I'm writing a startup diary. This is the story of metsitaba, in real time, as the company is created. Each week I write an article describing the decisions I am taking, and my thinking behind them. I also discuss how previous decisions played out.
The purpose of the diary is to create a public decision journal. It prevents me from fooling myself because I have to make my decisions public before I know the consequences. This provides a useful insight into the process of building a startup, as it happens, and is intended to be more accurate and truthful than autobiographies written after the fact.
The diary articles are published first each week in the Irish Independent newspaper.
I talk to a lot of startups and I always ask a few key questions pretty early on in the discussion. One of them is "what makes you different?"
A startup needs to be different to achieve scale. You can't find hyper-growth (which is the whole point of a startup), if you don't have some angle.
There are many good, solid, businesses that don't need an angle. They just need good execution. To take an example from one of my past lives: IT consultancy.
When I began this startup diary, I explained that it was a place to make and explain decisions, and follow up on the consequences of those decisions. A good example is the decision to go fully remote-working. This strategy is a response to our location in Waterford, and neatly solves the difficulty of hiring with a small local population.
When you found a business, you become overloaded with choices. Choices are everywhere. If you desire to start your own business so that you can be your own boss, I would say, "be careful what you wish for". Most of the time, there are no right answers, and you're literally just guessing and hoping for the best. Anyone who claims otherwise is a lucky fool, and should look up the Wikipedia article on "regression toward the mean" - luck goes up and down in equal measure.
Who are your deadly enemies? Every startup has them. You will sometimes hear the statement "we have no competitors" from founders who are very wet behind the ears. Never indulge that delusion-you always have competitors.
What is the difference between launching a startup and gambling? In both cases you're putting money on the line in the hopes of a big payoff. For both, you need a large appetite for risk. For both, you need the universe to co-operate and give you a little luck.
It's time for another investor update. Although I'm lucky enough to be self-funded for now, it's important to get into the mind-set of regularly reporting on the state of the business. This is "real-time" startup diary, so you get the inside track on what we are up to every week. The weekly updates tend to be very focused, so this will be a monthly update on the overall state of the business.
If you think startup life is hard before you launch your website, you should try living with the consequences afterward. Last week was the first full week of proper sales meetings. As in, persuade someone to let you talk to them for an hour, put on nice clothes (no more startup hoodies!), get your sales deck out, and try to make strangers give you money.
Last week we launched our website, voxgig.com. Reaction so far has been enthusiastic, although we have not done any publicity. We have decided to do a soft launch after all. Being live changes everything and is a big step forward.
We are live! We soft-launched voxgig.com on Tuesday this week, and it was wonderfully uneventful.
If you've read my previous entries on software development for startups, you'll know that we practice a very rapid, very iterative approach. We've had a system 'live' for the last three weeks or so, and have been pushing updates to it on an almost daily basis.
We are soft-launching our product next Tuesday, March 13. It's a pretty intense week. You may have the impression from the articles in this diary that I know exactly what I am doing and have everything under control. But there is a difference between theory and practice - and the real world has a way of throwing curve balls at you.
Within weeks of founding a startup, some well-meaning person will advise you to read Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War'. Startups are best seen as military operations, they tell you, and the application of ancient Chinese battlefield tactics are the quickest path to victory (against public companies a thousand times bigger than your little firm).
When you finally do get business angels to invest in your startup, one of the first pieces of advice you get is to send them regular update emails. There's nothing worse than investing in a company, not hearing anything for a year, and then getting a frantic phone call looking for more money.
Our startup is building a social network for conference speakers and organisers. In this weekly diary I write about our decisions, why we make them, and what happens afterwards. The idea from the start has been to write about the startup experience as it happens. Now it's time to talk about the launch of our system. We're going to have a soft launch, and there won't be any outrageous parties, but it's still a big deal for us.
As your startup grows, you'll need to start hiring. How do you conduct interviews for your startup to help you recruit the best candidates?
If you're been following this startup diary, you might recognise that as a trick question. Traditional interviews are a low information ritual at best, and a serious waste of everybody's time at worst. Time, more than money, is your most precious resource when you are building a company.
My startup is building our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and this startup diary will give you a ringside seat as we go from broken pieces on the floor to a live web site with mobile apps. I've written previously in this diary about the process we are using to build the MVP. We have a weekly demo meeting, where everybody shows their work. This keeps the process honest and gives everybody a feel for the true state of the software system.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Irish entrepreneur in possession of a good idea must be in want of state aid. However little known the business plans of such a person, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of friends and family, that he or she is told to consider any and all available grants to be their rightful property.
