Ming Yeow founded an interesting service, MrTweet that lets you discover people you should follow pretty much the way the Amazon recommendations work. Ming also managed to create a growing community around it.
I could not have said it better than Paul Buchheit, co-founder of Friendfeed, in his post “Overnight success takes a long time“. The most difficult for an entrepreneur is to keep building on his vision and disregard the army of people who say he will fail. I feel that too with Seesmic, very often. You have to keep building while so many people criticize what you do but listen at the same time to the criticism that makes sense. Difficult exercise, what criticism make sense or not… When should you not listen and go ahead or listen and stop or change direction. I also see every negative post or comment about Seesmic as a sign of attention, that people care about it. I try to see it as an opportunity to learn. But truth is sometimes you just have to keep building and not listen to those who tell you that it will fail.
“What you do is courageous. It requires bravery. Managing doesn’t. It might be hard work, but it feels safe. Changing things-pushing the envelope and creating a future that doesn’t exist yet (at the same time you’re criticized by everyone else)-requires bravery.”
Thanks Paul for sharing these thoughts with us, especially also about having enough runway ahead of you to make the startup a success. Right, it takes 3 to 5 years to make a success. Or a failure. It would be a pity, but at least our days are so exciting we wake up at night to build something else around our products or for an idea that just suddenly seems obvious. My days are never boring. Scary and stressful, yes, but never boring.
Each edition of LeWeb inspires more participants to start a business and it is one of its main purposes. I am always getting many questions about how to start a business after LeWeb, years ago I had written a series of posts, "create a company" that I should have continued, but instead of doing that I started other businesses. To help the few friends who are dying to start their businesses in 2009, here are some very quick thoughts that could help them get started. This is NOT a comprehensive post, just sharing a few top of mind ideas that I would tell you if you asked me how you should get started.
-just throw yourself in the water and swim, stop thinking. Most people I know hesitate too much to start, they think too much, just do it and learn as you go
-it is not where you start that matters, it is where you take it that matters, as Jason Calacanis says, not where you start
-stop waiting for the idea of your life, just focus on something easy to explain and that delivers a service people will like
-identify "empty space" that is a service or product that does not exist or badly delivered by your future competitors
-remain in your area of expertise, it is generally what you have the most passion about and where you are the best
-do not spend months on the business plan, do something simple and start selling it as soon as possible, your business plan will be wrong anyway
-do not spend time on market research, it is useless. Just search the web for who is doing it or not, read blogs about it, search on twitter, etc
-got your idea? good, just start. Do not spend months writing it in details or doing the best powerpoint ever, it is pointless. Just write it in bullet point format.
-share it as much as you can to friends and other entrepreneurs, on your blog (start blogging if you don't) and get advice. They will only care about the bullet point, short executive summary.
-do not be afraid that anybody "steals" your idea, there are hundreds of people who have the same idea right now and probably some already working on the same. If you do not do it, you will only have to complain when someone else has done it, and it will be useless as they will always say they had the idea before (and it will probably be true, maybe not, who cares).
-repeat after me "ideas have no value, only execution matters". When you are done repeat that again. -try to start without resources or if you can, raise some money with friends and family, do not go and spend time see VCs at start, especially in difficult times
-start building as soon as possible, don't wait. Ship anything you can, a simple website, even with bugs, call it alpha
-you are not a developer? go find one, you can either give him enough shares for him to be cofounder, or just go to elance find resources generally for not much. You can have an entire site done there very cheap
-once shipped, get friends and family using it and giving you feedback. Blog it, tweet it, share on Facebook, any means to get the initial community going is the best
-don't do marketing, do a better product first
-use a feedback tool such as uservoice or getsatisfaction and ask your community to give you feedback and vote on the most important features they want
-just deliver the most popular features your active users want and deliver often, don't try to make the perfect product, it will not happen.
-run as fast as you can as being transparent implies that competitors will also read your community feedback and often copy cool ideas, sometimes deliver them faster than you do
-once your product is ready enough, start selling something, find real customers. This does not mean it should become entirely paying, the community would not like that, rather ship a "pro" more feature packed product, or start adding some non intrusive advertising but in recession times, do not count too much on advertising revenues…
-write a weekly or monthly newsletter, email marketing is far from being dead, use one of the tens of free tools around, make sure you let people unsusbcribe easily if they like, avoid spam.
-keep in touch with the community as much as you can with events (can be virtual events such as questions, challenges) every week or even every day
-keep improving the product regularly, do not let too much time in between two versions
-if you have some friends and family or better seed or VC money, "hire slowly and fire fast" as you will read very often, it is always good advice. As tough as it can be, it is a question of survival, always make sure you "have enough runway" ahead of you. If you don't, your team is too big.
-success takes time, give it the time it needs. LeWeb, my conference, took 5 years to gather nearly 2000 participants and establish its brand (that can even survive some logistical issues, or at least I think!) and I did not even think about it as a business when I started it
-don't think you will never be able to execute your idea with almost no means, there are solutions most of the times and great "bootstrapped" companies are the living proof
-in the current tough market conditions when it is extremely tough to raise money with crappy valuations, the best is obviously to work on ideas that generate revenue as soon as possible.
-have passion about your business. Do not sleep much and focus only on your business. Do not do anything else, except taking some good two hours lunches from now and then.
-work like hell. Be always on. Know your space and focus focus focus.
