I tweeted this from Pandomonthly two hours ago, and it quickly got legs in the Twitterverse. This quote was more or less the extent of Reid’s comments on this topic, but given the amount of attention it’s received online from entrepreneurs and investors alike, I think it’s worth spending more time discussing.
The “first mover advantage” is something we hear a lot about. In general, it’s a good thing to be the first to market (there are disadvantages as well, but we won’t go there now). In my view, Reid’s comments struck a cord because entrepreneurs often interpret being the first mover in one of the following ways:
- Being first to X users
- Being first to raise X dollars
- Being first to get X reporters talking about your product
- Being first to have this brilliant idea you’re willing to risk it all for
Now, those are all good things, but focusing on these aspects can mean you forget to do the following (many of which Reid highlighted in his talk):
- Think about what will happen to your product after you reach X users
- Maintain your users & keep them happy
- Identify a plan to use your capital and work towards the next round of funding
- Develop a sustainable business/revenue model
- Remain innovative and mindful of competition
A misperception of what it means to be a “first mover” can have negative effects not only on individual founders and companies, but on the entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole. It wouldn’t surprise me if these beliefs are largely responsible for “stealth modes” and a tendency towards secrecy which keeps all of us from learning more and solving together the biggest problems of the world.
I’m very interested in fostering more discussion around this, so please leave your comments below or tweet me at @ArdenEliz
Being able to deliver an effective and engaging elevator pitch is an important skill even if you’re not an actively fundraising entrepreneur. I recently worked with StartingBloc Fellows of San Francisco to provide them with feedback on pitching for jobs, mentors, and funding. I compiled the list below of 5 things you need to consider when developing an elevator pitch:
- Know your audience: Who are they? What is their background/expertise? What are their attitudes and interests? What inspires them to act?
The angle of your pitch, your word choice, your story, your data should all be uniquely selected base on your audience. If you are pitching a medical device, what you present will vary drastically if you are speaking to an audience of doctors, patients, insurance companies, or investors. Craft unique pitches for each of these audiences and be prepared to deliver one as soon as you discover the woman on the bus next to you invests in biotech.
- Setup the problem: What problem are you trying to solve? Why does it matter? In order to keep any audience engaged in your pitch, you need to elicit emotion that inspires them to listen to what you have to say. This is best done through storytelling, by developing a personalized connection to a problem and showing (not telling) your audience why they should care. I’ve learned most of what I know about storytelling from Stanford Business School lecturer JD Schramm, so I encourage you to watch his session on concise, powerful storytelling.
- Layout your solution: How are you going to solve this problem? Why is this solution better, cheaper, more sustainable than other options? When presenting your technically-advanced solution to an even more technically-complex problem, avoid using industry-specific jargon or complicated language unless you are 110% sure that the person you are speaking to has the expertise needed to understand every word you’re saying. You don’t want to risk alienating people who could be great advocates for you.
- Share a taste of your special sauce: Why are you the best person/team to solve this problem? What makes you special? You’ve identified a problem, you’ve laid out your solution, but your audience still doesn’t know why you should be the one to execute this solution. I recently attended Peter Thiel’s fireside chat with PandoDaily where he articulated what I’ve heard from many other investors and entrepreneurs “I’d rather invest in an individual, than an idea. You can’t change a person, but you can change an idea.” Your personality, your skillset, your expertise, and your network are more defensible than most business plans or technology. Beyond pitching your solution, you need to sell yourself, your teammates, and your advisors.
- End with your Ask: What do you want? Why are you pitching? Your audience won’t know what you want from them unless you tell them. Whether you’re seeking advice, an introduction, or a $5 million investment, you need to conclude with a specific request. If your audience has been “sold” on your solution, they want to be given concrete next steps on how they can help you and get involved. Failure to present a clear purpose for an individual to engage could keep them from stepping up and “sealing the deal” with you. Your ask only has to be one sentence, but that sentence is often pivotal to your success.
Most importantly, make sure you are prepared to give your elevator pitch to anyone at any time (this means you’ll need to practice). You never know how valuable that random run-in could be, so you need to be at a point where you can deliver your articulate pitch with confidence as you ride your way up 34 floors…
Need more inspiration? Check out one of my favorite episodes of This American Life: Million Dollar Idea (MIT Elevator pitch segment starts at 8:30)
Over the past few days, I’ve had numerous conversations regarding Twitter’s decision to hire a tweet-less Gabriel Stricker as their new VP of Communications. In a recent post Michael Arrington effectively summarizes what many of us are questioning: Why would Twitter choose to bring in a top executive who appears to have “never used” the product?
