I listened to Mark Suster speak at NYU last week. Suster is a General Partner at GRP Partners and writer of the very popular blog “Both Sides of the Table.” He made a lot of interesting points about how entrepreneurs should think about their ideas, their businesses, their teams, raising money, and an array of other challenges. I thought I would share a few things he described that really hit home. **Note: the following are a combination of Suster’s points mixed with my own impressions.
Solve Big Problems
Too many business ideas are not really businesses at all. They are merely features of other businesses that already exist. Don’t be just a feature. Look at problems that affect a large market and find some creative solutions to fix it. Just because facebook or Google could do what you’ve thought of doesn’t mean you need to find something else. If anything it means that you’ve discovered a problem and a market with real potential. Don’t waste time building features that the Mint.com of whatever will be adding to their own platform 6 months down the road.
Follow the Puck
When building products do not lose sight of your market. I’ve been interning at foursquare for just over a week now. The thing that has impressed me the most so far is how focused the entire team is on the product, and most importantly how their product fits into the market. The conversations that take place to make sure that everyone is on the same page in the roadmap are really what sets it apart from its competitors. Every employee shares the same long-term vision for the company, but keeps track of short-term goals and knows exactly the role they will play in its development.
Suster explained that one should always be conscious of the necessity to consistently network up the chain of command (hierarchy of influence, etc). It’s an interesting philosophy, which I agree with up to a point. My only issue is that networking for the sake of networking can be dangerous. Knowing a lot of people can be a great thing. But networking should be viewed as an even exchange between both parties. Reputation is always at stake. Failing to follow up, not returning a favor, or just simply using a person to get ahead is wrong and will almost always come back to bite you.
Don’t believe the hype
Stay off TechCrunch. Yes TechCrunch is on my BlogRoll. Yes I read it a few times a week. No I dont treat it, or any sites like it as if I’m going to discover the next big idea on it. TechCrunch is hype and it can destroy entrepreneurs who may have actually had real potential. Stories about getting a hundred thousand users over night after launch or raising millions of dollars from a few VC’s with only a minimum viable product make great news. And that is exactly what they are, Great News. The other thousands of startups that are struggling for attention, users, money, etc. are what running a startup is really like, but almost never depicted.
I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs over the past couple months. Some are really exceptional; true visionaries who leave you with no doubt that their company is going to be very successful. And then there are those who miss the mark entirely. I’ve realized while working at NYC Seed, the two most difficult challenges faced by every entrepreneur. To most, theoretically, both tasks are blatantly obvious. However, the actual accomplishment of these first two challenges is what sets a serious entrepreneur apart from the everyday dreamer
The Opportunity: Identifying new innovations that are right for a particular market is extremely difficult. There are essentially two frameworks for learning about a market/industry to identify problems or inefficiencies: work directly for a company or research. Both are time consuming, and neither is perfect. Working for an organization will give you a pretty good representation of the problems the employees and company faces everyday. It also validates you as a credible source; an industry “expert” of sorts. Performing research requires numerous conversations with industry professionals with the hope that they will shed some light on their needs. This approach allows for a much broader perspective of the market, but requires a certain level of skill in identifying real opportunities. Discovering opportunities cannot happen over night. It takes time. In fact, a serious entrepreneur never ends the search for new opportunities. Customer’s needs change too quickly. Successful companies adapt to what the market will hold. Focusing only on the product can be deadly.
The Team: Creating the right team takes a lot of hard work and patience. Finding partners that believe in your own capabilities as much as their own is undeniably a difficult task. The right set of co-founders will make or break a company. It’s the first thing any right-minded investor evaluates immediately after the pitch. The best duo, without a doubt, is one business minded, market oriented, sales driven guru and a technical co-founder. Teams that can build a product, sell it to a customer and repeat this process a thousand times over are serious entrepreneurs.
In a future post, I will dive deeper into some of my own experiences evaluating opportunities and seeking a co-founder. This post was not meant to provide too much detail on either subject, as there is clearly a lot to discuss.
Facebook invented the Events page. Arguably one of the biggest attractions to the platform besides sharing pictures, the ability to tell friends about upcoming events is invaluable. But, through all of facebook’s growth and development over the past 5-6 years, it seems that the Events section has not seen any major improvements. Instead, the right hand corner of our home screens have become a haven for unsolicited parties and meetups and has slowly, but surely rendered itself useless. The system is officially broken for what I would think is a large number of users. Sharing events among a close network of friends is vital to any social network. The traditional mechanisms to get a group together on a particular night are completely outdated. Unfortunately, Facebook Events can also be added to that list, along with snail mail, email, and mass text messages.
