with your employer, you agree to give them total ownership of your work & they agree to financially compensate you for it. In my case, you agree to give me (Milstein & Associates Inc.) total ownership of your work & I agree to fully attribute your contribution. You get no money, no shares, no promises of anything beyond public attribution. Oddly enough, it’s exactly as Jason said in above episode.

Here’s the Reward

  1. If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the first questions they may ask is; “Is the Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “Yes”.
  2. If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the following questions they may ask is; “Is the team that contributed that coveted Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “No”. At that point, my guess is that Google will then determine the value of locking down these contributors.

Bottom Line

In order for my startup to succeed, I can’t afford to chance that maybe you’ll contribute enough for Google to offer that gazillion dollars. In order for you to truly succeed, you can’t afford to give up an opportunity like this. Besides, who would you rather assess your true value? Me – a guy living off his wife, kids & a line of credit, or, Google? Basically, all I’m offering you is a chance to sit at the table. But first, you have to set it & fill the glasses with Kool-Aid. Do you have a better offer from someone else?

Reflection

So far three people have drank the Kool-Aid & I’m hoping one, or, two more will belly up to the table in the coming weeks. Take a look at Dom Derrien’s blog and let me know if you still think, in the worst case scenario, that he’s not seeing some form of immediate returns on his investment.

Next Up

Thanks to TWiST #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson, I just ordered Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (founders of 37Signals). Stay tuned to see why.

TWiST #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson

My First Pitch to More Than One Person Over the Age of 12. What a rush!

In fine company last night among QuantumWhisper, SoleiraSun, SolidWild at Montreal NEWTECH’s Demo Night.

Just demo!

Jason Calacanis, TechCrunch50 2009 Twetailer semi-finalist demo.

In 140 characters, or, less

Twetailer: Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via tweets, for f(r)ee, or, Reverse Retailing.

Rehearsed version

Live version

Last night I presented the slides & recordings as above but did the audio part live. Technically, I had 10 minutes – 5 for demo & 5 for Q&A. I actually consumed 7 minutes, leaving on 3 for Q&A.

Here’s the Q&A (paraphrased):
Q. Do you have any retailers signed up?
A. That’s the stage we’re at right now. We actually have one, my Volkswagen dealer Volkswagen Des Sources. GregVW thinks its great for used cars!
Q. Is it fully functional?
A. Yes! The recorded demo part was just to make sure we didn’t run into any timing issues. We also weren’t sure about Internet access here – which as it turns out, there’s none. But Yes, it’s fully functional. You can even do you own demo by sending “d twetailer what-are-you-buying #demo” and a robot will play the Sales Associate role. If you want, try sending “d twetailer used vw 2010 #demo” and Greg may even play along too.

Big Thanks!

Many thanks to Montreal NewTech, Felipe Coimbra for all his time, twitter apps & organization savy and the sponsors Bolidea and 63 Squares – Web Technologies and Marketing Collective.

See you at the NewTech Series: Pitch, Thu 2010-04-15 6pm.

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Homage to TechCrunch50 2009, its Organizers and Participants

As a TechCrunch50 2009 Semi-finalist who chose legal services over Demo-Pit costs, I empathized every moment with the presenters and salute all of you.

LBS is just gonna get, sorry Location Based Services, is just going to become more and more important.

Dick Costolo,  Panelist & Judge http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2169088

TechCrunch50 2009 Conference

Background
June 2009

with only the bare bones of running code, I submitted our TechCrunch50 2009 application. My contributors (The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 2), while suggesting I was being too aggressive, agreed that it’s always nice to have Milestones, and agreed to try.

July 27, 2009

I received an email informing stating:

Congratulations, your company has been selected for a phone and screensharing interview. We were truly overwhelmed to have over 1,000 applications from over 40 countries submit to launch at our event this year, so please feel great about making it to the next round of consideration.

August 2, 2009

We received an email instructing us to book a demo time and make whatever live demo arrangements necessary &

The duration of your interview will be 15 minutes. Please plan to demo your product for 8 minutes (show the product, we have the background information in your application) and use the remaining 7 minutes for Q&A.

As a reminder, DO NOT comment about your interview status publicly (including social media such as Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.) Unfortunately, we’ve had to eliminate 2 companies to date from consideration who posted about their status with the conference. We don’t want to take these steps, but other applicants are certainly looking out for people who do not follow the rules. Please don’t let this be you.

Sunday September 8, 2009 5:00 PM to 5:20 PM PST

Our twenty minutes of fame. Jason Calacanis logged into the demo a couple of minutes late. I reiterated our assumption that he’s seen our background video uploaded with our Application to which he informed us that he only saw our names & that of our start-ups’ as he found the demo log in information. Somewhat disappointed, I pushed back reminding him of the previous email. All Jason said was:

Just demo.