This reaction seems pretty reasonable…and I’d say, predictable. So I have to ask, as Twitter’s new head of communications with significant PR experience, how could Striker not see this coming?
It doesn’t matter to me whether he had a private account prior to joining Twitter; in fact, let’s just assume he did. My issue is that it’s now his job to ensure the messaging around Twitter’s product is positive and that the communications coming from the company elicit user loyalty and confidence. Appearing as though you are sending your “first-ever tweet” (whether you are or not) is not the way to encourage positive reactions in the Twitter-verse.
Even if Stricker had a great reason to disconnect from his private tweeting profile, handling the transition in this way was poor PR. I remain a bit wary for Twitter about this hiring decision not because Stricker failed to tweet more, but because he failed to manage what seems to have been a foreseeable public response.
When I quickly searched for Twitter’s response to this story, I could not find anything, but would be interested to hear their/Stricker’s point-of-view.
“LinkedIn is built like a skyscraper, but almost everyone is still in the lobby” -John Hill from HigherEd Evangelist at LinkedIn.
I attended a session with John this week on how departments and individuals at Stanford can best utilize this professional social network. Considering myself a proficient LinkedIn user, I was surprised to learn a lot of new features and strategies that I am confident will improve my personal and professional use. Wanting to share these tips further, I’ve broken down his recommendations into a few key categories.
“Personal branding is only going to accelerate”: To access the value of LinkedIn, you (obviously) must first create a profile. If you for some reason have not done this, please stop reading now and address this immediately (no really, right now). In an age where you can’t control all that is said about you online, this is a great way to highlight your skills and accomplishments.
- Focus on the basics: Despite his sales position, John recommends NOT purchasing the premium LinkedIn package until you feel comfortable with the standard features (being able to maneuver around the lobby is essential before stepping on the elevator to the penthouse).
- Avoid feeling overwhelmed: Not having an online network when you’re getting started can be daunting, John recommends 30 connections as a good baseline for taking advantage of the site’s features.
Relationship Management Tips
“Give without expectation for return”: Stressing the importance of networking beyond the internet, John reminds us that LinkedIn is not intended to replace offline interactions. When building successful relationships you should seek ways to help others in the “real world” without expectation for repayment.
Read more …
When you read Paul Graham’s post on frighteningly ambitious startup ideas, it’s easy to become exhilarated by the idea of the next Steve Jobs replacing the search engine, email inboxes, or medical diagnostic tools with disruptive, visionary technology. This type of post generates enthusiasm for projects going through incubator programs and creates the kind of energy that led droves of people to Y Combinator’s most recent Demo Day in search of the next big idea (and investment).
But on the eve of Demo Day as I look through Techcrunch’s list (among others) of the best startups in this Y-combinator class, I see ideas that leave me unimpressed. This is not to say I think any of them are bad, unmarketable, or doomed, but I’m not blown away, and I certainly don’t find them frighteningly ambitious in their creativity.
There are two disheartening trends I found in post-Demo Day reports:
- The classic pitch “we’re X for Y” represents the definition of an unoriginal idea. “These guys are doing this for dogs and we’re going to do this for cats!” is not earth-shattering. Yes, it’s a proven business model, and yes, it’s easy to explain your value proposition to potential investors, but I feel confident in assuming Steve Jobs didn’t pitch OS X by saying “It’s like Windows for Apple Computers.” According to the Techcrunch article: Crowdtilt is Kickstarter for groups of friends; Pair is Path for couples; Your Mechanic is Airbnb for car repair; 42floors is Trulia for commercial real estate; Sonalight is “Siri on Steroids;” another Techcrunch piece compares iCracked to Geek Squad for iOS devices; and in my opinion Exec sounds a lot like Taskrabbit for Executives. Most of what Techcrunch considers the best ideas from Demo Day are bred from someone else’s innovative idea.
With the press these companies are getting, I expect they will make investors and founding teams a hefty profit, but they certainly do not speak to me as signs of brilliant, innovative thinking.
