Competitive Edge
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Competitive Edge
Creating your Unique Value Proposition to gain your Competitive Edge.
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12 Weekend Habits of Highly Successful People

12 Weekend Habits of Highly Successful People | Competitive Edge |

Jay Z didn't become worth $520 million by only wanting it five out of seven days of the week. Read the top 12 weekend habits of highly successful people.

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Interesting weekend read.

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To Be Successful, Do Only What Matters

To Be Successful, Do Only What Matters | Competitive Edge |
Popular wisdom says your sphere of influence -- your communications and social network -- should be big. Popular wisdom is wrong.

Everyone is obsessed with the habits of the wealthy these days. The great irony is, if successful people concerned themselves with that sort of nonsense they never would have made it big in the first place. Truth is, none of that stuff matters. It’s all just a waste of time and focus.   

If you want to be successful, you have to learn what really makes a difference. What really matters. You need to do that and keep the distractions – everything that doesn’t matter – to a minimum. Now I’ll tell you what matters but I’ve got to warn you: it’s really simple. But then, all great lessons in life are simple.

What matters is what you do. How do you figure out what to do? Strangely enough, you figure out what to do by doing. By …

  • Getting out into the world, getting a job, experiencing and learning.
  • Figuring out how business works.
  • Learning what you like to do and what you’re good at – your strengths to leverage and weaknesses to overcome.
  • Gaining confidence from your successes and wisdom from your failures.
  • Meeting smart people, asking good questions and listening to what they have to say.
  • Figuring out what it takes to be a good employee and how to motivate and manage others.
  • Learning what works and what doesn’t work in the real world.
  • Putting yourself out there so you’re aware of opportunities and maybe even create your own luck.
  • Understanding that it’s all completely and entirely up to you – nobody else can do it for you and nobody is holding you back, either.
  • Having your priorities straight, the work ethic to always get the job done, and the discipline to focus on what matters and not on what doesn’t.

It always comes down to the same thing. Doing what matters. That’s exactly how world-class companies like GE and P&G breed hundreds, if not thousands, of entrepreneurs who found tomorrow’s startups and CEOs that turn good companies into great ones: on-the-job experience.

Now I’ll tell you what doesn’t matter. What doesn’t matter is what everyone else says and does. That’s right; none of it matters. Not a word. Of course, the exception is the people you come across in your real-world experience. If you get out in the world and do things, you will inevitably meet and learn from thousands of people. That’s 99 percent of the wisdom you’ll need. No kidding.  

Here’s another way to look at it. Let’s talk about spheres of influence. The popular wisdom of the day is that everyone should have these enormous spheres of communication and social networks, the bigger the better.

Popular wisdom is wrong and I’ll tell you why.

Social networking – tweeting, posting, linking, blogging, too – is what I call “one-to-many” communication. The level of interaction and quality of communication is lousy because a billion people are all doing the same thing so nobody has the bandwidth to read but a tiny fraction of what shows up in their stream.

That’s why the vast majority of online interaction is a complete waste of time. Everything you post just bounces around the Web and nothing ever really comes of it. Nothing that matters, anyway. It’s like throwing a bucket of water into the ocean. Sure, there’s more water in the ocean now, but so what?  

Also, whatever you learn online is visible to everyone so it provides no competitive advantage whatsoever.

The way to be successful is to keep your sphere of influence small and focused. How small and focused? That depends. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates wrote code. Richard Branson sold records. Their spheres were relatively small and extremely focused in the early days of their careers while they were building their businesses. Then they grew in time. That’s usually how it works.

It basically comes down to this: You do want to broaden your sphere but you want to broaden it by doing what matters, not by wasting your time on what doesn’t matter.

Not only does reading about rich people’s habits not matter, the same is true of the vast majority of what you do online. And if they wasted their time with all that stuff, wealthy people would never have become wealthy to begin with. The only thing successful people do that matters is focus on doing what matters. Simple as that.

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7 Lessons On Business And Success You Won't Learn In School

Here are 7 important lessons on business, entrepreneurship and success I have learned from interviewing over 60 successful entrepreneurs from around the world.

Less than 3 years ago, frustrated by my lack of success, I made the decision to start reaching out to and learning from successful people.

There was just one problem: I barely knew any. So I did the only thing I could think of, and that was to start a blog.

With a blog as my platform, I started interviewing successful people. It took me over a year to find my groove (I had absolutely zero online marketing experience before doing this), but eventually the blog became a podcast, and the podcast became a community.

As I write this article, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing over 60 successful entrepreneurs from all over the world. Their collective stories and advice have rewarded me with an education on business and success unlike anything that is taught in a classroom.


Here are 7 important lessons on business and success I have learned from this journey:


1.Success is 90% failure.

Some people define success as doing everything right – as getting the result they want. They view failure as something to be avoided at all costs. They try to create a perfect plan, and they only take action if they are confident that their plan is going to work. They try to avoid failure, thinking that by avoiding failure they will achieve success.

One of the things I’ve learned from interviewing so many successful individuals is that they’ve all experienced failure, and their failures often preceded their successes. This led me to conclude that a person’s failures actually serve as the stepping stones to their successes. Therefore if you avoid failure, by default, you also avoid success.

Stop worrying about failure and stay focused on your results. When you get the result you want, you might call that success. When you don’t get the result you want, you get the feedback you need to change your strategy.

Don’t be afraid to take action with no promise of success. It’s better to take the wrong action and pivot than to not take any action at all. Expect 90% of what you try to not work. Sometimes you have to learn what doesn’t work in order to find what does.


2.Hire help. Great people are not as expensive as you think.

We live in a global, digitally connected economy. This means that we all have access to a global talent pool of incredibly skilled individuals for very competitive rates. Even if you’re not a business owner, do yourself a favor and hire help as soon as possible. You’d be amazed how much of your precious time you can get back if you leverage the time and expertise of others.

Whether for a specific project, or on a long term basis, it isn’t hard to find the right people for the job and it isn’t expensive either. I currently manage a full time virtual assistant and doing so takes only a few minutes of my time per week. I also hire contractors and freelancers for specific tasks and projects on a regular basis.

If you haven’t already, check out or and see for yourself just how easy it is to find and hire great people. You’ll be glad you did.


3. Don’t get too attached to your ideas. Test them before you invest in them

I once met an individual who told me they had a ground breaking idea for a new business. There was just one problem: they refused to tell anybody what their idea was because they were scared someone would steal it. This person failed to recognize that ideas, by themselves, ideas have little value. The real value comes from execution.

There is no shortage of ideas in this world. Many of us have ideas on a daily basis. Are all of them good? Absolutely not. Until an idea is actually implemented, there is no way of knowing how valuable it really is.

Testing an idea on a small scale to see what result it creates is much wiser than investing time, energy and resources pursuing something only to discover that it doesn’t work. Let go of bad ideas early and quickly. More ideas will always come to you.



4. Stop networking. Start building relationships

In the context of business, networking is typically defined as “interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career.” It’s a pretty straight forward definition, and yes, networking can yield many benefits. The problem is that most people haven’t been taught how to do it properly.

The typical approach to networking consists of attending conferences or events in your industry, delivering your “elevator pitch” to everyone you meet and giving out and/or collecting as many business cards as possible, hoping that those connections somehow turn into employment or business opportunities. This has become one of the least effective ways to build a strong network.

To build a strong network, shift your focus from collecting contacts to building relationships.

Become genuinely interested in the people you meet. Encourage them to talk about themselves. Ask them about their current projects, and find out if there are any challenges they are currently facing. Offer a helpful suggestion, idea, or an introduction to someone else who can help them. Give without any expectation of receiving. You’ll soon discover that when you selflessly add value to others, they will gladly return the favor at some point in the future.


5. Model other successful people but don’t try to be them

Regardless of which industry you’re in, there will likely be other people who are ahead of you and who you consider to be more successful than yourself. This is perfectly fine. In fact, one of the most efficient ways to succeed in any industry quickly is to learn the principles and model the strategies of those who are already successful. But always remember one thing: you are not them.

Learn and apply what has worked for others to see if it will work for you, but never try to be something that you’re not. Remember that you are unique. Do what feels true to you. Always be authentic. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to other people. No one succeeds overnight. We all must start from where we are and with what we have. Respect the journey that other people have travelled, but remember to stay focused on your own.


6. Results speak louder than credentials

I definitely respect the dedication of people who invest several years obtaining degrees and credentials to advance their careers, but the harsh reality is that credentials alone have almost no bearing on the level of success a person attains. In fact, many highly qualified individuals often find themselves without work or beginning careers in new industries for reasons that were beyond their control.

We live in a results-based economy. To ensure your success regardless of which industry you are in, you must acquire any and all skills that will enable you to get results. If you’re an entrepreneur, you must learn how to get results for your business. If you work for someone else, find out what result they want and help them get it.

Many of the successful entrepreneurs I have interviewed barely made it through high school and yet no one questions their intelligence or skills. Why? Because they have a track record of tangible, hard won results. A track record of positive results speaks louder than any credentials you print on a business card or a resume.


7. The journey is the reward.

The final lesson that I’d like to share with you is to enjoy the journey. The trouble with ambition is that it causes us to chase the future, often at the expense of appreciating the present. Pause and reflect often. Praise yourself for how far you’ve already come. Stay focused on the outcomes you want, and respect the process required to create them.

Set big goals not because of what you will get when you achieve the goal, but for what it will make of you in the process. The person you become as you achieve your goals is more valuable than the goal itself.

“The ultimate reason for setting goals is to entice you to become the person it takes to achieve them.” – Jim Rohn

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Wow, great article, so much wisdom.

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You'll Never Hear Successful People Say These 15 Phrases

You'll Never Hear Successful People Say These 15 Phrases | Competitive Edge |
To get to where you want to be, the best and easiest thing to do is to simply follow the examples that others set for you.

If you want to become more successful as an entrepreneur or in your career, you can start by making a habit of talking and thinking more like the people you know or read about who are already successful.

Here are some phrases you’ll never hear a successful person say:

1. "We can't do that."

One thing that makes people and companies successful is the ability to make solving their customers’ problems and demands their main priority. If a need arises repeatedly, the most successful people learn how to solve it as quickly as they can.

2. "I don't know how."

Instead of automatically shutting down solution-finding, successful people learn what they can in order to succeed in a project or in their career. For example, you would never see a truly successful international business consultant who travels to Italy multiple times per year refusing to learn Italian.

3. "I don’t know what that is."

Pleading ignorance doesn’t make the problem go away. It just makes the asker find someone who is able to work with them to solve the problem. While’s it’s always good to be honest with those you interact with, finishing this phrase with “but I’ll find out” is a surefire way to become more successful.

4. "I did everything on my own."

The best people know to surround themselves with others who are smart, savvy and as dedicated as they are. What makes this work is always giving credit where it’s due, as due credit to you will always come back in hand. Recognize those that have helped you or made an impact and you’ll continue to earn success and recognition yourself.

5. "That's too early."

You would never hear Benjamin Franklin or someone such as Steve Jobs say, “that is too early for me to be there.” If there is a networking meeting, project launch or interview opportunity at the very beginning of the day, the most successful people do what it takes to be there. Part of being successful is being at the right place at the right time, no matter if you’re a morning bird or night owl.

6. "That’s too late."

Along the same lines, if you’re asked to a 9 p.m. dinner by a potential business partner, and you can make it, definitely go. You may be tired the next day, but the connections you will make during a small dinner or after-hours meeting can make all the difference when it comes to your career or next project.

7. "It's too bad we couldn't work together."

Truly hitting it off with someone can be a rare occurrence, but if you truly connect with someone and want to work with them, find a way to make it work. Finding people that you really enjoy communicating with don’t come along too often, so whether it’s a case study or a new business, successful people know that working with those who truly align with your personality and interests are the path to true success.

