Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I’ve been reading Daniel Pinks book Drive. It’s an interesting read which looks closely at intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. Namely the effect that pay has on our motivation and performance. I’d come clean and admit I haven’t finished it yet. I made the mistake of picking up Game of Thrones and 4.5 books later I’m almost back to it.

However motivation and money is seriously topical right now. I see blogs every day like “The real reason staff leave your business”. This is exacerbated by the general tightness in the IT industry. Finding good staff is hard and keeping them is becoming a serious topic of conversation around any management table. I look after a team of talented Java developers and I know they’re getting offers through Linkedin on a weekly basis.

So with all this heat on keeping good staff and plenty of academic debate about I thought I would throw in my own experience in how to motivate and keep good staff. It’s a broad subject but a good chunk of it can be wrapped up in one word, Mission.

What do I mean by mission? A mission is more than a company statement. It’s a bold and exciting goal which gives purpose and context to everything the company does.

I’ve been lucky enough to work in some companies that lived and breathed a compelling mission. I’ve also worked in companies on the other side of the scale. Anywhere from non-compelling missions to no mission at all. I’ve also seen companies merge and move across the scale. This has a very predictable effect on staff.

I joined a start-up in 2002. It didn’t pay particularly well and it was housed in a building scheduled for demolition. But it embodied everything I now know about mission.

I walked into the drab and depressing building for my first interview knowing nothing about the company, other than an ex-college now worked there. I sat down with the founder and listened to the story about how they had grown quickly to 16 people and had won some fantastic awards. He talked about the product and the calibre of people. He wove a story about their mission. He was clear that they would be the largest provider of BPM software in the country. They would own the space, then move their focus further abroad. It was exciting, sitting in this horrible office listening to this infectious and bold plan for world domination. I was instantly on board.

The place positively pumped. The people were all talented and they knew why they were there. There were no politics, no opportunities for promotion, no training and the pay was rubbish. I didn’t get a performance review while I was there and I didn’t notice. I was focused on building some killer software and implementing it in as many big companies as possible. I enjoyed working with talented people who knew the goal and had the autonomy they needed to contribute in different ways to achieve it.

The company was quickly purchased by a larger company and the obvious happened. Three layers of management left in the first 6 months. Staff spent time either looking at job ads or bribing our new management for more money. I went with the money approach and got myself a big pay raise and a promotion. Despite that I left within 3 months. The mission was gone and so was the excitement. The people quickly followed.

I’ve seen this pattern repeat itself. You need to pay people fairly but the best people aren’t motivated by money. They are motivated by the mission, the chance to do creative things and the chance to work with other talented people.

When a company has a strong compelling mission they’re happy and everyone runs in the same direction. In the absence of mission they flip into what I call the What’s in it for me mode. This is characterised by people worrying about their pay, staff jostling for opportunities like promotion, people talking about training and certification. It’s all about ‘me’ in this mode. Then of course the best people leave.

So what’s a good mission? It needs to be brave, bold, simple and almost achievable. A good example is to have the biggest selling piece of software in a sector or vertical. “To be number 1….” Is always a good start.

I worked for an IT company once with the mission to become a $80 million dollar (revenue) company. That was a bad mission and yet as lame as it was it still told the employees the goal. We understood what was required of us and people did their bit to make it happen. This mission didn’t really stick but it was better than nothing.

Having no mission is much worse. A company with no mission will fail to attract good staff. The good staff that do join will leave within their first two years. Worse than no mission however is one that doesn’t line up with constructive values. I worked in a startup for a while where it became clear that the mission of the company was to sell out to a large company quickly and make a lot of money for the founder. It not only failed to inspire but it drove some terrible behaviour. The exec team focused on telling a compelling story to rich listers and VCs. No one focused on the product, or the customer. No one cared. The mission drove the wrong behaviour. A better mission would have been to dominate a vertical, top $100 million revenue or something which put the company into a healthy position for sale.

I think companies need to separate their public mission statement or vision statement with the internal mission their staff are on. Many public mission statements end up with some aspiration phrase that would be impossible for people to get in behind. For example:

Microsoft: Microsoft’s mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.