- Another theme of Demo Day ideas is online data crawling and aggregation around a particular focus area. These companies provide a centralized location to collect content others have created into one place. I willingly admit there may be an incredibly impressive algorithm behind it (in which case the best algorithm should scale to beat out all others), but it’s not original; it’s not mind-blowing. GigaOm identifies a top Demo Day contender in Ark as “a third party in the data search world” as Techcrunch gives Carsabi -an aggregate of used car sales listings- a spot in their top 10 list. And no, the fact that Carsabi “aggressively crawls every online car sale listing it can find” still doesn’t wow me.
Data aggregating provides a useful service external to the creative process. Useful services with an effective revenue-model are exactly that, but they definitely aren’t frightening me.
I want to be clear that this is not intended as a bash on incubators like Y combinator and 500 startups; they have nurtured the development of disruptive and paradigm-shifting companies, and I am confident they will continue to pursue world-changing ideas. But if reports coming out about this Demo Day are indicative of the best ideas being developed, these programs still have work to do. If I were Paul Graham, these types of companies simply would not satisfy me (despite what look to be very lucrative payoffs).
*I would love to hear more about the companies that missed a mention in these articles, particularly those that more closely reflect Paul Graham’s vision*
One of the first things a typical startup does after identifying an idea to pursue, is to select a company name. It is very easy to pick a weak name in a rush to snag a url and spend more time on other aspects of your business.
But a name is an important part of your company. It is often the first thing users see or hear, it is how they discuss your company with other potential users, it is the face of your marketing. Picking a name for your startup should be a thoughtful and intentional process.
In my experience, weak names tend to be victims of at least one of the following pitfalls; my hope is that many of you will keep these in mind when brainstorming a name for your next startup. There are certainly exceptions to every rule, but as your mother used to say “If Billy jumped off a bridge, would you jump off it too?”
1. Portmanteaus: The Oxford English dictionary describes a portmanteau as “a word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings.” I specifically dislike when founders take the beginning of one word and put it with the end of another word to make what is most often an awkward, confusing “word” that no one understands. Unless you’re Wikipedia (wiki+encylopedia) or Groupon (group+coupon), this naming strategy is unlikely to result in a catchy, marketable name that also captures what your company does.
2. Names ending in “ster”: I am hoping that the utter failure of Netflix’s Qwikster has helped people realize that adding “ster” to the end of another word, does not make it cool or popular. Also, remember Friendster? I’m additionally not thrilled by names that end in “ify.” Spotify is not successful because their name ends in those three letters, it’s because they offer an innovative platform for listening to and sharing music.
3. .ly, .me, .it : These didn’t bother me at first and were a good way of finding an original url without .com restrictions; now I’m over them. For url shortening sites (like bit.ly), this absolutely makes sense, but for companies that are throwing an “ly” onto the end of a random word just to snag a cute-sounding name, please stop. I’d rather your name tell me something about your company and not how adorable you think it is.
4. Random accumulation of letters: So desperate for an original name that you think you should just make up your own word? You shouldn’t. You don’t want investors to laugh at you when you tell them your name, and you do want your users to be able to talk about your product without feeling like an idiot. Zozi, Mzinga, Yuku….please stop.
Basically, if you want to be innovative and creative when coming up with your name, don’t do this:
There’s a lot of pressure as a startup founder to come up with the next great company, the next great app, the next great website. And with that comes an expectation to have a great name. As you are setting out on your startup journey, you should take this seriously, but also remember that many names of successful companies aren’t overly complicated: Facebook, Salesforce, Eventbrite, Stubhub, etc. Don’t fall into naming trends that are “hot” today (or even worse “hot” yesterday), be thoughtful about your decision and find something that really connects to the product or experience you are trying to sell.
I just got my first iphone, and I’m definitely experiencing a steep learning curve when it comes to the world of apps. What did I have before my iphone?
A Palm Pre.
My Palm was an excellent set of smart phone-training wheels. It provided me with what I needed: email and information access and apps for tools and websites I was already using: Yelp, Facebook, Pandora, etc.
But I came to realize in order to be successful in Silicon Valley and work with technology entrepreneurs, I needed to be more engaged with what people were using and talking about on a day-to-day basis. Coming from a non-android/non-iOS platform has resulted in a steep learning curve as I attempt to add several applications at one time to my mobile routine. While most people added instagram, pinterest, path, and foursquare to their phones over the last year, I’ve added them all over a couple of hours and have found myself confused by how exactly to utilize these tools with each other and how to set my privacy settings in order to get the sharing preferences I want for each.
