More on Entrepreneurship
3 months ago
10 hard lessons from founding a startup.
Here is the ugly stuff, read this if you have a founder in your life or are trying to become one. Your call.
#1 You'll try to talk yourself to sleep, but it won't always work.
As founders, we're all driven. Good and bad, you're restless. Success requires resistance and discipline. Your startup will be on your mind 24/7, and not everyone will have the patience to listen to your worries, ideas, and coffee runs. You become more self-sufficient than ever before.
#2 No one will understand what you're going through unless they've been a founder.
Some of my closest friends don't understand the work that goes into starting a business, and we can't blame them.
#3 You'll feel alienated.
Your problems aren't common; calling your bestie won't help. You must search hard for the right resources. It alienates you from conversations you no longer relate to. (No 4th of July, no long weekends!)
#4 Since you're your "own boss," people assume you have lots of free time.
Do you agree? I was on a webinar with lots of new entrepreneurs, and one woman said, "I started my own business so I could have more time for myself." This may be true for some lucky people, and you can be flexible with your schedule. If you want your business to succeed, you'll probably be its slave for a while.
#5 No time for illness or family emergencies.
Both last month. Oh, no! Physically and emotionally withdrawing at the worst times will give you perspective. I learned this the hard way because I was too stubborn to postpone an important interview. I thought if I rested all day and only took one call, I'd be fine. Nope. I had a fever and my mind wasn't as sharp, so my performance and audience interaction suffered. Nope. Better to delay than miss out.
Oh, and setting a "OoO" makes you cringe.
#6 Good luck with your mental health, perfectionists.
When building a startup, it's difficult to accept that there won't be enough time to do everything. You can't make them all, not perfectly. You must learn to accept things that are done but not perfect.
#7 As a founder, you'll make mistakes, but you'll want to make them quickly so you can learn.
Hard lessons are learned quicker. You'll need to pivot and try new things often; some won't work, and it's best to discover them sooner rather than later.
#8 Pyramid schemes abound.
I didn't realize how bad it was until I started a company. You must spy and constantly research. As a founder, you'll receive many emails from people claiming to "support" you. Be wary and keep your eyes open. When it's too good to be true. Some "companies" will try to get you to pay for "competitions" to "pitch at events." Don't do it.
#9 Keep your competitor research to a minimum.
Actually, competition is good. It means there's a market for those solutions. However, this can be mentally exhausting too. Learn about their geography and updates, but that's it.
#10 You'll feel guilty taking vacation.
I don't know what to say, but I no longer enjoy watching TV, and that's okay. Pay attention to things that enrich you, bring you joy, and have fun. It boosts creativity.
Being a startup founder may be one of the hardest professional challenges you face, but it's also a great learning experience. Your passion will take you places you never imagined and open doors to opportunities you wouldn't have otherwise. You'll meet amazing people. No regrets, no complaints. It's a roller coaster, but the good days are great.
Miss anything? Comment below
4 months ago
2000s Toys, Secrets, and Cycles
During the dot-com bust, I started my internet career. People used the internet intermittently to check email, plan travel, and do research. The average internet user spent 30 minutes online a day, compared to 7 today. To use the internet, you had to "log on" (most people still used dial-up), unlike today's always-on, high-speed mobile internet. In 2001, Amazon's market cap was $2.2B, 1/500th of what it is today. A study asked Americans if they'd adopt broadband, and most said no. They didn't see a need to speed up email, the most popular internet use. The National Academy of Sciences ranked the internet 13th among the 100 greatest inventions, below radio and phones. The internet was a cool invention, but it had limited uses and wasn't a good place to build a business.
A small but growing movement of developers and founders believed the internet could be more than a read-only medium, allowing anyone to create and publish. This is web 2. The runner up name was read-write web. (These terms were used in prominent publications and conferences.)
Web 2 concepts included letting users publish whatever they want ("user generated content" was a buzzword), social graphs, APIs and mashups (what we call composability today), and tagging over hierarchical navigation. Technical innovations occurred. A seemingly simple but important one was dynamically updating web pages without reloading. This is now how people expect web apps to work. Mobile devices that could access the web were niche (I was an avid Sidekick user).
The contrast between what smart founders and engineers discussed over dinner and on weekends and what the mainstream tech world took seriously during the week was striking. Enterprise security appliances, essentially preloaded servers with security software, were a popular trend. Many of the same people would talk about "serious" products at work, then talk about consumer internet products and web 2. It was tech's biggest news. Web 2 products were seen as toys, not real businesses. They were hobbies, not work-related.