Sounds powerful and noble. But how would I play into that? How would I know when the company got there?

Skype’s mission is to be the fabric of real-time communication on the web. That is better, but still not measurable.

When a company has a mission for its staff they need to live and breathe it. They need to report on progress and give people the autonomy to push along towards the goal.

Occasionally I’ve seen companies give people a personal stake in the end result. Small companies often use options, but at the end of the day these aren’t necessary. I’ve burned late nights and early mornings alongside teams of great people getting paid half market rates.

So I do agree with the premise that money is not the way to motivate people. To me it’s about going on a mission with a talented bunch of people. I’ve felt the power of this plenty of times and I know the warning signs when a company lacks a vision and a mission. Next time you hear someone comparing pay to roles in other companies I bet you’re in a company without an exciting mission.

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Microsoft Founders

Bill Gates & Paul Allen getting ready to make their billions

Thinking of creating a startup? One of the first things you will need to do is select who is coming on this journey with you. You make the decision while everyone is enjoying the thought of fame and fortune, then have to stick with it over years of hard graft, late nights and dwindling bank accounts. It’s not that different from marriage really, and should be taken as seriously.

In many ways it is the most critical decision you make because let’s face it, even if you get your product wrong a great team can find a way through.

The big questions are, how many founders and of what skill sets?
1. The number
If there was a magic number of founders that magic number would be 2. There is considerable power in the bond between two people working towards the same goal, but from different angles. Two people have to settle differences quickly. Much like a marriage, you bring a third person in and all sorts of bad things can happen. With three or more founders you can get politics, lobbying and ganging up.

Think about all the great companies, Microsoft (Bill Gates and Paul Allen), Apple (Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs), Oracle (Larry Ellison and Lane), Google, HP etc.

There is nothing to say you can’t give shares to a bunch of different people, as long as there are two people running the show.
2. Skills
If there was one right answer that answer would be Development and Sales. One person builds the product and the other sells it. We all know that two introverted technical guys will create an amazing product and fail to sell it. There is always a component of selling or marketing which needs to be done and you need that skill set on board from the start. Why the start? Because people with sales and marketing skills will help you design a product which will be easy to sell. For example a person with online marketing skills will know how to design a product to fit the unique challenges they will eventually encounter.

Once you have that core blend of skills it is worth balancing them with the amount of work that needs to be done. If you have a massive amount of development work to be done, it helps if both of you can code (for example).
Founder Skill Mix

Founder Skill Mix

3. Date First
Most successful marriages start with a successful period of dating. If you last a couple of years you have proved you can work through problems together as a successful team. The same could be said of founders, before Bill and Paul founded Microsoft they were school mates and later close friends. The two Steves who founded Apple were best buddies. They knew they could work together, because they already did.

So look to people you already know and trust. You will be in a better position to judge what they bring to the table, and wither you will be compatible over the long term.
4. Passion
While larger companies run on money, most startups actually run on passion. Passion replaces a regular pay check, an office and a large team. Therefore passion is something you need to forecast and manage as closely as a functioning company watches its cash flow.

You need to pick passionate people with the right skills. Both skills and passion are important. Without skills you won’t create anything worthwhile, without passion you will give up before you succeed.

This ties nicely back into the point about friends making good co-founders. Friends enjoy each others company, they often get passionate about the same things. You may end up enjoying the work just because you are spending time with your friends. The reality is there may not be anything more to enjoy in the first few years of a startup, so grab hold of this. Good founders will keep each other passionate and motivated through the hard times.
In summary

When it comes to co-founders don’t settle for anything less than the right fit. Hopefully this will be a long term relationship, any lingering doubts you have now will destroy the relationship later. Look at people you already know and enjoy spending time with. Make sure as a team you have both sales and development (or service, product sourcing etc) skills.

When you combine that with enthusiasm you have a winning team.

Thinking of starting a small business and considering ideas…read on.

I’ve been misguided enough to work in many Startups, some which have failed and some which have succeeded. Towards the end of last year I did some of consulting work with a tech Incubator which led to a few blogs on startup related subjects, and I can see this continuing. I really believe that success in startups is part luck, but a major part science and process. If you understand the whole process from start to finish, along with all the risks you might encounter, a startup will be more likely to succeed.