8. "Let's catch up sometime."

Many times, this phrase is said as filler, without any true follow up. Successful people know that if they really want to catch up with someone, they follow up to make it happen. This also builds on the idea that the most successful people have worked hard to build genuine connections and relationships within their network, without any hidden agenda. Nurturing your network means being thoughtful of others, while keeping your relationships with them on top of your mind.

9. "I'm sorry, I'm too busy."

If an opportunity comes their way, successful people do what it takes to make it happen. Sure, this might mean longer hours occasionally, but if you want something to work, that is what it takes. After all, according to Lao-Tzu: "Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’”

10. "That was all my idea."

Again, as mentioned in number four, the most successful people spread the wealth when it comes to doling out praise from a successful project. No idea is truly one’s own -- it’s a sum of their experiences from interacting and building off of collaborative ideas with a team. Doling out praise and encouragement is a crucial part of building a successful company and culture.

11. "I never read books."

Tom Corley of Rich Habits found that rich people read (and listen to) books at a much higher rate than poor people: “63 percent of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3 percent of poor.” Also, “63 percent of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5 percent of poor people.” Reading non-fiction (as well as fiction) can help reduce stress, enhance creativity and boost your memory.

12. "I'm not good enough."

Part of being successful is having a high sense of self-worth. Being yourself is one trait that promises success in business and your personal life. Follow your true interests. What you would do in your life if you didn’t need money?

13. "It's OK." (over and over)

Successful people know when to walk away and stop taking excuses from others. If there is a bottleneck and something (or someone) is preventing you from completing a project on time, build up your business, or move you forward in your goals, then it’s time to set boundaries and decide to limit your involvement.

14. "If our competitors don't have it, then we don't need it."

Copying competitors is one of the many possible deaths for most companies. True innovation comes from the flip side: figuring out what competitors aren’t doing and fill that niche to answer a need in the industry.

15. "Time off is for suckers."

True success should be seen as a well-rounded approach, one with vacations, weekends with friends and family and hours of downtime on the weekdays. While workload varies for everyone at times, taking vacation can make you better at your job.

Sometimes to get to where you want to be, the best and easiest thing to do is to simply follow the examples that others set for you.

What phrases are you going to eliminate from your day-to-day conversations and thinking?

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Important to adapt some attitudes geared for success!

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San Diego company develops 10-minute $10 Ebola test

San Diego company develops 10-minute $10 Ebola test | Competitive Edge |

With a single prick and a single drop of blood, a San Diego company claims they can now detect if a patient has Ebola in less than 10 minutes. The breakthrough technology is called “Ebola Plus,” a tool that can be used to detect Ebola on anyone, anywhere in the world.

“We can do that for a large number of tests simultaneously with just one drop of blood,” said Dr. Cary Gunn, Ph.D. and CEO and Genalyte. Once blood is drawn, a silicon chip is used to detect the virus as blood flows over it.

Researchers at Genalyte have been working on the diagnostic tool for seven years, using it to test for various diseases, and only recently discovered it could also work to spot Ebola. “It allows you to screen more patients more rapidly. The biggest question right now is the debate about quarantine.

Instead of asking people to take their fever once or twice a day, they can just take a prick of blood,” said Dr. Gunn. It can analyze up to 100 samples per hour, and be administered anywhere including, hospitals, airports, and even remote areas in West Africa where the disease is spreading rapidly. “Right now, most people in Liberia aren’t even being tested. People who have suspicion of having Ebola are being checked into wards. The ability to take a prick of blood and do the test would be a game changer in that environment,” said Gunn.

Developing the platform for the test cost Genalyte around $100,000, but each chip that will be used during the tests costs $10 each – making early detection cheaper and easier for caretakers. Currently, the FDA has only approved for P-C-R that can take two hours for results, compared to the Ebola Plus that can provide results in ten minutes.

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Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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KISS solutions!

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How To Tell If You’re Burning Money Too Fast | TechCrunch

How To Tell If You’re Burning Money Too Fast  |  TechCrunch | Competitive Edge |

Editor’s Note: Joe Floyd is a venture investor at Emergence Capital. Emergence focuses on enterprise cloud applications and has invested in market leaders including Yammer, Box, Veeva Systems and Salesforce. 

Questions about cash burn have blazed through Twitter like wildfire. Entrepreneurs are asking us: How do I know if I am burning money too fast? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for an entrepreneur on what level of burn is appropriate for their startup. However, every entrepreneur should consistently assess their runway and revise spending against their strategic goals.

I have designed this short quiz to help enterprise cloud startups analyze their spending levels. It’s critical to monitor your company’s burn rate so you can make those quick adjustments to increase your chances of success.

Select the answers below that best describe your company.

1. Market Dynamics: Does your market have network effects?

a) Each sale is independent. If we sell to one customer it does not impact the likelihood of sale to another customer.

b) Economies of scale are important in our market and we believe that only three or four solutions will achieve scale. Early movers have a small advantage.

c) Every new customer increases the value of our product and becomes a source of new potential customers. Early movers have a major advantage.

2. Competitive Intensity: Who are your major competitors?

a) We are in a dogfight with a number of well-funded startups and large incumbents. Our sales team consistently sees competition for new customers, and we win as often as we lose.

b) We are competing with one or two large, entrenched companies. Our sales organization sees competition more often than not, but we win most of the time.

c) We are carving up a green-field opportunity. We sometimes face competition for new business but it is usually from consultants or internal teams building custom solutions.

3. Customer Retention: What is our churn?

a) We estimate that we turnover 1 out of every 4 customers each year. We haven’t really started tracking churn yet, but I would guess that our net annual MRR churn is ~20 percent.

b) We track churn and we know we retain 85-90 percent of our customers annually. We have increased our average sales price by 10 percent over last year. We also have a customer success team that upsells our most engaged customers, so our net annual MRR churn is only 10 percent.

c) We track each cohort of customers on a monthly basis and our customer success team excels at deploying new customers quickly and getting them engaged. We have negative MRR churn, and each monthly cohort continues to grow over time.

4. Sales and Marketing Efficiency: What is the return on every dollar of sales and marketing spend?

a) We spend $1 – $1.5 in sales and marketing for every dollar of total bookings (new and renewal). We do not worry about gross margins because we know they will increase with scale. We collect some contracts monthly, quarterly and annually.

b) We achieve a 1:1 ratio of sales and marketing spend to new annual contract value (ACV) bookings. We analyze customer acquisition costs (CAC) by channel, and we tend to payback CAC with gross profit in 9 – 12 months. We try to get cash payment up front for annual contracts.

c) We consistently receive $2+ dollars of new ACV bookings for every dollar of sales and marketing spend. We optimize CAC by allocating marginal spend to the highest performing channels. Gross profit pays back CAC in less than 6 months consistently. Our customer success team is deploying signed contracts quickly, and we always collect cash up front for our contracts.

5. Fundraising Capability: Who is in your investor syndicate and how easily can you add new sources of capital if you need to fundraise quickly?

a) We have a group of angel investors or constrained institutional investors. It feels too early to pursue debt. We are heads down focused on sales and product right now and we will think about the next fundraising when we need to raise more money.

b) We have one institutional lead investor with dry powder, and we think we can secure a small debt facility. Our investor can introduce us to venture firms so we can start a fundraising process pretty quickly if we need to do that.

c) We have two or more institutional venture investors and we have a small debt facility with our bank that we can draw down if we need it. We keep a steady dialog going with investors that we would like to involve in future financings so we could start a process tomorrow if desired.

What’s your score?

Give yourself one point for each “A” answer, three points for each “B” answer, and five points for each “C” answer.

0-10 points: Pull the ripcord. You need to evaluate your spending immediately and consider pulling back drastically. You may be too early in a nascent market, and it would be wise to conserve capital until the market develops. You may be facing too many competitors which is forcing everyone to spend inefficiently. You may want to scale back sales and marketing while you pivot your product to find a more attractive competitive position. Lastly, you may not be able to raise additional equity if the current venture environment sours. You should look to secure a debt facility and reduce burn to give your team the longest possible runway to succeed.

11-18 points: Pump the brakes. You are not in trouble yet, but you should quickly assess your situation. If you are targeting a large enough market, then you may be justified in continuing to spend on sales and marketing even if you are not that capital efficient. However, you should drill down and figure out why you are not efficient.

Do you have a churn problem? Do you face too much competition? Do you have too many sales reps? Not enough good sales reps? Are you marketing in the right channels? Is your pricing right? Is your product truly solving a customer pain point? Once you understand the drivers of your current business, you can reduce spend in the areas that are not efficient.

For example, if you do not quite have product-market fit, then you can reduce sales. If you do not have sales functioning perfectly, you can reduce marketing spend. Lastly, you should consider raising a top up round to give yourself 18 months of runway while the venture fundraising window is open or securing a debt facility to give yourself an extra 6-9 months of cushion.

19-25 points: Burn baby burn. Your sales and marketing engine is firing on all cylinders and you have proven you know how to engage customers and keep them renewing. Now is the time to pour fuel on the fire to attack your market while there is little competition. The viral effects are strong enough to justify the investment now, and investors will reward you for your efficient growth. Remember to keep monitoring your SaaS metrics so you can adjust your spend if your business slows down. Lastly, you should consider raising additional growth equity early while the venture window is wide open and valuations are aggressive.

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Here is the response to the latest issue for startups: burn rate! This article includes a great survey.

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What Every Business Can Learn From Apple’s Mistakes

What Every Business Can Learn From Apple’s Mistakes | Competitive Edge |
App developers learned something important from Apple’s iPhone 6 release: even the titans of the industry deal with programming bugs and release disasters.

Ran Rachlin is the co-founder and CEO of Ubertesters, a global provider of a comprehensive, cloud-based, process management tool for mobile applications beta testing.

App developers definitely learned something important from Apple’s latest product release: even the titans of the industry deal with programming bugs and release disasters.

Well, we all knew that. What’s surprising is the depth of the problem; one so severe that Apple was forced to pull its iOS 8.0.1 update just days after it was released.

All businesses, not just developers, can learn a few other useful things from Apple’s mistakes.

Don’t let your past mistakes haunt you

It’s worth considering that almost all of the recent articles about Apple’s current headaches cite problems in the past.

Steve Jobs, for all his virtues, could be curt and abrasive with customers. In response to complaints about the iPhone 4 low signal glitch back in 2010, Jobs declared, “Non issue. Just avoid holding [the phone] in that way.”

Owners responded harshly to the suggestion that they didn’t know how to hold a phone properly. In the end, Jobs apologized: “If you’re still not happy even after getting a [new] case, you can bring your iPhone 4 back undamaged for a full refund,” Jobs said. “We are going to take care of everyone.”

But, a lot of damage was done. Apple eventually accepted responsibility but phone owners and business journalists agreed that it shouldn’t have taken weeks for a more reasonable response to the problem. Apple got away with it, but these sorts of incidents tend to have a cumulative effect. That incident hangs over Apple to this day.

The lesson? Your company has a track record. This is especially true in the social media age when your past mistakes are just a Google search away. Your best bet is to prevent problems through a more diligent approach to all of your work.

Never slam your competition’s attributes as unnecessary

“No one Is going to buy a big phone” claimed Apple’s Steve Jobs back in 2010. In response to a suggestion that an Apple antenna problem could have been prevented by using a larger case, Jobs attacked recently released large smart phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S, calling them “Hummers” and insisting that “no one is going to buy them.”

“Guess who surprised themselves and changed their mind,” wrote Korean electronics giant Samsung on its Twitter feed this week when Apple revealed its new, 5.5-inch supersized iPhone 6 (versus its 4’’ iPhone 5.)