Presently, on facebook the types of events we receive usually fall into a few distinct categories: birthdays, planned parties, promo events/benefits/concerts, community meetings, and lost cellphones (if that can even be considered an event). I usually have a range of 12-16 events in my list on facebook, of which there are 2 that I will respond to if I remember in time. This is a problem that needs to be replicated, and I don’t think facebook will be the one to do it. If a large technology company like Facebook won’t or can’t do it, it is definitely an opportunity for a startup. I think event planning online needs to be made a bit more spontaneous, allowing for organic growth of “attendees” rather than forced pressure (ie facebok messages, which I also think are useless). There should be a dedicated application separate from email, facebook, and twitter that helps users manage the types of events they receive from their friends, the timing that you receive the event (for example, birthdays i would like to know way in advance, regular parties i would like to know about the day of or the day before), and the number of events currently in the “inbox”.
Anyways, I think it would be an interesting side project and I might just take some time to experiment with it. I have a few ideas about how to best go about getting the data to build an personal event manager. If anyone is interested in joining or has some advice please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your comments below.
So I may or may not have upset a few Britney Spears fans yesterday afternoon with a single tweet stating I had a leaked official Hold It Against Me (HIAM) video on my page. I admit, it was wrong. I just wanted to see what kind of clicks I would get from a single tweet with lots of hashtags on trending topics. The results were surprisingly not as large as you would think. This probably demonstrates the fact that twitter is and should be used conversationally. Mass promotion is certainly a difficult sell, especially if you are lying about the end content.
That said, I’ve been listening to Hold It Against Me probably about 5 times a day since its release at the beginning of the month (my brother @StephanPaul92 and roommate @bfaerb1632 are obsessed with Britney, so it pretty much runs constantly in my apartment). Before the video was released it never once occurred to me that the song could have anything remotely to do with technology, startups, and especially dating sites. And then BOOM- right at the peak of the song out of nowhere comes PlentyofFish.com? What? Now I don’t know very much about POF, other than its a free dating site, based out of Vancouver, started a long time ago (2003), and reportedly was hacked by an Argentinean who stole a bunch of usernames and passwords at the end of January 2011. It’s also possible that they have over 15 million accounts, but that is besides the point.
My question is why? Why Plentyoffish.com? Did the Britney Spears production staff have a sudden urge to incorporate technology into one of her videos, and they decided this was the best opportunity to do so? Is Plentyoffish.com such a brilliant site that it was destined to fall into the hands of the queen of pop? Is Britney secretly one of those 15 million users on POF and one lucky fan could potentially find themselves on a date with her? Either way, there are so many amazing startups in NYC, Silicon Valley, and the rest of the world that if Britney was really going to endorse the technology scene, her staff could have done a little bit more research on the startup market. Honestly, there were enough televisions around her for Youtube (although not a startup anymore), VYou, Qwiki, justin.tv, Blazetrak, or any startup for that matter to all get a piece of the action! Not to mention that this wasn’t PlentyofFish’s first debut on a music video. They were also featured in the official Flo Rida ft. Akon song titled “Available” back in 2009, which may or may not actually be a PlentyofFish advertisement. Seriously, look at it below, the entire video is about online dating. Nonetheless, considering POF looks like it hasn’t had a UI update since its birth in ’03, you’ve got to hand it to them. Whoever is in charge of attracting new users at POF is hitting it right on the money. Where better than to put your brand/logo than a video that will be viewed by millions worldwide and enter a lifetime of infmay with the B-Spears empire. Why spend millions of dollars on an ad spot in the superbowl if you can be in a Britney video? POF, possibly the most unlikely candidate of all, has put a lot of companies to shame this time.
Reposting Britney Video Was Disabled by Youtube follow the links below to watch:
Britney Spears Official HIAM Video
Flo Rida “Available” Video
Writing about this has sparked my interest in the relationship between celebrities and startups and the positive/negative effects influential people can have on young companies. I would like to write another post examining this relationship and if anyone would like to contribute information or examples where it has or has not been advantageous to join forces with celebrities, it would be much appreciated!
**Note: This post would be better suited for sites like TheFatBrat.com but I decided to give it a shot at pop culture with a bit of my own spin.
Posted in Entrepreneurship, News
Tagged blazetrak.com, britney, britney spears, Cityspoke, entrepreneurship, HIAM, HIAM video release, hold it against me, justin.tv, NY tech, NYC, plentyoffish, plentyofFish.com, POF, qwiki.com, scott amenta, startup, tech startups, technology, VYou.com, youtube.com