And demo we did. Not taking any chances, we had a prerecorded simulated demo of how the system will work end-to-end, followed by a live demo of its current development state. Jason made a few observations. Fortunately for us, we had collaborated for weeks on an entire internal wiki pages titled -“Pitch FAQ”, which just happened to provide fuel for my answers. And that was it. twenty minutes does not last long. Jason thanked us for taking time out of our Sunday evening, told us we should hear something in about a week and immediately signed off.

The three of us stayed on the conference call for another hour going over and over those twenty minutes and wondering if we could have done any more and whether Jason got it, or, not. And the truth of the matter is, if we could have done it all over again with hindsight being 20/20, we wouldn’t have changed a thing. So we were just going to sit tight and wait for an answer.

August 18, 2009

Via email:

Unfortunately, we regret that we are unable to place your company as a TechCrunch50 finalist. This is certainly not a commentary of your business, technology or team. Many applicant companies have gone on to great success without launching on stage. For our 50 limited slots, we purposely showcase a diversity of technology innovation from different countries, mixing both funded and unfunded businesses. In many cases, our need to curate this content matrix eliminates many outstanding companies from a lead position on stage. We received more than 1,000 total applications— making for many tough decisions.

As one of our semi-finalist companies, we would like to offer you the opportunity to participate in our DemoPit. Over the last two years, the TC50 DemoPit has become one of the main assets of the TechCrunch50 Conference. It enables another 100 companies (50/day) the chance to showcase their technology to conference attendees. And the favorite “Audience Choice” from our DemoPit wins the last presentation slot on stage, along with the right to win the $50,000 best in show award provided by the TC50 organizers. The DemoPit wildcard is our way of acknowledging that our judging is subjective and that there are many more outstanding companies in our West Hall than we can fit on stage.

This year, we will be selecting two DemoPit companies to present on stage, one from each Monday and Tuesday. So your odds have doubled for a shot to still get on stage.

For a while I considered dipping further into my line of credit and “invest” in the DemoPit and associated travel expenses. But after conferring with my Contributors, it seemed the responsible thing to do was move the project to the next level by investing further in legal services. And that’s what I did.

I replied to Peter of TechCrunch my thanks for the opportunity but simply couldn’t afford it. But at the same time, in the interest of outside-in software development, I asked if we could possibly get any feedback to help us.

August 20, 2009

Email to Peter at TechCrunch

Hi Peter,

Here’s a thought…

TechCrunch should publish an index of the semi-finalists with their 140 character description & video (link to youtube if you prefer) in exchange for them not going public until after the site is published at TechCrunch50.

Ideally, you would let your community rate & comment on their favorites. That would be a win-win for everyone:
You’re still the mecca for launching start-ups
You’re still The Sensitive One when it comes to non-funded (some call it ultra-light) start-ups – you’re almost angelic 🙂
We get exposure & hopefully feedback that can be used in subsequent outside-in development
My one-liner is: [Still a secret] & you could use the 5-minute video that’s uploaded from my Application, or, I can repost it somewhere for you.

Just a thought 🙂

Regards,
Steven

Peter’s reply:

Steven, I’ll pass this along as something to consider for future years. Thank you.

My reply:

Peter, in the meantime, is there any feedback you can possibly share with us to add even more tremendous value to our TechCrunch50 experience?

Peter’s reply:

Steven, I spoke with your reviewer, Jason, who told me “I thought they were off to a really great start and that [still a secret] is a real challenge and opportunity. However, their product was not as far along as the top 50 we are selecting this year. I have no doubt they will get to the promised land with a little more time and effort.”

My reply:

Peter, you just made me very 🙂

September 14-15, 2009. TechCrunch50 Conference 2009

I haven’t watched all of the presentations yet, but enough to honestly say that my heart and nerves went out to everyone presenting. While all of the panelists I saw offered practical and useful feedback, I did feel that some of them were hell bent on not giving any kudos. Yet despite the pressure, I thought the demos were great and the presenters ability and preparedness to answer the panel’s questions were even greater.

Big Thank You

I can only imagine the organizational nightmare it must been to pull off this event with such class – not to mention the temperaments required in dealing with start-up to guru egos. I thank you Peter and Jason for all your efforts, patience and inspiration. I look forward to one day meeting you in the Promised Land.

Building communities

Once the legal work is complete we’ll start expanding our start-up Community to prepare for a limited private release. In the meantime, I’m going to try to bring in some income by seeding the social software seeds at my Sara’s elementary school.

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