There are probably a few lessons to be learned. Mostly, don’t be so quick to disparage the competition until you’re absolutely sure they’re not on to something. And take ownership for the problem.

Steve Jobs tried to deflect the issue, rather than suggest that a larger phone might be one solution, but not the one that Apple was pursuing.

It’s about you, not them. Don’t be petty. Just do the best quality work you can do.

Don’t make enemies of your biggest fans

By now everyone has seen videos or read stories about the bendable iPhone 6. Apple’s initial response to complaints was silence.

After a few days, the company issued an accusatory response: “With normal use, a bend in iPhone is extremely rare and through our first six days of sale, a total of nine customers have contacted Apple with a bent iPhone 6 Plus,” wrote Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller. Social media quickly dubbed the problem #bendgate.

Is Apple suggesting that these nine users are crackpots? The number is irrelevant. The Apple rep added that the company was “looking into this with an insane amount of detail.”

That was all that was necessary. Although Apple might have thanked the new owners that brought a potential issue to their attention.

The lesson? Always try to use criticism to your advantage. Your users are trying to help you by finding bugs and reporting problems. Be humble and grateful, not sarcastic. The fact is they’re doing your work for you.

Will any of this hurt Apple? Probably not in the long run, even if shares are down this week. Apple will bounce back due to a couple of significant factors: Apple is big enough that it can suffer some financial loss; the company has been around long enough that a short-term problem can be overcome; and, most important, the company has a well-deserved reputation for responding quickly to customer bug reports.

Most SMBs don’t have these advantages. If your company’s new iOS 8 app doesn’t work well, for example, your customers will probably have little patience. That’s why when we work with developers, we always tell them to think of professional app testing as an essential part of the development process, not an optional extra.

Most importantly, do it properly, with professional and experienced quality control people. You can’t expect friends and relatives to know what to look for. We know from experience that app developers who launch an app to the market without proper testing, and subject users to bugs and crashes, risk potential customers simply deleting the app immediately and checking out the competition.

And that’s the final lesson: it takes time and a commitment to quality to build a reputation that can withstand scrutiny and and the worst kind of crises. Back in April 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook said: “You want to take the time to get it right. Our objective has never been to be first. It’s to be the best. To do things really well, it takes time.”

Perhaps he should have listened to his own advice. It’s not too late for you.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Lots to learn from Apple, successes and mistakes.

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How to Design for Habit: The Secret to Making Great Products

How to Design for Habit: The Secret to Making Great Products | Competitive Edge |

Let’s say you created a product. A product that solves a common specific problem for many people. Yet, after a sign-up or an application download for your solution, people continue to have the same problem and do not use your product.


Why might someone continue to have a problem or use an inferior solution? These people already have routines based around their current solution. They may not even recognize they have a default routine. Help them use your product by developing new habits around what they already do. [1]

Design is making the unintuitive intuitive.

John Maeda

Designing products that people use is a process. Ideally, this process starts as a small conscious change in their routine and incrementally grows until the product becomes the individual’s go-to. At this point, the individual will have developed a new default routine for their use case.

Any new product trying to solve a person’s existing problem is in a tough position. This person regularly encounters a problem, has noticed it, and does not go out of their way to solve it. This problem has been part of their routine. Part of your solution must make this new behavior intuitive. Your product must fit into what an individual does regularly.

Penrose stairs are impossible stairs, they descend or ascend to form a continuous loop. This photograph (not Penrose stairs) is beautiful yet disorienting. People probably take these!

This article is about how to best design software products into the routine of what users already do.

What do people already do?

Designers should be thinking about how their solution fits into the workflow that already exists. Let’s take Evernote, one of my favorite applications. Evernote is a suite of software and services for taking notes that act as “an external brain.”

Bob is a student who has a problem with synchronizing notes across devices. He currently uses Microsoft Word for class notes. Microsoft Word works pretty well on his Mac, but doesn’t work on his iPhone and doesn’t have a way to synchronize online between his two computers. He wants to address some pain points:

  • Bob wants to take notes.
  • Bob wants to synchonize his notes online.
  • Bob wants to be able to change devices and take notes.
  • Bob wants to be able to take notes with consistent formatting.

The principal of least surpise: the person using the application should not be surprised by a software’s behavior.

The note taking process in Evernote is straightforward (see the “Getting Started” guide here). Bob might install Evernote on each device (PC, Mac, iPhones). Notes synchronize automatically between each of these devices (without the person needing to worry about copying or emailing the document). When Bob opens any note, the formatting stays consistent (Evernote looks the same and does not add additional “paper” formatting Word might).

The best software software should delight in only making small suprises— surprises that are subtle and seem intuitive. Intuition = non-intrusiveness. Design should give the right amount of information to guide the user through their interface.

A few years ago, Evernote released a usage graph they called the smile graph:

In this graph, during the first year of install, the number of users that use Evernote on a monthly basis drops off from over 40% to 20% . Then over the course of the next two years, the percentage of individuals that use this tool increases. Many software products have a graph that is strictly decreasing. Evernote’s monthly user graph is different— over the course of the tool’s lifetime, the number of people actually increases over time. Interpretation: people start to recognize how useful Evernote. Bob may start using the tool even though they did not use the tool at first.

Software designers should design their tools to be adopted by hooking into what the user already does.

Fit into workflows


We are what we repeatedly do


Starting to use a new application requires you to think about how to start a new habit. Experts say it generally takes 21 days to establish a new habit [2]. In the world today, the world of applications, tv, consistent and constant notifications, and a bleed between work and non-work situations, new software products live in a tenuous spot. These habits compete with the automatic and established habits we already have.

Similar to creating new habits [3], there are effective patterns for software designers to create consistency:

  • Change environmentSoftware should change parts of the user’s environment to help them use this new tool.
    • Software automatically start at system boot-up, so it is consistently at the taskbar.
    • Software can add extensions to applications that are already used, such as browsers plug-ins or integrations.
  • Notifications Software can add notifications to mobile phones so users can have another interface to its functionality
  • Import Software should import existing data. With any habit, there is always a bit of inertia to keep using the same pattern as before. Importing data from previous tools should help users bridge the gap between new and old by having all of the older data inside.
  • Trigger Software can change the operating system hook. Upon install, a software can ask a user to change this default to open your product.

Exceptions to the rule:

  • Disruptive technologies Software may create an entire new market and value network based around some value prior work did not have. Wiki link. Because no prior behavior or habits existed, this type of software establishes an entire new set of habits.
  • Inertia Software may have a high inertia that makes movement very difficult. Services and platforms build ecosystems around use, and switching is hard. For example, I’ve heard many twenty-somethings whine about Facebook and their dislike of the privacy controls, yet many of these individuals still use the service. “It’s what my friends use.”
Building Products as Habits

The most innovative and useful products of the future will be those that create lasting behaviors. Designers that understand how products fit into workflows can then better help their users find success in solving problems.

Now I want to ask you all a question:

  • What tools do you use do you use everyday? What makes them indispensible? (Extra credit: Is it for the same reason you used it in the first place?)

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Essential truth in making new products and designing them to be used. Especially software. Read this before marketing 'the big idea'.

Marc Kneepkens's curator insight, October 22, 2014 3:07 PM

Important when designing apps. Highly recommended.

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7 Principles for Propelling Your Startup to Success | New Beginnings

Want a venture to succeed?

I developed seven principles that can help a startup improve its odds at success based on analysis of more than 1,500 public companies that I did for my book Value Leadership.

Companies that followed these principles the most closely (I call them value leaders) grew sales 35 percent faster and generated 109 percent higher net margins than their peers and increased shareholder value almost five times faster than the market in the 10 years before 2003. Companies that do a better job of creating value for key stakeholders, such as employees, customers and communities, also happen to generate more value for shareholders.

The organizations that apply all these principles will outperform those that skimp on some. For example, one of Google’s glaring weaknesses today is its inability to create a significant new source of revenue beyond advertising. That does not seem to hurt the company too much now but it could in the future.

Although I developed the following seven principles years ago, I believe they can help a startup succeed today as has been borne out by recent company history

1. Value human relationships.

Entrepreneurs can’t do it all themselves, which means they need to hire talented people. Treat talented people with respect and be sure they are a good fit with the values of the company.

For example, Google hires very smart people who fit with its unconventional approach to problem solving. Google has used its famous data-driven approach to decision making to identify traits associated with effective management. And it has used those insightsto hire and promote peope who demonstrate these skills.

2. Foster teamwork.

If an entrepreneur hires talented people, he or she should demand that they debate solutions. Ask them to use their skills to develop better solutions from working together than they would by toiling on their own.

In the last few years, Google has encouraged more teamwork, which has helped the company bring new ideas like Google Glass to fruition.

3. Experiment frugally.

Startup CEOs must resist the urge to perfect their products before launching them. Instead, they should build fast, inexpensive versions of their products, receive feedback from the market and improve the product in response.

Google encouraged this kind of frugal experimentation by letting its employees spend 20 percent of their time working on projects of personal interest.

In 2011 new CEO, Larry Page, decided he wanted to “put more wood behind fewer arrows” and phased out 20 percent time while phasing in the Google X lab to work on innovations, Quartz reported.

4. Fulfill commitments.

A startup will not succeed unless the team knows the management’s intentions and then leaders act accordingly. And leaders who tell their people they’ll do one thing but do the opposite will lose trust.

Google has certainly tried to follow through on its oft-stated value “don’t be evil.” Sadly, it has not always succeeded, such as when it decided tocensor search results in China in 2006. It stopped in 2010.

Don’t make the same mistake. It’s better for a startup to give up on a business opportunity than to violate its core values.

5. Fight complacency.

Don’t let the success of a particular product or service keep the company from searching for better ways to meet customers’ needs. Remember Blockbuster? To fight complacency, maintain a healthy paranoia and always be on the lookout for how to adopt new technologies that will give customers superior value.

Consider how Netflix transformed itself from a DVD-by-mail service to an online streaming provider. Not only has Netflix managed the transition masterfully, it has also added new capabilities like creating popular shows and managing relationships with high-bandwidth service providers.

6. Win through multiple means.

Don’t let the startup become dependent on one product that competitors can copy. Protect sources of revenue and profit by being good at a few key skills that are difficult for rivals to copy.

Under Steve Jobs, Apple could enter into existing businesses (like MP3 players, smartphones and tablets) and cut itself a big slice of the profit pie. Apple won through multiple means: It had great product design, superb marketing and customer service, an efficient supply chain and the ability to motivate third-party providers as evidenced by the success of iTunes and the App Store.

7. Give to the community.

Running a startup is especially challenging because business owners can’t pay enough to attract top talent. But they can make up for the smaller pay packet by developing a meaningful mission.

Consider the case of Embrace Innovations, whose CEO, Jane Chen, I interviewed in June 2011. The social enterprise was started in an attempt to save the lives of premature babies in developing countries. In India, many premature babies died after not being kept warm during a four-hour journey to the hospital.

Because of its inspiring mission, the company attracted talented employers, who developed a tiny sleeping bag of special materials able to keep infants at the right temperature. This saved many lives.

This week my class of 30 Babson College undergraduates explored how Google has applied these seven principles: The students concluded that despite some flaws, notably in its privacy policies, Google is a value leader. The students concluded that Google excels at valuing human relationships, winning through multiple means, experimenting frugally and fighting complacency.

Ready to try these principles? In my book I listed 24 specific activities that companies should perform to follow the seven principles as well as 107 more detailed tactics to accomplish these activities.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Good principles to keep in mind when doing business.

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The 100-Year-Old Startup

The 100-Year-Old Startup | Competitive Edge |

More than 100 million users count on Evernote’s Swiss-army-knife capabilities on almost every smartphone, tablet and laptop. CEO Phil Libin and his team have gotten the world hooked on productivity. That was the point, Libin says.

