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Archive for the ‘Startup’ Category

Your Elevator Pitch is Important for YOU

20 Oct

It was StartupWeek 2017 in Seattle, recently. It was a time when anyone with a startup or an idea to start a business was roaming the city’s talks, gatherings, and events to learn how to become a success. Networking and chatting was a big part of the activity, so I got to hear a lot of people try to describe their ideas. I noticed that many of those early in their startup are not very clear about what they are trying to do or they take 20-minutes before they are… they have no elevator pitch.

What is an Elevator Pitch?

Can you encapsulate the essence of your startup idea so that you can express it in the time it takes to travel a few floors of an elevator? If you were to meet the person that could most help you with your startup, as you enter an elevator, can you clearly articulate and spark their interest before either of you exit the elevator?

An elevator pitch encapsulates a description of your startup, its meaning and purpose, in as few words as possible.

Why is An Elevator Pitch Important?

At every stage of the evolution of a startup, you will need help. Whether looking for employees, co-founders, investors, advisors, or customers, you will need to pique their interest quickly. You’ll want them to say, “I want to hear more!” You want them to invite you to follow them off the elevator.

In an elevator, you have a captive audience; but you will only hold their attention for so long. Of course this even more true outside an elevator where it is more difficult to hold their attention. So, it is important to keep your pitch succinct.

Why Else is an Elevator Pitch Important?

Okay, if you are already familiar with what an elevator pitch is, then I haven’t told you anything new. The real reason why it is important for you to create an elevator pitch is to help you crystallize your startup idea. The process of building and refining a pitch forces you to think very carefully about your idea. It forces you to narrow in on the essence of your idea… to identify the most salient elements of your idea. In that process, it might even help you set priorities for your startup.

Get into the habit of iterating your elevator pitch. As your startup lives, it evolves. It’s goals may change. A pitch should correspond to the changes that are occurring to the company. Regular updating of the elevator pitch might highlight changes that you did not anticipate and allow you to encourage or halt changes, as you see fit. It will certainly ensure that your message matches what you are building.

What Does an Elevator Pitch Look Like?

There are a lot of books, blogs, and advice (like my prior post) about what should be covered in a startup elevator pitch. At a minimum, you should identify what the problem is that you are trying to solve and how you are solving it.

How long should an elevator pitch be? Simply, as short as possible. Elevator rides can vary—you will have varying amounts of time to present your message. Start with a 3-minute pitch. Then work on shortening it to 2-minutes… 90-seconds… 60-seconds… 30-seconds! Ideally, you would be able to describe your company in a sentence or two.

Cutting words is not easy, but this exercise of paring down your message forces you to evaluate your company’s purpose. It is important to present a focused, achievable idea in the pitch message. If the idea is being lost as words are cut, then perhaps the company’s goals need to be simplified or scaled back. Or, you need to prioritize goals so that a message can focus on a narrower set of primary objectives.

Should you interest someone enough for them to want to hear more, be prepared to present longer descriptions. As the talks get longer, they begin to sound more like your full-fledged presentations. But, be prepared to work within any time-constraint you might be faced with. You can build out to 5-, 10-, 20-minute presentations. With longer pitches and presentations, you should create different versions targeted at different audiences, as necessary.

Eventually, you will have a range of pitches from a couple of sentences to a full-presentation at your fingertips—and on the tip of your tongue.

An Elevator Pitch Informs Others and Yourself

It is important to get your message across, quickly, as you meet people who might be helpful to your startup. Just as important, creating an elevator pitch will force you to identify and prioritize the “minimum viable product” of your idea.

  1. Research the elements of what goes into a startup elevator pitch
  2. Isolate the essence of your startup
  3. Articulate your startup in 3-minutes (or less)
  4. Further net out essential elements of your startup and your message for shorter versions of your pitch
  5. Longer presentation-pitches can fill the gaps between your elevator pitch and a full presentation.

Having a concise pitch means you had to identify the focus of your company. Continually adjusting your pitch to match your evolving startup keeps you in-tune with your venture. This, in itself, will improve your understanding of your company and allow you to sharpen its focus.