It’s complex and honestly a little bit discouraging, so I was happy when I read a couple articles that spoke of this complexity and the desire for more consistency and integration of platforms and apps.
@Om in his Tech 2012 Wishlist articulates this need for app integration and connection “…we need ways for mobile apps to connect with each other better and create enhanced experiences across platforms. Right now, mobile users need to enter data into different applications multiple times. The ability to mix and match data from other apps is going to help us realize that ‘data is the new plastic.’”
I believe this sentiment to be completely true. When I take a picture on my phone, I have to take distinct actions when deciding to post to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and/or Path and that series of decisions and actions may lead me to just pocket my phone in frustration. But while I recognize the need for app synchronization, I do question how realistic it is to achieve. Why would these social applications want to help you push data to their competitors’ platforms? What do they gain? Isn’t the goal of these applications to pull users to be more reliant on their service and less reliant on others?
I read an article recently from slate.com which pinpoints the source of increased technological complexity to the shift from a PC-centric to mobile-centric world. “The old business was dominated by a single company, Microsoft, which could decide carte blanche how millions of peoples computers would change ever year. But no single company has yet claimed the post-PC era…and for the foreseeable future, new devices will remain under the sway of four or five gargantuan firms.”
This article is focused on the complexities of moving between devices, but I believe the same trend holds true for social applications. While there aren’t as many stronghold powerhouses in this space as in the device market, I don’t think the higher fluidity of the app market means that it will be easy to accomplish the goal of application integration.
With the fierce competition present in this social application space, it seems unlikely that we will settle on one, or a small set of, platform(s) in the next 12 months. In fact, I am sure before the end of February we’ll all be talking about the next great applications that require us to check-in, post, and share in a totally new way. And hopefully by then I’ll have figured how to use all the “must have apps” people have instructed me to download since I started writing this post.
At 25 years old, I am having a hard time articulating my specific interests and career goals. I am hesitant to identify one area of expertise to focus my energy on since I don’t want to restrict myself from pursuing everything else. I seek to improve the collaboration of and communication between the worlds of business and technology, but that seems incredibly vague next to my engineering friends and colleagues who have an in-depth, defined, applicable skillset.
I have great people skills, well-developed emotional intelligence, and solid management potential. But my skills look a lot like fluff in a world where my friends knows not only that they want to be a web developer, but more specifically that they want to work for a wireless networking company and use a specific programming language to improve back-end functionality.
Despite lacking a well-defined technical skillset, I am optimistic that there is a place for me within Silicon Valley. One thing that convinces me of this is a NY Times interview I read several months ago with Bing Gordon, a partner with the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Gordon says a lot of interesting things about his background, his experience as Chief Creative Officer at Electronic Arts, and how he learned to be a manager.
But the segment I found most interesting and pertinent was when he described how he is not power hungry and is actually better with influence than power.
“I like having influence. I like being with interesting people and helping them become better and being part of the flow of ideas. And that’s a little bit uncomfortable, as a boss. It doesn’t make sense to people that the boss, who is kind of a figurehead and maybe a confidence-giving parent figure, just wants to be an experienced helper. As a person of authority, I’m kind of teacher-consultant more than wielder of power.”
Gordon has found this is the way he can be the most successful and applies this to his role in Venture Capital.
“I just do stuff I’ve learned over time and work with people who I like who are really motivated, who want to listen to me most of the time and take feedback and then make it their own. And I work in areas that I want to learn about, areas that are fascinating, because fascination is a good thing.”
And that, quite literally, is what I want to do. I’ve learned a lot in my current role about how different business models and ideas can be made successful across a variety of sectors. From medical devices to iphone apps, from networking solutions to clean energy, I find all of those areas fascinating though I could not claim expertise in any one.
I am still a little uneasy saying outloud that I don’t quite know what I want to do. But I do know I want to influence the people that have impressive tangible, technical skillsets and guide them in how to turn their brilliant, undeveloped ideas into a commercializable business.
I’ve definitely thought long and hard about how using Google impacts our memory, and as I result I am hesitant to reach for my smartphone when I don’t know something. Here’s a quick interesting read on how Google is changing the way we think and remember.