Evernote had the features the team wanted themselves—a note-taking, web-clipping, project-managing, almost-anything-you-can-think-of app that’s free for the taking in its basic format. And they know that once users start depending on Evernote, they may very well want to upgrade to the $45 per year Premium or the $120 per year Business versions.

But all of it almost didn’t happen. In 2008 the company was running out of money. Libin had decided to shut it down the next day. At 3 a.m., he was preparing to turn in for the night when he decided to check his email one more time.

Against all odds, there was an email from a Swedish investor and Evernote fan in his inbox. The investor eventually wired $500,000, enabling Libin to keep the company afloat.

Q: You have said that you want Evernote to still be a startup in 100 years. What do you mean by that?

A: A lot of entrepreneurs are taught to think: What’s the exit strategy? We were tired of that. We wanted something that would be our life’s work. You don’t need an exit strategy for your life’s work.

We asked ourselves, How might we design something that could be around for 100 years? Thinking about doing things that are durable is different from thinking about how to maximize profitability short-term. But we don’t just want to be a 100-year-old company—we want to be a 100-year-old startup. In 100 years, we want to still make quick decisions and not become bogged down by internal bureaucracy and politics.

Q: I read that you said that you have people working for you now who have worked for you in previous companies. How do you choose your team?

A: There are lots of people who’ve never had a job other than working with me. There’s this high chance that once we’ve worked together a few years, you’ll never need to work with anyone else, because either we will stay together in the company for a long time or you should have made enough money that you won’t ever have to take a job you don’t like.

For me, it’s always easy. I just always work with my friends. I have a lot of brilliant friends, and I work with more or less all of them. The first people you bring aboard are friends, and the others are the friends of friends. It just grows from there.

Q: What about co-founders? How do you know who will be a good partner?

A: There are no shortcuts. You just have to go with the best people you know, people with whom you share a common vision.

You don’t necessarily need to know them for a long time. Stepan Pachikov—the person who originally started the California team that became Evernote—and I had a team in Boston. He and I had met only a few months before we decided to combine the teams. But we hit it off right away.

Building and cultivating the team at every level—it starts with co-founders and then goes to early employees and later-stage employees—that is the central thing.

Q: You’ve said you shouldn’t hire anyone unless you’ll be able to fire them. And yet they’re also your friends.

A: If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’re not optimizing for the easy path. You’re not optimizing for fun. You’re optimizing for impact. There are a lot of things you have to know how to do or you shouldn’t be in this business. You have to be able to fire people.

It’s tough to give people a chance if you know that if it doesn’t work out, you can’t end a relationship correctly. And if you know that you can, it lets you give people a chance. It lets you hire people whom you’re pretty sure are going to be a perfect fit, but you don’t have to be 100 percent sure.

If you lose friends that way, it sucks, but there’s really nothing good to say about it other than the alternative is to never work with your friends, and that’s much, much worse.

Q: What would you say to people who would like to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

A: Work on something that you honestly believe deserves to exist. Ask yourself, Is the universe better off because my company exists? If you can’t honestly say that, then you shouldn’t do it, even if you think it’s a good way to make money. Because you can never guarantee financially what your outcome is going to be. Being an entrepreneur takes up so much of your time, your life, your energy. If it were just about money, then I wouldn’t do it.

Q: How can small-business owners or entrepreneurs find success in a marketplace that always seems to change?

A: Focus on the product. Make products and provide services that you yourself want, love and use. It’s very hard to make something great if you’re making it only for somebody else, because you don’t have a gut feel for it.

A lot of young entrepreneurs ask, “What does the market need?” Then they come up with some idea that isn’t something they deeply care about. Unless you’re making the product for yourself first, it’s hard for you to know what is good. It’s hard for you to make it great. And products that aren’t great just aren’t going to succeed.

You have an infinite number of things that you could work on. Choose to work on things that you know about, understand, use, are in love with and want to work on for the rest of your life.

And that gives you the best chance of making something great enough to succeed.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great Q & A. This guy has some different views, and they lead to success for startups. Take note.

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Coca-Cola Launches New Program To Recruit Startup Founders

Coca-Cola Launches New Program To Recruit Startup Founders | Competitive Edge |
Coca-Cola Founders is a new way to create startups, the company's vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship declared.

Coca-Cola announced the launch of a new entrepreneurship program at Fast Company’s Innovation By Design conference today, in conversation with Fast Company senior writer Linda Tischler. David Butler, Coca-Cola’s vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship, (who has written a book with Tischler) announced the Coca-Cola Founders program, a way for startups to gain access to Coca-Cola's tremendous reach and for Coca-Cola to tap the ideas of independent entrepreneurs. The company goes into startup communities around the world and hand-selects founders, giving them insider access to Coca-Cola--both the company’s assets and its challenges. The founders’ ideas are then shaped by what they see inside Coca-Cola.

“It allows us to move much faster than we could internally using the least amount of money,” Butler said. “What they struggle with is scale,” he said--something that Coca-Cola does better than almost any company around. According to Butler, Coca-Cola is local in 207 countries, and sells roughly two billion servings of its products a day. The ideas--all still in development--that have emerged from the initiative include a food startup in Berlin, a mobile convenience store, and even a company related to wearables.

“The normal model working with a startup, you’re trying to find your strategic partnerships,” Butler said. “Startups come to big companies and try to get in. On the big company side, they pitch their thing, but how do we connect that [to what Coca-Cola does]? It’s very difficult.”

With the Coca-Cola Founders program, he said, “We’ve designed a new way to create startups”--one that not only helps grow Coca-Cola as a company, but allows them to churn out new products and services faster and cheaper.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Integration of startup founders with a big multinational company. It's a great idea since there will be a great exchange of innovation and experience.

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Why You Shouldn't Envy The Lives Of Some Billionaires

Why You Shouldn't Envy The Lives Of Some Billionaires | Competitive Edge |
Money can take all the serendipity out of life.

Poor Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg. They're worth billions of dollars, and that makes life hard.

Actually, it kind of does, and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham explains why. Graham's startup accelerator program yielded a few billionaire founders of its own, including Dropbox's Drew Houston and the founders of Airbnb.

Graham points out that Google and Facebook run Page and Zuckerberg as much as they run their companies. They can never enjoy regular activities or do things spontaneously the way the rest of us can.

"Mark Zuckerberg will never get to bum around a foreign country," Graham writes. "He can do other things most people can't, like charter jets to fly him to foreign countries. But success has taken a lot of the serendipity out of his life."

What adds to the stress: billionaires can never publicly complain about how tough their money-filled lives sometimes are, because everyone else will freak out.

In a Stanford talk about how tough it is to be an entrepreneur, Graham says how all-consuming running a startup — even once it becomes a multi-billion-dollar company, can be. Here's an excerpt:

Larry Page may seem to have an enviable life, but there are aspects of it that are unenviable. Basically at 25 he started running as fast as he could and it must seem to him that he hasn't stopped to catch his breath since. Every day new shit happens in the Google empire that only the CEO can deal with, and he, as CEO, has to deal with it.

If he goes on vacation for even a week, a whole week's backlog of shit accumulates. And he has to bear this uncomplainingly, partly because as the company's daddy he can never show fear or weakness, and partly because billionaires get less than zero sympathy if they talk about having difficult lives. Which has the strange side effect that the difficulty of being a successful startup founder is concealed from almost everyone except those who've done it.

...Mark Zuckerberg will never get to bum around a foreign country. He can do other things most people can't, like charter jets to fly him to foreign countries. But success has taken a lot of the serendipity out of his life. Facebook is running him as much as he's running Facebook. And while it can be very cool to be in the grip of a project you consider your life's work, there are advantages to serendipity too, especially early in life. Among other things it gives you more options to choose your life's work from.

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Failure is good, but here are 10 mistakes your startup should never make

Failure is good, but here are 10 mistakes your startup should never make | Competitive Edge |
If you believe you need to fail before you can succeed, at least make sure you fail in an original way.

Failure is the fertilizer of Silicon Valley, or so we would have you believe. Like fraternity hazing, we take excessive pleasure in warning plebes (aspiring entrepreneurs) that 80 to 90 percent of all startups fail.

But failure, when you get right down to it, is neither inevitable nor anything to brag about. As Silicon Valley veterans — Oracle, Sun, SynOptics, and over 40 startups and tech giants — we’ve had ringside seats to some of the greatest successes and flame-outs in tech history. And while everyone associated with technology startups knows that you need to kiss a few frogs at times, we’ve created an early warning ‘failure list’ that we consult before we pucker up:

  1. It’s the technology, stupid. If they take this approach, they’re lost before they start — and yet it’s the single largest startup sin. The founders have spent years creating their technology and so assume it’s as compelling to others as it is to them. It isn’t. It’s not what the technology can do (speeds and feeds), it’s what it can do for the customer. Solutions sell, technology doesn’t.
  2. Make the CEO a rock star. Too many first-time CEOs think they’re the next Steve Jobs — down to the bullying behavior and grandiose statements. But even Jobs had his Wozniak. VCs invest in teams, not individuals. As Walter Isaacson’s new book The Innovators attests, if a CEO doesn’t bring in a strong exec team, listen to them, and share the credit, the startup will soon be a true one-man operation for all the wrong reasons.
  3. Spend early and big on branding. Don’t create your brand in a cocoon, or with the help of a high-priced branding agency. Let it evolve organically, based on your company culture and customer reactions. The resulting brand will be truer — and cheaper.
  4. Give the UX director power over the brand. A powerful UX director, strong on visuals and light on Marketing, can do great damage to your marketing efforts. If you’re not going to let your VP of Marketing design your UX, don’t let your UX director have control over your brand.
  5. Let your people choose their own job titles. Then consider what titles like “sales guru” and “growth hacker” are costing you in enterprise sales.
  6. Print T-shirts to mark product milestones instead of customer milestones. The more t-shirts your company has before its first major sale, the quicker investors should head for the door.
  7. Go virtual from the start (flex time over face time). This is a tough one, since we know how hard it is to hire these days, especially with Google and Facebook poaching the best talent. But hiring remotely from the start is a recipe for failure. Too many of a startup’s best ideas happen in ad hoc meetings and shared work space. Bottom line: Face time trumps flex time, at least in the early, formative days of a startup.
  8. Revise your value proposition early and often. Many companies, having read The Lean Startup, think that just because they can throw their product out into the market, gauge initial reaction, and quickly respond, they can do the same with their core value proposition to the customer. Nope. Playing with your core customer value doesn’t make you look responsive, it makes you look indecisive. Challenge and iterate your positioning and messaging before you launch, then go through one sales cycle before you make any major changes.
  9. Leadership, not management, is the key to success. “Vision” (usually the domain of the CEO) is critical to a strong launch. But once you’ve had a strong start and early sales success, it’s time to focus on growth and execution. The days of everyone reporting to the CEO are over, as are the days of the CEO making every major decision. It’s time to manage — in some cases ‘manage managers’ — an entirely new (and essential) skill. If the CEO can’t make the transition, make him/her ‘Chief Evangelist’ and find a new CEO.
  10. Let your Board of Directors be very hands-on. The more you see board members on-site at a startup, the better the chances that the company is flailing. A strong CEO needs to rely on the BOD without depending on them.

So, if you believe you need to fail before you can succeed, make sure you fail in an original way. Because all of the above are avoidable.

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent are the founders and principles of Crowded Ocean, a Silicon Valley marketing agency that has launched over 30 startups, with 10 of those companies being either acquired or gone public.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Wow! Lots of wisdom and experience here. Startups, listen to this.

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The Case for Optimism and Risk at Startups

The Case for Optimism and Risk at Startups | Competitive Edge |

Last week a company we enthusiastically backed, uBeam, led by a very special entrepreneur, 25-year-old Meredith Perry, announced a $10 million round of financing...

