“An entrepreneur is only able to mentally fully commit if he is able to break any prior reservations he had about pursuing his startup. The most successful entrepreneurs exhibit a 100% time and mental dedication to their startup that would be impossible if they still possessed reservations about their future.”—
Our presentation tonight went fairly well. About 50 in attendance… some great questions/suggestions, and very productive chat with a local APG leader who strongly encouraged us to attend the International Black Genealogy Summit coming up in October. Highlight was the live demo Cyndy and I did of the lookup ordering / fulfillment process (and client-provider messaging in real time!)
If you’ve never supported your own software, spending just one day doing tech support will be an eye-opening – not to mention humbling - experience. You’ll have to keep your ego in check, because most people who contact tech support do so because they’re having problems with your software, some of whom will use colorful language to describe the annoyances they’re running into.
But that’s the stuff you need to hear. You need to hear it because you’re the one who can solve those annoyances. You’re the one who can get rid of all the things that prevent your software from being that kick-ass program that people recommend to their friends and co-workers.
If rewards do not work, what does? I recommend that employers pay workers well and fairly and then do everything possible to help them forget about money. A preoccupation with money distracts everyone — employers and employees — from the issues that really matter.
Those issues might be abbreviated as the three C’s of quality: choice, collaboration and content. Choice means workers should participate in making decisions about what they do. Collaboration means they should be able to work together in effective teams. Content refers to the job’s tasks. To do a good job, people need a good job to do.
I have a “Rule of Time in Startups”: How much time does a bootstrapped company take? All of it.
Even ten people could hardly keep up with everything you do in small business — creating, consulting, designing, fixing, self-promotion, blogging, networking, bookkeeping, taxes, customer support and cultivation, reading startup blogs for ideas and inspiration (!), and all those little crappy things like losing an afternoon troubleshooting your fancy outsourced IP phone system that was supposed to let you “work from anywhere.”
One, two, or even three people can’t do everything, so of course it takes all your time. If you’re working a day job while starting something on the side, of course you don’t have time to exercise or play with your kids before bed.
One enthusiastic visitor to the Genlighten booth today suggested we need a new sign… a big one to go behind the booth that says simply “We do it for you!”
I’ve shied away from that use case so far… the person who is really stuck and tired of being stuck and just wants someone to helicopter them beyond the research obstacle they’re facing.
I see that as the province of the true professional rather than the lookup provider. But what this potential customer seemed to be saying was that there’s a document-focused version of hiring a professional, and that it sounded like we were planning on fulfilling that need. And she liked that. Hmm…
“Most of the people involved never intended to be entrepreneurs, it just sort of happened. They didn’t start with a grand idea, a patent, or even funding in many cases. Some of the businesses were in competitive spaces that you would have thought they were nuts to go into. Time after time after time, the story was not sexy. It was about grinding it out. It was a story of will. It was a story of perseverance. It was a story of doing tasks that, from the outside looking in, would seem boring, dry, and monotonous. Every single one of these stories followed that same story line.”—
Cyndy and I wanted to test some crucial fixes our CTO just implemented and brainstorm around some UI/UX design changes we’ve been pondering. We ordered takeout Chinese food and headed down to Gillson Park in Wilmette along the lakeshore. We found a nice table, fired up the MiFi 2200 and took turns ordering lookups and mock-fulfilling them. Kept it up until the mosquitoes got too annoying.
I’ve struggled with this the whole way and it’s coming to a head now. I find myself wanting to tweak things that are about appearance more than usability… and hold off letting customers in until I’m done tweaking. Got to stop that and move on.
As recently as one year ago, everyone worked hard at making sure their brand was portrayed in a positive light. The message was tightly controlled and as a customer, you had very little power to express your love or hatred of a product.
As you all know, that’s impossible now. You could spend $10,000 on banner advertising for your new web app, proclaiming it to be “The World’s Best Solution for XXXX”, only to be ripped apart on Facebook, Twitter and the blogs.
It’s not about advertising anymore. It’s all about Conversation and Empowerment.
Microcopy is extremely contextual…that’s why it’s so valuable. It answers a very specific question people have and speaks to their concerns right on the spot.
