Learning the Art of the Start: Recap

13 10 2008

Note: this post is long overdue, and is sort of a warm-up for posts later this month.  In fact, this Thursday is the first birthday of AnotherStartup.

A while back I created a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki.  Each post below correlates with one of five sections in Guy’s book.  I’ve hit a few of the high points, but I recommend you buy the book or check out the video below if these pique your interest.

Reading and applying Guy’s ideas has been immensely helpful for me, and I still have a lot to learn about the art of starting — especially when it comes to connecting with customers and making sales (part four).

For those who aren’t quite ready to read the entire book, Tomas from The Closet Entrepreneur clued me in to a 40 minute talk on the Art of the Start given by Guy himself.  Guy is a great speaker, and the video below is a worthy summary of his book.


Learning the Art of the Start – Part 5

7 05 2008

This is the last in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part one was on “why you’re starting”, Part two covered “describing what you do”, Part three was on “getting cash and getting going”, and Part four covered “connecting with customers and making sales.”

Do what’s right

The last section of The Art of the Start is appropriately titled “Obligation”, if for no other reason than I feel somewhat obligated to write this post to finish out the series. While the first four sections of the book describe the keys to starting a venture, the fifth unveils a principle for long term success.

To me this section seems to relate strongly to the first section, where Guy raises the question about doing something meaningful (I believe the question was, Do you want to make meaning?). According to Guy, doing the right thing and helping others who can’t repay you (a.k.a. being a mensch) should be in the DNA of any venture.

I suppose, however, that this will vary for each person depending on their “end game”, or what they want to accomplish with their life. For some it will be raking in a lot of money, for others it will be the recognition and fame that come with success, and still others will be driven by the desire to help society.

Guy does a good job touching this nerve with an exercise toward the end of the chapter.

It is the end of your life. Write down the three things you want people to remember about you:

The things I think of when I ponder this question have little to do with climbing wall management software, or even software in general — so we’ll see how that bodes for the future success of ClimbPoint. If nothing else I think this chapter is included to encourage the entrepreneur not to lose sight of the big picture, and to “keep the main thing the main thing.”

Learning the Art of the Start – Part 4

17 04 2008

This is the fourth in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part one was on “why you’re starting”, Part two covered “describing what you do”, and Part three was on “getting cash and getting going.” Look for the final installment this time next week.

Proliferation: Connect with customers and start selling

Of all the sections of The Art of the Start, this one on partnering, branding, and selling seemed to connect most with where I’m at (or where I’ll be next) in the startup process. I could create a post about each chapter in this section, but I think for now I’ll stick to the art of branding, which according to Guy requires

“creating something contagious that infects people with enthusiasm, making it easy for them to try it, asking them for help in spreading the word, and building a community around it.”

I like the use of the word contagious in Guy’s description here. At this point, while ClimbPoint has been effective in infecting its users with good vibes and enthusiasm, it hasn’t been contagious: it’s hard to catch, and hard to spread.

Making a product easy to catch

So my first task in branding is making ClimbPoint easy to catch by offering a free trial and the ability to painlessly purchase the full version online. To this point I’ve gone back and forth on what to charge for the software, but I now feel more comfortable going with the lower of two numbers I’ve been kicking around. Guy contends that “a reasonable price that fosters the creation of a brand can produce large returns later.”

I’ll probably sit down one last time with the product pricing primer from Eric Sink on the Business of Software and just pick a number.

Making it easy to spread

Once people have your product, there are lots of ways to help their enthusiasm for the product spread to others. Among them:

  • Ask them for help in getting the word out, and give them tools to do it
  • Build a community around your users…if they like it they’ll invite others to join
  • Exude humanness as a company (feature customer stories, give to a cause). This helps people connect
  • Find and lower the barriers to adoption
  • Make it easy for people to leave if they choose. They’ll respect you for that and be more willing to recommend the product to others

I took a lot of notes on this section and am looking forward to putting them into action soon. The chapter on partnering with other individuals and businesses may come into play in a couple weeks when I attend the CWA Summit, and I plan to begin “rainmaking” (bringing in sales, according to Guy) after I return from the conference.

But let me end with a brief call to action for myself. I’m good at analyzing and planning, and I like to read about startups in their early days…but frankly, I haven’t found too many startups who are blogging about their experiences. I believe it’s because they decided to…

Stop talking, start doing (yeah from the IBM commercial)

So enough with the ideating already! 🙂 I’m not going to post here again until I have 1. a logo or 2. a website, or both.