Obvious? Yes. All the above is obvious. But you cannot imagine how many friends I know who never start because they do not follow the obvious. I forgot things? Of course, this is why there are thousands of books about entrepreneurship. I did not talk about human resource for example. I just tried to gather a few quick thoughts. I wish you all to start a business in 2009 and will be happy to help as much as I can, just keep in mind that I am very busy trying to make mine, Seesmic, a great success. Fortunately I have some runway ahead of me as the most "new" and "innovative" a product is, the longer it will take to find its use, but the more exciting it is! If you have any motivation issue, just watch Gary Vaynerchuk at LeWeb and you will "just crush it".
My friend Oleg Tscheltzoff has just opened Citizenbay, available at launch in english and french. It is focusing on local information (by city) and has an original model has Oleg pays the authors between $1 and $5 per post that makes it to the home page (top 10 articles voted by the readers). Oleg explains what makes Citizenbay different in the below video podcast. The video file is here. disclosure: I just invested in Citizenbay.
<a href="http://get.podemus.com/loiclemeur/loiclemeur.podemus.net/Video/oleg_tscheltzoff_launches_citizen_bay.m4v"><img src="http://podemus.com/img/podcast-icon.gif" border="0" alt="Podcast" /></a>
Here are 10 reasons why Quaero, the French search engine, will fail, and “by a frenchman”.
1- Can’t spell it.
How can you trust a project that has not been even able to get its domain name and that nobody can spell right
There are no centralized projects on the web that succeed. The web is a web and decentralized by essence. Look at Firefox and the way it takes market share against the centralized Internet Explorer, look at Wikipedia
3- Secret versus beta.
There are no successful secret projects anymore. With 60 million bloggers out there and the dramatic shift from an era of vertical communication into a many-to-many conversation, you have to build your products with the consumers using beta versions, going live and improving the product as you go, not in secret.
4- No buzz, no adoption.
Darwinism is the way the web goes and darwinism is the way startups go. At the very beginning you can feel immediately if an idea or an innovative project is catching up. Look at Skype, 100 million users without advertising but a huge conversational buzz since launch. Nobody knows what Quaero does and what it is exactly, when it will be released. Worse, if you search, you find Exalead, a french search engine supposed to be “better than Google” but that few people use.
5- A galaxy of actors who compete to get the subventions and don’t get much noticed for their latest web innovations
About 25 organisations are involved in Quaero, mostly french. Even though many have excellent reputation, none of them are really known for their innovation around the web today, I mean around the latest standards RSS, conversations, tags, etc. Of course there is Lycos Europe but is Lycos still on the cutting edge of Internet initiatives ?
6- Not really international.
Quaero is introduced by Jacques Chirac as a Franco-German initiative when Deutsche Telecom has already announced it will not take an active role anymore but just be an observer. It looks much more like a French patriotic initiative.
7- A neverending story.
Quaero has been announced as a 5 years project when Google is only barely 8 years old, where will Google be in 5 years when Quaero is finally launched ? In a French podcast, François Bourdoncle, President of Exalead, a company that is said to lead the “multiple heads missile” as he calls the “programme Quaero” admits he does not even know when it should be launched. It was supposed to be introduced in January 2006 and we are still waiting.
8- Not enough euros.
Microsoft barely exists in Search marketshare against Google with his MSN Search. Still, it will invest 1.1 billion $ in 2005 only on search against 260 M€ on 5 years for the French engine. Google generated more than $2 billion in revenues last quarter… We’re launching a competitor which will be five years late with fifty times less money…
9- Subventions euros are not worth venture capital euros.
Maybe Jacques Chirac was not told that Yahoo! and Google were created by Stanford students in their rooms. Sure Jacques Chirac was not told either that they were financed by venture capitalists. People who know the industry, know how fast it goes and help the startups as they grow on a daily basis. They also fight against each other to invest in the next round or decide to sell or let the company die if it fails. Subventions are allocated in a totally different way. Too much politics involved in who will get the “euro shower” and not enough results driven.
10- Google is a thousand startups
These are only a few of the ongoing Google projects. The entire company operates as a thousand startups as employees who have ideas are encouraged to launch them in-house. That is why it is so innovative. How many european startups could the Government help launch if these 250 M€ were invested in them ?
Open source is probably the only possible threat to Google. Wikipedia has more audience than Britannica, Mozilla with Firefox and its hundreds of volunteers is the only organization that is really threatening Microsofts’s dominant position with Internet Explorer. These two last examples are thousands of individuals who decided one day that knowledge should be free and non commercial on the one hand, and that browsing should not be left to a monopolistic Microsoft that does not invest in it anymore. The same may well appear against Google and have chances to succeed. To my knowledge however, there are no such initiatives, probably because not enough people think Google “can be evil” with its dominant role. Why not open source Quaero and engage all individuals who would like to challenge Google’s position ? If the aim is to have an alternative and successful search engine, that it probably the way to go. It’s certainly not by trying to create centralized “multi-heads missiles” in a decentralized World where building communities matter more than the Country they originated from.
Just had an amazing presentation from Total Immersion that is a French startup with global customers that integrates virtual objects such as cars or the above Star Wars sword in real time video, just with the help of a standard PC. We played with virtual cars driving them live on a real table, built a castle that helped get a sense on what the reality would look like.
Update: the buzz word for this promising business is “improved reality” I love it..
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Holidays ? No, I am going to Innovate! Europe for two days to (try) to contribute in a (very) modest way to wake up the European steamer boat that is going deeper and deeper into comfort and unemployment, France especially.
Innovate! Europe is a new conference aiming at showcasing the best innovations accross Europe and bridging the entrepreneurs in need for funds with investors. The result can only be jobs created and… fun. I will be speaking there about entrepreneurship and exit strategies and will as always blog my ideas. Go, Europe, go!