Marc Kneepkens's insight:

What a great case for being an entrepreneur!

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How to keep your startup spirit when your business takes off

How to keep your startup spirit when your business takes off | Competitive Edge |
When grew from two to 20 people in two years, its founders worried the business had lost its spark

ust four years ago, were two people. Two years later we were five, and today, we are 20. Just four years ago we were working from Starbucks. Today, we are in an Old Street open-plan warehouse office space. The journey has been short but the expansion has been big.

Last week my business co-founder Andrew and I sat down and wondered if we had lost our startup spirit. As a brand new company, it was easy to get washed away with the excitement of being a startup – few bills to pay, few clients to worry about, only a few new members of the team. This was why we left our corporate snooze jobs; working hard for the boss wasn’t cutting it for us.

Two years on, we had a serious discussion about whether this was going to work and as fate would have it, an angel landed in our lap. A group of angel investors, in fact, who decided to invest £250,000 into our dream. While this was obviously life-changing for us, it also quickly changed our startup dynamic. Suddenly we had to put together serious five-year plans, forecasts, cashflow projections and growth strategies … and, moreover, had to be accountable for them.

This of course brings a whole new excitement to the table too. We were now in a position to create a viable company and one that could grow quickly, and here we had angel investors – of Friends Reunited,, Vodafone and Quidco fame – all believing in the business plan. The startup engines were on fire, with a fancy new office, 10 hires and a sizeable marketing budget to play with. The following year saw a further £250,000 invested allowing us to grow to a team of 20 with an even fancier office and managing to poach talent from the likes of Google and Accenture.

After four years of strong growth, we witnessed more and more desks filling the office, HR policies being put in place, new managerial structures, but fewer opportunities for impromptu fun nights out with the team (after all we had budgets to stick to). The lack of atmosphere became noticeable. Our fantastic team had joined DesignMyNight because of the whirlwind fun and unpredictability of a startup, and we had lost that spirit.


At a startup, your most important asset is your team. For our team, DesignMyNight is their baby as well as ours and we’d forgotten to keep the dialogue open with them. We had an open lunch with the team to ask them what they wanted and a few weeks later we had installed a ping pong table, darts board, new lounge/chill out area, regular top-ups of fruit, tea and coffee. We started having more regular team nights out, and handed the office decoration over to them. We were reminded to thank and praise the team more than we did, and began announcing “weekly wins” and wind down Fridays (where we shut laptops at 5pm and enjoy each other’s company, and a few cocktails), as well as randomly rewarding the teams with lunches and gifts if there had been noticeable achievement.

These simple, yet inexpensive, improvements instantly re-injected the team and the office with that entrepreneurial startup spirit again. A happier team equals better results. As founders of a new business it is vital to remember why you entered this crazy startup world … because it shouldn’t be simply for the money.

You must regularly step back from the pressures of targets and have fun: enjoy the job, enjoy the emotional rollercoaster, enjoy the freedom and most of all enjoy your team, otherwise you might as well go back to that snoozy corporate job.

Nick Telson is co-founder of

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great story. Keep that spirit alive, but don't be foolish.

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Flying car prototype could get you to work faster than a 'Jetsons' episode

Flying car prototype could get you to work faster than a 'Jetsons' episode | Competitive Edge |
The AeroMobil 3.0 is the latest from a Slovakian startup that has been working on flying vehicles for about 25 years.

It's better than a bird, better than a plane — maybe even better than Superman. It's a flying car.

Slovakian startup AeroMobil announced the world premiere of the AeroMobil 3.0 at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna on Wednesday. It's an idea 25 years in the making, and the company's third working prototype.

Stefan Klein, founder of the Department of Transport Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Slovakia, designed the personal transportation vehicle. Although Klein has been working on the concept since 1989, it wasn't until 2010 that things got real: He commercialized the project by starting AeroMobil.

“We believe personal transportation is about to change forever,” AeroMobil chief executive Juraj Vaculik said at a press conference.

There have been many concepts for flying vehicles, and it seems only a matter of time before one is mass produced. The European Union has supported research into the MyCopter in hopes that a flying vehicle could help ease transit congestion.

Flying cars have long been in the public's imagination, thanks to movie concepts like the DeLorean in Back to the Future and the Jetsons' car.

AeroMobil said the vehicle is close to commercial availability, but certification — now underway in Slovakia — would be complicated and vary by country.

The car, which can carry two people, operates on the gas available at regular gas stations. It needs about 200 meters (650 feet) to take off, and only 50 meters (164 feet) to land. It can fly as fast as 124 miles per hour.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Wow, the future is here. Amazing video clip!

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There’s only a few ways to scale user growth, and here’s the list

There’s only a few ways to scale user growth, and here’s the list | Competitive Edge |

Scaling growth is hard – there’s only a few ways to do it
When you study the most successful mobile/web products, you start to see a pattern on how they grow. Turns out, there’s not too many ways to reach 100s of millions of users or revenue. Instead, products mostly have one or two major growth channels, which they optimize into perfection. These methods are commonplace and predictable.

Here are the major channels that successful products use to drive traction – think of them as the moonshots.

  1. Paid acquisition. If your users give you money, then you can buy users directly through ads. Usually companies try to maintain a 3:1 CLV:CAC ratio to keep their margins reasonable after other costs. (eBay, Match, Fab, etc.)
  2. Virality. If your users love your product, then you can get major “word of mouth” virality driven by a high Net Promoter Score. If you can get your product to spread as a result of users engaging with the product, you can further optimize the viral loops using A/B tests to generate even more virality. People often measure “viral factor” to see how effectively existing users attract new users, and of course, you want your viral factor to exceed 1.0. (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
  3. SEO. If your product creates a ton of unique content, in the form of Q&A, articles, long-form reviews, etc., you might end up with millions of unique pages that can in turn attract hundreds of millions of new users who are searching for content via search engines. (Yelp, Rap Genius, Stack Overflow, etc.)
  4. Sales. For startups targeting SMBs or the enterprise, you’ll end up fielding a large sales org to handle both inbound and outbound. This is especially true for companies targeting local SMBs, where telesales becomes the only option. Of course, to make this work, you’ll need to generate a multiple in revenue of what you pay them.
  5. Other. There’s the odd partnership, like Yahoo/Google, that can help make or break a startup – but these are rare and situational. But sometimes it happens!

These channels work and scale, because of two reasons:

  • They’re feedback loops. Each of these channels creates exponential growth because when you make money from customers, you can use that money to buy more customers, which give you more money. Or in the virality scenario, a cohort of new users will invite even more users, who then invite even more on top of that.
  • They have a high ceiling on saturation. Part of why paid acquisition will always be around is because people like free products, which cause these products to monetize using ads. As long as people will love free products (which they will, forever), there will be advertising to buy. The biggest ad networks reach a billion users or more. Similarly, SEO works because almost everyone uses Google, so as long as you’re dealing with a high-volume base of searches (like music lyrics, or products) then you’ll be able to reach hundreds of millions of users.

It might seem like it’s best to crack one of these channels right away, and then ride then into glory. But that almost never happens, and instead startups have to work towards them – but it takes time. To figure out if your CLV and CAC match up, you need to buy some users, then wait 6 months to see how well they monetize. If you want to see if your product is viral, you need to build your app, then wait to see if you have the retention and frequency to support a strong viral loop. SEO is hard because after the content is built, Google has to index it and you have to build PageRank. This can take months and years.

New products often only have months, or a year, to live, so these strategies are often not a real option.

High-risk, high-reward
Attacking one of these scalable channels is high risk but also high reward. Every startup has to make sure they are able to slot themselves into one of channels in order to scale their business, but in the meantime, how do you show enough traction to not run out of money?

This essay by Paul Graham gives us a clue, as he writes about Startups = Growth:

A good growth rate during YC is 5-7% a week. If you can hit 10% a week you’re doing exceptionally well. If you can only manage 1%, it’s a sign you haven’t yet figured out what you’re doing.

Another way to say this is, growth is measured through a percentage and so early on, small things can drive a high % growth when the base is small. When you’re starting, there’s a whole list of other tools you can use which don’t scale at all but are nevertheless low risk.

Here are some low-risk, unscalable ways to get users:

  1. Getting your friends+family to use the product
  2. Emailing/posting among your local community, whether that’s college or an alumni mailing list or whatever
  3. Guest writing on niche blogs – you often see this with mommy blogs, etc.
  4. Cold e-mailing potential users and influencers
  5. Engaging with potential users over Twitter, Reddit, forums, and other communities
  6. Contests and giveaways, partnering with a blogger/YouTuber or something
  7. Getting covered in niche press outlets, like the tech press
  8. … etc., etc.

All of the above require hustle, but are low-risk and fairly high-percentage. And when a contest can generate a few thousand signups, on a small base that’s not bad at all. The other added benefit is that these methods put you in direct/close contact with your users. So in the early phase, when you are still working on product/market fit, this can be an important way to learn if you have the right product.

However, none of these methods scale well, which is OK, if you know when you need to move on. Even getting covered in the mainstream press, like NYT level, maybe only garners a few hundred thousand signups max. Getting featured by Google or Apple is about the same thing. That’s better than nothing, of course, but it’s still far below what you need to get on a rocketship trajectory. For the rocketship, you’d need to perfect one of the 4 main channels I listed earlier.

So ultimately, how do you balance these? Let’s talk about the barbell strategy.

The barbell
To answer the question of how to balance these growth projects, let’s talk about the barbell strategy. The barbell strategy is a way that investors can split their holdings between some high-risk/high-return investments as well as low-risk/low-return conservative investments. Investopedia describes it:

Put your eggs in two baskets. One basket holds extremely safe investments, while the other holds nothing but leverage and speculation.

In the context of these growth channels, the key is to balance a series of progressively more scalable growth projects, while keeping track of the big growth channels that will help you shoot the moon.

Do the methods that don’t scale
During the early days, by all means, sign up friends and family. And get those blog mentions, and do all the content marketing you can handle. That’ll help create a base of engaged users, while you hit product/market fit. At each point, as what works caps out, go after the next marketing channel that can drive incrementally more users. In the early days, perhaps a contest partnership with a niche blog would do, but after a while, maybe you’d hire a small team to author long-term content marketing pieces to circulate.

Invest in moonshots
The other end of the barbell, the high-risk/high-reward projects, should be taken with deliberate projects and analysis. If you need your userbase to generate a lot more unique content for SEO, start fiddling around with features that reward long-form content. And start tracking what % of users write great content. And start making the small changes needed for Google to index your site. After a few months of this, you can start to understand what it would take to create enough pieces of unique content to make an SEO strategy work. You can usually work this kind of thing out on a spreadsheet.

Balancing between the two
It’s important to balance these short-term and long-term efforts. If all you do is work on nonscalable marketing methods, then inevitably the channels will tap out and your growth will slow. When you see the startups that are highly dependent on press hits for their traction, but seem anemic otherwise, this is exactly what’s happening.

The barbell strategy helps products make progress on long-term goals while still creating short-term momentum – you’ll need momentum to attract investor interest, but you’ll need the long-term scalable growth channels to really build your business.

Good luck. And if you have a product that’s working well, has a nice base of traction, and now the only things that can move the needle are scalable methods, don’t hesitate to email me for advice: voodoo at gmail.

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Scaling is the buzz word. Andrew Chen explains what works, and  how.

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What Is It Really Like to Be a Startup CEO?

What Is It Really Like to Be a Startup CEO? | Competitive Edge |
Two Quora users answer the question, "What is the truth behind the 'entrepreneurial dream'?"

What did the "entrepreneurial dream" look like to you before you started, and what is the reality today? Would you say it is similar to what you expected, or completely different?

