I spend a lot of my time helping startups in Australia and giving them advice on how to get up & running. A lot of the advice comes from running my own company previous to joining Microsoft, sharing battle stories with others, understanding the mistakes I made and the last few years of working with a great range of amazing advisors and startups through the BizSpark program. I have been also extremely lucky to both attend, be a judge or mentor for & run a number of startup events, this gives me a chance to hear fabulous advice from many many amazing people.
So can I actually practice all I have learnt?
I have been wanting to put together a series of blog posts on how to actually get started if you are like me and have an app idea that you want to take to market. So I decided to finally put a simple idea I have had for an app into action.
Note that this is not business advice as such. This is just me documenting the steps I go through. The thing I know already is that my plan & ideas will change and adapt as I take each step so be sure to read through the proceeding posts as this is just day one!
As I go through the steps of action I have taken, I will try to break down the reasons behind my choices and how successful they have been. Feel free to provide comments on the process as I go as it will only prove to assist others looking to take this plunge in future.
Now I am certainly not the first and certainly not the smartest person to have done something as crazy as this – be sure to check out the great advice from Sebastien Eckersly-Maslin on how he setup his startup in 1 week with just $500 here: http://anthillonline.com/how-to-build-a-business-in-7-days-for-under-500-the-eseries/
As I already had the idea, a Windows Phone Mock up, sample data in Azure and an app name, a lot of the tricky decisions had already been made – but at this stage its pretty basic, looks like I designed it (i.e. not at all impressive) and the sample data is limited to only one council in Ryde.
What does the App need to do"?
The app is for locating a picnic spot nearby, being able to rate & provide feedback on the park. You can also search for parks with specific facilities and in specific areas. The app needs to use Facebook to share the ratings & recommendations. Facebook integration is also important as my initial target market are mums with young children (high usage of facebook). As I also plan to target the application to people with Dogs, I want to track information on how Pet Friendly the park is.
Who would use the app?
People like me would – hence the idea, but I am targeting people who go to parks. I completed some simple market research through facebook friends and also through a survey on a “Mum-Blogger” site (extra big thanks to my cousin Karen who posted on her blog: http://ramblingmum-mummabear1970.blogspot.com/ and to my sister Patricia for posting on her awesome not for profit site Australian Rare Chromo Awareness Network (ARCAN) ) to test the viability of the idea.You too can complete the survey here if you’d like to contribute your feedback before I close it: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/583G3DT The results so far are overwhelmingly positive – and not just from my friends and family. Yay!
Which features are most important for initial launch?
I am a huge fan of the idea of a minimal viable product & tight feedback loop with customers so I also asked the survey takers questions about how often people go to the park, do they always visit the same parks & which features of an app like the one I have planned would be of interest. More importantly I asked people which Phone type they use and if they would pay for the app. I am hoping to determine if there are key functionality that is required and if there is a way of creating a higher functioning paid app. I also need to understand which platforms to target.
Are there Competitors?
One of the other important factors is looking at who the existing competitors are. It would be highly unlikely that my simple idea is completely unique. I did a quick search and turned up a Butter company sponsored picnic app for the UK, and a US based app for finding good places to take the kids – which included parks. Both apps were free and available in iPhone & Android already. I have researched both of these products and need to come up with some good benefits for our application over there ones. So far as both seem very focused on their own locale (UK or US) it seems the Aussie market is still available – and also I will be sourcing a large number of parks to prepopulate the application for Australian capital cities, so launching without needing users to add the data already. Looking at these apps really did highlight another important factor in whether or not I proceed:
How will I make money?
It is clear that to compete with existing applications my app needs to be free or at least have a Free version. This limits my initial planning around monetising the investment I am making in the app by charging a fee (I am including my time in that investment – which many people neglect to include!). Although I can include some advertising in the app I am under no delusions that the app will be that widely used that I will make enough money from in app advertising to generate enough revenue. This leads to further thoughts around having a Paid version with features not available in the free version. I could also look at some strategic relationships with companies that would like to focus advertising/offers to the target marketing I am focusing on such as people who create picnic hampers or gourmet deli’s or even Toy stores like ToysRUs or outdoor activity manufacturers (of course feel free to contact me if this is you!). But more and more as we enter the Data Age, I see the value in the underlying data that I am collecting. Firstly there is no centralised data source for all Australian parks. Secondly the information around feedback & ratings on parks could potentially be of interest to someone. This thought has prompted me to make some legal enquiries to ensure that from the start, my Terms & Conditions at sign up allow me to sell collected data usage information at a later stage.
But to summarise – I haven’t decided which monetisation model (or combination of models) I will eventually go with. This is something I spend so much time advising startups on. I want to know the total addressable market, I want to know what % of that market is accessible, likely to be customers, and how the money will be made. So…. as soon as I get my wireframes finished I will sit down and do that! keep in mind I plan to closely monitor this and adjust my monetisation model as often as needed to generate revenue so stay tuned on that!
Get some feedback from “smart people”
So I am almost convinced to proceed with the idea. And as much as I thought my idea was completely awesome & bullet proof… the next thing I did was ask 2 super smart people to be advisors. I asked them to dinner so that I could bounce ideas off them (in return for providing dinner & wine while we discussed ideas). Through that we decided to split the app into 2 distinct apps. One to target the pet owners looking for Pet friendly parks (stage 2) and one targeting parents looking for a park to take their kids to. The benefit of this is that the strategic alliances are much simpler with the separation of the 2 markets. for example, companies like Vet Chains may be interested in advertising or buying subscriber lists of the people looking for pet friendly parks etc…. The good lesson I made here is that good advice is invaluable. The second lesson is that you have to be flexible enough to adapt your idea when you get really good suggestions!
You haven’t talked me out of it yet… so where do I start??
