“The digital space provides entrepreneurs with limitless opportunities”

Jun 16 2010

Daniel Goh

Daniel Goh

He states that he is “constantly amazed by human resilience shown by small entrepreneurs in the face of incredible odds”. And that is why he aims to tell their stories. Daniel Goh is the founder and editor of Young Upstarts, a small business and web/consumer technology blog that champions new ideas, innovative marketing and entrepreneurship. He has kindly answered HitBarcelona questions.

- In your blog, Youngupstarts, you give your views on “entrepreneurship, innovation and the online space”. How can entrepreneurs make the most of the online space to boost innovation?

It used to be that entrepreneurs needed to rely on very traditional tools and methods - which can be slow, cumbersome and expensive - in order to get the basics of business done. Think of areas like market research, publicity and awareness, or even simple things like looking for the right talents to hire.

For example, an entrepreneur can now use a service in the online space such as SurveyMonkey.com to do basic market research, employ social network sites and tools like Facebook and Twitter to spread word of your products and services, or a platform like LinkedIn to find the right hires for a fledgling company. The idea is to leverage such available tools so that you can get your product or service out to market quickly, effectively and cheaply. The digital space provides entrepreneurs with limitless opportunities. One of the reasons why Young Upstarts regularly features some of the latest online services and digital tools is to help entrepreneurs understand such potential usefulness to their businesses.

- The medium is more than ever the message in the Social Networks era?

Actually I would disagree - I’d say that the medium and the message has always been equally important. Any business, and especially entrepreneurs, need to understand the importance of the various mediums, or platforms, that is most effective in reaching out to their audiences. It is also equally important, however, for them to pitch exactly the right message, at the right time, through such mediums. Many times, businesses tend to get distracted by the “shiny object syndrome” - for example, just because everybody rushes to using Facebook to engage consumers doesn’t mean that your most ardent customers are most active on that platform.

- You also claim to be a “voice of a new generation”. What are the main characteristics of the current entrepreneurial minds? Is there any difference when compared with older generations?

For this question, I’ll borrow from one of the most authoritative figures on this subject, author Donna Fenn of the book Upstarts! In her book, she interviews more than 150 young entrepreneurs from across the United States and highlights how their mindsets differ greatly from previous generations. For example, she highlights the collaborative spirit of young entrepreneurs and their willingness to work with one another. They also tend to be more adaptive towards new technologies, and have a willingness to take risks. For anybody trying to understand this generation and how they approach business, this is one book I highly recommend.

- Do you think an event like HitBarcelona can help entrepreneurs to achieve their goals?

I definitely think platforms such as HitBarcelona are critical in helping the entrepreneurial ecosystem in any country to flourish. One of the problems facing young entrepreneurs is that they can tend to work in a silo. That’s unhealthy and myopic. Participation in events like HitBarcelona gets them to interact with one another as well as other stakeholders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem such as the media, investors and government agencies. Opportunities like this to network and trade ideas with one another are priceless.


“Hiring activity is picking up”

Jun 15 2010

Matt Bartus

Matt Bartus

He has spent nearly his entire legal carreer helping startups. It it just something he enjoys doing. Matt Bartus is a veteran startup lawyer in Silicon Valley. He has advised companies like Wordpress Foundation, Technorati or Solera Networks, and has also represented many leading VC firms over the years. He has kindly answered to HitBarcelona questions:

- You have chosen to spend your legal career helping startups. Why?

Fundamentally, you have to be interested in what you’re doing to really enjoy it, and in my heart I love all new technologies. It’s really exciting to become a part of the team, to become an essential advisor and to watch the progress of the companies at a very nascent stage. As a lawyer, when you work with larger companies you tend to work with in-house legal counsel and are in much more of a service provider role. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s a very different experience from having a direct line to the CEO of your various clients.

- You say the way a law firm work with startups is fundamentally different than with large companies. In what sense?

Lawyers that work with startups have to deliver effective legal services that make sense from a business and cost perspective. From a cost perspective, startups have cash flow issues that larger companies don’t have (or have to a lesser extent), and it’s important to be able to distinguish what actually needs to be done. On the business side, the “soft skills” really matter. For example, knowing what terms a startup is likely to get in a licensing agreement (as opposed to what Apple or Microsoft might be able to get), and advising management effectively. Finally, law firms that work extensively with startups have “off the shelf” forms for many common things, reducing the need to spend valuable cash drafting some form documents.

- What are the main issues startups have to deal with in the current economic downturn?

Things appear to be turning around in our space, and funding activity has increased substantially. Young companies have challenges establishing themselves as legitimate companies so they can sell their product. Selling into the enterprise is still challenging. On the flip side, one of the challenges I have been hearing a lot about lately is the difficulty in hiring talented employees, especially on the engineering side. This is a great sign that hiring activity is picking up.