Here are some… examples:
* When signing up for a newsletter, say “this low-volume newsletter”
* When people add their emails, say “we hate spam as much as you do”
* When subscribing for something free, say “you can always unsubscribe at any time”
* When storing customer’s information, say “You can export your information at any time”
* If offering optional account creation, say “If you create an account, you’ll be able to track your package”
All of these microcopy examples have one thing in common: they help to alleviate concerns of would-be customers. They help to reduce commitment by speaking directly to the thoughts in people’s heads. That’s why this copy can be so short yet so powerful.
“If your goal is to have a huge company and sell $100,000,000 of software per year, you’re going to have a tough time. You’ll almost certainly fail, it will take years, it will take cooperation among many people you haven’t yet met or hired, it will take a massive market, it will take beatable competitors, and it will probably take debt and/or investors. And yeah, a down economy could be your undoing.
But if your goal is to run a smaller successful business and be independently wealthy, it’s different. If you’d be happy making $1,000,000/year or even $200,000/year many potential problems fall away. A small, focused market changes the rules.”—
“If your company has VC investors, they will reduce the probabilities of an exit that would produce a 1-5x return for the angels. That exit might have produced a 100x return for the entrepreneurs because they paid much less than the angels for their shares. Having VC investors does increase the probabilities of exits above a 5x return. But there is no free lunch. This data shows that after a VC invests your chances of failing completely also increase significantly.”—
At first, entrepreneurship is a Faith-based initiative. There is no certainty about a startup on day-one. You make several first order approximations about your business model, distribution channels, demand creation, and customer acceptance. You leave the comfort of your existing job, convince a few partners to join you and you jump off the bridge together.
However, successfully executing a startup requires the company to become Fact-based as soon as it can.
“I think that founders stock before a venture financing should be subject to the same general vesting terms as one would expect after a venture financing. A typical vesting schedule is four year vesting with a one year cliff. This means that 25% of the shares will vest one year from the vesting commencement date, with 1/48 of the total shares vesting every month thereafter, until the shares are completely vested after four years. The vesting commencement date can be the date of issuance of the shares, or an earlier date, in order to give the founder vesting credit for time spent working on the company prior to incorporation and/or issuance of the shares.”—
Ask PG: YC Founders over 30 yrs old
46 points by dannyr 7 hours ago | 33 comments
I’m curious to know how many YC companies with founders over 30 yrs old have been funded.
We hear so much about founders right out of college. I also wonder how much of a factor is age in selecting companies.
40 points by pg 7 hours ago | link
There are quite a lot of founders over 30. I don’t know exactly how many because we don’t keep track of ages. The sharp falloff is around 35, but we’ve had a handful of founders over 40. None over 50 though.
From a post on Hacker News by user dannyr. PG stands for Paul Graham. YC stands for Y Combinator, Paul Graham’s entrepreneurial ‘not-an-incubator’ venture program for early-stage startups.
I’m about to turn 49, and I plan to apply to Y Combinator early next year. Though our chances are slim, I think it’d be fun to skew their age distribution a little.
Killing the troll isn’t easy, but you have to do it if you want to monetize your site.
Trustworthiness, transparency, credible authority, lots of high-value content, and just plain old decency are your best weapons.
Everything on your site needs to show that you can be trusted. Real contact information. Showing your photograph. Displaying seals for anti-hacker technology and the Better Business Bureau on your shopping cart. FAQs that actually answer questions. Clear, reassuring calls to action.
So let’s declare war on the trolls. Be extraordinarily trustworthy. Show your value. Put your customers first. Keep your promises.
The troll is tough and hard to kill. But with dedication and commitment, we can chase him off to go wreck somebody else’s business.
If you build it, congratulations, but don’t expect too much. If you build it, market it, support it, monitor its publicity, and keep improving it, then they will come, slowly, in fives and tens. Each new subscription is proof that you’re getting somewhere. The trick is ensuring constant growth, and that takes hard work.
Finding the right price points, attracting your target market, writing a blog they read, speaking at events they attend, supporting your current customer-base 24/7, adding features as you see fit, all of this is hard work. It’s usually a lot harder than the programming challenges.