For me the first thing I always need to do is look at the idea i have had and work out what I should & shouldn’t do. Too often, excited entrepreneurs feel that they need to do everything to get their idea to market because they have no cash flow and think the easiest & cheapest way to get things done is to do it yourself. I however learnt in previous business ventures that there are way too many things that I am really bad at and should never ever, ever do. For example, the above screen shots demonstrate my complete lack of graphic design skills. I don’t even have a logo yet. I have no attention to detail or patience, and the info for these parks is spread in different councils websites and needs manual research and data entry to get. As for developing the solution, although I am happy to develop for Windows Phone & Azure back end... I am in no way skilled as an iPhone, android or blackberry developer and I want to release on all 4 platforms. If I want to get this to market soon, I am going to have to outsource. I identified the initial tasks I would need help with: obtaining the source data, getting a logo and developing apps on the other platforms. Some of these I have been able to get through contacts and some through freelancing sites like www.odesk.com or www.freelancer.com.au. (extra special thanks to the super guys at www.xamling.com for agreeing to once again rescue me with the design side of things!!)
And there is still an hour of day 1 left!!!
What else can I easily do to get my brand building?
One of the things I didn’t mention earlier was that in my market research survey, I asked the people completing it to give me their email address if they’d like to be notified of the launch of the product. Every single person who completed the survey has provided their email address! I am building a database of potential customers on day 1.
Preferably I would also have created a launch page that linked to something like MailChimp to allow me to collect email addresses, but as I keep saying.. I need to get wireframes done! Although its so easy to download WebMatrix, configure a Wordpress blog, give it a Launch theme and hook it up to MailChimp…. Alternatively… that may be just as easy on Azure? No – that can wait till tomorrow!!!
But what else have I done today without outlaying any cash to get my brand building?
I set up a free Live.com.au email address on www.live.com for email@example.com
I bought a domain name: www.picknic.com.au
I signed up to www.BizSpark.com (which thankfully I approved!)
I profiled my app on http://www.microsoftplatformready.com (so I can take advantage of the marketing resources available on there & of course get access to the office 365 benefits though Cloud Essentials!)
Set up Facebook account for the company: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100003043437704
Setup Facebook page for the App itself: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Picknic/247222251994768
Setup developer token for facebook so my application can integrate with facebook: https://developers.facebook.com/apps/208222259247250/summary
Setup twitter account: http://twitter.com/#!/PicknicApp
And now I must stop talking to you all as I need to wireframe my screens for my outsourced developer & myself!
Wish me luck!
I am continually surprised by how many of the BizSpark & MSDN Customers do not fully utilise the benefits included in their MSDN Ultimate Subscription. Most surprising is the lack of uptake of up to $3,500 in annual Windows Azure platform benefits at no extra charge! So to make it easier for everyone – i have broken down what’s included and how to get it below.
To help you "get into the cloud", BizSpark members get, as part of their MSDN subscription, up to $3,500 in annual Windows Azure platform benefits at no extra charge. Here are some highlights. The details of the exact subscription benefits can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/msdn-benefits/.
BizSpark Offer (included per month)
1,500 hours of the small compute instance
(Enough to run 2 small compute instances 24/7 for 31 days)
Access Control Transactions*
Service Bus Connections
128 MB cache
35GB (WW) Out
35GB (WW) In
Note: For all usage that exceeds the no fee allocation above, customers will be charged at standard rates. To avoid charges customers should closely monitor their usage.
* The Windows Azure AppFabric Control service is provided at no charge for billing periods prior to January 1, 2012.
** The Windows Azure AppFabric Caching service is provided at no charge for billing periods prior to August 1, 2011. Beginning on August 1, a single 128MB cache is included at no charge. All other cache utilized will be charged at the standard rates.
*** Projected annual savings at standard rates.
1. Sign-in to your MSDN benefits page
2. Click on the Windows Azure Platform link from My Account and follow the steps to activate your Windows Azure benefits (for limited free access). You'll need your credit card only because IF you use more than the amount of services that are included with your MSDN subscription, we'll bill your card for these overages. You can visit the Microsoft Online Services Customer Portal to look up your usage at any time.
3. Go to the Windows Azure Developer Portal to access your Windows Azure subscription.
4. Once you’ve done that, you can get started by downloading the Windows Azure Tools for Visual Studio to start building and debugging your application. Download the tools
5. You can also see how easy it is to create a simple ASP.NET local application by starting with a tutorial.
6. Finally, you can use another online tutorial to learn how to deploy and run your sample application in Windows Azure.
” This activation process will require that you submit your credit card details to cover any costs of overage (ONLY FOR usage of Windows Azure beyond the scope of the included Windows Azure benefits). You are activating your existing entitlement benefit. However, there is a limit to that entitlement and the credit card is simply there to cover for any overage costs that may arise. Remember that the offer entitles you to 31 days of completely free usage every month of a medium sized compute instance. Only if you require extra compute power, or additional storage will Microsoft charge your card.
I thought I would make mention of the way I chose Go Daddy as my hosting provider. Besides having them recommended to me, people often overlook that we have a relationship with hosting providers through BizSpark that allows you to take advantage of further discounts – search the list in your BizSpark portal by selecting Hoster Relationship – then pick your hoster
Search for the hosting providers here (http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark/Startup/HostingOrganization.aspx):
After I signed up it was less than 30 minutes before my site was setup and then all I had to do was deploy the Wordpress blog from in WebMatrix to the new site.
Now, unfortunately, instead of configuring the DNS, I managed to confuddle myself. Fortunately I work with some really smart people who hopefully will give me some help to get that sorted soon!
I guess it's worth pointing out once again that there is no personal financial gain planned for this project. However I do plan to test out monetisation models and as such - the exciting thing that I get to announce today is that we have formed a strategic alliance with the Touched By Olivia foundation.
I came across this group when visiting the Livvi's place playground in Timbrell Park for a picknic with my son. As he has been diagnosed with Asperger's it is a fantastic park for him and many others as its designed for inclusiveness for kids for children of all abilities.
What does this mean for Picknic? It means that through this project, if any revenue generated, the funds will be donated to the Touched by Olivia foundation. In return, they will be doing some promotion of the application. Probably not a standard strategic alliance – but as I mentioned I am not looking to generate any personal financial gain from this project. I still do think that forming strategic alliances & thinking about monetisation methods is an important part of building your application.