Some of the companies I’ve worked with lately were thinking of investing in large product developments. To this end I wrote some blogs around testing your ideas. More recently I’ve noticed people earlier in the process brain storming ideas for their first attempt. If there was a guide to successful startup building, and it had a chapter 1 it might start with an overview of brain storming and what some of the options are. So before quitting your day job to become part of a ‘Get Poor Quick’ scheme read on.

If you are considering options now, soon you will be sitting up late at night putting the first pieces together. Oddly by this stage you have probably already won or lost, all you need to do is spend years of your personal time and a lot of money to find out which one. To mitigate against starting something doomed to failure you need to start your thinking right before committing to anything. Here is the short list of things to understand and consider.

Types of startup businesses

The first thing to understand is the type of business you start now will come with risks later.

1. Services businesses

A service business is one where your staff provide a service to customers in order to earn revenue. Consulting, software development, accounting, legal and graphic arts all fall into this category.

Starting a service business carries some difficulties both early on and later.

1. They are difficult to scale. You will need to employ more and more staff to make money.

2. They are sales driven, which means you need sales people early on. So if you’re not a sales person yourself you will need to employ some.

3. Revenue tends to surge and sag, which is dangerous when you have staff.

I’ve owned a couple of service businesses and worked in many more. The formula for success is to start with an opportunity. For example you are contracting directly to a company and they suddenly need more contractors of your skill set, you have several other friends who could fit the role. Now you have the opportunity to create a Consulting Company and contract them in. Sounds hokey I know but I could name 10 companies who started exactly like this who now have hundreds of employees. You start with a key account then use your reputation and contacts to get other customers. Having the key account before you start is important. I really advise against trying to start a service company without an opportunity, it is just too hard.

2. Product

The second type of business is one which sells a product to customers. The advantage of this is the ability to scale the business without adding staff (to the same extent as a service business). These work nicely as startups because you can keep your costs down, running the business from home after hours. The upside (dream) here is that you create a product then sell it to millions of people over the internet, earning money passively.

The difficulty here is the risk of putting a lot of time into developing a product/business before you go out and sell it. Needless to say a product business is the lottery ticket, lots of risk, lots of upside. More difficult to start than a service business but with much more potential.

3. Hybrids

A lot of product businesses start when a service business packages something up and sells it. The advantage here is that the product adds stable profit to a service business.

There are products that also require face to face sales and require work to implement. This really limits your reach compared to a purely product business with an online channel. Any attempt to go large is going to require reseller channels or many offices.

As you can see the Hybrids contain advantages and disadvantages from each camp.

Finding your Idea

So baring that in mind, what to pick? Well that depends on your skills and the opportunities in-front of you. When you talk to owners of successful tech companies they have a propensity of making their journey sound like a grand plan, carried off perfectly. Most of the time this is not the case, there is always a bit of luck, an opportunity and good timing (right place, right time). The art for you is being able to recognize when you are standing at one of these points.

The good stuff happens at 90 degrees from your focal point….

As a general rule watch for unfilled customer needs in areas you can deliver to. Don’t start something prematurely, watch, wait and discuss. Keep mindful of what is happening on your periphery. I often see large companies as being good starting points for small companies. People often meet and work with large numbers of like minded individuals, discuss ideas and build virtual teams who later go on to start things.

Your talents and skills

A good place to look for business ideas is your talents and skills. What can you successfully compete at? If you where a company what would make it great? These may be a place to start:

– Hobbies / interests

– What do you know more about than others (are better than at)?

– How do you earn your money?

– What could you build that would be world class in a particular market?

– What are your friends great at?

– What have you built or done for other people which is successful?

To illustrate how you can combine the points above (needs, your skills and an opportunity). I worked as a development manager. My skills were in running profitable development teams. I saw a need in that there were no tools on the market to allow me to track pipeline and current jobs, schedule people and manage progress. It also played to my other skill which is developing software. So I spent my weekends and evenings writing an application. Key to this was an underlying opportunity. The opportunity was that as part of my role I interfaced with many other resource teams who also needed the software. You can guess the rest, before long I had an online application and a key customer using the software in 15 different departments.