There's a strong correlation between rich product design spaces and what smart people find interesting, which took me some time to learn and led to blog posts like "The next big thing will start out looking like a toy" Web 2's novel product design possibilities sparked dinner and weekend conversations. Imagine combining these features. What if you used this pattern elsewhere? What new product ideas are next? This excited people. "Serious stuff" like security appliances seemed more limited.
The small and passionate web 2 community also stood out. I attended the first New York Tech meetup in 2004. Everyone fit in Meetup's small conference room. Late at night, people demoed their software and chatted. I have old friends. Sometimes I get asked how I first met old friends like Fred Wilson and Alexis Ohanian. These topics didn't interest many people, especially on the east coast. We were friends. Real community. Alex Rampell, who now works with me at a16z, is someone I met in 2003 when a friend said, "Hey, I met someone else interested in consumer internet." Rare. People were focused and enthusiastic. Revolution seemed imminent. We knew a secret nobody else did.
My web 2 startup was called SiteAdvisor. When my co-founders and I started developing the idea in 2003, web security was out of control. Phishing and spyware were common on Internet Explorer PCs. SiteAdvisor was designed to warn users about security threats like phishing and spyware, and then, using web 2 concepts like user-generated reviews, add more subjective judgments (similar to what TrustPilot seems to do today). This staged approach was common at the time; I called it "Come for the tool, stay for the network." We built APIs, encouraged mashups, and did SEO marketing.
Yahoo's 2005 acquisitions of Flickr and Delicious boosted web 2 in 2005. By today's standards, the amounts were small, around $30M each, but it was a signal. Web 2 was assumed to be a fun hobby, a way to build cool stuff, but not a business. Yahoo was a savvy company that said it would make web 2 a priority.
As I recall, that's when web 2 started becoming mainstream tech. Early web 2 founders transitioned successfully. Other entrepreneurs built on the early enthusiasts' work. Competition shifted from ideation to execution. You had to decide if you wanted to be an idealistic indie bar band or a pragmatic stadium band.
Web 2 was booming in 2007 Facebook passed 10M users, Twitter grew and got VC funding, and Google bought YouTube. The 2008 financial crisis tested entrepreneurs' resolve. Smart people predicted another great depression as tech funding dried up.
Many people struggled during the recession. 2008-2011 was a golden age for startups. By 2009, talented founders were flooding Apple's iPhone app store. Mobile apps were booming. Uber, Venmo, Snap, and Instagram were all founded between 2009 and 2011. Social media (which had replaced web 2), cloud computing (which enabled apps to scale server side), and smartphones converged. Even if social, cloud, and mobile improve linearly, the combination could improve exponentially.
This chart shows how I view product and financial cycles. Product and financial cycles evolve separately. The Nasdaq index is a proxy for the financial sentiment. Financial sentiment wildly fluctuates.
Next row shows iconic startup or product years. Bottom-row product cycles dictate timing. Product cycles are more predictable than financial cycles because they follow internal logic. In the incubation phase, enthusiasts build products for other enthusiasts on nights and weekends. When the right mix of technology, talent, and community knowledge arrives, products go mainstream. (I show the biggest tech cycles in the chart, but smaller ones happen, like web 2 in the 2000s and fintech and SaaS in the 2010s.)
Tech has changed since the 2000s. Few tech giants dominate the internet, exerting economic and cultural influence. In the 2000s, web 2 was ignored or dismissed as trivial. Entrenched interests respond aggressively to new movements that could threaten them. Creative patterns from the 2000s continue today, driven by enthusiasts who see possibilities where others don't. Know where to look. Crypto and web 3 are where I'd start.
Today's negative financial sentiment reminds me of 2008. If we face a prolonged downturn, we can learn from 2008 by preserving capital and focusing on the long term. Keep an eye on the product cycle. Smart people are interested in things with product potential. This becomes true. Toys become necessities. Hobbies become mainstream. Optimists build the future, not cynics.
Full article is available here
2 months ago
The Unsettling Fact VC-Backed Entrepreneurs Don't Want You to Know
What they'll do is scarier.
My acquaintance recently joined a VC-funded startup. Money, equity, and upside possibilities were nice, but he had a nagging dread.
They just secured a $40M round and are hiring like crazy to prepare for their IPO in two years. All signals pointed to this startup's (a B2B IT business in a stable industry) success, and its equity-holding workers wouldn't pass that up.
Five months after starting the work, my friend struggled with leaving. We might overlook the awful culture and long hours at the proper price. This price plus the company's fate and survival abilities sent my friend departing in an unpleasant unplanned resignation before jumping on yet another sinking ship.
