Repeat after me, I will not do another startup as a non-technical founder unless…

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inspiration

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(above: the original paper mockup of Twitter by @jack)

I have spent nearly the past year working on my startup MyFavorites and I thought this was finally the time that I had learned all my lessons on failure. I hadn’t.

What I have learned this time around are a slew of things I can’t possibly begin to document. Some of these lessons I can’t even see yet, but there are some obvious ones.

I’m a non-technical founder, aka I can’t program. I have held every role in the book at web companies, including being a programmer back in the late 90s, so I understand web technology — I understand what it can do and the limitations. I leaned towards the business/marketing side of things many years ago. I’ve been reading about new technology and startups since the days of the Business 2.0 and Red Herring publications in the 90s, and then I was the 4th writer at TechCrunch back in 2006. I have consumed nearly every article on TechCrunch the past 5 years and tried many early-stage apps/sites. I can look at a new service, software, website, mobile app, and my mind just starts spinning with ideas for improvement, marketing, and monetization.

I will not do another startup unless:

  1. I have full paper mockups for every screen of the user experience, and I have had real people use the experience via these paper mockups. I have to fully think out the user experience more than I ever have before — and I need to do it before I start hiring a graphic designer.
  2. I can program it. At least a minimal version of it. Dennis Crowley learned what he needed to get the first version of Foursquare out, and Philip Kaplan dabbles a bit pushing out little projects here and there.

If I can’t program it, then I need a technical co-founder (there’s no room for an idea guy). Finding cofounders is just like finding a significant other. You don’t marry someone immediately. You date a lot — most last an hour, some can last months, others for years. Finding “the one” is just as difficult as it is when marrying. You both have to believe in the same principles and what you’re looking to accomplish in the future. You have a baby together — or babies. Long distance doesn’t work.

What happens when you aren’t programming a web/mobile startup yourself is that the project costs escalate and get out of control. Even if you get a fixed price on your project, someone’s going to get screwed — you or the programmer. 110% of the time you have not defined every nook and cranny of a project. And what if it does take off — there’s ongoing maintenance, support, tweaks, features, etc.

Being a non-technical founder is difficult, because the balance of work shifts greatly during pre-launch. At first, the non-technical founder (possibly with the technical founder) is hopefully bringing the user-experience to the table — and maybe money for design and marketing. (But I’m learning you shouldn’t be wasting any money on design or anything — put out something simple. If it’s awesome, the people will come and use it.) Then the technical founder does the programming while the non-technical founder sits there buying sandwiches. Then launch hopefully occurs, and then the non-technical founder can really have a role — customer support, marketing, social, blogging, press, bizdev, etc. Meanwhile the technical founder is doing support, tweaks, new features, and scaling.

There’s a reason startups typically happen by college kids — they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They aren’t tied down by families, wives, kids, mortgages, etc.

So I’m contemplating my next steps in the work aspect of my life. I question whether I should be trying to start companies myself — whether I even want to run a company. I’m not an operational manager and I’m not a project manager. I think if I was working on a solution to something that I truly passionately believe in, then I may take another stab, but I don’t know when or if that problem will ever exist for me. Meanwhile, I get fascinated by a lot of cool stuff that’s being built by people.

I know one thing, I need to start blogging again. I love consumer internet startups and I know I could lend a lot of value on the product/marketing/bizdev/monetization/sales/community/rolodex side of things. I think I may want to work for an investor, or group of investors, or start a small fund and invest some money from people looking to get into these exciting times we’re living in. That way I’d have a vested interest in the success of the portfolio and I would work to assist the startups (and source new promising startups that look to change the world).

Much more thinking too come, but for now I’m going to enjoy and appreciate this awesome summer that’s upon me — new home, marrying the girl of my dreams, trip to Europe, and all the other awesome things to do in sunny Buffalo.

I Found Lucky: Kanye West telling his journey to catching a break

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inspiration


A great entrepreneurial story is that of rapper/producer Kanye West. This is a must listen by every entrepreneur. In the last track off his first album he tells his story — it starts off as a song (about his start, being overlooked) and then eventually (about 3min 45sec) turns into him talking over the beat with his entire story of how he caught his first break, how we was doing beats for local acts in Chicago to keep the lights on, then caught his next break to do a track for Jay-Z, then was getting evicted, yadda yadda…, then how no one thought he was a rapper — that he was just a producer. He proved them all wrong. Awesome story.