This startup diary aims to document my decisions and their consequences for the startup that I am building. One decision, to defer software development until we had some validation from marketing activities (primarily publishing a newsletter) means that we are only now starting to build the product, and we are already four months in. That is frustrating.
In this startup diary I report on the good and bad things that happen to the business as it grows. I messed up the choice of name, and we're working on a new name. Lesson: you need to validate the sound of your name when it is spoken. Word of mouth is pretty important.
I started writing this startup diary as a way to make better business decisions. It has clarified my thinking and I hope it has provided you with some insight into the choices that a startup faces. 2018 will be a decisive year for our startup, so let's get back to work!
This is the last startup diary entry for 2017. We've had 12 entries so far, each one documenting our progress in real time.
I write about my decisions as CEO as they happen, as I make them with the data that I have. There is no sugar coating. This is not a self-serving ghost-written autobiography. It is a decision-journal.
It's purpose is threefold: to let you observe a startup from genesis to product-market fit and beyond; to allow me review and analyse my decision-making after the fact, and thus hopefully free from subjective bias; and to provide a radically open forum for internal and external communication. At year end, let's review how this has all worked out.
In this startup diary I'm documenting my decisions as I go.
Whether I ultimately succeed or fail, it should offer a more accurate view into the decisions that anyone faces when building a technology company in Ireland. I can't unpublish these articles to embellish history, which is the problem with many success stories told after the fact.
We live in wonderful times. A technology startup has never been easier to launch. The online tools have never been more powerful, and the knowledge has never been more accessible. You literally cannot watch or listen to all the great videos and podcasts given by successful entrepreneurs themselves.
If you're an Irish startup, you should go after the global market from day one. It's tempting to just focus on the home market to begin with, because you know the Irish market, you have connections, and you know the unwritten cultural dynamics. You can make sales. And the travel is much easier.
I want to talk about cash. When you decide to make the leap to start your own business, and when that business is a startup, you are doing it because you want to make the world better. There is something that people need, that must exist - and you are going to bring it to life!
Is the problem large or small? Does the problem occur rarely or frequently?
This gives you four combinations. A large frequent problem is the best place to be. Large rare problems and small frequent problems are also pretty good. A small rare problem is the one to avoid.
This is good advice so far as it goes, but I beg to differ on strategy.
In the spirit of this article series, here's an explicit decision: starting with a small rare problem is the best way to build a successful MVP. Why?
There are many paths to success, but far more paths lead to failure. The first rule of startups is 'don't die'. If you allow your culture to just happen, you are not controlling a variable in the survival equation. In the early days, especially if you have a large founding team, you can get by without deliberate decisions about your culture and the nature of your organisation, but you will regret it later. Your productivity will be affected as you try to retroactively repair unwanted behaviours that have crept in.
Sadly, the reddit.com ads have not been effective. I've spent about $150 US Dollars for an extra 14 subscribers - yikes! My click-through rate (the proportion of clicks to views) is 0.03pc, which is pretty miserable. I'm going to declare this a failure. Now I could start attempting to refine the ad copy and targeting, but I would need a 500pc improvement to get to my target of 500 subscribers on January 1, 2018. That's unfeasible.
Here's the key insight: remote working requires trust. You build trust by paying people on time. Most remote working relationships start off as freelance engagements. It's the only way to know if somebody has the discipline to work from home. This means that you get invoices from your freelancers, who you must pay, regardless of the quality of the work. Now, if the work is not satisfactory, you end the relationship gracefully, but you still pay. That's perfect for everybody; freelancers expect to move on.
My startup is an enterprise tool to help conference speakers and organisers connect with each other. A software minimum viable product (MVP) would be an app where you can register, sign up for conferences, get lists of speakers, get reminders for upcoming events, integrate with your calendar and share your trips on Twitter.
I could be writing the code to do that right now.
Instead, I'm writing a newsletter for conference speakers that helps them become better speakers.
I don't agree with the view that names are essential and a key factor in success. This is delusional. Take Nike. If you read Phil Knight's (CEO and founder of Nike) book, 'Shoe Dog', you'll discover that the company was originally called Blue Ribbon, and only had to change its name to solve an import licensing issue. Nike was chosen at the last minute, as the least-worst option.