You have to assume that anything you’re putting out there will have some success. Success typically means a number of paying customers, who you must support and communicate with. It’s not just writing an app, it’s attracting a market, supporting customers, dealing with enquiries, writing blog posts, talking to technology news sites, partnering with complimentary applications, handling feature requests. All of that is hard, but you have to plan for it if you’re assuming success, and if you’re not assuming success then what are you doing?
Even if I could find all the relevant official records digitized on the Internet, would that be enough? No! Conducting genealogical research isn’t just getting the dates and places and full names for vital events; it’s about the quest and the thrill of “the find.”
I want to walk the fields my ancestors plowed (assuming they haven’t been paved). I want to spend time sitting under a tree at the edge of a battlefield where my ancestor fought and perhaps died. I want to spend time at the cemetery, taking a moment to appreciate the lives of those who put loved ones in the ground there.
I swear I am not a romantic about this. Learning about reality is much more powerful and moving. So take my advice, don’t get wrapped up in how many names you collect for your database. Take the time to make some real discoveries: the awe and appreciation for lives that led to you.
”—From Sharon Tate Moody’s article “It takes details to bring your ancestors to life” in the Tampa Tribune, May 24th, 2009.
There’s no use going to a show if you don’t know why. Answers like, “because our competitors are there,” or “because it’s on our calendar,” or even “because I think we should,” don’t cut it. (Remember your department has a mission.) There’s a plethora of reasons why a company would want to exhibit at a show:
* write sales orders
* generate leads for future sales
* research the competition
* spot trends
* generate awareness and visibility within the industry
* build our mailing list with quality names
* find better or cheaper suppliers
* build rapport with current customers
* get press
* generate excitement around a new product introduction
* get additional partners
* recruit staff
At NGS, I thought we managed to generate awareness, build rapport with current (registered) customers, get press, get additional partners, and build our mailing list with quality names. We did many of the other things he suggests too. But I still need to work on going to trade shows with specific objectives and measuring the ROI in realistic ways.
The social technologies we see in use today are fundamentally panoptical - the architecture of participation is inherently an architecture of surveillance.
In the age of social networks we find ourselves coming under a vast grid of surveillance - of permanent visibility. The routine self-reporting of what we are doing, reading, thinking via status updates makes our every action and location visible to the crowd. This visibility has a normative effect on behavior (in other words we conform our behavior and/or our speech about that behavior when we know we are being observed).
The author uses a fear-inducing analogy to explore what we risk and potentially give up when we casually share truths about ourselves on Facebook, Twitter, et al. I don’t see things in quite so ominous terms, but the article is thought-provoking nonetheless.
When it starts accepting clients in June, Ancestry.com’s ExpertConnect service will be just one option for hiring people to do research tasks, such as photographing a gravestone or photocopying a record. Here are a few others:
* Genlighten: Here, you also can collect bids for research tasks. The focus here is on lookups, record retrieval and similar services.
”—Nice mention today of Genlighten in Diane Haddad’s Genealogy Insider blog, part of Family Tree Magazine’s online presence.
“The golden rule of the ethics of viral spread is: try to only do things on a user’s behalf when they’ve explicitly done something to request that thing, and they know that what they’ve done will result in a communication being sent on their behalf. If you can’t link an invitation directly to the inviter’s action, then you probably shouldn’t send that invitation.”—
Well, yes, but not necessarily because there’s been tons of traffic. There was first thing Wednesday morning, and at occasional intervals since. But today’s been much quieter.
I’ve been cranking on everything I can do myself to get ready for the Genlighten private beta. Provider tour copy and screenshots. Revised client tour copy and screenshots. Revisions to the Terms of Service and to the Privacy & Security policy. CSS tweaks, text tweaks, wider text input boxes… anything we’ve got listed in Pivotal Tracker that I can do. And I’ve added bunches more stories to Pivotal Tracker for Justin and me.
Being here at NGS adds to the sense of urgency. Genlighten’s competitors are on the move. But our value proposition continues to resonate with booth visitors, and the beta signups continue to trickle in.