The benefits of forming strategic alliances is often overlooked by startups and so I have asked Jack Delosa of The Entourage to share some of the reasons you may want to consider this as a crucial part of your plan.
"Developing Strategic Partnerships with complimentary businesses in your space is one of the fastest ways any small business can grow. If you're looking to accelerate growth while minimising costs, strategic partnerships is the most effective solution."
I suggest you check out this valuable session he delivered to the attendees at Melbourne Startup camp: http://vimeo.com/19889493
Things really got interesting today! I received the first delivery of the data from my researcher. This means I can now setup my Azure tables and data access layer. I plan on making the data accessible via oData feeds as well as via web services.
I use a nifty little tool called Cerebrata Cloud Storage to access & manipulate my azure table storage. Its a really handy tool for working with both local development storage and the Azure based storage.
I was able to create my tables easily, and then use the tool to upload the data I have in CSV to my table storage. You can also use the Cerebrata free tool on Codeplex to upload my excel file (saved as CSV) directly into the cloud: http://azurefileupload.codeplex.com/ They have the extra benefit of allowing you to define the columns & keys through the simple GUI tool.
Be sure to remove any non alphanumeric (i.e. spaces etc – although an underscore is permitted) from the column names. It is also recommended to use as short column names as possible to save on space used – but for this example I am keeping long names for ease of demonstration.
Another thing that is interesting to note is the use of Suburb as the Partition Key & Unique GUID as my choice for the partition & row key. I spent a lot of time thinking about this as the correct choice for these two columns will be what determines the optimal search query return time. The partition key is used to split the data over different partitions. The Row key must be unique for each row. I had initially thought of using the Lat/Lon or a combination of the two as my row key as it is unlikely that there will be 2 parks in the same location. My concern with this was when I open the API to allow manual addition of parks, this may become an issue in future. I chose Suburb name as the partition key because I think it will be the most even way to distribute the data over the tables and also the most common way that we will query the data. There is a great description of Table Storage on Azure here on Steve Nagy’s Blog that I recommend you read.
The first challenge with my data import came up as soon as the data was imported I and realised the comma’s in the file I received were corrupting the columns in csv format and needed some massaging. I was able to quickly empty the data in the azure tables via the cerebrata tool & then look at the best way to convert the data. I ended up using tab separated Text Files by saving as text from within excel & then re uploading the data.
The next challenge was the pure number & size of images. I thought about building a simple image uploaded (and thumbnail creation tool) much like the simple getting started tutorials for Azure – but instead decided to setup a dropbox folder that the data researcher can upload to & then I can once again use the handy Cerebrata tool to upload too. Mind you I could have used Skydrive just as easily for this as well – except that it is full of my own photos already!
Now the coding really begins for both the iPhone app developer and for me working on the Windows Phone 7 version!
We met Snap Comp at the last Melbourne BizSpark camp and I am very excited to hear their amazing success with the RMIT business award! Congratulations guys!!
A web-based venture that solves the legal, technical and marketing problems of running competitions for small businesses and not-for-profits has won RMIT University’s 2011 Business Plan Competition.
Snap Comp – an internet-based platform that aims to offer a simple, low-cost, self-service solution for businesses and organisations who struggle with the legal and technical challenges of running competitions, raffles and redemptions – was last night awarded the $25,000 RMIT University First Prize at a gala awards ceremony.
Team Leader and RMIT Master of Commerce student Paul Monks, of Croydon, said it was an honour to be recognised by the industry and business leaders who had judged the competition, which this year awarded more than $100,000 in prizes.
“We are really elated. This is fantastic validation and affirmation for us. It gives us much greater credibility in establishing the business,” Mr Monks said.
“The Business Plan Competition has been an excellent, practical, business-focused extension to my academic studies at RMIT.
“Winning the competition and the $25,000 first prize, together with the Servcorp Virtual Office and the GrantReady awards, enables us to enter the market much sooner than would be possible otherwise.”
Snap Comp was last night also awarded the Servcorp Virtual Office Prize for Business Excellence (virtual office services to the value of $5,000) and the GrantReady Award for Excellence (professional services to the value of $5,000).
The business venture is expected to launch in Australia in January 2012, with a rapid global expansion planned to meet the demand for the service worldwide.
Now in its 11th year, the annual RMIT Business Plan Competition is open to all RMIT students worldwide and encourages young entrepreneurs to develop competitive business plans for their original business ideas.
More than 3,000 students have taken part since 2001, with many past competitors now running successful businesses in Australia and around the world.
RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Margaret Gardner AO, praised the dedicated efforts of the 10 finalists and congratulated all 131 teams who took part in the 2011 competition, one of the biggest programs of its type in Australia.
“This competition helps our young entrepreneurs harness their talent and energy to create innovative new ventures that are grounded in sound business practice,” Professor Gardner said.
“With the support and structure of the RMIT Business Plan Competition, our students are given the opportunity to learn from action and experience.
“By working closely with the industry mentors who so generously support each team, the students gain invaluable skills and networks to enable them to turn their fresh business ideas into reality.”
Today was mostly focused on back end developments but 2 key milestones were reached:
1. Our Launch page was made finally live (my own fault on that one as I corrupted the DNS completely! So after a 48 hour (self caused) delay we now have a launch page tied to MailChimp to allow us to recruit potential customers as the application is built. It also points users to these blog posts to see how we are progressing. I *may* add a blog link to the Wordpress site to allow the posts to be published there as well – but in line with keeping focused on application development this week, I decided to skip this for now too.
Be sure to check it out & sign up to hear updates as we release version of the application: www.picknic.com.au – Note that the screenshot is showing the site live on Google Chrome. It is really important that you test any web based application you deploy on multiple platforms. With Wordpress a lot of the complexity required to ensure things work and appear consistently on multiple platforms (including different browsers, mobile, tablet & iPad etc) is already covered so you don't have to worry about it. If you haven't chosen to use a cross platform CMS or blog tool – just keep in mind to test it as part of your release plans.