Next Step – Check your market

Once you have arrived at a short list of ideas you are ready to test each for a potential market. Up to this point you can come up with many wild and convincing ideas. At this stage in the successful startup process you research the market for each idea to determine the customer volumes you might find.

Step 1. Will your product work online (checking there is an audience and estimating revenue)

After you have researched and concluded there is a lucrative market for your product a smart entrepreneur tests those assumptions.

Step 2. Market test your idea online

After you have identified your biggest risk (probably marketing) and tested it online you have proved there is an audience for your product or service.

Summary

In summary you have:

1. Selected the sort of business you are suited for, understood the upside and risks

2. Waited for an opportunity or need to present itself

3. Picked something suited to your skill sets and expertise

4. Checked there are customers online and enough revenue

5. Tested your assumptions, building an audience who are now waiting for your product

Congrats…You are now ready to start a tech businesses, knowing that you did the first step right. The next step is picking the right team. (Blog coming soon)

In Pursuit of Reality

Posted: March 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

I’ve noticed staff in the most successful businesses have always got a strong grip on the realities of the business, its products and the market. The less successful ones either failed to discuss problems or are convinced of things which are not really true.

I’ve always watched this play out with interest and recently I’ve become convinced it’s one of the most important factors which influence a business’s success. I’ve seen people sit around meeting room tables for hours discussing the currently accepted reality without actually touching on anything remotely real.

Often when people tell me why something didn’t work they are describing a symptom, this lack of reality is often the root cause.

Jim Colins, Author of Good to Great researched 1,435 companies to find the factors that contributed to the success of the great ones. Based on this research, “Confront the Brutal Facts” is one of the first chapters.

One of the key factors in the success of the great companies was a series of good decisions. The good decisions flowed from the fact that they all made a consistent and thorough effort to confront reality, internalizing the facts relevant to their market. Having lofty goals can be good, but you can never lose sight of what the reality is on the ground, no matter how much you will it to be different.

To do this a management team must value honesty and encourage everyone to contribute their angle particularly if it doesn’t fit with the current view.

Here are some of the common examples:

Reality Fail 1. Setting strategy based on incorrect assumptions

This reality distortion happens when members of the management team come up with a direction for the company; they have drawn conclusions incorrectly and may have drawn on supporting evidence without fully understanding it. But the company is now convinced and the new reality is this plan will make the company successful.

Reality Fail 2. Failing to understand the company’s real problems

Companies that have executed on bad strategy will eventually come to a place where they have to discuss why things are not going to plan. This is the right time to really dig into the reality of why something is not working. This may take some proper analysis and will most likely dig up problems which may be embarrassing.
For many management teams this is not an option. There will be loose discussion which will surface the new idea of what will make the company successful. Then the company will go forward, the staff understanding the new direction as being reality.

Reality Fail 3. Failing to start bailing water

Later in the lifecycle this phenomenon can manifest itself in companies start to collapse, everyone accepts that everything is going well when what they should be doing is having heated meetings trying to get to the root cause of the companies problems.

The solution

Companies that fall into these traps generally flounder around changing direction till they fail. For businesses to set themselves up for success they need to make reality their common language. To do this they need to introduce a culture where staff and in particular the management team is encouraged to rigorously question and analyze what is accepted as reality. When decisions have to be made egos must be put aside, outside experts drawn into the discussions if necessary and everyone must be drawn on to present any evidence they have. No decision should be made till all the assumptions are verified.

John D Rockefeller is still the richest man in history (by a huge margin) and he did this by being an exceptional businessman. In the history he wrote of this life he found this concept important enough to write in the first page of chapter one.

We had discussed and argued and hammered away at questions until we came to agree, and it has always been a happiness to me to feel that we had been frank and aboveboard with each other. Without this, business associates cannot get the best out of their work.

It is not always the easiest of tasks to induce strong, forceful men to agree. It has always been our policy to hear patiently and discuss frankly until the last shred of evidence is on the table, before trying to reach a conclusion and to decide finally upon a course of action.

