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Tag: Start Up

Why Crazy Smart Start Ups Fail

Every wondered why a bunch of stupidly clever folks can’t get an online business off the ground?

I strongly recommend this excellent and brutally honest presentation by Lukas Fittl:

Great use of repetition to drive a point home. I said, great use of repetition to drive a point home.

Startup Advice for Holiday Cover

I’m one of those people who like to let companies know when they find a bug. Having dealt with many bugs over the years, if it were me, I’d want to know.

Yesterday we had a problem with a free online product. Nothing too serious, something that I managed to fix myself after a little rooting around, but not before raising a support ticket with the provider.

The auto-response email received highlighted just how parochial some startups can be. It stated:

PLEASE NOTE: The [company name redacted] offices will be closed on Thursday and Friday November 22 & 23 to observe the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Now, I come from the world of Telecoms, where the multitude of international festive occasions are warmly embraced as an opportunity to sweat the network and coin it in as folks call home to wish their far flung loved ones a happy holiday. We never close. Not for anything.

I’m not saying that hardworking engineers don’t deserve a little time off every now and then – they do. The thing is, once you’ve launched a useful (free or low cost) online product you should be delighted to find that customers all over the world want to use it.

After all, with no revenue to speak of it’s a numbers game – and nothing’s as sexy as global growth, right?

What’s more, if you’ve trousered the best part of a million in seed funding so that you and a few of your best buds can turn a dormroom dream into an international enterprise, it might be a good idea to sort out some sensible coverage for those support calls.

Nobody expects a lightning fast response, but when the entirety of a customer’s uploaded content appears to disappear in your not-so-smooth migration to a ‘new and better system’ don’t tell them you’re on holiday for the next four days.

Remember that many of your customers are not on holiday. They are thousands of miles away, in other countries, enjoying different cultures.

Something to think about as you dream of being bigger than Facebook.

Admitting failure

The development community is failing to learn from failure. Instead of recognizing these experiences as learning opportunities, we hide them away out of fear and embarrassment.

That’s a great piece of copy. Plain common sense denotes that we should learn from our mistakes, though it seems that in the start up world we rarely do.

At best we briefly acknowledge our transgressions before we chug on to the next project. At worst, we blithely brag of failing fast (with other people’s money) as though that failure itself were a trophy to be collected and shown off like a Klout badge or Android lapel pin.

The quote above is the lede on a new website, Admitting Failure, which has been opened to provide a place for NGOs to share and discuss failures in mission. We need a website like that for start ups.

Speaking of which, read ex-staffer Mark Evan’s opinions of the events leading to Borders’ bankruptcy. This is probably the most honest and open examination of failure you will read this year. We need more of this kind of thing.

Passion does not make you competent

Passion is probably the most worn-out word in our great start-up culture. My favourite comment on this particular linguistic occupational overuse syndrome comes from award-winning magazine editor David Hepworth:

“If you wanted to fly somewhere and were offered a choice between one pilot who was capable and another who was immensely passionate about every aspect of flying, surely you’d choose the former rather than the latter? Feeling strongly about something doesn’t make you do it any better. It may well make you do it worse.”

Note that I have rather lazily afforded Mr. Hepworth some gravitas by describing him as an ‘award-winning’ magazine editor (he is). How much more useful is it, in this context, to introduce him by referring to his achievements rather than his emotions? If I had written ‘angry magazine editor’ or ‘cheerful magazine editor’ it wouldn’t have won you over. ‘Award-winning’ implies some basic level of competence.

When someone says to me that they’re passionate about social media, or even worse, passionate about their business, my eyes glaze over. If you enjoy your work or you believe in your idea that should come across quite naturally as you tell your story. I want to have faith in you too and I need to know that you can deliver. As our award-winning magazine editor suggests being a hot-blood is not always a desirable trait, having a cool head nearly always is.

Tell me what you’ve done and the battles you won and let me be the judge of your passion. Just don’t use that word to describe yourself, it’s exhausted.

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