On Startups and Starting Your Own Business

Other than having a child, little is as difficult and fulfilling as starting your own business.  I haven't posted lately because I've been preparing for my first attempt, and there is plenty to do.

As I don't yet have that million-dollar idea, I've been working on getting an "example" web startup off the ground, a prototype if you will.  Not a project to make me rich, but one I will have fun building while simultaneously getting my technical chops up to snuff.  The idea is to be ready and hit the ground running when the right opportunity presents itself.  That includes getting familiar with modern web frameworks, cloud hosting providers, payment processing, etc.  More on the project later.

In this post I'd like to share some of the research I've found on the subject of entrepreneurship over the past year.

On Why

If you've read Rich Dad/Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki you'll appreciate the concept of trading job security for potentially greater returns of both money and freedom.  In a way the book is a rehash of the old adage, "you'll never get rich working for someone else."  While not ground-breaking it resonated with me as I grew up in two households post-divorce.  One a household of entrepreneurs, one of employees; his general observations are spot on why some get rich while others don't.

Exploring this theme further, a great resource is the "This Week in Startups" podcast.  In episode 40, Jason Calacanis describes his upbringing and the difference between Samurai and rice-pickers.  Which do you want to be?  It gets going about 2 mins 30 seconds.

As a side note, if pressed for time consider watching the videos below at higher speed.  While all compelling, they are lengthy.

I highly recommend the first 40 or so episodes of the podcast, they are just jam packed full of great info on starting a business and courting Venture Capital, if that be your strategy. If not that's great too, I offer episode 46 with DHH as counter point on why you should bootstrap (shun large investment and build from a shoestring) instead.

On What to Work On

In the entrepreneurial world, it doesn't get more inspiring than the late Steve Jobs and his dedication to quality via "insanely great" products.  If you're looking to swing for the fences, Guy Kawasaki explains Steve's approach from what to work on to how to present it.  Gets going about 3:35.

Twelve Lessons:
1. Experts are clueless
2. Customers cannot tell you what they need
3. Biggest challenges beget the best work
4. Design counts
5. Big graphics, big fonts
6. Jump curves, not better sameness
7. "Work" or "doesn't work" is all that matters
8. "Value" is different than "price"
9. A players hire A players
10. Real CEOs demo
11. Real entrepreneurs ship
12. Some things need to be believed to be seen.

On How

I'm currently digging into the lean startup movement by Eric Ries.  Here's a talk of his, outlining the concept at the "Buisiness of Software Conference."

TL;DR - In short, get customer feedback right away.  Reminds me a lot of the advice from one of Robert's mentors in Rich Dad/Poor Dad.  When asked why his business wasn't successful and how to improve it the mentor replied with "you aren't failing fast enough."  ... Huh?

You aren't failing fast enough.

In other words, the faster you can learn and iterate around failure the faster (and more likely) you'll find a path to success.

My notes from the talk:
  • Stop wasting people's time
  • Most startups fail
  • startup == experiment
    • Not just can it be built, but SHOULD it be built?
    • Need process geared to extreme uncertainty
    • Pivot as you learn
    • Speed wins
      • Reduce time between pivots
      • increase odds of success
        • before running out of money
  • Making Progress
    • Unit: validated learning against real customers
    • Engineers trained to achieve goals at lowest cost
      • What if it is a goal no one wants? This strategy is backwards.
    • To turn ideas into code, instead minimize TOTAL time through the loop:
      • ideas → BUILD → code → MEASURE → data → LEARN → ideas
      • Build
        • Continuous deployment
        • Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
      • Measure
        • metrics, split testing
      • Learn
        • Ask the five why's

On How, Part II

Coming back down to the level of us mere mortals, how can we find a niche in this crowded economy?  Here's how to take a routine business and make it fun and compelling by focusing on customer delight.  Here is How to design web apps users love by Kevin Hale of Wufoo.

On the Nuts and Bolts

If you're a python fan like me, and even if you're not, you'll likely enjoy this talk from DjangoCon. Find out how easy it is to get started these days w/o having to know or do everything yourself. There is an incredible amount of help from frameworks like Django, managed cloud platforms, and online communities and resources.  Believe it or not you can learn as you go!  Just ask Tracy of weddinginvitelove.com.

Finally, to Finance or Not To?

While the idea of bootstrapping a company to success makes sense for most, bringing on investors is the best strategy to take when creating a new market or building a capital intensive business.  In future articles I'll explore the subject more deeply.

Perhaps you are a startup founder or employee that needs to understand equity grants?  Via Hacker News I came across this accessible guide that explains in clear language what you'll need to know about stock and options.

An Introduction to Stock & Options for the Tech Entrepreneur or Startup Employee, by David Weekly

What are you favorite books, blog posts, and talks on the subject?

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