 
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Pitch Perfect Elevator Pitch

10 May

Elevator for your elevator pitchI have been working with and advising a lot of small and startup companies over the past couple of years. When meeting a new founder, I ask what they do. Often times they ramble on for a while and I have to discern what it is that they do. So, I try to head off the rambling and ask them to tell me their “elevator pitch.” If they’ve been in the startup-community for more that a few months, then they should know what that means—often they don’t.

The Elevator Pitch

What is an elevator pitch? It is the statement that you could make to a chance encounter with someone in an elevator —the person who might be your first investor—before they get off the elevator. Everyone should have an elevator pitch that they can recite without hesitation. The goal is for that person to invite you for a longer conversation; not to tell them everything about your venture.

Elements of an Elevator Pitch

Since you never know how long the elevator ride will be, you want to make sure to cover the most essential elements of the pitch, first. Start with a 30-second pitch (perhaps even less!) and make sure you cover these points:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is their “problem” or pain-point?
  • What is your solution?

If you are in the elevator with someone with the means to finance you, then your ride will be longer. Extend your statement to include more detail:

  • What is your “special-sauce”?
  • What is your business model?
  • What is your “traction” and/or revenue?

With more time, you can cover:

  • Your team
  • Competition

You should have practiced different length versions of your pitch: 15-seconds, 30-seconds, 1 minute, 3 minute. Any longer than that probably involves an invitation rather than an elevator ride—in which case, you should follow Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule from his blog, book, The Art of the Start, or talk. Practice your pitches so that they are articulated crisply and with confidence without sounding mechanical. Be sure that your passion comes though.

 

 
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Crushed Under the Tower of Software-Babble

02 May

BNF Syntax diagrams

I think my brain cells are shrinking—it is unbelievable how quickly I forget. Such is the life of a software developer, these days.It is amazing how quickly I can forget the details of one programming language detail over another after just a few weeks away—when I see my old code, I amaze myself at how good a programmer I was… last month! Read the rest of this entry »

 

Facebook f8 Conference Live Stream

22 Sep


We are excited to watch the Facebook developers conference live stream. Last night we started experiencing programmers pain since they’ve rolled out some changes prior to updating the documentation. The Hand Things Down app which is launching this weekend has broken so we are anxiously awaiting updates to the documentation. We are hoping to stay on our release schedule and will likely have to work night and day to hit our deadlines. Hurry up Zuck!

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Journey to Extreme Pitch

31 Aug

I recorded this video after coming home from Extreme Pitch. I wanted to give advice on what to do to calm yourself before a pitch. I think I managed to say don’t drink too much coffee and go to yoga, that advice probably won’t work for most people. Sorry guys! Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Startup Weekend Chandler Day 1

25 Jun
Image representing Startup Weekend as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

Normal people look forward to the weekend to relax and hangout with their friends. Entrepreneurs, go to Startup Weekend and decide to get involved in another exciting project. Friday morning, I woke up, got ready, and packed my purse with everything I would need to work for the day. My gear included; netbook, power charger, phone, iPod, extended battery, headphones, mouse, notebook, pens, makeup, extra t-shirt with geek logo, webcam, mouse, and USB hub. Yes, I did pack all of that in my very stylish black patent leather purse that I had to use because they matched my shoes.

I stopped by Gangplank to drop off the stuff for the Women 2.0 Founder Friday happy hour. Hand Things Down was hosting this networking event for the ladies attending Startup Weekend. Then drove to the Chandler Public Library to attend Startup 101. Startup 101 was a chance to get a primer before the weekend for anyone new to the world of being an entrepreneur. They had panels talking about creating a team, product development, and execution.

I thought the best talk was about building teams and resolving conflict given by Derek Neighbors and Jade Meskill. Here are some of their key points.

  • Create a team with a common vision.
  • Look at the vision and use that to help guide decisions and conflict resolution.
  • Read “Core Protocols” to learn about conflict resolution.
  • Ask people at the beginning about their level of commitment.
  • You should NOT compromise, negotiate for the best of each idea.
  • Teams of developers and business people should sit together to discuss direction as the weekend progresses.

As the evening kicked off, the ladies of Startup Weekend got together for Founder Friday happy hour to get to know each other before we joined the guys. There was some good discussion and an exchange of Twitter handles so we could follow each other during and after the weekend.