Answer by Jason M. Lemkin, cofounder/CEO of EchoSign, cofounder of NanoGram Devices, vice president of NeoPhotonics, senior director of BabyCenter.

Being a founder/CEO is nothing like you think it is when you watch as "just" part of the management team. You think it's about making tough calls and making key decisions every day, every week, every month. It is.

But what it's really about is 24/7/365 accountability — in a way you have never experienced before.

You are responsible for every functional area. Every [cent] of revenue; every dollar spent. Every mistake. Every terrible, horrible decision. Every moment of every day.

It changes how you think, how you prioritize, how you interact with other people and how you see time.

I didn't realize how much I would change. I was always willing to take 100% accountability, to give 110% and to believe [in the company]. Those are requisite, component pieces. But before, I was never 100% responsible for everything.

Answer by Brett Fox, CEO, entrepreneur, author, mentor and growth hacker.

I loved every minute of being a founder and CEO. The bad days were still good.

The feeling of starting something, nurturing it to grow and seeing customers buy your products is indescribable. Watching your team and fellow employees feel empowered to make things happen is a great feeling.

However, being CEO comes with responsibility:

  • You are responsible for other people's money — your investors. You have to take this really seriously.

  • You are responsible for the lives and well being of your employees and their families: It's not about you, it's about them.

  • You are responsible for every failure, every mistake and every revenue shortfall. You can't blame anyone but yourself.You are responsible for every failure, every mistake and every revenue shortfall. You can't blame anyone but yourself

  • You are responsible for acting — or not acting — on the advice your investors provide. You can't blame them if you act on their bad advice.

I expected all of this before the company started. Here are things I knew to be true, but still surprised me:

  • You can't talk to anyone inside the company about your fears and concerns. It's oh-so-tempting when you are down, but you can't go there. Take a walk, leave the building, do something — but don't share your worries with the employees.

  • Every word, every gesture, every frown, every time you raise your voice, every time you leave the office early, every time you leave the office late, every time you arrive at the office early, every time you arrive at the office late — everything you do is analyzed by your employees. I learned quickly that it is important when you are speaking to your employees to say what you don't mean as well as what you do mean. Leave a blank, and the blank will be filled.

Being CEO was the most intense, crazy, gut-wrenching and rewarding experience of my career.

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Alan Eustace, Google, Jumps From Top of Stratosphere, Falling Faster Than The Speed of Sound

Alan Eustace, Google, Jumps From Top of Stratosphere, Falling Faster Than The Speed of Sound | Competitive Edge |

A well-known computer scientist parachuted from a balloon near the top of the stratosphere on Friday, falling faster than the speed of sound and breaking the world altitude record set just two years ago.

The jump was made by Alan Eustace, 57, a senior vice president at Google. At dawn he was lifted by a balloon filled with 35,000 cubic feet of helium, from an abandoned runway at the airport here.

For a little over two hours, the balloon ascended at speeds up to 1,600 feet per minute to an altitude of 135,908 feet, more than 25 miles. Mr. Eustace dangled underneath in a specially designed spacesuit with an elaborate life-support system. He returned to earth just 15 minutes after starting his fall.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.”

Mr. Eustace cut himself loose from the balloon with the aid of a small explosive device and plummeted toward the earth at a speeds that peaked at more than 800 miles per hour, setting off a small sonic boom heard by observers on the ground.

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Some people dare to take a challenge. They prepare well, they calculate the risk and then they just do it. Awesome.

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Positioning Your Startup is Vital Here's How to Nail It

Positioning Your Startup is Vital  Here's How to Nail It | Competitive Edge |
First Round is a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs and companies.

When Arielle Jackson started to develop the marketing and communications plan around Cover (the Android app quickly snapped up by Twitter), she brought a lot of firepower to the job. During her nearly nine years at Google, she managed product marketing for Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Voice. She then moved on to Square, where she led go-to-market plans for new hardware products like the Square Stand. At Cover, she put everything she learned to work to help make the product uniquely valuable. Today, she does the same as an advisor to multiple startups.

What’s surprising for many people, she says, is that marketing is actually highly tactical. There are frameworks and distinct steps founders can take to define what their company is doing, why it’s important, and why — above all the noise — people should listen to them.

In this exclusive interview, Jackson shares exercises entrepreneurs can use to nail their product positioning, develop the right assets (including a name that strikes the right chord), and make a stunning first impression on the market — whether they’re launching a new feature or an entire company.

How to Position Your Business

At its core, positioning is a statement. It’s a sentence or two that clearly defines the problem you're setting out to solve and why your solution is compelling. Your positioning statement should remain internal, but it’s critical to everything that follows: Aligning teams, hiring the right people, developing the best product, communicating the value of your work — the list goes on. It all starts with positioning.

“You need to position your product in the mind of your user,” says Jackson. “And that requires taking your potential users into account, assessing the product’s strengths and weaknesses, and considering your competition. There are so many products out there, and people are busy. You have to know who you are.”

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“You can't be everything to everyone, but you can be something great for someone.”

So what does a positioning statement look like? A lot of good advice is contained in the foundational marketing guide Positioning, Jackson recommends. But in particular, she cites a formula she learned from former Google Head of Marketing and Communications Christopher Escher when she was an associate product marketing manager:

For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity),
(Product name) is a (product category)
That (statement of key benefit).
Unlike (competing alternative)
(Product name)(statement of primary differentiation).

Using this framework, you can explain your product or service in as plain of English as possible. This requires some pre-work. Answering the following questions can help you get to a concrete statement:

  • What’s different about the way your product/service works? 
  • Why do you do what you do? 
  • What is your broadest circle of prospective customers? Start with something like “Android users” or “people without cars,” and then try to get more specific, ending up with a profile of an individual model user.
  • What pain points are these customers experiencing? Be as clear and specific as possible. What emotions do customers associate with these pain points?
  • What other companies solve similar problems? Don’t just list your competitors but also their strengths and weaknesses compared to what you’re doing. 
  • Avoid all buzzwords. If there’s one word that describes your positioning statement, it should be “human.”

With these factors accounted for, positioning statements can be written for all kinds of companies. Amazon’s early positioning statement is a prime sample:

For World Wide Web users
Who enjoy books,
Amazon is a retail bookseller
That provides instant access to over 1.1 million books.
Unlike traditional book retailers,
Amazon provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices and comprehensive selection.

To give an example outside of technology, Harley-Davidson publicly shared their positioning statement:

The only motorcycle manufacturer
That makes big, loud motorcycles
For macho guys (and “macho wannabes”)
Mostly in the United States
Who want to join a gang of cowboys
In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

As you can see, the format can be flexible as long as you've addressed the key components. The goal isn’t to use this statement verbatim in your marketing or advertising, but to get people inside the company excited and on the same page about why your idea is special and going to help people attain something they want.

Some people mix up taglines and positioning statements, but taglines serve a much different purpose: They're externally-facing catch phrases or slogans that are in line with your positioning. As an example, one of Harley's taglines is: “American by birth. Rebel by choice.” It wraps up a lot of the same ideas in a neater, more concise package.

“As a rule, it’s always an advantage to be first in your market, because you’re memorable. If you can be first and best that’s great — but that’s also really hard, and it’s okay if you’re not,” says Jackson. “Positioning statements help you create the right message for the right person at the right time.”

This is especially relevant if you’re launching in a crowded space, or if there’s a clear incumbent. Having a strong positioning statement can differentiate you as a premium offering, or a discount offering, or as the perfect product for a certain segment of customers. NyQuil, as the book Positioning explains, succeeded by billing itself as a cough syrup to be used by cold-sufferers specifically at night.

“Nailing down your positioning from the beginning makes everything else easier.”

In Jackson’s opinion, having your positioning down is even more important than having a name for your company. That name, and eventually all of your messaging, website copy, branding, and even product features can all spring from your positioning.

“A question everyone hears and asks a lot is: ‘Is this on brand? Are we making an on-brand decision?’” she says. “If you have a strong positioning statement that everyone believes in, that’s the best guide for answering those questions. Is the decision you’re making in service to the customers you’ve identified? Does it strengthen the ways you’re different from your competitors? It’s all more clear cut.”

On top of that, a well-expressed position can be an incredible asset in fundraising conversations, so it shouldn’t be postponed, Jackson says. “I think if you actually include your positioning statement in your pitch deck, people would be impressed with the clarity of thought."

In terms of what comes first, product or positioning, Jackson suggests that the two should grow up side-by-side.

“You can’t start positioning before you generally know what you’re building, but I think it does inform the product and vice versa,” she says.

With Cover, the founders knew that they wanted to build a context-aware layer that would replace the standard Android lock screen and leverage capabilities on Android not available on iOS or other platforms. But that was about it.

“We knew some of the basic functionality but not exactly what it would look like,” says Jackson. “Once we had nailed the positioning, it became more clear what features we’d need to build to win over Android users who had tons of apps. It also really shaped the whole website, including the ‘about us’ page and the way we talked to prospective candidates.”

One step that many companies skip is seriously evaluating their competition while drafting their positioning. This is a mistake, Jackson says. “It’s critical that you understand how you fit in your space where competitors are operating. Often, drawing the comparison can be really helpful in explaining your product or service. When the first ever car came out, it was advertised as the horseless carriage — and that explained something that could have been impossible to grasp in a way that was compelling for people.”

“People understand what's new and different by comparing it to something they already know.”

But this type of language may only appeal to a specific audience. Saying that you are “like Uber for X” is probably only relevant to a narrow, tech-savvy sliver of the populace. While Jackson recommends having one overarching positioning statement for your company or product, she acknowledges that you may eventually want to tweak it as you try to appeal to different demographics.

“You may be positioned one way for an audience of San Francisco yuppies and another way for a major national campaign, but you always want to have that one dominant statement that everything rolls up to,” she says. Identifying what is broken and generally how your company or product is solving it shouldn’t be a moving target.

If you have a hard time writing a positioning statement that fits the framework above, there might be something wrong with your product. Especially if you can’t clearly define your target market or explain how you’re doing something distinguishable from others, you should back up and do that homework. “If you have a compelling product that people actually need, you should be able to write a decent positioning statement. If you’re struggling, that’s a sign," Jackson says.

How to Name Your Company

One of the biggest challenges young startups face is picking a name that reflects the qualities they want to project, sticks with customers, and allows them to snag a slick domain and social media handles. Seems like an almost impossible feat, and Jackson has seen a number of companies get stumped when it comes to choosing a name. Today, she has a system for breaking down this roadblock.

There are three routes you can take when it comes to naming:

  • Descriptive: Fairly explicit about what your business is and does. Examples include Whole Foods, Toys "R" Us and PayPal.
  • Suggestive: Evokes or suggests what your business or product is about, often via metaphor. Examples include Amazon, which suggests a giant river/huge selection, and Mint, where money is created.
  • Fanciful: Has nothing directly to do with your company’s offering. Examples include Adobe and Apple.

“A good way to see the difference here is to look at web browsers,” says Jackson. “Internet Explorer is about as descriptive as you can get. Safari is suggestive, connoting this idea of exploration, and then you have FireFox, which has absolutely nothing to do with the internet.”

While fanciful names risk being too obscure or complicated, they do come with some advantages: They can be more memorable, and it can be easier to get the trademark, domains and handles. You just have to be willing to do more work marketing your product or service. “You have to be prepared to do a lot of explaining and marketing to get mindshare and really forge the association between your name and your business. Alternatively, a descriptive or suggestive name will do some of your positioning work for you,” she says.

According to Jackson, you should also ask yourself the following questions as you decide which one of these roads to go down:

  • What are the names of related or competitors' companies or products? You want to build differentiation into your name. Especially if you are launching into a space like online payments, you may want to steer clear of the word “pay,” because many companies have the word “pay” in their names, and it will be too hard for customers to remember you.
  • What brand values do you want to communicate? These might include words like simplicity, security, etc.
  • Do you need the exact domain name to be available or can you get away with a verb-noun combination like many other companies have tried? Examples include for Square, for Caviar, and for lending startup Earnest. These can work.

