Jim Harrer

STARTUPS, TURNAROUNDS, APPDEV, AGILE & LIFE...

Alexa and I - 90 days and loving it. New tricks I hope the Amazon Echo will learn in the future.

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Amazon Echo - The first 90 days.

I jumped on Amazon's offer to purchase their Echo when I first heard about it.  Alexa, as she was named by Jeff Bezos's team, arrived on February 3rd, 2015. 

I've read a couple of reviews and am happy to share my perspective, however I thought it would also to be fun to talk about some of the things I hope Alexa will learn to do in the future - so I'll discuss both and hope you'll use the comment section below to ask questions and add your own observations.

Review & learning to talk to Alexa

I thought it was incredibly easy to unpack and get set up.  I was talking to Alexa in less than five minutes.  I decided to take her to the office where she would see more consistent use, and even moving her to the company WiFi was painless.  I've got to hand it to the Amazon team, connecting my TVs and DVRs to my home Wi-Fi were much more difficult.  The companion Amazon Echo iOS app I use makes navigating the Amazon Echo pretty darn easy.

I immediately started my conversation with Alexa, things like:

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5 Best Practices of a Startup Leader

I’ve been around the block a few times as a technology leader. I’ve been fortunate to start a company, bootstrap it to profitability, skipping the VC rounds, taking it public on the NASDAQ exchange and then having a successful exit – this was over a 14 year span. I learned to manage, I learned the importance of leading by example. Since then, I’ve done another startup and performed three corporate turnarounds, all feeding my intense desire to learn how to build financially sound and insanely happy and productive companies. I thought I had heard and seen it all. Boy was I wrong.

13831827 sThis past year I have been working with 10 startup companies. Some through our accelerator here in Bend, Oregon, others through a recent Startup Weekend we held in Bend and the rest through my consulting practice. Not all startups are created equal. Some start with one person, others with more. Some start with a techie developing a killer mobile application, the other a mom with an idea on how to reduce her child’s asthma attacks and that’s it.

Working with these companies I’ve had the chance to see what has worked and where they’ve stumbled. I’ve been able to start understanding the Best Practices of a Startup Leader. The first thing you should note in my title is, I chose the word “Leader” over manager or founder. I strongly believe you lead people, and you manage things. Startups are about people, not the things. The things are artifacts of the production from the team. Production drops when people fail to lead.

If you’re thinking of founding a startup, or if you’re a founder of a startup, here are some of the Best Practices I’ve observed from the founders I’ve worked with:

1. They’re passionate.

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If your website can't respond to spike demands, it's time to consider Windows Azure.

My wife Debbie and I caught the premiere of NBC’s The Biggest Loser the other night. For those that follow the show, Jillian Michaels returns as the senior screamer on the show. I like watching the show because of its use of embedded product placements and am always curious what they’re going to do next.

TheBiggestLoserThis year, The Biggest Loser has a totally redesigned fitness center, with all of the equipment provided by Planet Fitness, a low cost, neighborhood gym model, available as a franchise. They appear to be out lifting 24 Hour Fitness, the previous equipment sponsor on the show.

As the premier was airing with Bob, Jillian and Dolvett beaming over the new gym equipment by Planet Fitness, I decided to visit http://www.planetfitness.com/ to see if anyone had purchased the rights for Central Oregon, where I live. I’ve been a gym goer since I was 14 and have thought about owning a neighborhood gym for the past 20 years. But that is another blog post, I digress.

windows azure on JimHarer dot comWhen I attempted to go to Planet Fitness, their site crashed. The premier had over 1 million viewers; I suspect this was a spike the Planet Fitness IT team may have not expected. I'm sure the sales and marketing team were happy their product placement created demand, yet immediately went into shock when their web site crashed.  I want to suggest a better way. If Planet Fitness would have moved their website to Microsoft Windows Azure Cloud Platform, they could have easily adjusted the amount of computing resources around their original air dates on both east and west coast premiers. Once their website and member portal is converted to take advantage of Windows Azure elasticity, it’s really as easy as logging onto the Azure management portal and moving a slider up and down to allocate more or fewer server instances.  You have the advantage of extra computing resources when you need them without paying for a maximum build out of a datacenter only to be fully utilized when the Biggest Loser airs.

If your business is a B2C (Business to Consumer), and you’re approaching the tipping point, your IT staff should be moving your customer facing web properties into the cloud. IT staff are always resistant to change, especially outside their comfort zone.  This is when you need a team of skills-based consultants who have been there and done that, successfully.

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Three lessons learned from the Facebook – Instagram $1 Billion Acquisition.

Ten years ago, I couldn’t finish a dinner with my friends without someone asking me a computer related question. Even though,  I was a software guy, I was their go-to guy all things PC. The last two years it has turned to smart phone applications.  Now that I’m involved in startups and an accelerator, the dinner chatter often turns to startups.

1-Billion-DollarsLast night, all they wanted to talk about was Facebook’s acquisition of mobile photo sharing application, Instagram for a cool $1 billion dollars.  Was Instagram, which is still pre-revenue, worth $1 billion? Yes.  A company’s worth is measured by another company’s willingness to pay.  At this moment in time, Instagram and its team of 13, are worth $1 billion dollars. That shouldn’t be the main question.