When Startup Weekend kicked off, we heard about 28 pitches and then the mayhem of self-forming teams commenced. Two teams stood out for me. One of them was Chow Locally who is creating a locavore website to connect local farmers with consumers and delivering the farm fresh veggies and fruit to the Phoenix Public Market.  The second team I was interested in was called Surpriz.es and this is the team I joined for the weekend. Surprizes collects birthday freebies and presents them to you on your special day with Facebook and Twitter greetings. Now you can feel the birthday love all day as you go out and collect your freebies.

So that wraps it up for Day 1. Tomorrow I will be writing up birthday related blog posts for Surprizes and greeting people for their birthdays on Twitter. Sign up for your birthday Surpriz.es.

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Product Management from the iPhone or iPad

04 May

Product development is a challenge for distributed teams. Keeping the developers in sync with the product guys is like trying to catch butterflies, the ever expanding features and compressed deadlines makes everyone a little crazed. Sometimes product managers don’t know how long it would take to develop a feature or fix a bug. If the developers could mark complexity in a project management tool it would be useful in helping the product guy make tradeoff decisions. What do you do if you are using Agile development and you don’t have a physical location track every two week sprint?

PivotalTracker to Manage Features
We started using PivotalTracker to track features, bugs, and business requirements. We have projects for iOS, Android, the web app, and the business to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. We can asynchronously add things to do, estimate complexity and move it into the current week when work is started. Features or bugs which exceed velocity are automatically added to the backlog.

Trackerbot to access Pivotal Tracker on the iPhone or iPad

What is most compelling about PivotalTracker is the ability to access it from the iPhone or iPad using the Trackerbot app. The screenshot is our iOS project showing a couple bugs and features which are on the board this week. Personally, having access to the project or product tools on the go is important since entrepreneurs are almost always thinking of the business even in social situations. I like being able to add a bug to the system when I discover them during demos with our launch customers. Sometimes, I’m out at a baseball game and I get an idea on how a feature would work, I could just launch the TrackerBot app and add it. At our next development meeting, we could take a look at the features in the “icebox” to see if any of them could be moved up.

The other cool feature is being able to track how much time is spent on a particular item. This will help going forward when we need to estimate how many developers we would need for future projects.

Integrations

  • Email – When something is assigned to me, I can reply via email and the reply is filed as a comment with the feature or bug. No more searching through email when I’m working on something because it’s all in one spot.
  • GetSatisfaction – to get feedback from users
  • Jira
  • Zendesk, etc.

Our team experimented with using Gqueues to track features because the premium version integrated with gmail and google calendar. That didn’t turn out to be the right solution since we were trying to force-fit a nested to do list into a collaborative project management tool.

To read more about our paper and pen method of Agile product development, check out Bill’s post.

What is your team using for project management and product development? Post them in the comments.

NOTE: We are not associated with PivotalTracker or GQueues, we thought we could share our experience and learn from others what tools work best for you.

 
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The Shackles of Freedom

23 Apr
Shackles of Freedom

Shackles of Freedom —photo: housingworksauctions

People idealize what it must be like to start their own company, thinking that they’d have so much time and freedom to work whenever and wherever they’d like. Anyone that is serious about their own startup knows that is not so easy; but that doesn’t stop me from trying!

Shackles

First, there are the typical responsibilities of life of family and kids. Most people quickly learn that, in practice, working at home can be challenging—barking dogs punctuating important discussions on phone calls; kids needing attention and banging indecipherable passages into your business plan or testing CD/DVD tray as peanut-butter sandwich toaster; or a significant other that assumes that since you’re at home, you must have a lot of free time to do chores.

Second, the demands of (again, seriously) starting a company means meeting with lawyers, bankers, designers, engineers, and, more importantly, maintaining and building your business network.  These demands keep you from straying far from home for long.

Balancing Act

Running a Startup is a Balancing-act

Running a Startup is a Balancing-act —photo daniele.vigna

As with anything in life, finding a balance is a challenge. A startup venture takes a strong commitment of time and energy. It is important to keep one eye on the business and another on your own life, lest you burn yourself out. The balancing point is rarely a comfortable trough—easily found and easy to settle into—but, rather, a razor-thin tightrope full of struggle and compromise. If you’re endeavoring to start your own business, you have been warned! And be prepared to perform your startup balancing act for the circus.