This was the week the Kellogg MBA Student Team launched their Google AdWords campaigns for Genlighten.com. So far, only a small trickle of people have clicked on their ads. I suspect we’ve managed to kill our PageRank pretty quickly. But hopefully they will learn from the process, and I’ll learn from their learning. I’ve already had at least one very positive e-mail exchange with someone who clicked through.
They say that when you’re trying to get into shape, the best motivation is seeing the dieting and exercise pay off. That principle applies to genealogy: The best inspiration to do more research is getting results.
So when you keep not finding new information despite your best efforts, you’re in danger of embarking on a downward spiral—lack of motivation to look for records followed by (wonder of wonders) not finding your ancestors.
“If you can’t manage chaos and uncertainty, if you can’t bias yourself for action and if you wait around for someone else to tell you what to do, then your investors and competitors will make your decisions for you and you will run out of money and your company will die.”—
We took a big step today and pointed the www.genlighten.com domain at the Rails Alpha that Justin’s got running on EngineYard’s Solo service. It’s scary, in that there are public pages on the site that could use lots better styling and content. But it’s a good kind of scary — the kind that should motivate us to improve it quickly.
In the meantime, EV/SSL certificates and PCI compliance are getting close too. And I’m making solid progress on the “Why to become a Genlighten Lookup Provider” white paper.
Nice to celebrate some small victories now and again.
In 90 minutes, talked seriously about Genlighten to perhaps 15-20 people tonight at the booth. Most were interested in being providers. One follows me on Twitter. Another said “one of the speakers today was raving about your site”. Wonder who that was!
I almost always seem to get a huge amount of renewed energy and motivation from these conferences. Soon though, I hope to also see noticeable impact on our revenue from them as well.
“I like to start with free customer acquisition channels since they obviously offer the best opportunity to generate a positive ROI. Free drivers may include viral marketing, self-implemented SEO and listing with any directories that are appropriate for your product. Leveraging this early user flow we optimize the first user experience for the right target users and introduce a business model that generates sufficient revenue to fund future paid user acquisition. When we start developing paid channels, we work our way through the lowest hanging fruit first, beginning with demand harvesting channels, later adding demand creation channels.”—
My take: this is our roadmap exactly… get enough revenue from users we acquire through free channels that we can afford to eventually pay for ads to reach additional users. It’ll be tough to pull off, but that’s our plan.
For example, I’ve talked a few times about how IMVU raised its first venture round with monthly revenues of around $10,000. This wasn’t very impressive, but we had two things going for us:
1. A hockey stick shaped growth curve. People often forget the most important part of the hockey stick: the long flat part. We had months of data that showed customers more-or-less uninterested in our product. We were limping along at a few hundred dollars a month in revenue. All this time, we were continuously changing our product, talking to customers, trying to improve on our AdWords spend. Eventually, these efforts bore fruit – and this was evident in the data. This lent our claims about learning and discovery credibility.
2. Compelling per-customer economics. We had only a small number of customers – if memory serves, only a few thousand active users. But a little math will show that we were making over a dollar per-user per-month. Our cost to acquire a customer on AdWords was only a few cents. Our eventual VC’s were quick to grasp what this meant (in fact, they understood it better than we did): that if our product achieved significant scale, it would be wildly profitable.
“It is, I think, that we are all so alone in what lies deepest in our souls, so unable to find the words, and perhaps the courage to speak with unlocked hearts, that we don’t know at all that it is the same with others.”—
We’d love to have professional genealogists join our provider network, but we suspect for many it will not be a good fit…
Instead, we see Genlighten empowering determined _amateur_ genealogists to find records for each other, sharing vicariously in their respective “happy dances”, building reputations for reliability, dogged determination, and resourcefulness in the process.
”—Brainstorming a post for the Genlighten blog regarding the recent APG thread on Ancestry’s “Expert Connect”
“It seems to me that you have a huge opportunity to “do it right” in the eyes of professionals and move quicker than Ancestry.”—A well-respected genealogy blogger in a Twitter direct message to me today. He was commenting on the APG message board discussion of Ancestry’s new “Expert Connect” service, a direct competitor to Genlighten.