March 4, 2013
Cover via Amazon
I usually get really worked up when I am speaking with some employees in a bank about Startups and Entrepreneurship, they immediately say that it is Risky. I always ask them could they please tell me why they believe Startups are risky? Their usual answer is well 90% of all startups fail, which is anecdotal evidence because there is no way anyone has documented all the startups in the world and calculated the failure rates. I have written a lot about how we as humans are wired to be fooled by statistics and we just underestimate the risks associated with many things. What is even fascinating is that those same people from the bank were still working in the bank when the entire financial system in Iceland collapsed. I think banks are bigger risks than startups, atleast with Startups you know the risk of failure will only wipe out what you invested, whereas with Banks it can wipe out the entire equity base of Iceland. No wonder, Warren Buffett called Banks sit of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The risk on banks are exasperated by leverage, were as Startups run on equity which means what you put in is what you loose if the company goes under. Typically Startups that I have been pounding the table on require very little capital to validate, build a Minimum Viable Product and get market traction.
I have written about the books that really changed my perspective on Risks and I have Nasim Nicholas Taleb to thank for. I listen to audio books all the time and I think this is the 100th time that I am listening to his classic book “Fooled By Randomness“. There are so many pearls of wisdom in that book that I discover something new every time I listen to it. The only positive aspect of risk taking is in the Startup world because a black swan event ie. the chance of finding a Google or Facebook or Twitter or Amazon is very low but when it does happen it usually results in such a positive impact I don’t know why not everyone invest a small portion of their investment egg in this asset class. The monstrous returns that are possible can only be achieved if one takes enough bets but the size of the bets are usually very small and thats the point of doing this.
January 25, 2013
Seth Levin of the Foundry Group has a very good post on the transition of a startup from the product focused company to a sales and marketing focused company. I can truly relate to this, I have been associated with a couple of startups that are going through this process. It is a difficult transition, because it is quite easy to hunker down and get into the maker mode i.e Design, Build, Test repeat cycle. Most founders come from the Product side and it is easy to see they struggle with the transition. But it is critical to get out of the Product mode to Marketing and Sales mode, it defines the survival of a startup. I have written about Sustainability, getting cash into the business is a economic sustainability necessity. All the hard work of building something beautiful and useful amounts to hill of beans if you are unable to get it into the hands of people to use it and get paid for it.
The last 7 months have been very interesting for me because I have never been a CEO, this is my first time on the job (for those reading this blog for the first time, I took on the role of CEO of GreenQloud the worlds first cloud computing company that is powered entirely by renewable energy). I can see the challenges of the product team looking at the marketing and sales team as this Evil that is polluting the pure thing that was created by them. It is understandable, we even refer to the Marketing team as the Evil Marketing team for fun in the team standups.
I have been on both sides of the table, i.e built products and solutions and sold products and solutions. There is nothing harder than convincing someone else that what you believe is worth their time. It takes a lot of effort, positive attitude and chutzpa. There is a reason why very good sales people are paid top dollars because they can bring cash into the business. I once heard from Gunnar Holmstein the CEO of Clara, that “Sales is not Rocket Science but it is much harder”.
In addition, people confuse the difference between Marketing and Sales. Even Fred Wilson wrote a very controversial post and changed it with a Bug Report. Fred has a post from Rand Fiskin (who BTW was suppose to participate in Startup Iceland 2013 but due to schedule conflicts could not make it, maybe we will get him next year ), about Marketing and the Bubble where Rand has a great picture.
This picture illustrates the need for focus, what happens in early teams is that you are strapped for resource so you basically need to put all your emphasis in finding the Product to Market fit and to make it a Minimum Viable Product, once there is a glimmer to light in that direction you need to have someone else focused on the Sales and Marketing focus. This is hard if you are one man team, unless you know how to do it. I have also written about building killer startup teams. The trick is always to make sure you surround yourself with the people with the right focus to execute. Knowing when to swing the pendulum within your team is an Art, but the signals are usually very clear.