2. My data is finally all imported in Azure Table Storage & blob Storage. Again a call out to the Cerebrata Cloud Storage tool – which made the import process quick & simple. See the sample data excerpt here:
The thing that I am waiting on further to decide is how many copies of the data do I want in tables with different Partition keys. I am considering setting up tables for the key facilities or BBQ, Toilets & PetFriendly. This will ensure a quick return of data that is searched by facility. But at this stage, the main table is sufficient for us to search by location (the default) and display the related images & information for each park – our Version 1 requirements!
I also want to take the opportunity to thank everyone that has contributed to the project so far & provided help & suggestions along the way. I have to admit that I am really enjoying working on this project and am so grateful for the positive responses and interest on the project from so many people already.
Once again I thank all of you who have added comments or sent me messages about this project, and I look forward to keeping you updated as the idea progresses along its little journey. As always, feel free to post your ideas, thoughts suggestions & comments below
It is something I should have done from the very start – as I am clearly outlaying some cash & am not accurately tracking it. I know many companies will use simple solutions like an excel sheet to track their incoming & outgoing expenses. I have always been a MYOB user, but also decided to look around at some of the Software as a Service (SaaS) providers of accounting software like Australian based Saasu & New Zealand based Xero. I also took a look at the offers available for BizSpark members and noticed that at the moment – Xero are offering BizSpark members 1 year of free use UP UNTIL THE 31st of OCTOBER – so check it out now!.
Also of note is that Xero were a BizSpark member who has grown substantially over the last year – to the point where they no longer qualify for BizSpark (a good problem to have!)
So I clicked through on the above offer, followed the bouncing ball and in a few clicks I had an accounting system set up, chart of accounts in place & its ready to input data into! Now – to find someone to help me with that data entry/book keeping process….
The importance of Mentors & Community
Today was also about connecting with Mentors and Community. I am very fortunate to have a great Mentor already and spent a good portion of today’s meeting bouncing ideas around about this application, fine tuning some suggestions and regaining focus – something I really need a mentor to help me out with! The value of finding a good mentor is not a new idea and nor is it limited to just me. Niki Scevak founder of StartMate (who, by the way is currently taking applications for the next round of Seed funding) talks about the value of picking the right mentor in his article published today on www.startupsmart.com.au. In a chat I had with him about the value of mentors he adds “"Mentors can help your business tremendously but knowing who could be a good mentor for you and what they can help with is essential for you to get any value out of your meetings with them. Decide what your problem is first (fundraising, hiring, online marketing) and then seek out your mentors from there."
Kim Heras, one of the founder’s of the startup mentoring program PushStart (proudly Sponsored by Microsoft ) also has the following to add in this article where he talks about looking to launch an Australian version of Tech Stars, but with a twist. “We realised when we were putting this together last year that the real value for start-ups in these programs is the mentoring aspect,” he says. “They get $15,000 or $20,000 from Y Combinator, but it is the mentoring that makes the real difference. We wanted to de-couple the mentoring element from the funding element. We started with advice being the main philosophy.”
There seems to be some additional alignment in the Webinar series run by The Entourage where this week they had guest speaker Stuart Cook is the CEO of Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill (Australia' Fastest Growing Franchise) share his tips on how to engage a multi-million dollar mentor. Be sure to subscribe to their mailing list to find out about their upcoming webinars as they are always valuable.
Friday is also a great day to be in the startup community in Sydney as every Friday night, the Silicon Beach drinks are held at the Grace hotel kicking off at about 6 (in time for happy hour!). It is a melting pot of entrepreneurialism. Occasionally with guest speakers, but normally a collection of serial Entrepreneurs, angel investors, students, developers and community members. Its a great way to perhaps locate your next mentor, or even just bounce your idea off like minded others. This community is so welcoming and supporting I strongly suggest you make the time to pop in and say hello.
As for the Application development aspect of the project…. Well… so far today it hasn’t even got a look in from my side – planning to catch up on this side over the weekend .
I see the benefits of having a co founder or completely teaming up with a development partner as the challenges of working in the business vs on the business are making it tricky to get everything done!
Today I swapped my other hats for me developer hat for a few hours. As I have volunteered to do the data setup on Azure & the Phone 7 application development. As I have all my data & use cases now defined it was quite simple to ensure the data structure was set up in Azure. next I decided to check out the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone – its free and you can download it from Codeplex here. It comes with really detailed documentation and some awesome walkthroughs.
My first challenge was to readdress the authentication question. It seemed silly not to include either a membership model or an integrated login when the tool kit made it so simple. I thought about the benefits of both models (there is a good definition here on the pros & cons for both) and I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to maintain a separate user membership database – and as it seemed that the Access Control Service made integration with other logins simple. So…. I followed through these steps and very quickly had the Toolkit installed. The setup ensures you get any extra bits & pieces you may not have on your machine already so that made it quite easy.
I then got my ACS token for Facebook integration setup following these instructions for getting started with ACS integration with Facebook. These articles are also quite handy to review: http://acs.codeplex.com/wikipage?title=Getting%20Started&referringTitle=Documentation, http://acs.codeplex.com/wikipage?title=Facebook
I had a few issues with setting up ACS because I had half setup windows live as well as Facebook because I was not sure if I was going to use both or not. It caused some confusion with the rules, but once I reduced it to just the Facebook integration it seemed to resolve the namespace error I was receiving.
So once I had a namespace configured, I started a new project, picked the Windows Phone Cloud application template, followed the instructions for setting up the certificates & started to debug. I was pleasantly surprised to be already testing out my new phone app with Facebook integration:
I still have a few more things to do on the Facebook app side of things to get the integration looking how I want it too particularly: format the appearance and options provided to the user when they sign in including the layout of the objects I want to work with and the actions allowed by the users…. But its Sunday & its sunny outside – so both that & starting to look at the rest of the app development is going to have to wait till later
Throughout the series of posts on this project to date, I have made mention several times about my plans to follow a lean methodology with the Picknic App. I realised that what I hadn't done was fully delve into explaining what this means in terms of business and particularly in relation to a startup. I have asked one of our Australian BizSpark Network Partner’s Steve Godbold to share some additional insight into why keeping things lean, testing assumptions and releasing a minimum viable product are a really good idea for Startups.