You can conclude that he put his ego aside, hired a brilliant team and put in place an environment which fostered good decision making and it worked. As Jim Clark wrote it’s not always pleasant to debate something rigorously but if the future of the business was involved the winning teams he identified did just that. They often had heated arguments which lasted for weeks, bringing more and more facts to the table until they reached a unanimous decision, then they all put aside their original differences and got on with it, comfortable in the knowledge that the direction was correct.

I think there is a lesson here for high tech companies where assumptions about markets with huge potential often go unchecked and direction is often set and accepted as right without analyzing reality. I would be interested to see how other people out there have observed and interpreted this.

I spent some time recently helping companies determine if their ideas would succeed online. I’ve written this blog to document some of it. Hopefully it helps someone out.

Many web businesses start with a fantastic idea. We just know it’s going to work. I use the word ‘we’ because I’ve been there (more than once). We come up with a product then many reasons why the market will love our idea. We may be right that customers would buy our product, if and that’s a big IF we could find a way of telling our market about it.

Often the internet gets used as a magic bullet by people who have not tried to slug it out online. Using the net we can put our product in-front of millions of people right?

In my experience this is not a given. But what I do know is there are ways of testing how large the market is and how commercially viable it may be.

In terms of risk it is unlikely we will fail to build the software/site. It’s more likely we will fail to market the product successfully. So before you start spending money to develop your product or service here are some very simple tips on how to determine how it will fare online.

There are many ways to reach customers online but the most common are:
1. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – Get listed in search engines where millions of people are searching for your product
2. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – Use Google Adwords or similar to advertise your product (paid)

If customers exist for your product or service they will be searching for it in Google. Therefore researching the potential for these two methods of marketing is invaluable.

Most people planning an online business are not aware that selling products and services online is fairly predictable. It’s a funnel which has very predictable points. So you can calculate the end result of months of hard but successful work in a couple of minutes, de-risking your venture.

There are many factors which influence how well customers will flow down this pipe but let’s ignore that and assume you have succeeded in building a great site, have a good product and excellent SEO. Thise following exercise will demonstrate a simple way to determine how successfully you will sell your product online.

In this following example I’ve come up with a great idea. I’m going to sell NZ Bio Oil to a worldwide market I estimate to be a million customers per month. It’s a nice little niche which means I can be targeted in my marketing and I’m making a 30% margin. Sounds like a great idea right?

Step 1. Determining Search Volume

The first step is to determine the size of your online audience. You can do this by using Google Adwords. This tool is targeted at people using Google advertising and shows how many people are searching for specific terms. It also shows how many people are advertising for each keyword, which is a good indication of how difficult and expensive it’s going to be to target these people.

adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

Adwords Screen Shot

Open Adwords then enter the exact phrase your customers will search for. You will see a list which includes the Local and Global Search Volumes. The Advertiser Competition bar shows you how many other companies are using Google to compete for your market. This is significant because it will drive the price of advertising up and also means these other companies will be competing against you in the search engine ranks. If you use the Show/hide columns you can also include the Estimated CPC column.

The Estimated CPC figure shows the amount of money you will pay every time someone clicks on a Google advertisement shown in a search for these keywords. Like the Advertiser Competition bar this gives you another view of how expensive this is going to get.

You will generally find a high volume keyword dominates the market but will have high competition. Best practice is to find several smaller keywords which are very specific to your product and use those instead.

So now you know the traffic volume either locally or globally. I now know that 327,000 people are searching for our example product per month. However we are not likely to get in the first page of Google for the broad search term of “Bio Oil” so lets plan around the more specific phrase “Bio Oil 200ml” which yields 27,000 visits monthly.

Step 2. The difficulty of getting on page 1 of Google.

Fighting your way on to page one of Google is not an easy thing. However that is a subject for another article completely. But take my word for it, if you’re not on page one you’re not going to get in the click stream. I’ve been on page two for keywords with massive volume and got at best a couple of clicks a day.

For the purposes of evaluating the market let’s assume the SEO works and you do get to the first page. When this happens you can conservatively assume you will get 10% of the clicks we saw in Adwords.