- What do you think events like HitBarcelona can offer to wannabe entrepreneurs?

Anything that advances the startup ecosystem and reduces the amount of friction it takes to start a company is a great thing for our industry. The amount of information that people can obtain both online and from networking within the various startup ecosystems has grown exponentially. Your event and others will ensure that the best and brightest talent will have the necessary information to make a decision about joining or starting a company.


“The impact of social cannot be overstated”

Jun 10 2010

Lance Weatherby

Lance Weatherby

Prepositions are meaningful. He believes in the Force For Good driven by “companies based on integrity and respect for the individual” and in the Force Of Good, which is “much better”. Lance Weatherby has proven record of achievement in defining strategic direction, motivating teams, and executing to exceed business objectives in the face of rapidly changing conditions. He is currently startup catalyst at at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech and has kindly responded to HitBarcelona questions.

- As a startup catalyst you help launch and build customer-based technology companies. What do you value to get involved in a venture?

I am currently advising more than 40 startup companies. These companies are generally in the Internet and new media space. I look for a good concept in a potentially large market. There does not need to be a complete team in the startup but those that are there need to value the advice and input that I provide.

I value smart entrepreneurs that are coachable or willing to contribute in some way in what we are doing at the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech. Someone that thinks they know it all and do not listen are the worst. They are wasting my time and theirs.


- You founded the Enfuse Group, which specializes in strategic online marketing solutions. What is the real impact of social media?

The impact of social cannot be overstated. Its impact will be as profound and wide scale as the general use of the Internet. I make a distinction between social networking, social media, and social media marketing.

Social networking is what people do on applications such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. People are using social networks at a rapidly increasing pace. The time spent on social networks is growing at a 3X rate of the Internet in general and visiting social sites is the fourth most popular online activity.

Social media is user generated content. It includes some of the content created on social networks but extends beyond that to other highly scalable publishing tools that push down the creation of content to an increasing number of people. All this social networking and social media activity is creating great opportunities for companies to engage with users. To use social media marketing to help drive business objectives.

To give you an idea on how powerful this can be at the Advanced Technology Development Center we have ceased all forms of that are not social in some way while at the same time rapidly growing the interest that entrepreneurs have in our programs. We get inquiries from the other side of the world.

The Enfuse Group is an agency that helps companies that want incorporate social media into their marketing mix to do that. We have over fifty years of combined online marketing experience we know how to make such programs work. The Enfuse Group is the client services arm of Socialytics. Socialytics is a social media analytics web application that aims to provide marketers with the intelligence they need to optimize their social media marketing. We are currently in private beta.

- Why FoG (Force of Good)?

I took the name from the purpose of a company where I worked for about five years. Long before Google made their corporate motto “don’t be evil”, there was this company in Atlanta, USA called MindSpring. MindSpring’s purpose was to change the way the world does business by demonstrating that a company based on integrity and respect for the individual can do an outstanding job of serving its customers, providing meaningful work for its employees, delivering an exceptional return to its owners, and being a force for good in its community.

I spent some time a few years back working on my personal life mission, values, and goals. I came to realize that my personal vision and MindSpring’s mission had a lot in common. Unfortunately Volkswagen had a big ad campaign going on at the time. I confused force for good with force of good. When I realized my mistake it did not seem worth the effort to change. Besides FoG is much better than FfG.

- In your blog, you talk about Facebook’s privacy issues and what you get (or don’t) from Foursquare. What is the next step for social networks?

Both Facebook and Foursquare have built great services that have moved the adoption of social forward. The next step for social networks is to be much more respectful of users data ownership, privacy, and time.

-Do you think an event like HitBarcelona can help entrepreneurs to network and achieve some of their goals?

One of my strong beliefs is that the best way for entrepreneurs to learn is from each other. HitBarcelona seems like a great opportunity to network with a strong program to boot. Throw in some smart investors and the Global Entrepreneurship Competition and you have a winner. I wish I was going to be there!


“It’s easier to start up in a downturn”

Jun 03 2010

Jason Cohen

Jason Cohen

He considers himself a gear-head geek. Jason Cohen is the founder of  Smart Bear Software, maker of Code Collaborator, the world’s most popular tool for peer code review, and also a founding member of ITWatchdogs, another bootstrapped startup which became profitable and was sold. He blogs about marketing and small business and has kindly answered HitBarcelona questions.

- You built your business, Smart Bear Software, with no venture funding and no debt. Is it possible to do that in the current economic situation?