This affects founders. This affects VC-backed companies (and all businesses). This affects anyone starting, buying, or running a business.
Here's the under-the-table approach that's draining VC capital, leaving staff terrified (or jobless), founders rattled, and investors upset. How to recognize, solve, and avoid it
The unsettling reality behind door #1
You can't raise money off just your looks, right? If "looks" means your founding team's expertise, then maybe. In my friend's case, the founding team's strong qualifications and track records won over investors before talking figures.
They're hardly the only startup to raise money without a profitable customer acquisition strategy. Another firm raised money for an expensive sleep product because it's eco-friendly. They were off to the races with a few keywords and key players.
Both companies, along with numerous others, elected to invest on product development first. Company A employed all the tech, then courted half their market (they’re a tech marketplace that connects two parties). Company B spent millions on R&D to create a palatable product, then flooded the world with marketing.
My friend is on Company B's financial team, and he's seen where they've gone wrong. It's terrible.
Company A (tech market): Growing? Not quite. To achieve the ambitious expansion they (and their investors) demand, they've poured much of their little capital into salespeople: Cold-calling commission and salary salesmen. Is it working? Considering attrition and companies' dwindling capital, I don't think so.
Company B (green sleep) has been hiring, digital marketing, and opening new stores like crazy. Growing expenses should result in growing revenues and a favorable return on investment; if you grow too rapidly, you may neglect to check that ROI.
Once Company A cut headcount and Company B declared “going concerned”, my friend realized both startups had the same ailment and didn't recognize it.
I shouldn't have to ask a friend to verify a company's cash reserves and profitability to spot a financial problem. It happened anyhow.
The frightening part isn't that investors were willing to invest millions without product-market fit, CAC, or LTV estimates. That's alarming, but not as scary as the fact that startups aren't understanding the problem until VC rounds have dried up.
When they question consultants if their company will be around in 6 months. It’s a red flag. How will they stretch $20M through a 2-year recession with a $3M/month burn rate and no profitability? Alarms go off.
Who's in danger?
In a word, everyone who raised money without a profitable client acquisition strategy or enough resources to ride out dry spells.
Money mismanagement and poor priorities affect every industry (like sinking all your capital into your product, team, or tech, at the expense of probing what customer acquisition really takes and looks like).
This isn't about tech, real estate, or recession-proof luxury products. Fast, cheap, easy money flows into flashy-looking teams with buzzwords, trending industries, and attractive credentials.
If these companies can't show progress or get a profitable CAC, they can't raise more money. They die if they can't raise more money (or slash headcount and find shoestring budget solutions until they solve the real problem).
The kiss of death (and how to avoid it)
If you're running a startup and think raising VC is the answer, pause and evaluate. Do you need the money now?
I'm not saying VC is terrible or has no role. Founders have used it as a Band-Aid for larger, pervasive problems. Venture cash isn't a crutch for recruiting consumers profitably; it's rocket fuel to get you what and who you need.
Pay-to-play isn't a way to throw money at the wall and hope for a return. Pay-to-play works until you run out of money, and if you haven't mastered client acquisition, your cash will diminish quickly.
How can you avoid this bottomless pit? Tips:
Understand your burn rate
Keep an eye on your growth or profitability.
Analyze each and every marketing channel and initiative.
Make lucrative customer acquisition strategies and satisfied customers your top two priorities. not brand-new products. not stellar hires. avoid the fundraising rollercoaster to save time. If you succeed in these two tasks, investors will approach you with their thirsty offers rather than the other way around, and your cash reserves won't diminish as a result.
Not as much as your grandfather
My family friend always justified expensive, impractical expenditures by saying it was only monopoly money. In business, startups, and especially with money from investors expecting a return, that's not true.
More founders could understand that there isn't always another round if they viewed VC money as their own limited pool. When the well runs dry, you must refill it or save the day.
Venture financing isn't your grandpa's money. A discerning investor has entrusted you with dry powder in the hope that you'll use it wisely, strategically, and thoughtfully. Use it well.
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2 months ago
Giving customers what they want or betraying the values of the brand?
A J.Crew collaboration for fashion label Eveliina Vintage is not a paradox; it is a solution.
Eveliina Vintage's capsule collection debuted yesterday at J.Crew. This J.Crew partnership stopped me in my tracks.
Eveliina Vintage sells vintage goods. Eeva Musacchia founded the shop in Finland in the 1970s. It's recognized for its one-of-a-kind slip dresses from the 1930s and 1940s.