Steve Godbold is a process consultant with a passion for challenges. Coming from a technical background, and having worked with businesses of all shapes and sizes, he provides consulting for both application lifecycle management and business process. You can find him via http://stevegodbold.com/ or on firstname.lastname@example.org
While there are many ways to grow a business, not all methods are equal. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports; of the small businesses operating in 2007, approximately one in four had closed their doors by 2009. How can you maximise you chances of not being that one of the four?
Most start-ups have a few things in common. They are packed with energy, vision and a passion to succeed. In fact they are usually so driven, they fail to notice that what they’re building is based on a set of assumptions. The impact of these assumptions can be fatal, so identifying them early can be a crucial step along the path to success. A lean start-up identifies its assumptions and designs a set of experiments to test them with actual customer behaviour.
This is done using a market testing strategy known as a ‘minimum viable product’. Minimum viable product involves building only what is absolutely necessary, and putting this in the hands of the people we want to understand. From this we can gather vital information about our potential for success. What we are doing is designing a low cost experiment to test a hypothesis (our assumption) about market behaviour.
An experiment can be as simple as including a link to a proposed new feature of your application. Without implementing the feature you can track the number of users that access this link. This allows you to gather real data on the viability of the feature before you invest the time and money in delivery.
These experiments create a rapid feedback cycle and enable us to perform pivots based on how our customers react. This helps to make sure what we’re delivering is valuable to our customers, or is going to increase the attraction of our product or service to potential customers.
So how do we start to avoid being that one in four? Simply stated: we focus on accelerating our learning, measuring what matters and not being afraid to change direction if the data calls for it.
If you'd like more information on getting started using a lean start-up approach check out Eric Ries recently released book on the topic
So here we are a good week and a half into this little project and I think it’s a good time to take a few moments to reflect on the feedback I have been receiving from so many of you and to give some guidance on where we are heading as there has been so much positive feedback & suggestions on ways to generate even more value from this series. I have about 1 week left of this series so it’s also a good time to talk about what to expect in the coming posts.
I have decided to quote something someone sent me in an email today as it seemed like a really great way to explain what one of the goals was: “Fantastically illustrative of the organic, unstructured ‘sometimes it’s only passion that keep you going’ insight into starting a venture” (Thanks Dean!)
I also think it’s a good time to chat about the startup ecosystem we have here in Australia and who this exercise is meant to be helping.
There are many different ways of defining entrepreneurs, and the stages of Entrepreneurship and business in general. A lot of articles also delve into defining the personality types of entrepreneurs. The Next Web founder @Boris defines what he sees as the 7 stereotypes of Entrepreneurs which I quite like: http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2011/05/24/7-types-of-entrepreneurs-which-one-are-you/. I also agree with StartupGuru who refers to the types in a more of a matrix fashion that ranges between the head & the heart.
If you love the detail & the data the GEM (Global Entrepreneur Monitor) report gives a fantastic outline of the types, stages, ages and impact of the different global entrepreneur types : http://www.gemconsortium.org/download/1319535701510/GEM%20GLOBAL%20REPORT%202010rev.pdf
Then there is the one that I find the most aligned to the stages I see (and especially like because it quotes Notorious BIG song lyrics to make a point): http://www.greenhornconnect.com/node/3655 where Entrepreneurs range from The Awestruck Amateur through to the Wise Sage. I tend to see a close alignment to these types in the startup ecosystem here in Australia, particularly in the members I tend to come across most regularly in BizSpark:
Cowboys/Cowgirls: Students with nothing to lose, no cash & a crazy idea – one of the main goal is to learn from the experience. We have a rapidly developing entrepreneur ecosystem here in Australian Universities and it is driving both innovation & changes to the university curriculum to support this growing trend. Often these ideas come about as a result of a competition such as Startup Weekend, Launch48, Imagine Cup & the like.
Idealist: Developer/hobbiest with a great idea but no experience in bringing an idea to fruition as a profit making business. This type has more skills to bring to the project and maybe even a little cash, but everything is still highly boot strapped. Often the idea is fleshed out during the moonlight hours as the developer still keeps their focus on their “day job”.
Deliverators: Business/Marketing person with a great ability to support an idea & get it to market. They occasionally have the business idea themselves but will tend to outsource development or find a technical co-founder to work with. There is fundamentally more background in building a marketing strategy & business model to support an idea & get it to market as an ongoing business.
Addicts: The serial entrepreneur who works in on and around entrepreneurs and startups as a day to day “job”. They have worked on many startups, and not all have been successful – but that’s just increased their experience and value for the Entrepreneur community. These type are often mentors and in NSW, and starting to spread to VIC & QLD many are easy to find as they are registered as PushStart mentors. Some have even contributed to this series already – sending big thanks to them!
Everyone Else: There are of course the government initiatives, venture capitalists, angel investors, incubators and the whole realm of supporters we are fortunate to have here in Australia that encourage the growth of our startup economy. And I think it is fair to mention as many of the above articles do – that there is often Entrepreneurs that cross all groups in different roles they play or as they take their crazy boot strapped idea into a life in entrepreneurialism.
(NOTE: Disagree with these types? Let me know in the comments!)
I want to be clear that this series is very much targeting the Cowboys/Cowgirls – and perhaps a little of the Idealists group as well. This series is only for the cash strapped entrepreneurs who have an idea and want to test out the viability of it. The Addicts (or Wise Sage's) have a great deal more value to offer in the Business mentoring role that I would never dream or attempt to under value. We have many great Business advisors in the BizSpark Program as Network partners and many offer business mentoring to startups that are looking for that support - I strongly suggest you reach out to them, especially once you have validated your idea & start to look for funding & growing your idea into a business.
What I would really like to see in this series is representatives of all of the ecosystem (whatever "type" system you subscribe to) to share what they think are the best practices and take the opportunity to help others going through the same process/stage. Think you have something you could share on your own blogs or on the BizSpark_au blog then this is your call to action! Share your experience to help others benefit. I have been overwhelmed by the feedback I have received on this series so far and can only see extra value in building this resource to help the Australian Ecosystem continue to grow by others sharing their stories as well.