Guidelines help, but when it comes to actually sitting down and doing the work of brainstorming, naming can still seem like a staggering task. When this is the case, Jackson advises founders to go back to their positioning statement.

“First, create three buckets for descriptive, suggestive and fanciful names. Let yourself be open to all three,” she says. “You don’t know if you’ll happen upon a name you’ll fall in love with.”

Second, take your written-out positioning statement and break it into nouns and verbs. For every meaningful word you can isolate, create a full list of synonyms. “Go to and just capture them all. Make a huge list,” Jackson says. “Once you have this list, you can try all kinds of different combinations.” She suggests working through this list of options:

Real words: Repurposed words (Examples: Apple, Gain, Square)

Compounds: Two words fused together (Salesforce, Facebook)

Blends: Part of one word combined with part of another (Pinterest, Microsoft)

Affixes: Tack something on like -er or -ly (Blogger, Contently)

Truncations: Shorten a word or concept (Cisco is a clipped version of San Francisco)

Other languages: Words that mean or suggest what you want to convey in other languages (Reebok, Asana)

“You want to do this exercise in a group,” Jackson says. “A lot of times founders do this alone, or just with their co-founder. That can be a good starting point, but you definitely want to bring in your other employees and even friends and family. Create your short list of options and then see how they resonate with a variety of people.”

After this brainstorm, you need to look at your priorities when it comes to naming your company. In most cases, this is how your ranking should look (for practical and creative reasons):

1. Trademark and domain availability
2. Distinctiveness
3. Reflection of your key messaging
4. Sound and ease of pronunciation (more important than you might think)
5. Appearance (literally, how pleasing or logical is it to the eye?)
6. Length (a two-syllable word can be preferable because it’s not too long but more distinctive than a single syllable)

Some of these sound elementary, but are actually critical to the success of your name. “People often don’t think of things like, is this easy to spell? Does it feel natural in your mouth when you say it?” She points to used furniture marketplace Move Loot as an example. While the name might sound like a tongue-twister at first, the rhyming is actually easy to both say and remember.

Lastly, be careful when using working or code names in case you get too attached. It’s easy to get stuck on one name even if it’s not ideal. To prevent this from happening, choose a crazy interim name that you know definitely won’t work or isn’t available, Jackson advises.

How to Pull Together Branded Assets

To create a comprehensive brand, you need a logo, landing page, video, etc., and all that starts with something called a creative brief.

In a short amount of time and space, you can provide all of the information you need to define the look and feel of a whole company or an individual feature or product (even something as small as a new banner ad) — whatever you’re developing or announcing.

“A creative brief is really a documented guide to creative work. You can use it to develop the assets you need to go to market,” says Jackson. “Some people don’t think you need to write it down — that you can simply have a kickoff meeting with a creative agency or your in-house creative team and leave it at that. But in my experience, it’s really helpful to write it down. Not only does it help the people you may be working with, but it helps you further internalize how you want to talk about and express things.”

Entrepreneurs working on a smaller budget may need to do all the creative work themselves or with a small number of contractors. Creative briefs are equally helpful in these cases as when working with big agencies.

In some sense, this brief is prescriptive: You can define targets — the types of people you want to reach, how many, and the assets you hope to get out of the process (a logo, website, tagline, video, etc.) But you don’t want it to be overly explicit in what it’s asking for, Jackson says. You want to leave room for play and inspiration.

“A creative brief should be just that — brief.”

“You should keep your creative brief to one or two pages — I’ve literally heard of agencies that won’t accept one that is more than a page,” she says. “As directly as possible, you want to communicate the background on your product, what you're trying to do with it, your perspective on timing and budget, and also what the competitive space looks like.”

A comprehensive creative brief has the following components:

  • Background: Your company or product name, a quick description of what it does and the value it creates, and a rough launch plan.
  • Audience: Your target audience should be defined both by the demographics you are going after and a profile of your model customer (more on this later). 
  • Positioning: Your positioning statement with no frills.
  • Competitive audit: A list of 5 to 10 companies that are playing in the same space, with your main competitor highlighted. You may also include single sentence descriptions of how they overlap with you and your business.
  • Messaging: The key takeaways you want your audience to internalize about your product or company. This may also include your tagline if you have one (more on developing messaging below). 
  • Current perception: If you’re already in the market, how do people see you? What feelings do you produce in people? Try to be as objective as possible, including whether you want to change this perception.
  • Brand attributes: A list of adjectives that you feel accurately describe the personality of your company.
  • Inspiration: Any examples of brands, logos, verbiage, websites or advertising that you like. Explain very quickly what you like about them and/or what aspects you might like to see incorporated into your own creative work (clean font, an abstract logo, etc.). This can help provide some early direction.
  • Deliverables: Do you just want a logo? Or a full brand identity with fonts, colors and brand guidelines? A website? A video? Define what you want to get out of the process, even if you’re running it on your own. 
  • Delivery date: Set a firm deadline for both concepts and final deliverables so you know you’re on track. Make sure the people doing the work agree to this timeline.
  • Budget: Especially important if you’re working with external help, either a contractor, agency or creative firm. Do your best to stick to it.
  • Sign off: Make it clear who has the authority to review and approve different deliverables. The buck should stop with one person.

“A lot of times you won’t see competitors or inspirations included in creative briefs because clients assume that agencies will go out and do that kind of research themselves, but if you think about it, you could save the time and money it will take for them to do that simply by including them in your brief,” says Jackson. “You want to see at least preliminary results as soon as you can.”

Clearly identifying your audience and model customer can also help expedite things. “Your target audience is a broad concept of who you want to go after with your product or service,” says Jackson. “If you’re talking about ZipCar for example, it’ll be something like ‘urban people who don’t own cars.’ This is still pretty broad.”

There’s a lot of benefit to boiling this larger group down to a single, well-drawn individual.

“Paint a picture of your perfect user. If you've done everything right, they should be a slam dunk.”

“In the UX world, people often talk about ‘personas’ in this way,” says Jackson. “You literally say, ‘Meet Sally, she’s 31, lives in San Francisco and cares about the environment. She used to own a Prius but the cost of maintenance was too high, so she donated it and now relies on ZipCar to get out of the city on weekends.’ You want whoever is receiving your creative brief to feel like they know exactly who this person is and what they're motivated by.”

This doesn’t mean that the company or product will only appeal to people like Sally, but it will give it an edge with the wider audience that resembles Sally, she says. “You can start to ask questions like, okay so if this is our audience, how do we get in front of them? How do we get them to remember us? How do we draw them in?”

How to Prepare for Launch

Launches and campaigns all require key messaging that touches on these questions and explains more about why people should care. To arrive at clean, simple messaging that makes your point loud and clear, you should rely on two acronyms:

SOCO (Single Overriding Communications Objective): Whether you’re developing a brand identity or campaign work or a video, you want to be able to articulate the one most important thing you want the work to communicate. Just one thing. Know it by heart.

SOCA (Single Overriding Communications Avoidance): The complete opposite of your SOCO, this is the one thing that is the most important for you to avoid communicating. What is the one message, weakness, problem or liability that you absolutely don’t want users or the press to hear? Everyone who may be talking about your product for your company should have your SOCA firmly in mind. 

A good example of a SOCO is an early line used by Dropbox: “It just works.” It relays all of the simplicity, security and user ease that the brand wants to project, and it's easy for people to repeat over and over again.

A good example of a SOCA may be the idea that you’re just like every other cloud security solution. When Jackson was working on Cover, it was very important that the service didn’t seem like it would get in the way or interfere with the way Android users wanted to use their apps. Accordingly, the company’s messaging largely emphasized how it would make life more convenient for these users.

Your other key messages should orbit around your SOCO. For example, if you’re giving an interview to a reporter, most of your responses to whatever questions they ask should bridge back to that one objective or idea that you want people to remember.

Jackson recommends compiling all of your messaging — including answers to all possible questions you could get about your company or product — into one communications document. At Google, every product had its own corresponding comms doc that anyone on relevant internal teams could dip into to learn how to talk about the product, who it was for, and why it was useful or important.

“Before you launch anything, you want to crowd-source as many questions as you can from people you know and trust. Put all of them and your best answers to them in the doc,” says Jackson.

“Then, every time you get a question you weren't prepared for, add it to the doc, even after launch. It should be a living document that is constantly evolving and becoming more refined.”

The goal isn’t to memorize everything in your communications document before heading into interviews, it’s simply a study guide, she says. You should review it so many times that you can hit all of the points without sounding rehearsed. You should be able to organically move from topic to topic as you field questions. This is how you’ll be able to stay nimble in interviews or presentations.

“At the end of all of this, you want to feel completely comfortable with the brand, the product, and how you talk about it,” Jackson says. “It all starts with nailing down your positioning. Everything stems from that. If you’ve done it right, you'll be able to tell everyone why what you’re doing matters in a way that will make them listen and respond.”

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

This should be known and understood by all startups, fabulous article.

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Gene Simmons to Entrepreneurs: 'Unleash Your Inner Rock God'

From a Kiss rock 'n' roller to an entrepreneur who oversees a record label, a sports team, and a restaurant chain, Gene Simmons is all about building brands. Here's what he has learned along the way.

Best known as the bass guitarist behind the legendary rock band Kiss, and more recently for his family's reality TV series, Gene Simmons is also an entrepreneur who owns a record label, a sports team, and a restaurant chain.

Now he wants to teach you how to "build an army of one, unleash your inner rock god [and] win in life and business."

So reads the subtitle of his new book, Me, Inc., a plainspoken riff on Sun Tzu's The Art of War with 13 principles that Simmons dubs "the art of more." In an interview with Inc., Simmons shared some of the lessons that he has learned over the years while building his portfolio of ventures.

1. Self-confidence is your greatest business partner
Self-confidence isn't genetic or inherent, Simmons argues, but learnable--and essential for success.

"You are the resume," he says. "You better stand up straight, look somebody in the eyes and--if you're not confident--fucking fake it. It's the only way to survive."

2. Learn from the masters
Who are your role models? Your idols? What can you learn from them--if not in person, then through a book?

"I was a voracious reader and still am," says Simmons. "I read all sorts of things I'm not interested in, and therein lies something important: In order to learn something, especially something new, it might not be that you're interested in it... The library, as far as I'm concerned, is the house of God."

3. Find partners who complement you
Entrepreneurs who try to go at it alone are destined for a small, limited venture, according to Simmons. Partners can help bring in new ideas and help with expansion plans, though he notes the key is not to trust those individuals. It's trusting your judgment of people that is most important.

"I don't trust anybody," says Simmons. "I believe and I verify."

How? By spending time talking to others who know the potential partners, having a legal team research them, and watching them in action. In business terms, do your due diligence.

4. Know when to pull the plug
Failure, in Simmons's eyes, means "nothing," and a crucial, learnable skill is having the ability to fail then picking yourself back up.

"I fail every day in my life, in business and in decision-making," he says. "So what? You know who else failed? Henry Ford went bankrupt. Oprah Winfrey failed. I've failed. All the big guys failed--many times--and that's what made them succeed. You're in good company."

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Learn from the experienced.

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Build It or Buy It? 7 Things for Startups to Consider

Build It or Buy It? 7 Things for Startups to Consider | Competitive Edge |

When faced with a new technology need, should you build your own software – or stitch together solutions already available on the market? It’s easier (and cheaper) than ever to do the latter. But before calling up your CTO or signing up for the SaaS product you read about this morning, figure out which is really the better option for your business.

