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Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Year in the Life of an Entrepreneur

Most entrepreneurial retrospectives are written at the point of success. Once you’ve made your millions it’s easy to be introspective and say where you went wrong. I haven’t got to that point yet, but I will. I’m one year into what I hope I’ll spend the rest of my life doing. If you’re about to jump off the same cliff then maybe you’ll find some of this useful?

Don’t Give Yourself A Year

My wife and I agreed to a one year runway in which to find a repeatable business model. This is far, far too long. In hindsight, we should have said three months or even just one. Given a whole year to do something, you’ll spend most of it doing the wrong things. The fear of failure is a very powerful driver. That’s why people study harder the nearer they get to an exam. Without that imminent risk of having to pack your bags and go home, you won’t push yourself enough.

Don’t Go It Alone

Ideally, this would be a co-founder – someone equally invested and equally in fear of the game ending. But there are plenty of other alternatives if one can’t be found. I have two sets of people that I rely on. Firstly, a number of superb, brutally honest advisers and, secondly, my wife. You need people, who you respect, who can beat you up on a regular basis and really challenge you about what you’ve done today / this week / this month. The reason you need these extra people is covered next …

Recognise Your Abilities

Your technical, sales, business or marketing abilities are as nothing compared to your ability to lie to yourself. Left to your own devices you will convince yourself that:

  • users need that feature
  • it’s not ready to ship yet
  • it’s OK to code all day
  • you need to build a platform for X

You cannot see the lies you tell yourself. Let someone you trust help you recognise that.

Assumptions Will Kill You

The reason Lean Startup is so essential is that it requires you to confirm your assumptions. Not with yourself or someone on your team, but with your customer – someone who might actually pay money for your product or service. Here’s one of my biggest assumptions:

Early on I had a prototype application that, essentially, worked. Trouble was, it was slow and wouldn’t scale to more than a few users. I assumed that nobody would pay for that version because it wasn’t quick enough. What an idiot. I never tested whether people would be happy for the product to email them when complete or even if it ran overnight. Bottom line: I could have had revenue from as early as February.

The Wrong Location Can Be Hard

We don’t all live in The Valley or within walking distance of Silicon Roundabout. In today’s global economy it’s always been possible to work remotely and run a successful business. The problem with start-ups is that you need a network around you. Companies are formed, founders introduced, investors intrigued and future users ignited by face-to-face meetings. I live just outside Cambridge which holds an admirable number of events. However, London is where it’s at and it costs me £50 every time I ‘pop’ in. This is not impossible, but it soon ads up. So, if you can, consider making your geography easier.

Know Who Your Customers Are

I have spent a lot of time talking with the wrong people over the past year. This is in no way disrespectful to them, it’s just that they weren’t my customer. For far too long I concentrated on the technology of my product and spoke with those who understood it. This was wrong. Figure out who your customers are as early as possible and spend a disproportionate amount of time engaging them.

Work Hard

I hope this goes without saying? However, it took me a long time to re-jig my working hours for maximum effect. For months I struggled to work evenings before I made a change. We have two young boys and, after stories and bedtime talks, I was falling asleep myself. Now I start work at 5am every day. It means my evenings are shorter and I watch significantly less TV but, hey, make the choice. You can, genuinely, work 14+ hours a day for prolonged periods.

Give Something Back

I was surprised how early it’s possible to give something back to the startup community. Part of being an entrepreneur is learning to learn fast. Within weeks I had some knowledge that some of my peers didn’t. Because we’re all trying to do something unique we all have experiences we can share – almost immediately. I mentored at Startup Weekend Cambridge in March, less than three months into my free-fall, and it was a hugely rewarding weekend. BTW: you’ll find that you can critique someone else’s ideas much more honestly than you can your own!

Attend Lean Startup Machine

Seriously. Go. Now.

I went to the London boot camp in September and the results were astonishing. Being forced to step far outside your comfort zone for 2 days was the best money I’ve spent all year. After the event I came away with a defined, validated customer segment and problem. The next London event is on February 3rd 2012 – you won’t spend better money.

Finally, I look forward to meeting more of you in 2012. I love being part of this pay it forward community and I believe that what we’re all attempting to do can have profound effects on, well, everything.

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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Startups

 

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Should you choose Silverlight?

There seems to be a bit of controversy surrounding Silverlight these days; in case you hadn’t noticed. This post is my two-penneth on the current situation and what, I think, the future holds.

I’m a staunch advocate of Silverlight, for now. Especially given the current alternatives. My conviction is such that I’m building a startup that uses Silverlight to test the business model, Percollate. Because of my history of C-level languages and Microsoft development environments, the segue into Silverlight was almost painless. Clearly, it will not be around for ever, but for now it’s hard to see a better alternative.

Here are my thoughts with a little more structure:

Silverlight is Free

The compiler is part of the runtime which is freely downloadable. Microsoft provides a great development environment, Visual Studio and offers the Express Edition for free. There are also 3rd-party developer tools available; made possible by virtue of the free compiler and the reflective nature of the BCL.

A Decade of Support

Microsoft recently announced that they would be supporting Silverlight until the end of 2021. That’s 1 decade. 10 years. 120 months.

Compare this to an open source framework like, say, Ruby on Rails. When ‘Ruby on Rails with Feathers and Neon Lights v2’ comes along, the best developers from the community will jump ship. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that they tend to be trail-blazers looking for the latest innovation.

However, Microsoft will still be fixing the bug that you find in their framework in, say, 8 years time. Considering that 1 year is a lifetime in software development, this level of support is not to be sniffed at.

Now consider this: have you ever worked on a project that took 10 years to complete? How about 3 years? If the answer is yes to either of those questions then you’re probably not using anything as elegant as Silverlight. I don’t know any developers or business owners who are having to plan into the next decade and basing today’s framework decisions on that information.

Know your customer

This section could also have been called ‘It doesn’t work on an iPad‘.

I recently took Percollate to Lean Startup Machine. My pitch of the problem and solution received great responses from the room but, when the S word was introduced the number of interested delegates dwindled. This was at the point when none of us knew who the customer was.

My point is that working on an iPad / iPhone etc is important if you’re producing a consumer application. If, however, you are solving a business problem you don’t necessarily need that reach. As an example: during our private beta trials some customers were borrowing neighbours laptops or digging out old PCs to use our application. If you’re building something where the value proposition is high enough, people will put down their iPads for a few minutes.

Go Rich and Narrow

I love the new developer funnel for Windows 8 / WinRT. You can be a C# developer, a C / C++ developer or an HTML5 / CSS3 developer and yet all compile your work into a native Windows 8 application. Superb. The building blocks of Silverlight (XAML and C#) are the basic of this richer environment.

My hope is that Microsoft also inverts this funnel so that Silverlight / C# developers can ‘compile’ their applications to HTML5 and CSS3. Here’s hoping!

It’s good!

It really is very good. You can easily find a multitude of posts that cover the benefits and delights of Silverlight far more eloquently than I can do here. However, the use of observable data binding, GPU acceleration, compile-time validation and now 3D XNA game integration make it a great environment to work in.

Finally, the bad…

Microsoft engineers produce great works but, alas, its management has failed recently. Quite frankly, someone at Microsoft owes the developer community a thumping great apology. The veil of secrecy about new frameworks and platforms is damaging our infrastructure. You need to talk to us more. Seriously. Talk to us.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2011 in Silverlight

 

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