In order to keep you updated with the upcoming planned posts from the business side with guest contributions for each post, we will be covering topics around:
(BTW if any of these are your area of expertise let me know as any additional suggestions/tips add to the helpfulness of these posts)
Meanwhile…. I have spent the last 2 days re-architecting the Azure backend to use Spatial data in SqlAzure rather than table storage in Azure, the Data Researcher finished their work and the iPhone developer is progressing well with their app - but a post on that all later :)
Just a quick post to mention why I have been offline for a few days.
One of the hardest lessons I learnt when I ran my own business was that you needed to be sure to take time to look after yourself and keep yourself healthy. In fact something seemingly small can send your business off the rails – as in small business and particularly in the early stages of setting up – if you are not able to work, then nothing happens! I always recommend people to make sure they get enough exercise, sleep & time with their loved ones to keep their quality of live and passion for their projects alive.
But even if you do all this…. sometimes accidents happen.
As for me, while playing with my son a few nights ago, as I was throwing him around and over my shoulder I did some damage to myself. It wasn’t too bad that night but I awoke to acute pain in the early hours of the morning. I visited the Osteopath as soon as I could get an appointment to discover I had pinched a nerve in my neck and inflamed the surrounding vertebra & muscles. I guess that explains why the pain was so bad. Anyway, have been instructed to ice it & rest for a few days so am taking some time off everything while it heals.
In this case it only a few days off and there really wont be a great deal of impact, but it reminds me of when I was in the midst of running my own company with a team of staff and series of projects happening: I broke my wrist. It was almost 3 months till my business was back to resembling anything like where it had been previously. Although it was a hard way to learn a lesson, it was through that experience I found out about & implemented Key Person Insurance (actually it was referred to as Key Man insurance which drove me mad!). Interestingly, StartupSmart ran an article talking about this very same thing 2 days ago: http://www.startupsmart.com.au/managing-people/small-businesses-warned-over-sickie-impact/201110254317.html
The experience of being unable to function in my business for an extended period of time also made me realize how I had created a business that required me to be in it to make it function. i.e. it also taught me some VERY valuable lessons about “Founder’s Syndrome”. Understanding this made me reassess my role in the business which resulted in many positive changes that ended up improving the company and allowing us to grow more successfully.
Anyway – there is much interesting reading available about both Key Person Insurance & Founders Syndrome so hopefully they keep you entertained until I re-emerge from my pain killer induced haze and get working on this project again!
Key Person Insurance:
6 Startup Founder’s Syndromes That Can Kill Your Startup
Founderitis – A Ten Step Recovery Program
There will also be a few upcoming guest posts to keep the content flowing so stay tuned!
The Power of Lightswitch on Windows Azure
Please register your attendance via the “Register Now” links below. Check in will be open from 7:30am on site.
Introducing Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch, a simple self-service tool that allows developers and business professionals to build business applications quickly and easily for the desktop and the cloud- without the need to code!
Come along to our Switched ON briefings in your city to find out what your business can do with LightSwitch to power Windows Azure.
We’ve designed the briefings to include a variety of topics that you can select to suit your individual needs. Please be sure to choose the session(s) you are most interested in when you register for the event.
In this comprehensive 1-hour breakfast briefing you will learn about the End User Developer and how Visual Studio LightSwitch allows these domain experts to quickly create scalable, forms-over-data business applications on the desktop and the cloud- with little technical expertise and development skills.
This session is targeted primarily at Business and Technical Decision Makers, and is also valuable for Developers and Development Managers.
In this demo-heavy session, you will see end-to-end how to build and deploy a data-centric business application using LightSwitch. We’ll also go beyond the basics of creating simple screens over data, by demonstrating how to:
· Create screens with advanced capabilities
· Extend LightSwitch applications with your own Silverlight custom controls and RIA services
· Create a fully-functional application running in the cloud on Windows Azure and SQL Azure
This session is targeted both at individuals with basic programming and technical experience, as well as professional developers.
ADELAIDE – 18 Oct
Microsoft Office Auditorium, L2, Westpac House, 91 King William St, Adelaide SA 5000
BRISBANE – 19 Oct
North Stradbroke, L28
400 George St
Brisbane QLD 4000
CANBERRA – 25 Oct
Theatre 1, L2
Walter Turnbull Building, 44 Sydney Ave
Barton ACT 2600
MELBOURNE – 26 Oct
Exhibition Room, L5
4 Freshwater Place
Southbank VIC 3006
PERTH – 2 Nov
Enex 100 Seminar Room
100 St Georges Terrace
Perth WA 6000
SYDNEY – 10 Nov
Bushranger Room, LG
1 Epping Rd
North Ryde NSW 2113
7:30 – Registration opens (will run throughout the day)
8:00 – 9:00 – Business Applications and the “Un”-Professional Developer: LightSwitch on Windows Azure
9:00 – 9:30 – Breakfast
9:30 – 10:30 – Discover Windows Azure Platform Part 1: Business Overview
10:30 – 11:00 – Morning Tea
11:00 – 12:00 – Discover Windows Azure Platform Part 2: Technical Overview
12:00 – 13:00 – Break (lunch will not be provided)
13:00 – 15:00 - Build your first Azure application using Visual Studio LightSwitch – with (almost) no code!
Having heard Jack Speak several times, I can highly recommend you set aside 55 minutes to tune into this tonight at 7pm EDST!!