It’s never as easy as it seems — everyone has an ‘I found lucky’ backstory like this. (Someday I may start a series of ‘I found lucky’ talks/posts where a successful person divulges their backstory of hustling and finding lucky.)

Listen here, the song is called ‘Last Call’.

“Make something people want” -Paul Graham (@paulg) #TCDisrupt

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inspiration

Paul Graham blew me away yesterday in his live “Office Hours” segment on TechCrunch Disrupt. Every single entrepreneur needs to see this. There could likely be a book of 1,000 questions by Paul to entrepreneurs that would be very valuable to every entrepreneur– here are some from these sessions; priceless. Paul has interviewed thousands of entrepreneurs by now and knows exactly what to ask and how to morph (and gut) an idea into something better.

He spends roughly 6 minutes with each entrepreneur, hearing about their idea/business, and he ends up twisting these startup ideas into what could be gold [although a couple of these don’t stand a chance even then]. Very interesting to see the entrepreneurs — and how they can become obsessed with an idea and their view on how to execute on it, but viewers and Paul don’t see it as a problem to be fixed — or as too focused (or not focused enough).

Here are some quotes by Paul from these sessions and when he was interviewed by Charlie Rose at TechCrunch Disrupt 2011 NYC:

  • “Founder typically builds a product that they wanted.”
  • “So important to understand your users.”
  • “Build something for which you are the user.”
  • “Don’t make one of these awesome services that is in search of a problem.”
  • “People will seek out a start-up if you have what people desperately need.”
  • “If you launch and are hugely successful, and it’s 1-year later. What is the biggest use case you see happening?”
  • “What is the worst problem in your life? Go solve that.”

Watch the ~40minute video here.

Advertising for Real-Time Search (aka Twitter)

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analysis Ideas inspiration twitter

Real-time search is going to change things up on the web. To me, real-time search is essentially “conversational search” — what are people talking about right now? What events, what trips they are planning at this moment, what answers they are trying to find to looming questions, etc.

Twitter is all about conversation and what people are doing now. Twitter has real-time search, but hasn’t made it widely available yet — imagine when Twitter puts this search box at the top of every Twitter page; it’s going to be a game changer.

Some companies have been trying various methods of helping users of Twitter make some money, but generally putting ads in their feeds. I think this will work if they insert a link that is 100% relevant to what ever the person is tweeting about.

But what really needs to happen is another Google AdWords, but for real-time search. Text ads to people doing real-time search queries, are going to read/look different than search queries at a search engine. Some company needs to start figuring out what these ads are going to read/look like — and also how people will be searching the real-time web, because it’s going to look much different than their search habits on Google. People will use different keywords/phrases and ways of phrasing their queries.

Some searches will stay the same (i.e. “tickets for Purdue Ohio State game”), but others will change (i.e. instead of “hotel recommendations in Buffalo NY”, they might search on how others would be saying it, “hotel great Buffalo NY” — to get people twittering ‘The Mansion Hotel has been great in Buffalo NY!’).

I’m Rich, Bitch! [inspiration]

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inspiration uber

Fellow Buffalo-NY affiliate rockstar Paul Bourque (aka Uber Affiliate) launched a new Site called S.eriously.com that is quite simple and shows a handful of “big money” checks/earnings that some Super Affiliates have earned from various offers they have promoted through affiliate networks. [that is the longest sentence I think I have ever written in my life; and I think it might not be a run-on, so I’m going to leave it]

Paul monetizes the Site by providing referral links to the affiliate networks that those big money checks were earned from (i.e. Copeac, NeverBlueAds, Millnic Media, CPA Empire, Rextopia, Rocket Profit, CoProsper, OfferForge, etc). If anyone signs up for those networks via his links, then he receives a % of that user’s earnings for a period of time (anywhere from 2-10%, typically 5%). This is called “2nd tier referrals”. It is then in his best interests that those people earn a lot of money, so then he earns some extra cash.

It’s a good source for some inspiration.