Step 3. Do the maths for the conversion pipe

So for our fictitious idea of selling NZ Bio Oil to a worldwide market we can work our way through the numbers like this….

Total search market 327,000 unique browsers (ub)
The keyword we think we can successfully target is 27,000 ub per month
If you’re on page one of Google you may get 10% of this traffic which is 2700 visitors
If your web site is well optimized you will convert around 2% of these visits which is 54 paid customers

Note : You may convert a larger number but at this early stage I wouldn’t bet on it. Better to be safe than sorry when considering investing a lot in this business.

Average purchase will be one product ($40) with a 30% margin ($12) 54 times a month = $648 Margin Per Month

Hmmmm $648 a month doesn’t sound too flash to me. As you can see the idea which sounded pretty good didn’t really pan out.

Paid Advertising

The second easy way to reach customers is Google Adwords. You select the keywords you want to target then your adverts are displayed beside the search results we talked about above. The advantage of this approach is you are instantly targeting the keywords from above with no time spent on SEO.

The process is an auction, with companies bidding on the keywords they want. However you only pay when someone clicks on your advertisement.

There are two major downsides. The first is that most keywords are so expensive you will never make money advertising like this. The second downside is that compared to the search results very few people click on these adverts. There are around five advertisements displayed on each search. Together they get around 3% of the clicks.

Also the costs, which are shown in Adwords, are often a lot lower than reality so it’s worth running a few adverts to find the real costs.

Lets run the figures for our Bio Oil example. With a much lower number of people clicking on our advertisement we will have to target the broad keyword “Bio Oil”. Otherwise we simply won’t get enough clicks. In some markets you can advertise using many smaller volume keywords to reduce the cost but we will focus on the main keywords in this example.

Each person who clicks on my advertisement is going to cost $1.35

At a 2% on-site conversion I need 50 visits before I sell something. So it will cost $67.50 to sell one item with a $12 margin. So every time we sell a product we lose $55.50.

It may seem hard to believe but I have seen companies spend a lot of money on Adwords without doing this calculation.

In Summary

So it looks like my idea for selling Bio Oil is a flop. I won’t invest the $15k on a shop and $25k on SEO. I will in fact go back to the drawing board and find something which does work. I might have to run a few ideas through the pipe but when I find one that looks good I have the confidence to take it to the next stage.

Understanding these simple tools allows you to test ideas and will save time and money. I find it also sways my thinking towards marketing based ideas or at very least product ideas which have a unique marketing avenue. These are the ideas you want.

When your research has identified there is a viable market for your product you can test the theory by doing a market test then proceed to invest in the technology with the confidence you have taken as much risk out as possible.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time involved in startups. I love working with passionate people intent on launching ambitious businesses. There are two things startups could be known for, having a huge amount of passion and an inverse chance of success.

These factors almost certainly have a close relationship. People who start tech businesses are generally passionate individuals, they have an idea and they are gunning for it. It is this passion and self belief that drives them to risk income, time and sometimes reputation in their ventures. Unfortunately sometimes passion, self believe and certainty gets in the way of a healthy portion of doubt and some market research.

It always pays to verify your idea as much as you can before you start. But even with all the market research done there is still a reasonable chance of failure. The question is what are you likely to fail at? There are two stages most tech business go through, building the software/site and getting successful customer uptake.

Building software is complex, but lets face it how many companies failed because they couldn’t build the product? A few of course, but most tech startups bomb because they fail to get customers on board. There are many reasons this happens. The most popular being the company fails to successfully market the product, another being that the market is not as hot as originally thought. But history has taught us that even with a good product and good marketing some sites make it and some don’t. There are thousands of failed social media sites and only one Facebook. When you are dealing with customers and the net there is always an element of luck involved.

The classic way to bomb a tech business is to spend a massive amount of time and money on the product then fail in the market. The smartest way to mitigate against this market risk is to flip the process around. Do the product marketing first. It is after all the piece which is more likely to fail.

Instead of spending the majority of your time and money upfront building a product start by proving you have a market. Build the equivalent of a Hollywood set (just a cardboard building front), then move straight into the marketing to see if you can bring anyone to your cardboard door.