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Entourage recently conducted research into the highlights and challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Australia. An astounding 79% of business owners list their number one challenge as "business growth". The research indicates that the majority of business owners in Australia feel like they spend too much time working in their business, while generating too little of a return by way of profitability. If you can relate to these issues then this letter is for you... The Entourage is hosting an Exclusive Webinar for it's Members, where Jack Delosa who has been listed as one of Australia's Top 10 Entrepreneurs Under 30, will be outlining three core principles to achieving rapid growth in your business. These principles are increasingly relevant given the worsening state of the economy. These strategies, when applied, can allow you to reach thousands of highly qualified prospects in your industry, drive revenue and even raise money from investors so you can sustain growth over a long period of time. Your Outcomes for the Webinar:
If you are serious about driving the growth of your business, and learning from people with "been there, done that" experience:
Click here to register your place The Webinar is only available to the first 200 people that register
About the Presenter - Jack Delosa Jack Delosa is a Gen Y entrepreneur and investor and was recently described by Sunrise as “The Young Aussie Millionaire That Didn’t Finish Uni.” Still in his twenties his career has spanned business, media and politics. From having his company listed in the Fastest 50 Start-Ups in Australia, to raising over $5m for his personal clients and acquiring businesses with his panel of investors, Jack Delosa is an emerging leader for future and existing entrepreneurs. Jack’s focus is educating and developing a new breed of entrepreneur through his two business education institutions, The Entourage and MBE Education. Educating entrepreneurs where they are needed most, he also contributed to the development of the curriculum at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. Jack has consulted for brands such as Microsoft, Virgin and CPA on the topic of business growth and performance. Today he is a spokesperson for entrepreneurship in Australia as a regular blogger for Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Start Up Smart, Dynamic Business Magazine and Australian Anthill. He has also been featured in BRW, Career One, Channel 9, Channel 10 News and Sunrise. In recognition of his successes, Jack has been listed as one of the top 10 entrepreneurs under 30 in Australia in the Dynamic Business Young Guns, and three times in Australian Anthill’s 30Under30 Publication. Fast Facts Date Tonight! Wednesday 5th October, 2011 Time 7:00pm - 7:55pm Where Your Computer! To bring Have a note pad and pen ready as there will be an Application Exercise during the session Bonus for Attending! At the end of the Webnar you will also be invited to receive our Entrepreneurs Essentials Program, absolutely complimentary. A program which brings together an A-Team in Australian business to address the core issues facing small business right now. Every day for five days you will receive a new video from a top-tier entrepreneur talking about a different area of business. Hear from Creel Price, who sold his company for $109m, Siimon Reynolds who built his company to a valuation of $500m and many more.
Well, turns out if you have any form of life – it’s really hard!! Today’s lesson was that balancing trying to build a startup & keep your existing life going at the same time provides some challenges! My “real life” got in the way of my ambitions to gets lots done on Picknic today! My 5 year old was up half the night, then I was in back to back meetings all day at work so didn’t even get to take a second crack at my wireframes before 4pm this afternoon! So all in all I am exhausted and not able to happily report as much progress as I would like – but don’t be too distressed – lots still happened!
The first thing was that late last night (actually it was the early hours of this morning) my computer crashed as I was attempting to build my wireframes and so I decided the computer was going to win that battle & called it a night. But over night my data researcher was busily collating data for the parks, and the app designer was doing a good job of getting his head around the requirements. I also had the creative genius of Alex & Xamling thinking about a cool logo that we could use for the business and his thinking was very productive – but more on that later!
And before leaving the house for work this morning I also used the Freelancer system to set up payments for Outsourced work with the agreed milestone payments for data research set up & I paid initial deposit to iOS app Developer to get him kicked off.
Get Visibility any way you can!
I have been telling everyone I know that I am doing this. I have used my existing twitter & Facebook contacts, my real networks (including reaching out to friends who are journalists & PR types).
I have also learnt over the last few years that you should try to get recognition wherever you can find it! I know so many founders that know they should apply for things like the AIMIA awards, the AIIA awards, Innovation awards etc but the application process is time consuming, so often ends up being put in the “Things To Do (That Never End Up Getting Done)” bucket. I decided to take my chances with my 1 day old company & see if we could get ourselves any awards for what we are doing. Fortunately, the Anthill online Cool Company award nomination process was extended so still open (check it out here: http://anthillonline.com/cool-company-awards-2/).
So… during one of my many meetings today (Shhhh – it was one that I didn’t have to contribute a great deal too) I nominated Picknic for the Cool Business Awards – Social Capitalist Award. We were limited to which categories we could apply for because we are less than 1 year old (by about 354 days!), and although the other categories had a small cost to enter – I am already at budget for our expenses till we start to make revenue. Fortunately – the Socialist Capitalist Awards were free to enter – but it also made me rethink of how I would pitch the coolness of what we were doing – with a slant to how we are impacting the current economies social challenges. BAM! The idea hit me that we have yet another un-addressed benefit of what we are doing. I should have realised it when the market research unanimously told me that people would be more likely to take their children to more parks with the information we are going to provide at their fingertips. New marketing campaign is now being conjured up around how Picknic is going to be helping to address the growing national challenge of Childhood obesity! With that new idea ignited I completed our application! Wish us luck!
One other interesting thing was that my initial post got some interest & a stack more people ended up completing my Market research survey. There was so many benefits to this, as now I was able to determine the minimal features required for launch. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how many people would pay a small token amount for the app itself. These two factors alone have been invaluable.
A friend (thanks Matt!) who saw post 1 has noticed an alignment between what I am doing and a business a friend of his has, so will be giving some introductions. That could be very handy indeed and an unseen benefit of sharing what I am doing!
Agree on the Minimum Feature Set BEFORE you start to build!
I put a hold on any development before I could nail the minimum viable feature set that we were going to launch with. Yesterday raised more questions than answered ones around which functions we should include and how to monetise them. The extra Market research has allowed us to solidify our feature set and the priority of each feature so we know the ones we can and can’t leave if time/budget becomes an issue.
My minimum Launch Feature Set now includes:
(Which btw were unanimous for all respondents as being required!)
Second Priority (which I ended up being surprised by) was:
Followed closely by our 3rd level priority items of:
It’s time to Wireframe!
It’s all well and good to have your feature set nailed down… but as I quickly discovered, taking those “basic” levels of functionality and turning them into a functioning app isn’t as easy as I had foolishly thought.