I wondered why a vintage brand would partner with a mass shop. Fast fashion against vintage shopping? Will Eveliina Vintages customers be turned off?
But Eveliina Vintages customers don't care about sustainability. They want Eveliina's Instagram look. Eveliina Vintage collaborated with J.Crew to give customers what they wanted: more Eveliina at a lower price.
Vintage: A Fashion Option That Is Eco-Conscious
Secondhand shopping is a trendy response to quick fashion. J.Crew releases hundreds of styles annually. Waste and environmental damage have been criticized. A pair of jeans requires 1,800 gallons of water. J.Crew's limited-time deals promote more purchases. J.Crew items are likely among those Americans wear 7 times before discarding.
Consumers and designers have emphasized sustainability in recent years. Stella McCartney and Eileen Fisher are popular eco-friendly brands. They've also flocked to ThredUp and similar sites.
Gap, Levis, and Allbirds have listened to consumer requests. They promote recycling, ethical sourcing, and secondhand shopping.
Secondhand shoppers feel good about reusing and recycling clothing that might have ended up in a landfill.
Eco-conscious fashionistas shop vintage. These shoppers enjoy the thrill of the hunt (that limited-edition Chanel bag!) and showing off a unique piece (nobody will have my look!). They also reduce their environmental impact.
Is Eveliina Vintage capitalizing on an aesthetic or is it a sustainable brand?
Eveliina Vintage emphasizes environmental responsibility. Vogue's Amanda Musacchia emphasized sustainability. Amanda, founder Eeva's daughter, is a company leader.
But Eveliina's press message doesn't address sustainability, unlike Instagram. Scarcity and fame rule.
Eveliina Vintages Instagram has see-through dresses and lace-trimmed slip dresses. Celebrities and influencers are often photographed in Eveliina's apparel, which has 53,000+ followers. Vogue appreciates Eveliina's style. Multiple publications discuss Alexa Chung's Eveliina dress.
Eveliina Vintage markets its one-of-a-kind goods. It teases future content, encouraging visitors to return. Scarcity drives demand and raises clothing prices. One dress is $1,600+, but most are $500-$1,000.
The catch: Eveliina can't monetize its expanding popularity due to exorbitant prices and limited quantity. Why?
Most people struggle to pay for their clothing. But Eveliina Vintage lacks those more affordable entry-level products, in contrast to other luxury labels that sell accessories or perfume.
Many people have trouble fitting into their clothing. The bodies of most women in the past were different from those for which vintage clothing was designed. Each Eveliina dress's specific measurements are mentioned alongside it. Be careful, you can fall in love with an ill-fitting dress.
No matter how many people can afford it and fit into it, there is only one item to sell. To get the item before someone else does, those people must be on the Eveliina Vintage website as soon as it becomes available.
A Way for Eveliina Vintage to Make Money (and Expand) with J.Crew Its following
Eveliina Vintages' cooperation with J.Crew makes commercial sense.
This partnership spreads Eveliina's style. Slightly better pricing The $390 outfits have multicolored slips and gauzy cotton gowns. Sizes range from 00 to 24, which is wider than vintage racks.
Eveliina Vintage customers like the combination. Excited comments flood the brand's Instagram launch post. Nobody is mocking the 50-year-old vintage brand's fast-fashion partnership.
Vintage may be a sustainable fashion trend, but that's not why Eveliina's clients love the brand. They only care about the old look.
And that is a tale as old as fashion.
4 months ago
Terra fiasco raises TRON's stablecoin backstop
After Terra's algorithmic stablecoin collapsed in May, TRON announced a plan to increase the capital backing its own stablecoin.
USDD, a near-carbon copy of Terra's UST, arrived on the TRON blockchain on May 5. TRON founder Justin Sun says USDD will be overcollateralized after initially being pegged algorithmically to the US dollar.
A reserve of cryptocurrencies and stablecoins will be kept at 130 percent of total USDD issuance, he said. TRON described the collateral ratio as "guaranteed" and said it would begin publishing real-time updates on June 5.
Currently, the reserve contains 14,040 bitcoin (around $418 million), 140 million USDT, 1.9 billion TRX, and 8.29 billion TRX in a burning contract.
Sun: "We want to hybridize USDD." We have an algorithmic stablecoin and TRON DAO Reserve.
USDD was designed to incentivize arbitrageurs to keep its price pegged to the US dollar by trading TRX, TRON's token, and USDD. Like Terra, TRON signaled its intent to establish a bitcoin and cryptocurrency reserve to support USDD in extreme market conditions.