I asked 7 entrepreneurs from YEC what they thought were the most important factors to consider when making this choice.

When considering building new technology to serve his or her business vs. using an existing SaaS product, what is the most important factor an entrepreneur should consider?

Their best answers are below:

1. Whether Your Business Could Survive Without It

You need to ensure you own the technology if your business could potentially fail without that product and you can’t easily replace one vendor with another. Also, if your requirements need heavy customization that aren’t easily replaced by an off-the-shelf product, you should build your own.

– Mark Cenicola,

2. Internal Versus Client Use

What will you use this software for? If it’s for customer or fan use and there’s a good SaaS solution, then partnering or white labeling is the smart play.

Most SaaS products are for internal company use only. If there’s a good SaaS solution that does what you need, then use it. Your company resources can be more profitably used solving other problems, not ones there are already good solutions for.

– Joshua Lee, StandOut Authority

3. Are the Features Essential to the Success of Your Business?

Many SaaS products are highly customizable and provide a wide range of services. If you require something specific to your business that can’t come out of a box, then it’s time to consider building a new technology. If this is the case, then you have a great opportunity ahead of you. And chances are, someone out there is looking for a way to meet those needs as well.

– Jyot Singh, RTS Labs

4. Can an Existing SaaS Serve as a Buffer?

If you could potentially go either way, an existing SaaS can be an excellent stopgap while you build your own custom solution. Employing the SaaS in your daily workflow will allow you to see exactly where it works or doesn’t work for your unique situation, and you’ll have a much clearer picture of what you want to build.

Or you might find that the existing solution fits your needs better than you thought. The SaaS provider may even be willing to work with you to customize their solution for your needs.

– Laura Roeder,

5. Cost Versus Value

It’s incredibly expensive to build and sustain an effective software tool. Weigh the value and costs of building your own with subscribing to another SaaS product. If there aren’t sufficient tools to support your needs, and it’s absolutely necessary to build your own product, then it might be worth the investment.

Otherwise, it may be a better option to use an existing SaaS product.

– Brock Stechman, DivvyHQ

6. Will It Scale?

In many cases, your business needs can change quicker than you can develop matching solutions. That said, it’s important to consider whether or not a homegrown tool will suffice long term.

A provider that’s dedicated to building a specific product exclusively is likely going to be your best bet as you scale, unless you have incredibly particular needs that even specialty services cannot fulfill. Sometimes, your SaaS provider might even build in functionality you’ll love but didn’t anticipate.

– Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

7. Quality of the SaaS Product

When you’re looking for a solution it can feel like all SaaS platforms are the same. Their websites, their instructional videos, etc are often very similar. However, there can be an enormous difference in quality from product to product.

When doing your research, use the website G2Crowd. This is like “Yelp for Saas.” Use these ratings as a guide when beginning your search; I’ve found them to be pretty accurate.

– Adam Stillman, SparkReel

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Good question, many answers and great points made.

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7 Ways to Nail Your Next Startup Job Interview

7 Ways to Nail Your Next Startup Job Interview | Competitive Edge |
Skills can be learned, but you either have ambition, drive and a willingness or you don't.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of job candidates. Occasionally, I’m blown away but, more often than not, I immediately regret that we’re going to spend the next 30 minutes wasting each other’s time.

Below are seven lessons every person should keep in mind before his or her next job interview at a startup.

1. Punch above your weight class

Serial entrepreneur turned VC Mark Suster wrote a solid post a few years ago about why startups should only hire people who want to punch above their weight class. This is true for the startup world, and beyond. Superstars don’t become superstars because they’re naturally gifted. Superstars are exceptionally ambitious. They are confident they can learn or do almost anything. This means that you should absolutely apply for jobs that you don’t technically qualify for on paper. Once you get the interview, prove why you’re going to kill it anyway.

2. Openly discuss your weaknesses

World-class people are acutely self aware. They can acknowledge that they’re terrible at many things. Employers want to hear from your mouth, with zero hesitation, what your biggest flaws are, and how you plan to offset those weaknesses, so that your presence is a net positive to the company.

3. Demonstrate why you’re world class

You will be hired for the one thing that you can do better than anyone in the company, despite your many flaws. Find a way to demonstrate this skill in the first interview.

4. Be prepared to have a deep discussion

Research the backgrounds of the company’s core staff, especially those who will be interviewing you. Devour every major article ever written about the company. Digest every detail. Most importantly, obsessively study the company’s market and develop original thoughts on what’s next. Be ready to talk in-depth on a variety of subjects. The interviewer should learn something from you in the process.

5. Request a project

It’s hard to prove what you can do in a first discussion. If you can competently turn around a difficult project in an insanely short period of time, you’ll prove you’re either a domain expert or that you have the appetite and capacity to learn quickly. Either way, this alone will likely get you a job.

6. Say why you can’t imagine yourself anywhere else. And mean it

When you take a job at a startup, your employer expects you to do the best work of your life, the most work of your life and to help others accomplish the same. As such, if you’re not obsessed with the company and the opportunity, save yourself the time and don’t apply. Show up with a clear understanding of where this company fits within your overall goals. Demonstrate that you will do anything it takes to prove how hungry you are.

7. Be honest

It sounds ridiculously obvious, but you’d be amazed how many candidates lie in interviews. Be honest about your background. We’ll pick up the phone and verify your credentials when you leave. Be honest about your skills, too. We’ll find out the minute we give you a project if you have them or not.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Written from experience, this article gives you the right ways to get noticed and hired.  Don't be mediocre.

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9 Ways to Fix a Bad First Impression

9 Ways to Fix a Bad First Impression | Competitive Edge |
Bungled that all important first meeting? All is not lost if you follow this advice.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," the old aphorism tells us, and both science and lived experience testify to the truth of this everyday wisdom. First impressions are quick, powerful and lasting, which is why it's so important to do everything you can to make a good one.

But sometimes, despite your best efforts to be charming, something goes wrong. Personalities clash, jokes fall flat, nerves get the best of you, or one party is simply having an off day, so a relationship starts with a fizzle rather than a bang. Is there anyway to bounce back from this sort of lousy first impression?

To the relief of entrepreneurs, job seekers, and anxious daters everywhere, experts agree that while changing a first impression can be difficult, it is often doable. Here are some of their top tips for turning things around.

1. Decide whether it's worth sweating

Not everyone gets along with everyone. That's OK. You don't have to please every Tom, Dick and Harriet you meet. So your first response to the sense that you and a new acquaintance didn't get off on the right foot is to assess whether it's worth worrying about in the first place.

"I'm all about building a confident first impression but sometimes people get too caught up in having to make a perfect first impression," leadership trainer and host of the Coaching for Leaders podcast Dr. Dave Stachowiak told the Art of Manliness (you'd have to assume this tip applies to the ladies as well). "Does it really matter to try to fix it? Is it really a big deal? If not, let it go."

2. Stop pretending

One common way to muck up an introduction is to stress yourself out pretending you're something you're not. Not only is this bound to make you awkward and unhappy, almost everyone can sniff out this kind of falseness and very few will respond positively to it. If your nerves got the better of you and you put on airs, the fix is simple, according to Tom Jaffee, a dating service CEO who has no doubt seen plenty of first meetings gone wrong. His solution: confess and stop.

"Your best hope is to be honest with the person," Jaffee told Real Simple. "Admit you were just trying to make a good impression." Follow that spoken honesty up by acting like yourself the next time you meet.

3. Apologize...

If you got off on the wrong foot because of a simple stumble on your part, own it and apologize. "Sometimes bad first impressions are caused by genuine mistakes. Perhaps you discussed a touchy subject unknowingly or mistook your new contact for someone else. Simply apologize for your mistake," advises career expert Heather R. Huhman.

4. ...but don't over-apologize

While admitting to to a misstep or to letting your nerves get the best of you can pay dividends, according to counselor and coach Susan Fee, you should nevertheless avoid over-apologizing for a dicey first meeting. "Saying you're sorry is important, but overdoing it can create another uncomfortable situation," she has written on her blog. "It puts the other person in the uncomfortable position of having to constantly reassure you."

5. Don't let your imagination run away with you

Fee also cautions against assuming your impressions of the meeting match up with those of the other party. Sometimes we think we screwed up far worse than we did. "Usually what we imagine is far worse than reality. Approach your apology by owning your feelings rather than telling others how you assume they feel. This gives you a chance to test their perceptions and get a real handle on the situation," advises Fee.

"So, instead of starting out with, 'You must think I'm a total idiot.' speak for yourself, 'I'm uncomfortable with how I behaved yesterday because I realized I might have offended you. Did you feel the same way?'" she suggests. That way you'll avoid over-apologizing.

6. Pivot

If a straight apology doesn't seem to suit the situation, you can always try pivoting instead. "One of the best approaches for recovering from a bad first impression is to pivot by showing off a different and more favorable side of your personality. In other words, if you tried to crack a joke and it fell flat, then demonstrate sincerity. Or if you tried to be sincere and it rang hollow, then demonstrate compassion. Pivoting to focus on a different aspect of your personality may help to reshape the perception of your character and value," explains the Art of Manliness.

Huhman agrees. "If you're a generally shy person, that shyness may come off as being rude or inconsiderate. Similarly, a feisty personality may be perceived as overbearing and disrespectful. Whatever the case, try to adjust your responses to balance this personality trait. If you're shy, smile more and initiate conversation. If you're too outgoing, take a step back and listen," she advises.

7. Ask for advice

This tip comes from persuasion guru Robert Cialdini via a Dorie Clark Forbes post. If someone dislikes you, one way to put the relationship on a fresh footing is to ask the person for advice. Not only is this flattering to the person being asked, but also offers an opening for further positive interactions. Say you ask for a book recommendation. "Suddenly, you have the basis of an interaction, because now when you return it, you can return it with a book you think he or she might like," says Cialdini.

8. Be persistent...

If you're really determined to win someone over after a rough start, be warned that your efforts may take some time. "A Harvard study suggests that it will take eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person's negative opinion of you. In this context be persistent and patient," leadership specialist Roz Usheroff reports on LinkedIn.

9. ... and consistent

While a sustained effort over time may be required to change a bad first impression, it's not sufficient. You also need to be stable in your subsequent behavior, Fee cautions: "Overcoming a bad impression requires that all future behavior be consistent with how you want to be perceived."

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Via TechinBiz
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

I think 2 and 7 are my favorites. Be honest and don't pretend, that's the main one.

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Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It

Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It | Competitive Edge |

When Arielle Jackson started to develop the marketing and communications plan around Cover (the Android app quickly snapped up by Twitter), she brought a lot of firepower to the job. During her nearly nine years at Google, she managed product marketing for Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Voice. She then moved on to Square, where she led go-to-market plans for new hardware products like the Square Stand. At Cover, she put everything she learned to work to help make the product uniquely valuable. Today, she does the same as an advisor to multiple startups.

What’s surprising for many people, she says, is that marketing is actually highly tactical. There are frameworks and distinct steps founders can take to define what their company is doing, why it’s important, and why — above all the noise — people should listen to them.

In this exclusive interview, Jackson shares exercises entrepreneurs can use to nail their product positioning, develop the right assets (including a name that strikes the right chord), and make a stunning first impression on the market — whether they’re launching a new feature or an entire company.

How to Position Your Business

At its core, positioning is a statement. It’s a sentence or two that clearly defines the problem you're setting out to solve and why your solution is compelling. Your positioning statement should remain internal, but it’s critical to everything that follows: Aligning teams, hiring the right people, developing the best product, communicating the value of your work — the list goes on. It all starts with positioning.

More at:

First Round is a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs and companies.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

This is a long and very detailed article. Go to the original article on the FirstRound site (see link) to read more of it. It is very clear and detailed in how a startup can position itself with its new product or service. Good reading and learning!

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