Learning the Art of the Start – Part 3

11 04 2008

This is the third in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part one was on “why you’re starting”, and Part two covered “describing what you do.” Look for another installment this time next week.

Activation: Get cash, get people and get going

The third section of The Art of the Start is entitled activation, and is centered around getting cash and getting going. The most useful chapter of this section for me was on bootstrapping, which describes how to build a sales forecast.

To this point in my life, most of the sales projections I’ve seen (and the few that I’ve attempted to put together) basically used the same method for figuring out the potential market share.

  1. Calculate the size of the market
  2. Figure out how much money 1% of that market represents
  3. Adjust accordingly, up to 10% of the market
  4. Celebrate, because you’re going to strike it rich

Guy calls these types of forecasts “top-down forecasts”. While they may be compelling for some investors, they are definitely not practical for the bootstrapper.

Realistic sales projections

The real question that sales projections should answer is “Given our sales team and the product we have, how many sales could we make in our first year?” This exercise was immensely helpful for me, so let me walk you through my bottom-up projection for the first year…

  • First, I assume I’ll work about 10 hours per week on this project and spend 2-3 hours of that time on sales
  • That will allow me to make maybe 3 sales calls per week, or 144 per year (long conversations maybe, but these are real conversations with real people ;))
  • If I assume that 5% of the people I talk to will buy my software, I may get about 7 sales
  • Each sale brings in $x worth of business, so I can estimate the money I’ll get from sales in the first year

The number that I came up with will probably allow me to break even for the first year, which I would be ecstatic about. Furthermore, the estimate for sales conversions is pretty low at 5%, especially considering that about half of the climbing wall managers that I’ve talked to said they’d be interested in buying it. At the very least this gives me a lower-limit to what I can expect when I start selling ClimbPoint.

Just get it out the door

Which brings me to the other piece of advice that I gleaned from this section: Ship early, then test. Thus far in my distribution of ClimbPoint I’ve been careful about making sure it was bug-free before sending it off. Guy does admit that a tarnished reputation is a potential downside to shipping too early, but he makes a good case for getting the product out the door, regardless of how incomplete it may be. I still have a hard time with this one.

The rest of this section goes into how to position your product (preferably against a market leader, if there is one), how to recruit good people, and the art of raising capital. Even though I don’t plan to seek investors at this point, Guy’s advice and insight on raising capital seems spot-on, and I think it will be a great resource if I’m ever looking for some cash in the future.

The fourth section of The Art of the Start, proliferation, apparently covers partnering with others and branding your product. There is also a chapter in this section about rainmaking, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what that one is about.

Learning the Art of the Start – Part 2

4 04 2008

This is the second in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part one was on “why you’re starting” and part three covers “getting cash and getting going”.

As I mentioned in part one of this series, the second section of The Art of the Start (articulation) is basically a guide on how to describe what you do as a business. The first part of this section covers positioning, which according to Guy should “represent the heart and soul of a new organization”.

The first question posed in this section is simple: What do you do?

The answer to this question should be (among other things) self-explanatory, customer-centric, positive, relevant and empowering. Here are a couple answers that I came up with:

We make life easier for climbing gym managers through intuitive software to centralize and streamline indoor climbing operations.

We provide peace of mind for climbing gym managers by enabling them to centralize and streamline their indoor climbing operations.

Making the above positioning statement customer-centric for me was a bit of a challenge. As a geek I tend to talk more about the product than about the people it helps and how it helps them. Guy suggests making the positioning statement personal so that it truly connects with the intended customer. In my case that might mean my positioning statement could include phrases such as “Enables you to grow your climbing gym”, “helps you know your wall”, or “Keep Frank the first time visitor from slipping through the cracks”.

My positioning statement also contains a few words that are positive but not specific, such as intuitive, streamlined, and powerful. Guy suggests further explaining these to give them real meaning. For example, intuitive means that you can set it up in less than an hour, and users need no training. Streamlined means that only the features you need to see are there, and there is no confusing or complex program to learn. Powerful should convey the idea that all the features you need to run a climbing wall are included.

Guy also covers pitching to investors and customers in this section, along with how to name your product and churn out a business plan. I’ve got the name covered (that was quite an ordeal), and I feel prepared to give a product pitch…but I don’t think I’ll formalize my business plan, even though there may be some value in it.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a business model and haven’t thought through a realistic estimate on the number of sales I could generate. Check back next week for a few of my thoughts on the third section of The Art of the Start (activation), which has some great tips on raising capital and getting going.