How can you market a product or site you don’t have? It’s surprisingly easy, here are some rough examples.

Example 1. SaaS Software

Put up a beta site showing some screen shots of functionality which will be in the final version. Then get customers to sign up to a beta program or to register to find out more. When they sign up send them an email saying either the beta is over subscribed or they are now on the list to get a free version when the software comes out.

Example 2. Web Site

Advertise that your site is coming soon and show some of the content or deals which will be included in the build. Then get people to sign up for a free something, or register to hear when it launches. You can play with this to make it compelling.

I’m sure you get the idea.

Set yourself a target number of visitors. When you hit this target you have done the hard bit and proved there is a market for your product. At this point you can proceed to build it with the confidence that you are about to launch a product/site to a hungry audience.

You may not always be able to fake it so blatantly. A hybrid approach may be necessary where you build something cut down. But what you are creating is the illusive fail fast business.  If you cannot reach your market you have failed quickly and cheaply.

Online Advertising

Another way to test ideas is to try out different online advertising methods. Buy some Google Ads and see how much it will cost to get people to your web site. Then gather stats about how many sign up. You now have the raw data to see if the idea can be supported with online advertising.

Iterate Fast

In a traditional software business the product is developed first. When the product fails to get uptake the product is changed at great expense and the marketing kicks off again. This may happen several times until the product succeeds or more likely the business runs out of money. The brilliant thing is when you fail with a market test you can spend a few hours changing your screen shots, add some more features to your pitch and see if that improves your situation. You may be able to quickly move your product into a receptive audience and succeed.

It may take time to plan how to apply this technique, but it is very powerful and has the ability to save massive amounts of time and money. Enjoy.

Managing your online brand

Posted: June 10, 2009 in Uncategorized

In 2 days time (from writing) Facebook are making named URLs available (eg http://www.facebook.com/johnsmith). This got me to thinking about online personal branding.

Company branding is often given careful consideration, but how about your own personal brand. This is the brand that sticks with you as you move between companies and it can make or break your career.

As everything moves online so does our brand. When I get CVs submitted to me I reach for Google and all of the skeletons fall out. I read a great CV last week then checked out the applicant’s Linkedin profile. It included his personal business site which I flipped open. It was the standard embarrassing one-man band approach, “We are bla bla consulting and we listen to what you want”. The problem is the site didn’t tell me anything good but it did tell me a whole lot of bad things – some of the styles were broken and overall it looked like a dog’s breakfast. The CV went into the bin and I went on to other applicants.

You could imagine a different outcome if I had found something like a blog with a long history of well thought-out content and technical comment. So, in this case, his online profile was more important that 10 years of work history.

I would make the assumption that every time you meet a business contact for the first time or submit a CV, your personal brand will be ruthlessly hunted across the net.

This makes it critical to manage what people will dig up, as carefully as you would (should) craft your CV. To do this you need to own your brand online and to put time into keeping it polished.

Own your Results

You should aim to own the top block of results for your name on Google. This way you can control how people experience your personal brand. For example if you’re a designer you want people to experience great design or if you’re a developer relevant technical content.

To do this you want to build a carefully managed collection of sites. Some examples are:
1. A linkedin profile
2. Your own site
3. Blog
4. Twitter

Own the property

When gmail came out how many people thought it was necessary to get your name as an email address…..yup and now you’re bobsmith.4.Washington. That’s right, you didn’t think it was important and now you’re paying the price!

I’ve had to convince people to purchase their own names as URLs. If your name is available you need to buy it! For the price of a lunch and a little time you now own the top result for your own name. If you don’t want to use it now, just park it. If it’s available now it won’t be soon and you will NEVER get it back.

The same applies for other technologies like the newly released Google profiles. I can’t tell you how this will be relevant but it’s a couple of minutes to claim your name and make sure its yours for ever.

In 2 days time Facebook will make named URLs available. This means you’ll be able to get http://www.facebook.com/yourName. This might not appeal now but is a good way of claiming some space before the 1000 other John Smiths grab it first.