Living the Dream

But I like circuses. I do not have a dog (or fish) nor kids to tend to and my number one priority for the business is to focus on implementation issues. So I put myself to the challenge of mixing work with play.

Since I had put off use of my season pass to Squaw Valley in order to participate in the Founder Institute program, I shirked my networking duties and left Seattle for Lake Tahoe to use what was left of the pass. My plan was to get my skiing back up to snuff and work on the application.

I was fortunate that the snow was still good despite it being spring so I wasn’t too disappointed to have missed the epic snow of February. The mountain was my “gym”—though not as convenient as putting on shorts and grabbing my gym-bag—I would start most days with some time on the hill. Being springtime, the snow often became unskiable as it turned to sloppy, sticky mush, so I would head back and try to get some programming done.

Even play has its challenges

Even play has its challenges —Bill Lee, Squaw Valley, 2011

Settling into a rhythm of work and play was a challenge. Coming back from the gym, too tired to program meant many nights, working until 4am. But this was my personal challenge to “live the dream” and it was a balancing act. I was not as productive as I would have liked but I began to settle into a rhythm where I was able to be productive. Practice makes perfect, I will be better at it next time, as I strive towards my dream of building a successful startup company and earning my level III ski instructor’s certification.

If part of the reason that you want to start your own venture is to live your dream of independence, it can be done, but don’t expect it to be without its challenges. How do you want to live your startup-life?

 
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Stuck in Your Startup? Get Over Yourself!

23 Mar
Startup frustrations?

Photo by: Zach Klein

There are a lot of challenges to getting your own startup off the ground. The one thing that no one mentions, though, is the challenge of getting out of your own way!

If you are serious about your first start up—not just as a hobby—then you will need to push yourself, hard. There is too much work to do; there are the product creation issues, there are business and promotion issues, and there are issues that you could never anticipate. There are not enough hours in the day to do it; and that is even if you don’t have a spouse and you don’t have kids and you don’t have a money earning “day-job” to tend to!

If you are starting your first company and you don’t feel stress and pressure,  you are not taking it seriously enough.

Through this stress, you should learn something that you don’t read about:  you are your own worst enemy.  If you have the desire to start a company but haven’t done so or you are stagnating early-on, what is impeding you? Oh, you can blame it on “There isn’t enough time,” or “The idea is not good enough,” or “It will cost too much,” or “It has already been done,” or a myriad other excuses. There will be “roadblocks” at every stage of your entrepreneurial endeavor; from getting started to planning and execution. The real reason you can’t move forward is because you are inhibiting yourself.

During those frustrating times where you are not making progress, it might be worth your while to look inward to see whether it is your own psyche, habits, or preconceived expectations that are keeping you from moving forward. Once you begin to realize why you are not executing, you can begin to find solutions to break those patterns and beliefs.  Climb out of that box that you have spent your whole life building around yourself!

Learning and understanding yourself, then changing and growing… that may be the most valuable part of pushing yourself through the challenges of starting your own company.

 
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Product Development: Going “Old-School” with Paper and Pencil

27 Jan

Okay, so I should know better. If things are going too slowly, you gotta shake it up. Forget about the technical challenges of getting a product implemented, if you cannot communicate effectively with your partners and collaborators, then you are wasting the potential of your organization. When you are a company of two, you cannot afford to waste any potential. Despite the abundance of new tools, sometimes the tried and true tools work best.

Pen and paper mockup

Pen and paper are still effective.

One of the great things about our partnership is that we are both open to adopting new technologies to see how they might be beneficial. There are so many great tools out there: Google Docs, WordPress, instant messaging, Skype, Google Wave (sigh)…. Sometimes they work and are beneficial and sometimes they get in the way.

It is too easy to get caught up with all this new-and-shiny technology; it is useful to stop and contrast that with the old solution, “What was wrong with the old solution?”  There are a lot of advantages to using Google Doc’s spreadsheets, for example, but they still fall short of Excel, in many ways. Make sure you keep sight of your needs rather than compromising the outcome by the limits of the tools you use.

Step back ever further and recognize that good ole pencil and paper can be the most effective and expedient way to communicate.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
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