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.

Learning the Art of the Start – Part 1

28 03 2008

This is the first in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part two is on “describing what you do” and part three covers “getting cash and getting going”.

One of the books I’ve had on my reading list for some time is The Art of The Start by Guy Kawasaki. The book bills itself as the “time tested, battle-hardened guide for anyone starting anything”. That’s definitely me, so this past weekend I took some time and read through the first two sections, Causation (why you’re starting) and Articulation (how to define what you’re doing).

The book is written in a way that it’s most useful if the methods and ideas are applied as they are read. My plan at this point is to continue to read through the book and apply it as I’m able. I’ll post here regularly with thoughts on my progress, possibly with summaries (like the one to follow) of what I’m learning from each section.

Causation, or (in my own words) are you really serious about doing this?

This section for me was more of a reality/gut check at first, and then a huge motivator. Guy walks the entrepreneur through understanding, then articulating the core reason for starting. One of the great questions in this section is, “If your organization never existed, the world would be worse off because __________.”

My answer: people would be ignorant of what truly usable software is

The above statement may sound a bit arrogant, and also insulting (I promise I’m not calling you ignorant) — but Guy explains that this statement doesn’t need to be shared outside the company. My friend Mark and I have joked that the tag line for the company should be “software doesn’t have to suck”, but I don’t think I’ll go posting that on our website either :).

Guy then walks the entrepreneur through creating a mantra, or a short phrase that communicates the organization’s reason for being. Mine? Powerful, intuitive, idiot-proof

I want the software that I create to be useful, but not confusing, and dead simple to use. My testers have told me I’m on my way there. This definition of the reason for starting was highly motivating for me…it didn’t necessarily give me any new ideas, but it helped me more clearly define what I already knew were my motives for starting.

The rest of the Causation section is built around the planning, milestones, and tasks that need to be accomplished to realize the above purpose. In addition to defining a business model, Guy encourages the entrepreneur to ‘weave a MAT’ of milestones, assumptions, and tasks. I’m doing fairly well on the milestones, with only a few remaining:

There are still quite a few tasks that I came up with related to those milestones, so it will probably be another few weeks before I’m ready to sell the final version of ClimbPoint. But I’m getting there…

The quest for a name

8 05 2007

The search is over!

After purchasing countless domain names I’ve finally settled on one that I can live with. The whole search for a name has been much more difficult than I imagined. I began as Leon suggested by creating a list of about 30 names that I could live with (and that weren’t already taken by squatters). PCNames was pretty helpful in screening out the .com names that were already taken, though I’m suspicious that they sell their search results to squatters.

I say this because in the heat of the name search I checked the availability of climbpoint.com 4 or 5 times. The fifth time I checked it I noticed that someone else was sitting on it. From then on I used the tool sparingly and was much less hesitant in nabbing potential domain names–after all, 1and1 sells them for about the price of a ham sandwich. As of right now I’m sitting on hangdogsoftware, chisld, climbingwallsoftware, 3dogsoftware, climbpoint, and climbcomplete.

My domain name shopping spree began when my advising professor recommended that I create some official-looking business cards before heading out to Boulder. Originally I had planned to use my Purdue business cards, but his opinion was that people would be more likely to take me seriously if I actually had a name for my company. So I dropped everything and began thinking of a company name, putting all my great product names on the shelf for the moment.

I came up with Hangdog Software and Chisld Technologies, though I wasn’t in love with either of them. My friends seemed to like Hangdog but I was uneasy about it. Climbers use the term ‘hangdog’ to refer to someone who just hangs on the rope, either out of laziness or due to lack of skill. Here are a couple of memorable responses I got to that name while in Boulder:

“Oh, cool. That’ll work.” (This guy was just trying to be nice)
“Why don’t you just call it Sandbag?”
“No way, that’s played out. This hotel has a Hangdog cafe in it.”

They weren’t crazy about Chisld either. So I decided to go back to the drawing board and pick out a product name…eventually I found that climbpoint.com was available (again), so I jumped on it this time.

All in all, the whole ordeal was one big roller coaster ride. It could have gone a little smoother had I taken Leon’s advice and stuck with my first choice, but I feel fortunate that I ended up with ClimbPoint. Next up is finding a web host other than Google Apps so I can create the website.

The name search in a nutshell…

15 04 2007

I saw this Dilbert comic today and couldn’t resist posting it. This has been exactly my experience in coming up with a name for my climbing wall software. I know you’re all waiting on the edge of your seats for a Boulder update, but I’ll post that later this week. I need some time to process — and catch up on all my class work.


Going to Boulder

4 03 2007

I received word back this weekend that I’ve been awarded a scholarship to attend the Climbing Wall Association Summit & Managers’ Symposium. I was surprised to hear back so quickly (the deadline for submitting an application was last Wednesday), and was even more surprised to discover that only 150 people will be attending the event. This should be a great opportunity to connect with some prominent people in the industry, and so now I need to figure out why exactly I’m going.

The Summit runs April 12th – 14th, so I’ve got some time to figure out what my objectives for the time will be. I do know that I want to have a name and website for my climbing software ready by then. I talked with Mark this weekend about a potential name for the software, and we came up with about 10 potential candidates. Among my faves are DeskBelay, GymRat, and DataBetaBase (Beta is a climbing term for information).

I’m planning on reviewing the list of candidates according to the guidelines in step 1 of the 25 steps to starting an ISV. I’ll post an update on the name (and maybe even have a vote!) in the next week or so.

What’s in a name?

28 02 2007

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m considering starting a software company, the first question I almost always get is about the name. What am I going to name the company? I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about a name, and I seriously have come up empty (well, almost). The first and only name that I’ve thought of is 3 Dogs Software, which only recently became available (yes, there actually was another software company with that name).

Then I read this great article in Inc. on branding, and I started thinking about the main message I wanted to communicate to potential buyers. What would my values be, and how would I characterize my business? My friend Mark came up with the slogan, “software doesn’t have to suck”, but it didn’t help me in thinking up a name for my company.

All this high level thinking about purpose, values, and vision has made me realize that I’ve lost sight a little of the actual product. A few days ago I was reading 25 steps to starting an ISV, and step 1 is to come up with a name for the product. A name for the product? What a novel idea! I seriously had never even considered what I would call this climbing wall software. When I attended NIRSA last year I brought flyers with me that described it as “Climbing Wall Management Software”.

Now that I’ve had a chance to consider it a little more, I think a product name is more important than a company name, so that’s where I’m focusing my naming efforts for the moment. I haven’t come up with much yet except ClimbOn.com, which is taken by squatters (and on sale for a cool $8,500). Hopefully in a week or so I’ll be posting here with a catchy name for my flagship product. In the meantime I’ll be writing about the painstaking process of coming up with a creative name that hasn’t been taken.