Still, Terra's UST failed despite these safeguards. The stablecoin veered sharply away from its dollar peg in mid-May, bringing down Terra's LUNA and wiping out $40 billion in value in days. In a frantic attempt to restore the peg, billions of dollars in bitcoin were sold and unprecedented volumes of LUNA were issued.
Sun believes USDD, which has a total circulating supply of $667 million, can be backed up.
"Our reserve backing is diversified." Bitcoin and stablecoins are included. USDC will be a small part of Circle's reserve, he said.
TRON's news release lists the reserve's assets as bitcoin, TRX, USDC, USDT, TUSD, and USDJ.
All Bitcoin addresses will be signed so everyone knows they belong to us, Sun said.
Not giving in
Sun told that the crypto industry needs "decentralized" stablecoins that regulators can't touch.
Sun said the Luna Foundation Guard, a Singapore-based non-profit that raised billions in cryptocurrency to buttress UST, mismanaged the situation by trying to sell to panicked investors.
He said, "We must be ahead of the market." We want to stabilize the market and reduce volatility.
Currently, TRON finances most of its reserve directly, but Sun says the company hopes to add external capital soon.
Before its demise, UST holders could park the stablecoin in Terra's lending platform Anchor Protocol to earn 20% interest, which many deemed unsustainable. TRON's JustLend is similar. Sun hopes to raise annual interest rates from 17.67% to "around 30%."
This post is a summary. Read full article here
1 month ago
Jack Dorsey's Meeting Best Practice was something I tried. It Performs Exceptionally Well in Consulting Engagements.
Yes, client meetings are difficult. Especially when I'm alone.
Clients must tell us their problems so we can help.
In-meeting challenges contribute nothing to our work. Consider this:
Clients are unprepared.
Clients are distracted.
Clients are confused.
Introducing Jack Dorsey's Google Doc approach
I endorse his approach to meetings.
Not Google Doc-related. Jack uses it for meetings.
This is what his meetings look like.
Prior to the meeting, the Chair creates the agenda, structure, and information using Google Doc.
Participants in the meeting would have 5-10 minutes to read the Google Doc.
They have 5-10 minutes to type their comments on the document.
In-depth discussion begins
There is elegance in simplicity. Here's how Jack's approach is fantastic.
Unprepared clients are given time to read.
During the meeting, they think and work on it.
They can see real-time remarks from others.
Three months ago, I fell for this strategy. After trying it with a client, I got good results.
I conducted social control experiments in a few client workshops.
I am sure Jack Dorsey’s method works well in meetings. What about client workshops?
So, I tested Enterprise of the Future with a consulting client.
I sent multiple emails to client stakeholders describing the new approach.
No PowerPoints that day. I spent the night setting up the Google Doc with conversation topics, critical thinking questions, and a Before and After section.
The client was shocked. First, a Google Doc was projected. Second surprise was a verbal feedback.
“No pre-meeting materials?”
“Don’t worry. I know you are not reading it before our meeting, anyway.”
We laughed. The experiment started.
Observations throughout a 90-minute engagement workshop from beginning to end
For 10 minutes, the workshop was silent.
People read the Google Doc. For some, the silence was unnerving.
“Are you not going to present anything to us?”
I said everything's in Google Doc. I asked them to read, remark, and add relevant paragraphs.
As they unlocked their laptops, they were annoyed.
Ten client stakeholders are typing on the Google Doc. My laptop displays comment bubbles, red lines, new paragraphs, and strikethroughs.
The first 10 minutes were productive. Everyone has seen and contributed to the document.
I was silent.
The move to a classical workshop was smooth. I didn't stimulate dialogue. They did.
Stephanie asked Joe why a blended workforce hinders company productivity. She questioned his comments and additional paragraphs.
That is when a light bulb hit my head. Yes, you want to speak to the right person to resolve issues!
Not only that was discussed. Others discussed their remark bubbles with neighbors. Debate circles sprung up one after the other.
The best part? I asked everyone to add their post-discussion thoughts on a Google Doc.
After the workshop, I have:
An agreement-based working document
A post-discussion minutes that are prepared for publication
A record of the discussion points that were brought up, argued, and evaluated critically
It showed me how stakeholders viewed their Enterprise of the Future. It allowed me to align with them.
Client meetings are a hit-or-miss. I know that.
Jack Dorsey's meeting strategy works for consulting. It promotes session alignment.
It relieves clients of preparation.
I get the necessary information to advance this consulting engagement.
It is brilliant.