I found myself a whiteboard & jotted down some initial ideas in between 2 meetings:
Not only was it once again a reminded that I should never ever do any graphic design or useability style role – it allowed me to think in terms of screens, functionality & flow. What became immediately apparent was that I would have 2 distinct user types. The “known” users who would be able to add their own parks, add ratings and reviews. The second group is the “unknown” users who can open the app, see local parks & read others ratings & reviews. This raised some other issues – I hadn’t planned to include user accounts in the first version. I have also not worked out yet if we will enforce the Facebook integration. I raised both these issues with a smart app developer & the developer working on the iPhone app – both came back with great suggestions and I am happy that the app developer has come up with a great solution on how to manage it
Apart from that confusion, I was pretty happy with the flow of screens & useability – now it was time to start to play with creating wireframes on something a bit easier to understand.. I once again opened Balsamiq. I played around for a little while & in my first hour managed to come up with a few screens (Again – ignore the design – its to convey the functionality)
One of the nice things about Balsamiq is that I could add post it’s & steps to my mock ups to explain what I had really meant, and things I couldn’t work out how to articulate in the tool. The other benefit is that it is ultimately readable, unlike my whiteboard scribbles!
The developer is now working through the basic functionality for the first screen and the login and giving me tips on how to better use Balsamiq as well
Supporting Infrastructure Tasks
I did manage to set up a few more services today that will come in very handy:
I signed up for the Microsoft Cloud Partner benefits I get as part of the BizSpark program: https://www.microsoftcloudpartner.com/Enroll.aspx
I then signed up for Office 365 7 set up the business – I could now set up other users accounts, email, etc but as its only me I don’t really need to do that just yet.
I signed up for Win Azure https://www.microsoftcloudpartner.com/GetBenefits.aspx So now I have a server provisioned in the cloud with little less than a click of a button & no cash outlay!! Woot! :)
I applied for the token to get developer account on AppHub for WP7 (free tokens with BizSpark can be applied for here: link)
I signed up to get a developer account for Apple http://developer.apple.com/programs/ios/ – this one costs $99.
I set up my Mailchimp account & list for pre registrations of people wanting to be notified when the app is ready to launch:
The overtired circle of doom
I always tell the startups I work with that the number 1 rule of being in a startup or small business is to look after yourself! If you aren’t getting enough sleep, exercise, eating well and having time away from the business with family/friends – your body will suffer. Unfortunately as a Startup entrepreneur or small business owner – this ultimately means that your business (and health & relationships) will also suffer.
I have learnt this lesson the hard way in previous ventures and it seems I plan to ignore my own advice yet again! After very little sleep last night and a long day at work I tried to work on a new challenge that arose today – the realisation that (i believed) in order to maintain users accounts I would need a website that they could log into to set up accounts, maintain their preferences, link to Facebook etc – and this little panic was also fuelled the reminder that I still didn’t have a launch page! Unfortunately I spiralled into the overtired circle of doom. Instead of focusing on getting a simple launch page up and running, I started looking at (the very cool but totally unneeded for something so simple) LightSwitch. I downloaded it while I read through some of the examples, opened it up & started to kick off building a website from scratch! Thankfully I ran out of time and had to go get my son from daycare.
While sitting & having dinner with him I realised I had completely dived into solving a problem that I didn’t have yet and was probably unlikely to have anytime soon. I already had WebMatrix Installed on my computer. I went in, clicked create new Site – from Web Gallery, clicked next a few times & I had a WordPress blog downloaded installed & ready to configure! I followed this simple video (roughly), downloaded & hacked this (free) Launch theme and had created a launch page, with Facebook & Mailchimp integration in less than 20 minutes. I thank goodness I had to get up & go to get my son otherwise who knows what I may have tried to build and probably would still be building now!
But, alas – the overtired Spiral of Doom was to kick in yet again. As I now had my new shiny Azure instances ready to play with I decided I wanted to deploy the Wordpress Site to Azure… which is certainly possible but as I started to read the steps included I got about half way through before I decided I was just too tired and it was going to have to wait till tomorrow… so as a result of the lack of focus (and my ease of being distracted with yet another new shiny!) we still don’t have a launch page up collecting potential customer details.
We Have a logo!
The last thing that we did get our hands on tonight is the concepts for our new logo thanks to Alex Knight of Xamling who has agreed to do the logo’s to help us out. He has helped me do logos for the Women in IT awards I run and I have always loved his design work so had high expectations from him. But I was absolutely blown away by the awesomeness of the logo’s he came up with based on my few ideas & discussion of the app functionality. Seeing these has left me feeling so excited about this app & seeing it all come together!
I have a feeling my initial plans of taking the weekend off may not be fully realised!
It’s Saturday and am officially taking my own advice and taking the day off to spend the day with my son doing all kinds of fun things like going to the movies (we saw the Smurf movie in 3D and it was actually quite funny!), going to a park, having a picnic & chasing bubbles around the backyard! Perfect really!
OK, so that said, while the fun was taking place, my developer has come back with some interesting suggestions around how iPhone apps can’t ship without an offline mode, and whether we should include the entire initial park list as a file downloaded with the app or just parts of it. He also suggested some clever ideas around letting people rate the location without having to create accounts & logging in! Working with smart people is once again proving a smart move!! Taking time to step away from the project is also meaning I have some time to think about these ideas….
So, turns out, day off or not…. as was expected – as I spent time with my son, I still thought a lot about the app idea/design/marketing/functionality – and as my son & I visited a park on the sparkly Sydney harbour this wonderful sunny afternoon in Sydney I wished I had a way to take a picture, share it & rate the amazing park we were in!
Maybe next weekend I can!
Today has been a very good reminder of me running away with an idea. I was at work in back to back meetings again today – almost feel like the universe is against me getting this done! And tonight by the time I had a few moments to sit down & get things done… I was already tired and decided to recommence my initial idea to do something complex when the simple solution was actually right in front of me. I send my thanks to Nick Hodge for once again reminding me that the simplest solution in these kinds of situation is the simplest solution. Go with it & focus on what you really need to do. So I upgraded my internet hosting package to include enough to cover the requirements for my simple Wordpress blog & uploaded it through Web Matrix. It was quick, simple & meant I could focus my efforts on locating some good strategic partners & spend a bit more time on my wireframes. Unfortunately tiredness got the better of me so I didn’t end up getting nearly as much done as I had hoped! Balancing work & this thing is getting tougher! That said, am still glad that other processes are taking place while I am busy doing other things…