Yes, bootstrapping isn’t dependent on the economy. In fact, it’s easier to start up in a downturn because (1) Good people have lost their jobs and could help you, (2) Vendors are willing to give you a good deal, (3) If your company doesn’t work out, by then the economy is probably back into upswing and it won’t be hard to find a job.

Modern technology like inexpensive cloud servers, free email and collaboration tools, free application development tools and platforms, and free (in money, not in time) marketing channels make it easier than ever to start a company with no money.

I give further explanations on this in a couple of posts: ‘Why little companies grow in recessions‘ and  ‘6 reasons to start up in a bad economy‘.

- Then, you sold the company. Was it the plan all along?

Yes, although you can’t build a company with the idea that you’ll flip it because it sucks all the heart out of it. Try to build a genuinely good company and it will be easy to sell. “Good” means: Growing revenue, new users every month, profitable, clear audience, customers who like you.

- You’re currently working at Capital Factory, a seed-stage mentoring program for startups: What is your principal advice to startup entrepreneurs? What is the path to profitability and growth?

If there was a simple answer to those questions, I could snap a finger and launch 20 successful companies! Of course there’s no one answer. A common mistake is to not honor the goal of profitability. There’s a lot of “build something cool and customers + profits will appear.” Not true. Tackle the path to getting paying customers first, before you write a bunch of code, before you waste a bunch of time. Test your assumptions by having other people say they’ll buy it. Do the hard stuff (marketing, finding customers) before the easy stuff (writing code). But mostly, just start. Most companies fail simply because you don’t try it! How lame is that?

- Do you think an event like HitBarcelona can help entrepreneurs to achieve their goals?

Sure! We all learn best when we interact with other entrepreneurs – both seasoned successful founders and people struggling just like you. Sharing ideas and real knowledge from the field has no substitute. Events like business plan competitions force you to think through your business and listening to others gives you ideas and inspiration. No one thrives alone!


“Entrepreneurship is a way to find out whether you are a visionary or just hallucinating”

Jun 02 2010

Steve Blank

Steve Blank

He has been listed by the San José Mercury News as one of the 10 influencers in Silicon Valley. Steve Blank is a very active retired serial entrepreneur who is now teaching entrepreneurship at multiple universities. He is also the author of the Customer Development model for early stage companies, which is adopted by more and more startups. He has kindly answered HitBarcelona questions.

- 21 years and 8 high technology companies: what is the most important lesson you have learned?

A startup is a transitory organization which exists to search for a scalable, repeatable and profitable business model. And that you need to test your hypotheses about your business model against the reality of customers and market. To do so founders need to recognize that there are no facts inside your building so they need to get outside.

- Once you said: “If you think entrepreneurship is about the money, become a VC”. What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

Entrepreneurship is a way for founders to bring their passion, vision, energy and dedication to life and to find out whether they were a visionary or just hallucinating.

- Eric Ries and you are the leading proponents of the “lean startup”. Do you still think it is the best way for entrepreneurial ventures to reduce failures rates and boost innovation?

Startups are trying to solve for two simultaneous unknowns; what are customer needs and what are the minimum product features. Customer Development and the Lean Startup are one set of methodologies to approach those problems.

- The “Customer Development” model is one of the core themes in your classes. Do entrepreneurs pay attention to this process?

Founders who are doing their first startup will ignore Customer Development. Those who have started a company and failed tend to appreciate the model.

- You have done several talks on The Secret Story of Silicon Valley. Why did entrepreneurship blossom there?

The serendipitous intersection of Fred Terman, Stanford’s Dean of Engineering with deep ties to the U.S. military and intelligence agencies + the Cold War and the United States’ need for advanced technology for electronic intelligence,+ an extremely liberal view of how startups and academics should work together, combined with the rise of Venture (risk) Capital.


“There are definitely advantages to starting a venture now”

May 26 2010

He is a startup guy. In all the dimensions of the word: founder, advisor and mentor. His sales team nicknamed him ‘The Roadshow’ and he is proud of it. Roy Rodenstein is currently director of business planning at AOL in the Local group, after they acquired his company Going in June 2009. He has kindly answered HitBarcelona questions about how to startup and the major entrepreneurial mistakes to be avoided.

Roy Rodenstein

Roy Rodenstein

-First of all, the question which entittles your blog: how to startup? What do you recommend to wannabe entrepeneurs who want to start a company now?

I think a lot of the key to being an entrepreneur is looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself. There are several key questions for new entrepreneurs to ask themselves and come to terms with:
- Is this what I really want to do? Can I commit to this venture for 3-5+ years to see it through?
- Can I bear the risk and the stress of the ups and downs that any company, no matter how successful, goes through?
- And, do I really in my heart of hearts feel like the idea I am pursuing has a legitimate chance to work?