To me, the true lesson here is about the founders. I wish I could say I know them, I do not. I’ve never had the privilege to meet Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Based off what I’ve studied about their product, I can tell you that they are intensely driven by the user experience (UX). Instagram user interface is efficient and elegant.  For them, their Minimal Viable Product (MVP) had to have a WOW experience, which is why 25,000 people downloaded the application on their iPhone the very first day it was released in October 2010. Ninty days later, over 1 million people had it on their iPhone.  Today, it’s close to 30 million subscribers and with last week’s release for the Android market, that hockey stick is likely to continue.

So, what are the lessons we can learn from Instagram’s early success?

  1. instagram 1 billionUX (User Experience) matters.  The lean startup and MVP principles don’t always mean your interface can (or should) suck. Also, you have to give credit to both founders for making sure the back-office was well designed and could scale. They clearly learned from Twitter and MySpace’s early failures. In order to have an awesome UX, the total user experience needs to be awesome. The fact they were able to pull this off, with their explosive growth, is impressive indeed.
  2. Focus on what matters. Instagram is available only as a mobile application. Unlike Pinterest, you can’t view it on a website. This was another great decision because it allowed them to stay insanely focused on the user experience.  It also plays well for the type of photos they’re looking for. They want photos of people living life. Pinterest’s market is decidedly different. Just compare the photos on Instagram and Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean.
  3. Keep it lean. According to CrunchBase, Instagram funding was $57.5 million from Benchmark Capital. A total staff of 13, they kept the group agile. Most companies with $50 million in funding would immediately grow to 100 to 200 people. This is impressive to me and something we can all learn from.

So even though I don’t know the Instagram team, I want to tip my hat to them.  Anything is possible, dream big!

…Jim

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Selling what you believe, the power of Why before How and What.

The work with our startups intensifies this week as we continue to work on Customer Development and The Lean User Experience. As our Founders move closer to defining their Minimal Viable Products (MVP), they have gone out in the market and interviewed potential customers of their products. As a result, some of our startups have made pivots in their business plan.

I like to celebrate these pivots with our startups. We're six weeks into the process, we've saved monthes of development time by not building software no one will purchase. We're learning more and more about their market segment each and every day. One interesting observation is, with each pivot, the founders are becoming even more passionate about their business. I contribute this to the fact the nine founders are going through this together\, and they're gaining positive energy from the team. This is another benefit of an accelerator; you push through the challenges at a much faster pace.

why how whatThe importance of WHY, before HOW and WHAT.

Simon Sinek, an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world. He wrote a best seller, "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action". Yes, his principles focus on leaders and the importance of communicating "why". I could write about this topic for pages, but I want to stay on point for this post, so...

Sinek believes you should communicate to your customers: WHY your product/solution matters, than HOW it does it and finish with WHAT it does. We believe most companies do this in reverse. Starting with what features the product has, how it does it so well and finishing with why you should but it.

"Sell to people who believe what you believe." Says Sinek. "People don't buy what you do, they purchase why you do it."

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Does it create Cash or Traction?

I recently sat down with one of the VentureBox startups I'm coaching, and we were reviewing their short term goals, over the next 30 days. They had a lot on their plate; it was time to groom the list. So I asked them a simple question:

 

Does it create Cash or Traction?


cash or traction

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Guest — Severn Anderson
Very good advice, thank you. I try to always accomplish at least one very small task on my "Moving Me Forward List" even if it ma... Read More
Thursday, 15 March 2012 6:06 PM
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This Week In Startups - A weekly dose of startup insight.

This Week In Startups - A Damn Good Show!

If you have missed the first couple hundred shows, like I have, don't sweat it. They're all online. I actually subscribe to their iTunes podcast, and have been catching up on them while I hike with my dog Morgan. The last couple weeks have been remarkable, however, if you truly want to have fun, listen to some of the old tapes from 2009 and it will confirm just how fast our tech industry changes.

This Week in... is a web television network covering a wide variety of topics from tech to entertainment. Produced out of our Culver City studios, the shows feature guest experts, founders, movie stars, comedians, technologists and CEO’s — all keeping you up to speed on what’s happening this week with a fast and funny style. Informative and entertaining, ThisWeekIn is the place for whatever your interests may be.

The company was founded by Jason Calacanis (co-founder of Weblogs, SVP AOL, CEO of Mahalo), actor Kevin Pollak and Mark Jeffrey and is based in Culver City, CA.

I've been listening and occasionally watching some of the Podcast and have found them informative, educational, insightful and entertaining. Jason Calacanis is an excellent host with an amazing memory. If you're an entrepreneur or angel investor, especially if you don't hang out at all the startup events, you'll want to catch this show each week.

 

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Dream Big–Anything is possible!

I came across two videos I wanted to share with you this week.

The first video features three teenage girls, Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose and Naomi Shah, who swept the top prizes at last year’s Google Science Fair.  They were asked to present at the recent TEDx Women's conference and share not just their project, but their journey as  well.  The mentors that took these young women under their wings are my heroes.

Enjoy.

 

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