The other key is really forming a support system of people who have done it before or can help in other ways. These days there is a lot of great information online, and learning about key topics such as fundraising, customer development, recruiting etc. will be very valuable. Having people you can turn to when times are tough or you have questions will come in handy, so attending local events, networking with peers on Twitter and blogs, and other ways to interact with the startup community are definitely recommended.

Despite these questions that are key for succeeding, I wouldn’t discourage someone that was a bit unsure but wanted to give it their best shot. The amount of learning -about business, management, marketing, and yourself- that any startup, no matter how small, provides is a huge asset for any future work.

-By the way, do you think this is a good time to start a venture?

I tend to think it’s always a fine time, but yes, I think there are definitely advantages to starting a venture now. There are a lot of amazing online services for startups, from billing to screensharing to group collaboration tools, that make it easy to be lightweight or ‘lean.’ As you grow and may need an office, real estate costs are lower now in most places than a few years ago. And with the economic problems, more people are either available in the job market or are open to considering new careers since there is instability in almost every industry now. Lastly, the availability of mentorship as well as seed programs and angel investing is higher than ever, and that is probably the biggest advantage of all.

-What are the major entrepreneurial mistakes to be avoided?

To me the biggest one always comes back to being aligned with the market. Are you really being honest with yourself, and your employees, about your current trajectory. If users and customers are happy and delighted, coming back for more and telling others about your offering, great. If not, it’s really time to bear down and review what the problems are and try to create a more compelling offering quickly, evaluating your available pivots. The #1 mistake I find is people coast for too long tinkering on the margins when it’s clear the product is just not quite there. In my experience when a product is right for a market fit, the evidence becomes very very clear.

There are certainly many tactical mistakes as well, such as spending money too quickly, getting the wrong kind of funding at a given time, or failing to fundraise sufficiently which can put you in a precarious position down the line. As the last couple of years have shown, the world can change at any point and you need to be prepared.

A final area I see a lot of problems with is in recruiting, even with cofounders. In the last month I know several startups who have had to switch out a founder or other early team member. This is a very difficult step, and the best thing is to avoid it by being very very clear in recruiting in the first place, but if there is not a fit then absolutely, bite the bullet and try to move on as cleanly as possible. The main rule of thumb I tell entrepreneurs is, don’t hire someone to cover a couple of small issues you think of today- it may not be a big enough job down the line. Make sure you think through for the long term, 1, 2, 3 years, how this person will add value and what roles they will be able to own.

-Are entrepreneurs born or made?

In my opinion, as I discuss on my blog, they are primarily made. Entrepreneurship requires a number of personality traits but as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” I believe most everyone has the innate capabilities, potential for emotional strength and leadership, IF they find something they are really passionate about that they want to see become a reality. The skills needed to actually start and run a business are hard, but can be learned by anyone with enough dedication and enough of a support system.

-Do you think an event like HitBarcelona can help entrepreneurs to achieve their goals?

I think HitBarcelona is an excellent event and a leading example of international cross-pollination and sharing of entrepreneurial experiences. I have heard excitement from several US-based entrepreneurs that are attending, and having family in Spain and Belgium I know that it’s also a major event in Europe. I think the diversity of attendees and topics is the main strength of Hit. Bringing together experts and newcomers from venture, finance, consumer products, science and technology across dozens of countries is a great forum for the engine of innovation that is entrepreneurship to spread and benefit more of the world.


Master of 500 hats

May 17 2010

Dave McClure (source: 500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/)

Dave McClure (source: 500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/)

He is known as the man with 500 hats. He has been been geeking out in Silicon Valley for over twenty years as a software developer, entrepreneur, startup advisor, angel investor, blogger, and internet marketing nerd. He currently works for Founders Fund and coordinates a seed-stage investment program (FF Angel LLC), as well as a micro-seed incubator program for Facebook-related startups. Dave McClure is an investor in over 30 startup companies including Mint (acquired by Intuit), SlideShare, Twilio, Credit Karma, UserVoice, Bit.ly, CrowdFlower, KissMetrics, TeachStreet, RichRelevance, Mashery, and Simply Hired, among many others.

In a Techcrunch interview published in November 2009, he stated that “there are opportunities for people to do more early stage investing in Europe”. He added that “more is probably to be done at the seed stage and maybe even incubator level in Europe”. But how? What are the things to be improved about startups in Europe? What are the most exciting trends?

He will surely respond to these and other questions at HitBarcelona with other successful entrepreneurs like Dennis Crowley (Foursquare), Gurbaksh Chahal (Gwallet.com), Marcos Cuevas (Layers.com) and Verne Harnish (Gazelles).

Meanwhile, you can check his presentation Startup Metrics for Pirates, where he underlines the startup challenges and give some hints to make decisions based on measured user behavior: