Andreas
Klinger #product #metrics #marketing
Startup Lessons Learned

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I am a product-guy good in two things:
Making people believe I am good in anything at all and making stuff worth a tweet.

On this website I share notes & thoughts.

The simplest and most important dashboard for early stage startups.

This blogpost is part of a small series of posts that cover the basics of startup metrics. My personal goal is to help early stage startups more effectively, but also avoid repeating myself too much in mentoring programs.

If you are working on a software product in early stage of its lifecycle this series might be useful for you.

Other posts in this series.

If there are special topics you’d like me to cover please ping me via @andreasklinger. Also if you consider them useful please be so kind and tweet this article.

Early Stage Startup Metrics

One of the most common pieces of advice is that in early stage you want to focus on retention. Because retention - in the end - is a function of customer happiness

retention = f(customer happiness)

It’s simple: If people are not happy with your product and/or gain no benefit by using it they will most not continue using it.

And automatically cool visualisations like retention cohort tables come to mind.

While those tables look nice and give you this nice fuzzy feeling of doing something useful with your time, they are unfortunately usually a bit useless until you get to the point of optimising on-boarding conversions of new users.

Please don’t get fancy too early.

This kind of visualisations are great when you have too many users and need to get a bird eye view. When you need to an abstraction. B2C mobile apps often have this problem already in early stage. But most SaaS companies (or companies still in beta) i worked with don’t have this problem until they reach product market fit.

20% changes with 20 customers won’t tell you much apart of the basics of standard deviation. A personal relationship to this customer will tell you his story. Keep them close.

If you treat your paying customers like percentages and meaningless numbers they will do the same with you.

The one “dashboard” i recommend almost all early stage startups is one they already have. Let’s start using it.

As long as your customer list fits on one or two pages, you should have a list of all those customers. (And i am pretty sure you already do have this in your backend)

Add activity information to this table. Core KPIs that tell their activity level (or at least their last login date). Color highlight it based on activity. And put someone in the team in charge of making sure everyone stays on green.

dummy mockup is dummy

Seriously? That has nothing to do with metrics, or?

"That’s the kind of advice gives someone who charges money for consulting? Make him draw complex graphs or bring the pitchforks."

This dashboard so embarrassingly simple to implement, i was even scared to publish this post. But it is - and keeps being - my most common recommendation for a custom dashboard.

I don’t know about you. But I don’t necessarily need numbers. I need information i can act on. I want product insights - simple ways to use my database information to create actionable insights.

Most abstractions like graphs, retention cohorts, aarrr funnels and so on are great to aggregate information as soon as you have too much of it. Before that they just do one thing, create an abstraction layer.

For myself i found out this is even useful in a bit later stage: If you have only 0 - 100 new signups don’t hide them neither. It’s the same game on a higher level. Their first month is the one month that decides if you will keep them or not. Keep someone in charge of making them stay green.

Put one person in charge of keeping all customers on green. Most likely that person is you.

Your job as a product manager/founder is it to keep in contact with all those customers. And as soon as someone moves to orange contact them via email or skype.

Find out what’s going on. Now they are still in their decision process. Now you still can convince them to stay. Now you might even get useful information for product changes.

Churn is not happening when a user unsubscribes from your service or stops paying you. This is just when you notice it. Churn happens when a user stops using your product. You want to jump in when a customer is at risk, when he might stop using your product.

As long as you have a few dozen paying customers you can contact each one personally. There is no excuse. Don’t treat them as numbers, if you don’t want to be treated the same way.

Customer Happiness Index

If last activity of your customer doesnot mean much for your product (eg login might not mean that he found/did something) you might want to focus on deeper core activities.

Usually people create a Customer Happiness Index. A single number that combines all done activities to a sum, while giving each of those activities a weight.

By doing that you can eg. say that logins are less important to you than purchases. You can even aggregate those numbers in groups and through that see problems in certain segments of your user-base.

But to be honest, as fancy this is, i hardly ever need this.

Not until i need to aggregate those numbers. Eg show the customer happiness of a certain customer segment.

But until then - in my personal experience - i usually only see 1-3 core activities in a product. (eg in a project tool - number of projects/total, todos-closed/week, active-team-members/week) And normally i tend to simply recommend adding those numbers to the table and be done with it.

Commercial break.

One product i want to highlight at this point is Intercom. They basically offer this as a service, but add manual and automatic messaging. Additionally they write one of the best startup product blogs out there

But as long as you need/want to save a bit of money. The table mentioned above is only a few lines of code away.

until then, get your product moving,

Andreas

Easy, but easy to f*ck up. 3 Rules to Setup Analytics Tools correctly.

As a consultant for analytics i see a fair share of integrations of analytics tools. One of the most common mistakes is how people actually track events and conversion goals.

Very often a lot of data is rendered useless because it is confusing or contradicting to each other. If people use several tools. This problem even amplifies more.

I summarised my personal opinion in this tweet above. People asked me a few times to go into details - so here are some quick notes.

Btw if you look for a bird-eye view on the whole topic of metrics tools check out my ebook-as-a-mega-blog-post: A Primer on Startup Metrics.

Rule #1: As few actions as possible

You want to add as few events as possible.

"But we need to track so many things"

If you starting out, do yourself the favor and ignore everything that “might be interesting” (optimisation) and focus on the ones that define the core aspects of your product (accounting).

Things will break, the less moving parts you have the more certain you can be that they actually still work and provide meaning.

Protip: use a prefix for temporary events. I use “test_”

Rule #2: Triggered by the same logic in code

The most common mistake is to have analytics events triggered in different parts of the application.

Eg. Google Analytics might receive the event when the user presses the button or visits some page “that should come afterwards” and your custom dashboard pulls the data from the database.

This sound reasonable in the beginning but very soon your application will change a few times, new validations will require more complex forms, etc, etc. Very quickly you have a mess of interdependent logic that will lead to stuff breaking.

My recommendation: Create a analytics helper function that you trigger at the place the actual event happens. Eg in case of a user signup AFTER the user is saved. If you send your data to your analytics tool through javascript it’s the job of this helper to make sure the frontend receives the needed information. (eg in rails use gon or flashes - watch out for 301s)

Rule of thumb: If data change happens the event should be triggered at the place the data change happened.

Rule #3: Same names in every tool

One of the biggest mistakes people do is to use different names for kinda-the-same things when they use different tools.

Use the same name, make it the job of the helper to make sure every tool receives the information in the format they need.

Eg Google Analytics might expect “User”, “Signed Up” and Mixpanel might expect “User - Signed Up”

Btw Segment.io is a wrapper for your analytics calls and highly recommendable (they additionally offer features like history import to new tools, etc).

Rule #3.1 Event Names: Be understandable

I - as somebody who has not implemented your events - should be able to understand what each event represents AND in which context of your app it is most likely triggered.

Rule #3.2 Event Names: Be explicit

If a user has been created - this happened If a user just clicked a button - this happened

Eg Newsletter Submitted is not the same as Clicked Newsletter Submit Button

Nothing is more horrible than ambiguous event names.

Btw In almost all cases you will want to use past tense.

That’s it

I hope this primer helps you to set up your events correctly - if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me via twitter If this post is useful for you please tweet and share it. Thanks

Until then, track on

Andreas

A Primer on Startup Metrics – Which Analytics Tool to pick.

As a analytics consultant I am working with a lot of startups and help them in the topics of metrics, analytics, retention and growth. Most of the questions i get are based on a few misunderstandings.

Eg. What kind of analytics tools you should use depends what you are trying to do with those tools. They have (more or less) specific purposes.

Disclaimer: This post focuses on web products - but you could apply the same concepts for mobile.

The Segmentation of web analytics

So let’s get into this…

First: Please lower your expectations

If you are hoping to add one tool and be ready to go, i need to stop you right here. Please readjust your expectations.

There are a few hard truth facts we need to accept:

All tools are good for a few things, but tend to suck for most of the other - the trick is to know what you are looking for.

Also: Any tool you will integrate will most likely be: not optimal for all of your usecases, not specific enough, most likely be broken or incorrect a good amount of your time and contradicting every other tool you have.

But that’s ok. If you know how and what to use them for.

Let’s roll…

I personally split usage of analytics into two axis:

  1. exploration / accounting.
  2. external / internal

Exploration vs Accounting

Exploration are those ad-hoc questions.

Exploration are all those quick questions people come up with and are very often related to some intuition we have.

  • eg “What feature is most used?”
  • or “Are users who use feature X more likely to upgrade to plan Y?”

Conversion Rates, Landing Page Optimizations, Funnel Optimizations, Viral Loops, Quick questions and insights are they typical examples of usecases of exploration.

Accounting are the metrics we track over time.

FYI the term accounting was coined by Eric Ries as innovation accounting covering more metrics than the typical product metrics, but the term kept sticky in normal web analytics as well.

If you have ever kept record of KPIs in your excel sheets (eg for investors) that’s a typical report we want for accounting.

But it also includes reports here we tend to use several times a week.

Cohort Retention Tables, Customer Happiness Reports, Traffic Referral Reports or Revenue Reports are typical examples for accounting reports.

About Data integrity

In case of exploration it usually doesn’t matter too much if we have only little historic data, or that we need to jump through a few hoops (aggregate from several tools, export to excel/R, etc). We need as much data as we need to invalidate or validate our hunch/gut-feeling or current objective. Very often this insights can and will be challenged by the team and need further verifications.

These insights usually lead to experiments (eg a/b tests).

In the case of accounting it is very important to have historic data and data integrity is very important - we can’t really tolerate too much noise in the data we are using for accounting. We can’t really tolerate broken reports nor can we have our team not trusting those reports.

This insights usually lead to strategic decisions. (eg switch sales focus)

While it is very useful to distinct between these two areas we need to keep in mind that in reality the lines are a bit blurry.

The second axis i tend to look at is external and internal analytics.

External vs Internal Analytics

  • External Analytics covers all public facing pages and all passive actions by users (eg views).
  • Internal are all actions done by (persistently hopefully) identifiable users, that potentially reflect if your product provides value to them.

When people speak of “product insights” they tend to mean that internal view of your product.

Many product have a very clear distinction between external and internal - eg. SaaS tools provide a value that i need to register for.

Sometimes it’s a bit blurry - Some products provide usecases to non-identified users as well - eg. content pages like pinterest or 9gag where a huge amount of the product is public and most of the visitors value is provided passive.

In a nutshell

Which Tools

There is roughly a million of analytics tools out there. I will focus in this article on the most common ones for web products: Google Analytics, KISSMetrics and Mixpanel.

Google Analytics:

GA is great for everything external. Especially traffic analysis and referral optimization work perfect in GA.

I am a huge Google Analytics geek and to cover it properly would be at least 3 own blog posts.

If you are new into it here are three blogposts i would recommend you to read:

The most common usecase for GA is referral optimization. It enables you to understand what sources bring you the most valuable traffic and where you should double down (as said above learn how to use weighted sorting).

If you use GA for all external stuff you will be very happy. For product internal insights GA tends to be useless.

The main reason is that GA doesn’t think in users and events. It thinks in visits and sessions.

You can force GA and focus more on visitors, you can segment down to the pages that are product internal, people that are registered and you could look mainly at events. But even if you do all of that then you will have a hard time using that data.

GA wasn’t made for product insights in first place.

GA is awesome for product-external exploration and very good for a lot of product-external reporting/accounting (eg weekly referral/traffic/seo reports).

But it stops being spot-on useful where most products actually start. (activation/engagement)

Ad Mobile: I am speaking obviously mainly about GA for web here. The GA team currently pushes their mobile analytics tool. Everyone who has used will notice this weird feeling that the tool wasn’t meant for this originally in first place. But given their current development speed I wonder if i will need to come back here in half a year to update this part.

KISSMetrics and Mixpanel

Both - KMS and MXP - come from the same main concept. They think in “people” and “events”.

Both tools are great and to cover them well would need several blogposts by themselves so please excuse my brevity.

At first they look very similar and i am pretty sure you could substitute every feature of the one in the other. But to me they both tend to have a bit different focus. They have been build by teams with a bit different values.

Mixpanel is awesome for product-internal exploration and good for product-internal reporting. It’s the tool i would pick if i focus more on product improvements (eg engagement). Personally I also have better experience with its stability.

KISSMetrics on the other hand feels like it has one foot in the product-external world.

It’s revenue tab makes it very easy to see what sources brought customers of what kind of life time value. You can easily see what your customers where doing and so on.

Of course MXP is catching up and offers a revenue tab as well. But nether the less KISSMetrics would be the tool i’d pick if I would focus a lot on revenue improvements (eg through content marketing) while trying to improve the product itself (especially as a SaaS startup)

Actually KISSMetrics fits so well as a hybrid between product-internal and external usecases - especially for content marketing - i wouldn’t be amazed if they come up with a specialised content marketing tool or somehow else integrate with Google Analytics to have a easier angle to the market.

Specialised tools

There are a lot of really good specialised tools and again not possible to cover all of them here. My personal four favorites are

And of course there are many more.

The advantage of specialised tools is that they understand (or expect) enough of your product internals that they can provide value insights right out of the box.

The big problem with all tools

Most tools are integrated through push events. Basically your site will send an event through javascript or your backend and let their service know.

There is a big problem with this approach.

Data Integrity

Sooner or later your integration will break for a day or two. Because someone on their or (more likely) your site made a mistake.

Sooner or later you will change how you track certain events and your comparison with your historic data will no longer work.

Did you ever see different numbers in different tools? Eg different amount of registrations between MXP and your database? or Revenue in KMS and in your stripe dashboard? Well that’s what i am speaking about.

In case of exploration this usually tends not to be a big problem. Anyway the data i work with tends not to be optimal (sample noise, dataschmutz, skewed, variance etc) and I am just looking for anchor points for future experiments.

In case of accounting this is a big problem. We cannot really have our revenue reports incorrect. This is unfortunately where the fun ends.

And there is a other problem…

Focus on product internal aspects

Very often product-internal reports tend to be quite specifically tied to your product.

  • If you run a market place you want to report improvements on both sides separated.
  • If you sell not to people but to companies you want to aggregate your users into those company buckets.
  • If you have different levels of users you might want to treat them different (eg drill down your best paying or engaged segment)

To figure the right metrics is a blogpost by itself but to in a nutshell you want to tie your product assumptions to quantified results.

All of the mentioned segmentations above are doable in some tools mentioned, but it will require you to jump through several loops.

And given the fact that very often data integrity tends to be a problem the logical conclusion is to sooner or (if possible) later build those highly specific reports by yourself.

Work with your database for accounting

When it comes to accounting i would highly recommend to work with your database.

As a rule of thumb: The more you need to zoom in - the better you work based on your own database.

Depending on the level of complexity you need you can:

  • Export to excel
  • Run a script that sends the most important numbers
  • Build a simple dashboard

In most cases i would recommend to start with the first one and do it for the first months. And then start step by step automating the most time consuming report parts to scripts and from scripts you will move to a simple dashboard view over time. Usually i would recommend stopping here.

If the dashboard itself turns out to be too time consuming (eg most likely because you put too many expectations into it) try using a tool like chart.io

If you pre-run into performance problems move the analytics to a own server and run the scripts only once a day.

Doing that you can introduce reports like Customer Happiness Index and Health Dashboards (red/green lights (or kpis) per customer or segment)

Disclaimer I am not advising you to build your own analytics tool. I not recommending to measure non-logged-in data. I advice you to segment your existing database data for reporting. There is a big (costly) difference.

I won’t go into dashboard design right now - but if you are interested in this topic please let me know via twitter happy to write a blogpost about it.

So to answer the question – which tool would i recommend

These are the swiss army knifes. Depending on stages i would recommend other tools additionally or instead.

If i have to decide between MXP and KISSMetrics i would - usually - go with Mixpanel (but as explained above it depends a bit on the specific product).

Hope this blogposts helps you a bit to get clarity about metrics even though i couldn’t cover all aspects nor all tools.

If you are still unsure which tools to pick i would recommend using Segment.io as a wrapper for your API calls. That way you can simply replace your tools whenever needed.

If i can help you anyhow with your analytics setup - let me know - i am doing weekly open office skype sessions - feel free to hit me up on twitter

Until then - measure/build/rock

Andreas

Don’t drown in email! How to use Gmail more efficiently.

I usually I blog about Angellist, Startups, Founders, the Future and especially Metrics but I have shown this “lifehack” to so many people that I thought it’s worth it’s own blogpost. Hope it’s useful.

If you struggle with keeping on top of your emails in Gmail you want to maybe try my setup. It’s hard for me to lose track and trust me - i am easy to distract

This is how i use Gmail since 2010:

  • GTD - Getting things done
  • An easy to manage, usually empty inbox on the left
  • All “todos” in the first box
  • All emails “awaiting a reply” in the second
  • All “delegated” emails in the third
  • All emails related to meetings, flights, etc easy to find in the fourth
  • All done with 0 plugins, using only standard gmail features

It’s hard to lose overview using that setup

I couldn’t even imagine using gmail any other way. No seriously. I see those messy priority inbox tab inbox systems and I am just scared. Scared that google will someday force me to use those features.

Btw: This approach is not particularly new. I learned it from a person (forgot name) at LeWeb 2010 and it was mentioned on a blogpost which was called “Gmail Ninja” (couldn’t find the link).

How I manage daily work

  • An email comes in
  • Handle those you can instantly
  • The others mark as todo
  • If you want to keep track of them when you replied, you mark them as “Awaiting Reply” or “Delegated” (that way you can always quickly find them and follow up)
  • You archive all emails
  • You inbox on the left is empty again
  • All important ones are in the special boxes ones the right

Example:

  • Received an email
  • Was able to reply instantly (if i wouldn’t have had the time i would marked it as yellow bang (Todo))
  • I replied
  • Marked with “awaiting reply” (question mark)
  • Archived the email
  • The email is no longer in my inbox but in my “awaiting reply list” on the right side
  • His reply will come into my inbox (and we start over with replying instantly or marking as action)
  • Archive - Inbox Zero

That’s it! You are done.

Hope fully that workflow also helps you.

Interested? - It takes about 15minutes to set up…

… but might change how you work with email forever ;)

In a nutshell it’s

  • Multiple inboxes
  • Special stars
  • The multiple inboxes have searches matching the special stars
  • Several filters to avoid repetitive tasks

Step by Step guide

Add multiple inboxes

  • Go to Settings (you will find it under the cogs icon on the top right)
  • Go to Labs
  • Enable Multiple Inboxes
  • Choose right side layout

Choose the correct special stars

  • Go to Settings > General
  • Scroll down to Stars
  • Add the stars you will want to use

I use:

  • Yellow bang for Todo
  • Red bang for Important Todo
  • Question mark for emails I expect or await a reply. (so i can followup)
  • Orange guillemet (double arrow) for emails i delegated to someone but expect to be done. (so i can follow up)
  • Purple star for any arranged meeting, flights, event tickets, call or anything else related to an event where i might need to find that stuff quickly.

Filter the inboxes to match the stars

  • Go to Settings > Multiple Inboxes
  • Switch to right side layout - the option is in the bottom (!)
  • Add the filter rules you want for your inboxes

Here is the list of all names of the stars:

  • has:red-star
  • has:orange-star
  • has:green-star
  • has:blue-star
  • has:purple-star
  • has:red-bang
  • has:orange-guillemet
  • has:yellow-bang
  • has:green-check
  • has:blue-info
  • has:purple-question

You can btw also do more complex filters by adding OR, AND or basically anything else you can use in search. Eg. I use OR to show both important and VERY important todos.

Note on mobile: If you use the mobile Gmail App a lot i would suggest to use the normal yellow star for todo. That way you can at least mark todos in mobile. Unfortunately the other features won’t work as well because the gmail app doesn’t support them.

Enable the inbox layout (aka kill the tabs ;) )

This part is a bit annoying - basically you need to disable a lot of fancy default features of gmail. If the new multiple inbox layout doesn’t appear in your inbox after you finished the guide you might have missed some step here.

  • Go to Settings > Inbox
  • Switch to “default”
  • Turn off any configuration you might have regarding tabs
  • Turn off any configuration regarding priority, important emails or filters

  • Go to your inbox
  • Click on the cog and click on “Configure Inbox”
  • Remove everything
  • And while you are at it: Switch layout to “compact”

Now reload

Getting to inbox zero the first time

Let me guess you got a lot of emails in front of you right now or? I had several thousands the first time.

You need to get from several thousands it to Inbox Zero. And this needs to happen now. But it’s actually quite easy.

  • Go through the first two or three pages of email.
  • Mark everything that is a todo with a todo icon (in my case yellow bang).
  • Every thread where you had the last email and await a reply mark with your awaiting reply icon (in my case question mark).
  • The same for your delegated and events emails.

When you went through the first two or three pages and you have the feeling nothing (still) important appears anymore do the daring move.

  • Click select all (the checkbox on the top left)
  • Confirm that you really mean all 6523 emails
  • And click on archive

Now your inbox should at zero and your right areas full.

More Gmail Workflow Tips

If you like the suggestion above you might be also interested in my other gmail workflow tips:

Robot the majority of your emails

I am pretty sure you receive dozens of newsletters, groups etc.

  • Unsubscribe what you don’t need
  • Filter what you only need if you search for it (i do this eg for follower updates etc)
  • Filter everything that can be automatically processed (eg all my invoices get a label, all my commercial invoices get a label and are forwarded to my assisstent who will then use it for bookkeeping)

By now i have over 100 filters and i only see new emails if i really need to see them.

Keyboard navigation

  • Enable shortcuts in settings
  • Learn them
  • Most important y for archive, r for reply, a for reply all, s for star

Auto advance

  • Choose auto-advance in Settings so you can cycle through your new emails in the morning really fast

Undo sending

  • Enable Undo send in Settings > Labs
  • Wonder for the rest of your life why this is not a default feature

Merge your email accounts to one

  • Screw multiple logins
  • Fetch all your email to your main gmail account
  • Be sure to use the “smtp” feature to avoid the emails being send as “on behalf of”

  • Choose to always reply from the email you got the message sent to
  • Ideal if you have private and professional emails coming now to the same inbox

Install rapportive. But i am pretty sure you already have done so. ;)

Update:

A few people mentioned that they suggest using labels instead of stars. Labels are accessible in the mobile app and also in other apps.

Personally I prefer the stars because they are quicker to access. But if you are looking for a way to have the same workflow also accessible in your mobile - labels might be the solution.

That’s it.

I hope this workflow helps you as much as it helped me and several people i showed it too - If you want please tweet this article. And also feel free to hit me up on twitter if you have any further questions or suggestions how to improve my workflow: @andreasklinger

Until then, lifehack the planet,

Andreas

Why Lean Startup sucks for startups.

If you go to Lean Startup events you will find first time founders, consultants, accelerator managers, r&d people, enterprise intrapreneurs, people of the government and a lot of people running meet-ups around the topic of Lean Startup. But you hardly meet people who are doing startups successfully or people who are in their nth startup. Why?

Also a lot of people mention more and more than Lean Startup is moving more and more to Enterprise. And that’s plain obvious to see. But why is it happening?

All of those are merely symptoms. The underlying fact for that is quite simple.

Lean Startups “sucks” for startups

Disclaimer:

I am not bashing Lean Startup in this article. I critisize it in its current iteration. Lean Startup will look different in a few years from now. And hopefully incorporate my concerns.

The problems i mention could be blamed on those who practice, or those who teach. But honestly it’s a problem with in-difference and loosing touch to startup reality.

It comes down to one thing: treating enterprise and startups the same and a cargo-cult like process by 3rd tier experts (like me) who increase the negative effects of this anti-pattern.

Many experts (incl. book authors) are giving processes and tools to enterprises and startups without truly understanding their different context and needs. And there is a reason why Lean Startup works best in enterprise and education (right now). Because that’s were those tools work best.

Let me explan…

Upside Validation vs Downside Protection

Startup life is about protecting your head and not your ass. Because your are running head-forward in the dark.

The goal of a startup is not to validate as much as possible to be sure that you are on the right track. The goal is it to validate as little as needed.

Startups are not about validating you do the right thing. Startups are about validating you are not doing the wrong thing.

It sounds very similar but it is fundamentally different.

Validating every step to get more certainty makes sense for some - eg. people who work in enterprises. But not for normal startups.

And unfortunately most people and most techniques in Lean Startup tend to ignore this different context.

Too many consultants approach this problem indifferent…

And honestly if you could measure loss of lifetime because of mediocre advice, many Lean Startup consultants would be serial killers.

Validate as little as possible

The next time someone asks you “did you validate this?” - answer “how much is it worth to validate this?”

The problem is quite simple:

  1. The time and effort it costs to validate something is usually higher then the pay-off
  2. It is usually easier to validate that you are on the wrong track. Than that you are on the right one.
  3. In many cases it pays off to move on if you are certain “enough”. Because most likely more (noisy) information won’t lead to more certainty.

Example

Let’s say you have the doors A B C or D to go through.

In a perfect world we could now evaluate all four doors (eg through interviews or experiments) and then try to make a educated choice. We could easily argument afterwards why we picked a decision. We did the right thing.

In theory this sounds like the right thing to do. Gather more data than you can cheaply acquire. Validate your decisions based on data.

Or we could pick the one we believe the strongest in (given the information we could timely acquire) and try to figure if it’s the wrong one.

This sounds like a suboptimal option, because maybe one of the others would have been the better option.

What i notice is that many people try to pick the first option, but end up with the same level of decision quality as in the second option, plus a bunch of fluff non actionable data, gathered by suboptimal methods that pseudo-justifies their decision.

  • In theory startups are about finding the right door.

  • In reality your own subjective bias combined with very noisy information will make it impossible to get to the information quality you hope for.

  • In reality you have huge risk associated with your cost of delay.
  • In reality you are happy if the door you will pick is not a death trap and you want to verify that.
  • In reality there is no-one questioning you apart of you - so all your steps should just happen to make sure you can convince yourself and that YOU do not lie to yourself.

If you are unsure what i mean with cost of delay or in general want to read about product management i recommend these slides by Don Reinertsen - here is a good summary

There is no point in trying to validate just to get the affirmation to move on. If you are already convinced most likely you will bias the output and waste time. No-one will ask you if you fail anyway. You want to make sure you are not doing the wrong thing and move on as fast as possible. And wait for the real risks to test.

Lean Startup calls it picking the riskiest assumption first. But leave it there. For startups “pick only the riskiest assumptions" might be a better formulation. It comes as said down to a mindset:

Good teams don’t use the tools of Lean Startup / Custdev as a navigation systems. They use it as a headlight to make sure they don’t kill anybody or get of the road.

You can easily argue that the behaviour I mention above has nothing to do with Lean Startup but the way how people apply it. Which is true.

Which leads me to the second big problem Lean Startup has…

Processes vs Principles

To explain this to people less familiar with Lean Startup. There are two approaches to Lean Startup:

  • Understanding it as a strategy, so to say as a process to follow.
  • Understanding it as a principle, so to say as a toolbag to use.

Similar to church members it depends to whom you speak - this definition of Lean Startup will range from that loose principles to a concrete process. And similar to lessons in the bible people tend to pick the side and lessons based on their church they belong to and the argument they are trying to win.

Btw from my talks to Eric Ries i would put him definitely into the second group. People who look for the underlying principles and evolve processes over time.

But the problem is that there is a huge cargo cult around Lean. A cargo cult of consultants and Lean Lurkers. A cargo cult that focuses on processes.

Lean Startup tends to attract people who like to be told what they should do next. And people who like to teach people that process for money. – Bjoern Lasse Herrmann, Startup Genome

People follow motions instead of understanding why they actually use certain tools.

When you don’t apply critical thought and strategy to your startup and conversations, you’re just going through the motions: replacing the hard task of strategy with the lazy solution of following someone else’s process. - Rob Fitzpatrick

Many teams become what i called above Lean Lurkers.

Teams that use complex terms and slow processes they borrow from Lean Startup to hide, and even excuse, the fact that they have no traction. No traction is no traction. No matter what you did to (not) get it.

Following Lean Startup step by step sucks for startups, but that’s ok

There is a space where you need to explain why you picked a decision. A place where you need to justify and cover your ass. A place where you want to show your updated business model canvas. A place where more data, proof and validation that fundaments your previous decision is good. The enterprise corporation.

And i mean this without any disrespect towards large corporations.

Lean Startup is one of the best things that happened to enterprises.

Because Lean Startup can help enterprises remove mid-level management decision. The moment someone outside of a project needs to touch or decide upon a project either quality or speed goes down. Lean Startup provides a framework where (in a utopian) company, opinions and politics can be reduced through data aggregation and validation to the point that they are no longer relevant.

And there is a space where you need to go through motions for no other reason than to go through the motion and be questioned at each step and learn the skills. That space is called education.

Lean Startup is a perfect vehicle for accelerators and universities to teach tools of entrepreneurship. It’s perfect to increase the contact surface with different approaches and provides an optimal framework for high paced learning experiences.

And coincidentally these are the spaces where Lean Startup currently fits perfectly.

Just to clarify:

Both problems i mentioned above - unnecessary upside validation and blindly following processes of “opinion leaders” - have per se nothing to do with Lean Startup. Lean Startup even promotes the idea of quick (potentially wrong) decisions and going for the riskiest bits first in its core.

But an undifferentiated approach to Lean Startup by treating enterprise and startup context the same leads to startup teams looking for validations only enterprises and education spaces can effort.

So if you wonder why Lean Startup moves to enterprise?

That’s the reason. In it’s current form it fits best to enterprise. It’s current leaders focus on enterprise.

The reason simple: Many people doing those workshops lost themselves in theory and forgot about the practice.

Enterprise consultants will only develop tools for enterprise people. And if you look around in the Lean Startup scene, all the current opinion leaders make their money with enterprise consulting.

Lean Startup lost a part of its core.

The problem Lean Startup has currently is (imho) that it lost the attachment to a good part of it’s core.

It used to be about the experience and best practice of startup founders. It used to be about taking that startup founder learnings and abstracting them and sharing them to more people. Founders are the ones developing new entrepreneurial tools for startup founders, not enterprise consultants. And that’s why many founders replaced their Lean Startup books with Hackernews articles.

That leaves learning opportunity for new learnings on the table. That being said - try to join the next Leancamp in your neighbourhood. We try to escape consulting land and focus on things learned by founders. Most of them come btw from other fields than lean.

What will happen with Lean Startup

I personally see two things possible to happen. Lean Startup might cut the corner and regain credibility within the startup founder scene. Which is still possible because i personally strongly believe in Eric Ries’ point of view of an evolving tool for entrepreneurship and his marketing skills to get the right people involved again.

Or not…

But even if not…

One thing I realised this year at the Lean Startup conference after speaking with Eric Ries and Ash Mauraya… It would be ok if Lean Startup doesn’t make it back to the startup scene.

Because Lean Startup itself moved on. It hit the mainstream. It became a synonym for high-paced, iterative, high-potential entrepreneurship. It became a framework for other industries to understand “how the kids in software tech do it”. It helps governments. It helps people pushing entrepreneurship.

In any case it did important big steps for entrepreneurship. And no matter if the next steps will have the same branding or another new shiny one. Lean Startup moved entrepreneurship forward.

What are your thoughts about this? Am i right? Am i wrong? Hit me up on twitter

Until then, push learning forward,

– Andreas

AngelList is the NASDAQ of our generation.

It’s fair to say that Angellist is the most exciting (web/mobile) tech startup in 2013.

Even before they launched syndicates, earlier this year, they were already heavily integrated into our startup ecosystem. They were (and are) mapping all relationships in an ecosystem that heavily relies on leveraging its social networks. Relationships like investor introductions, teams, jobs and even applications to accelerators. Needless to say this is already very big.

But since the launch of investments and syndicates there is no more stopping them. Right now it is hard for me to even imagine the potential ceiling that Angellist could face in the next years.

We are living in exciting times.

Investments changed in the last years. From long and slow processes to pitch event focused accelerators to single page applications like Kima15 of Kima Venture.

In the next years early stage investments will be closer to APIs requests or figuratively speaking going to an ATM than it is to our current investment processes, which very often still look like later stage VC/risk investments.

The future of early stage investments:

Application through Angellist, automatic due diligence through APIs, background check through social connections, in face meeting via hangout - boom money, here we go.

And Angellist is in the heart of all of this.

Angellist is the NASDAQ of our generation.

"The private market is at the stage the public market has been in the 80/90s" – Paul Singh.

Right now we are just seeing the beginning. Syndicates make it effective for investors to join the best rounds, and more importantly **syndicates make it easy for the upcoming waves of me-too angels to join the game. **

There are a few logical implications what might happen next. Here are my three predications.

1) Secondary markets

Sooner or later, given the legal complications – AL might transform into a real stock exchange. Why just buy your equity of startups. Why not sell it as well?

We have currently two interesting problems in startup investments:

Companies are pushed to exits (IPO, acquisition) to provide liquidity for the stock holders. And those exits often cripple the product ambition of a startup.

Not all of the startups of our generation will be optimal candidates for IPOs and exits. Leading to the need of alternate returns (evergreens eg). For some investors this fit. Some might want to leave a bit earlier.

Obviously (speaking as a laymen) this needs a few changes how we address stock of private companies or other special legal regulations.

But if there is a company that has the best position to make this happen it’s Angellist. Angellist is the NASDAQ of our generation.

When will this come:

Given the legal complications and the fact that AL is still just a very small team i wouldn’t be surprised if this will need a bit more of time or might come through a partner in the beginning. But me for me personally this is where i see AL’s main role in a few years.

2) Onboarding of new me-too investors

There is a huge wave of late-to-the-game/me-too investors/wanna-be-angels coming to the market right now. These people need education and access to knowledge/experience, because – frankly speaking – there will be certain changes in investor types.

The “hollywoodization of startup investments” (coined by Paul Singh) creates an environment where the public persona or the social following of the investment leaders will be a more important factor than their investment experience. To normalize this, we need to education and onboarding of me-too angels. Accelerators for angels, Lean Startup Books replaced by Lean Investment books.

Currently I imagine a front-page explaining how startup investments work in reality and which syndicates or investors they should back for what reasons.

When will this come:

I don’t believe AL will or even should build this. This would be sub optimal. They should offer affiliate/provisions to people referring investors and spawn an ecosystem of tools of this kind.

If you are working on a startup in this space - let me know - I am happy to add you here.

3) Spawning an ecosystem of market analysis software

If Angellist is the NASDAQ of our generation. Who is the Bloomberg? A lot of companies try to answer this question.

Most of them aggregate public data and try to generate information/indications out of it.

There a lot of companies in this space and also a lot of VCs build their own in-house tools.

But most noteable here are Mattermark and Indicate (Indicate was previously known as dashboard.io).

One might argument that Compass.co (by the guys of Startup Genome Project) belongs into this list. I personally would disagree with that assumption (Disclaimer: I am working with the team). The focus of Compass is to provide benchmarks and insights to the startup teams themselves and to provide aggregated (anonymous) information to the ecosystem. Which itself might be an even bigger opportunity (but this is another blogpost).

Mattermark, Indicate and co pluck into Public APIs like:

  • Traffic rankings (thus estimated traffic) from Alexa, Compete
  • Social activity from Facebook, Twitter, etc
  • Appstore rankings (thus estimated downloads)
  • Investor interest via funding informations from Crunchbase or Angellist
  • Press buzz based on press releases and media mentions
  • and other similar sources

But let’s be honest… The data they currently access is very limited. And even more important - what kind of information can you really infer out this data?

"Yay, they gained 20 followers. Let’s invest" – Said no good investor ever.

But it’s not about exact information. It’s about getting as many signals as you can. In a path of darkness even a small light in your hand is better than nothing.

And truth be told, while most of us people who work with analytics worry about accuracy or precision. In the case of monitoring private companies we are still in the situation of "any data is better than none".

If this doesn’t convince you - here are a few reasons why i believe there is a big space for opportunities:

Reasons why these tools are useful: Analogy to public markets:

The images above is a service created by UBS - they monitor (eg.) Walmart’s parking lots and by that estimate Walmart’s customer traffic (and thus revenue).

This is not exact information. But hypothetically speaking if you would be interested in investing in a retailer - it would be good to know rough ranges of visits they have. Paul Singh has an excellent presentation on this you need to read

Reasons why these tools are useful: Social Signals:

Also there is more information in public data than one would expect. Eg the social signals in the interaction with startups is a good proxy for buzz. As an angel investor would you be interested if Jeff Clavier all of a sudden started tweeting about a startup that fits your target list? Well i would be very interested. Plus there is opportunity in comparing the patterns of buzz of early stage companies with historic data of successful ones.

Reasons why these tools are useful: Alerts:

For me personally the imho most interesting service is automatic alerts about new startups. “A new wearable tech company appeared in CEE. Their angellist account is two hours old. Their CEO used to run a bigger division at Nike and their Lead engineer has a strong arduino open source following on Github. One of their early followers on twitter is Tim Ferris.” If you are into wearable tech you might want to take a look.

If you are interested in this be sure to subscribe to Nick O’Neill’s awesome Startup Stats newsletter. He features the best kickstarter/indiegogo projects.

And there is a lot of more potential in this space.

  • Stronger focus on social signalling
  • Proprietary data sources
  • Monitoring crowd financing pages like Kickstarter and IndieGogo

Should you completely base your investment decisions on this kind of tools? Oh god no.

But it’s a good way to compete with VCs who have an army of radar boys employed.

When will this happen:

It’s already happening. Mattermark is currently leading this upcoming market. Indicate is catching up fast.

The main difference is that Indicate offers their insights/data for free and only monetizes on add-on features. This is a leap-jump, given the fact that any company that monetizes on access of information sooner or later gets disrupted by the Internet. On the other hand Danielle is top of her game and thinks far ahead.

The big obvious scary elephant that no-one talks about - is of course the fact that sooner or later Angellist might extend their Traction feature.

Asked at the Startup Stats Summit this fall Naval said clearly that he sees all tools as partners in this ecosystem. Well… We will see.

4) And many more predictions for Angellist…

I could name many more predictions for Angellist - like regional offices worldwide for Angellist, API Integrations for due diligence and verification, various of additional ecosystem players around etc etc - but I think you get my point. Angellist as a platform is the epicentre of an exciting market.

We are just at the beginning of this journey: Public fundraising, transparent startup markets, market analytics.

"Everyone in AngelList is on a 6-year vesting schedule" – Naval Ravikant

We are in phase one of the most important platforms of our generation of startups.

About my predictions

As with all predictions please take them with a grain of salt.

Example: After the launch of FB platform I predicted with 100% confidence that FB would introduce a currency and maybe mobile payments through their facebook mobile clients. And that skype will die. Several years later FB still sell ads and just to annoy me, they even partnered up.

Personal lesson learned: my prediction tend to be a bit too far fetched.

So don’t wait for my “Early stage investment like an ATM” prediction to happen any time soon. ;)

That being said i would love to know your predictions. And I am sure you got good ones. Where do you see the meta-market of startup investments going to? Where do you see Angellists biggest opportunities? What could kill them (apart of the government)?

Would love to hear your thoughts - hit me up on twitter: @andreasklinger

Until then, continue being awesome and thanks for reading

Andreas

ps: This is written for a friend.

Drafting your first investment round.

The topic of investing is omnipresent in our startup world. Sooner or later most startup founders look for external funding. And it’s great that there is already a lot of great advice on this topic out there.

The advice I want to focus on is a bit more fundamental.

It’s about getting to your very first investment round.

Disclaimer: Like any advice, this advice here is just personal opinion based on subjective experiences put into some half-baked context. I would like to encourage you to peer-review this post and send me your change suggestions using this link on Draft or simply comment in this thread in Hacker News.

"Looking for angel investors"

The most common mistake I notice is that startups often begin looking for “angel investors”. They go to networking events, local media, ask other entrepreneurs in their area . They ask around and try to see who in their direct or indirect network fits the criteria of an “angel investor” - people who have a track record or reputation of investing into startups.

Out of this shortlist they pick their favorites based on public success stories and reputation, and quickly start approaching/pitching them. If this doesn’t work they lower their expectations and look for other wealthy people they know or at least know indirectly.

I acknowledge the tricky situation every fundraising entrepreneur is in, but the truth is that this approach values proximity and availability over quality and purpose. You need to be aware of that when walking down that path.

All of a sudden mobile-health startups have CEO’s of marketing agencies as investors who - even if they are highly skilled business people - cannot create provide the most meaningful input possible apart of supplying cash in exchange for (very valuable!) control.

The method above also enforces a behaviour where the local “super angel” of your city gets approached by nearly everyone. Again, for the wrong reason.

A lot of people have money. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best possible investors for your startup.

That being said it is advisable for the entrepreneur to go the extra mile and bang those doors, he knows he needs to get in, even harder.

I got the following advice from an investor in our last startup, and I have been sharing it ever since:

Draft your round

When you start raising your round, before you reach out to investors - sit down, and do the following to find the profiles of the best possible people to join you as angel investors:

First of all, split your company into its main aspects.

I usually take a pen and paper and draw a rectangle made out of 4 boxes. In each of the boxes write one of the core fundaments of the business.

Let’s imagine you run a P2P yacht rental Airbnb-like startup. Rich people rent their yachts to other rich people

I am making this up on the fly. Sorry if it is either complete bollocks or, by accident, your startup ;)

Or let’s imagine you are a “private cloud” hardware business and sell ready-to-go servers that provide Dropbox for local networks.

Your 4 core boxes would be:

Or imagine you run a mobile health business that measures your blood-pressure using the iPhone vibration sensor while you sit. (again… making this up the fly. But wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Singularity University is already working on this.)

image

Fill the boxes:

At least one of the boxes should reflect a old-economy (or older internet generation) version of your business.

E.g. Car rental if you do uber. Ebay if you do mobile ebay.

One of the boxes should be related to your engine of growth. Think Community, Sales, SEM, etc - What is the core aspect of your growth.

I usually prefer to have one of the boxes to be a “startup experience”. The person filling this slot will be someone who has done a few successful investments and can help the other investors with guidance and also back you up if the other angels, who are not so experienced with startups, are turned off by your strategies. Also this person will be very useful for your follow-up rounds, assuming you get to that stage.

Digging deeper

image

Let’s define each of the fields in a bit more detail.

What characteristics do the perfect people have in those boxes? What kind of business person are they? What’s their background, what kind of tasks did they achieve. Did they build the company? …or the mobile product? Did they do the Europe expansion or the R&D of the core product?

Sometimes you need innovators sometimes executors. Sometimes you want the old-school business guy, sometimes the crazy new product guy. But be specific about what characteristics the role needs.

Who would be the best people for your boxes? We are looking for the right people - globally.

Think TED talks, think universities, think nobel prize winners, think household brands, think old-school businesses that kinda did that one aspect but offline, look for established startups that are similar in that very aspect.

Hint: Look for companies that reflect the boxes you just named above without being potential competitors. People run into conflict of interest if your startup’s product is too close to their own affiliations.

Advisory board

If you think that this is very close to a board of advisors than you are right. Your perfect first round of angels are people you would actually want to have as advisors.

Be careful with Strategic Partners

image

It is very tempting to get a very strong potential long-term growth partner as an angel. But usually this turns out to be a too strong commitment in a too early stage. Most properly you will pivot and no longer need that channel. Look for people and skills, not single ressources.

The goal of the angel is not to provide their distribution network, but to give you the insight and help needed to create your own.

Shortlist

Now start shortlisting the top10 people in each of those boxes. Look for people you would be honored to work with. Even if - in the end - you cannot reach those people, they provide a great mental picture, a benchmark of what you look for.

Reaching out

There is a the common saying:

If you ask for money you get advice. If you ask for advice you get money.

Therefore your first step is to meet them for skype or coffee. They are expert and feedback is all you can ask for.

After some time a mentor or advisor relationship might establish.

But even if it stays within this relationship of “just advice” - that’s great.

Think that way: Even if they in the end don’t invest money, their feedback and introductions will be worth a lot.

Look for people who help from Day 1

In my experience: If someone is overly protective about his skill/network or support he might not have enough of it to offer.

The right people provide value from Day 1. The right people help and network you from Day 1. The right people know they have enough value to provide and are very open with their support.

The round

In a perfect world you have a few weeks or month you work with those people before you open a round with a “lower” valuation, where they can participate.

The perfect round is with advisors willing and capable to help your business and have a downside if they don’t (their investment).

Unfortunately we do not live always in a perfect world. But try to keep this as a guidance. Your goal is to close a advisory round, which benefits everyone.

Hint: Traction and scarcity closes rounds.

As with everything in startups, funding rounds are also defined by their traction. Try to have several of the alpha investors already committed before you open up the round to everyone else.

Hint: Valuations

Every experienced founder will tell you the same. In case of doubt pick the right people over the right valuation.

people > valuation.

Accelerators

In general I would recommend every first time founder to participate in an accelerator. They help avoid the most common mistakes and introduce you to an already built network of the great people.

Remember: Your goal as first-time founder is not to optimise potential. It is to optimise probability of success.

As with everything in the startup world, try to go with the best - ignore the rest. I dare to say that, in this power-law driven game: non-focused B,C,D or F-level accelerators can hardly provide any of the value they promise.

What about VCs?

Personally i would not recommend working with Venture Capital before you are getting closer to product/market fit. But opinions differ here.

There are two kinds of money

  • Money for proof (to find product market fit)
  • Money for scaling (to repeat customer acq.)

Venture Capital by tradition is the second kind of money. I would actually even go further…

I tend to think of VC capital as rocket fuel.

If you are ready the help you reaching the skies. If you are not it might as well blow up your company.

When you are not ready, they cannot play their strongest cards and their misaligned power and expectations can become straight forward destructive for your startup.

If you want to take VCs into your round, make sure that they also fit one of your boxes mentioned above. Look especially at the background of the partner working with you - VCs are people too. Additionally take a look at their other portfolio companies and make sure that there are synergies in experiences and competences needed.

Be careful with new funds. They are startups themselves, but don’t know it.

Hint: Be careful with miss-understanding VC interest.

VCs want to invest as early (low valuation) as possible. Which from their point of view means as late (last possible moment, lowest possible risk).

A VCs needs to see you performing over time to make a real commitment.

image

The first time I meet you, you are a single data point. I invest in lines. — Mark Suster

Summary

Never put proximity and availability over quality or purpose. Find the optimal people for your startup. Or approximate them as closely as possible. If you get people in just for the money no-one will profit in the end.

I hope this article is useful to you. If you have any questions please contact me via twitter. Also as mentioned this is article meant to be a peer-reviewed source for early stage founders. Therefore I would highly appreciate your change-suggestions via Draft or comment in this Hacker News thread.

Until then, all the best. @andreasklinger

PS: Thanks to @tamaslocher, @lfittl and countless others for adding their feedback!

Why the future needs a brandname.

There is a disenchantment in our generation. We are still sitting on our lonely planet without space travel nor flying cars or at least hover boards. We are locked to the ground of technological advancement.

Although the Internet is a generation defining technological advancement, it feels like it’s stalled, to some even boring. Trapped in constant mental incest some say it became a bit repetitive, driven by an ecosystem flawed by it’s own survivor bias.

But the Internet aside I feel that the problem is even bigger, if you zoom out from the last years to the last decades. There is something fundamentally wrong with our society’s attitude towards science and innovation.

Reasons for Disenchantment: The illusion of progress

Our present day doesn’t feel futuristic and our future does not feel on its verge to come.

Looking past at the cultural artifacts left by earlier generations it feels like that the 50s, 60s and even the 70s had a different approach to their future. They believed in technologic advancements and even more they believed that they could actively invent it themselves.

"We have discarded a century of can-do ambition built on rapid advances in technology and replaced it with a cautiousness far too satisfied with incremental improvements." ~Garry Kasparov in ft.com

Highly recommend to watch: ARTE “Into the night” w/ Garry Kasparow & Peter Thiel

According to Garry Kasparow we slowed down. We lost ourselves in incremental improvements and wars of efficiencies, instead looking for disruptive developments and ambitious new projects.

I personally do not agree with that view to the extreme Thiel and Kasparow put it. But i do believe that judging technologic advancement by the resulted IPO-size and not by social-impact leads to short-term thinking and repetitive patterns based on survivor bias.

But the problem might be bigger than that…

Reasons for Disenchantment: The role of science

I believe our excitement for science is at an all-time low.

Watch popular media of the last decades and you will see the public sentiment/portrait towards people pushing technological development. If development is celebrated it is in form of “quirky science stuff” or “high techie-techie”. It is ok for talk-show-moderators to shout into the camera that they have no idea about math or science.

The public media presents characters – may they be fictionally or images of real people – which are either dorky scientists waiting for the ex-quarterback to solve everything with a witty common-knowledge-solution or the inventors are approximated to rock-stars or artists, the next best thing of a visionary persona our society wants to understand.

Our society has no big craving to invent radical innovation. We need to unravel a new interest in science and innovation – a new love for visionary/crazy projects tackling 20-year projects.

To make the future happen we need inspire ourselves as well as the next generations of creators. We need to communicate with the public and change this fundamentally wrong sentiment.

Science needs to become cool.

We need a utopic view of the future - once again.

Terra forming? Colonies on Mars? Flying cars? Prolonging life? Bio-mechanical robots? Mining Asteroids? We had all of this visions – as early as in the 60s! But our approach to the future changed.

Today our future is left to the weaves of time, and we became passive beholders no longer capable of believing we could change more than just a small incremental part of it. We believe today in in-deterministic models of a future too complex and too chaotic to interfere. Judged and understood only when you look back afterwards.

Peter Thiel explains this very well in his first class of his Startup Class.

In the 60s strong leaders were an example we were willing to follow.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade […], not because it is easy, but because it is hard […]

~President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas

Would this be enough to set the public in the right sentiment? What about Obama stepping on stage and proclaiming a new age of pioneering. Let’s be honest. It would be ridicolous. We wouldn’t care. People do no longer believe in strong leaders.

To get back into deterministic thinking about the future we need to play the game of media.

Creating a hype, establishing band-names, creating characters.

I believe it’s today important to establish a brand-name around a movement. It’s important to create strong characters. It’s important to create a dull hype that mass media can pick up.

We need to create a marketing buzzwords, which – correctly used – can be a positive thing. They create easily packaged concept and framework, curate an easy-to-consume approach to a complex topic. They create external authority useable in superficial discussions.

We need to create hype around brands people want to attach, give space to share ownership, identify with, to communicate and to believe in.

  • We need movements as curators.
  • We need brands around movements to attach to.
  • We need characters celebrated as stars and role models.
  • We need story telling and celebration of the most exciting innovations
  • We need to play the media right

The media played irght can be used as an accelerator in an re-enforcing loop.

Curators (brands/movements) promote creators (inventors) to communicater (journalists/socialmedia) who transport to a large group of consumers (the public). Out of which ultimately more support and more creators will come.

A brand-name for our future

To simplify communication we need brand-names around movements. I believe to give a brand today credibility we need more than strong leaders, good claims and a bold vision. Especially when it comes to science related topics we need models behind it.

The good thing… We have all those brand-names and models since years.

Accelerating Change

Ray Kurzweil's arguments in his model of Accelerating Change that technological development is - like biological - an exponential pattern of evolution.

Simply put that you create more giants by “standing on the shoulders of giants” and thus exponentially create more giants shoulders to stand on.

Example: Moore’s law extended to other technologies.

Of course to any good model there are countless examples when it does not work and there are dozens of points of criticism.

But to create hypes we do not need flawless models. We need good enough solutions people can affiliate to, people can believe in.

Something simple enough to communicate, something complex enough to believe in it. Combine a model like this with a strong brand-name and you got a winner.

A Brand-name: The Singularity

"Singularity, the wet dream of IT geeks" ~anon Internet Commenter

Singularity as a brand is about to break to mass-market in 2013. I believe this is a good thing. And we should use this.

For those who don’t know it yet: the concept of technological singularity (as an event in technical evolution) is based on a paper by Math Professor and Sci-Fi author Vernor Vinge from ‘93. The concept defines the idea of technological development until we are able to invent AI technology that will be capable to take over the job of innovation from there on. Ultimately this concept leads to a potential destruction of all of humanity.

"Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended." ~Vernor Vinge

It a lovely concept to think about it - isn’t it? An AI clever enough to outpace human intelligence and compete with us. Still stupid enough to fall into the same anti-logical patterns of false reason, short-term efficiency thinking and eagerness for destruction.

Ray Kurzweil calculates the time of the Singularity based on his model of exponential technological advancement around 2045.

Singularity as brand-name for the future.

But more there is more to this term apart of absolute destruction of humanity. This aspect is just a by-product, a good opener to approach the topic. Singularity became a buzzword for a new movement popularising science. And it’s about to break-through to mass-market

When people use it in this context they don’t speak of an event of total destruction, they speak about generation defining future technology. Technology that has the potential to affect people in the count of billions.

They speak about a new age of pioneering.

Used as a brand-name, movements formed around it, organizations start, universities launch.

And yes, of course, some will commercially exploit this brand better than others. But why not. Commercial interest is the fastest driver for optimizing efficiency and speeding up developments.

Yet another Hype…

The most fascinating aspect about the Singularity movement is that it’s critics come as well from technological fields. And I truly understand it.

When I put my craftsman-hat on, I see a disproportional hype creeping towards mass-media in the last few years. A hype used by half-baked professional speakers to affiliate themselves to world-thinkers and thus double their keynote-salary.

Yet another hype, trashed in public media, portrayed by half-witted bloggers like myself.

But when I put my marketeer-hat on I see more. I see a brand-name to use. I see a way to communicate big ideas to the public. A way to inspire a new generation.

I hate hypes and cargo-cults around topics like everyone else. But if we need this to inject a new sentiment into the public - let’s do it. If we need over-hype and over-cheering - let’s go for it. And if a brand-name is needed to market the future - i am in.

Rather than to fight this brand-name I encourage using it and creating more brand-names.

Commercial Break: Pioneers Festival

A short commercial break: Watch the space around Pioneers Festival - They blew me away with their event in 2012 and now again with their concept for 2013. They are the only large scale event format I know that approaches technological pioneering as a whole and doesn’t overly focus only on the web technology of today.

We need to inspire the future.

While I am sure that the brand Singularity will hit mass-market this year 2013. I believe we will need a lot more brand-names like this.

I want that a founder can proclaim that his company is on Mars in 10 years.

Where people can speak about radical life span extension. People my grandfather would have – in best case – sent off his lawn.

A future where people can dream about mining asteroids.

Our generation got a huge challenge. We living in a new age of pioneering. And to facilitate this we need to set a new tone towards technological development, a new approach in thinking in our society, a new proud awareness of science.

If playing the game of media is what we need. Let it be so. If we need characters, brand-names and storytelling - I am in. If we need to attach to hypes around over-used buzzwords. Why not.

I honestly believe and I am willing to scream this to the world: We are on the verge of a new age of pioneering. We live in the most exciting generation that has ever been.

We need excitement and communication as much as we need technical advancement and science itself.

Let’s inspire and communicate the Future – now.

Let me know your thoughts on the far future. Your attitude towards the hype around the brand Singularity. As usual you can reach me via twitter or join the discussion on HackerNews

Until then,

The sky is only the limit if you are too afraid to build rocket ships

~ @andreasklinger

Startup Mentoring Sessions: How to be a decent, maybe even good startup mentor.

How to be the perfect startup mentor? I don’t know. But following the best practices mentioned in this article I got personally at least to the “not-so-shitty” level. I am happy to share my notes and hope there are some take-aways within for you as well.

The guys of TL;DR at Seedcamp Paris

This blogpost is about mentoring session formats as you see in most incubators, startup weekends or acceleration events. Startups own a table, mentors circle in groups from startup to startup. This post is part of a two-blog series about this topic. This time I am focusing on the mentor’s side of the table. But good Mentoring is about both sides of the table. And while both sides are equally as likely to fck it up – wrong mentor’s advice can easily result in long-term damage for the startups.*

Checklist for First-Time Mentors…

1. Attitude

You are an industry veteran. Damn… all the things you have seen, the stories you can tell. You did startups before it was cool. You have been up and down the startup roller-coaster several times, you are experienced. You have been picked by all the best - mentored at Seedcamp and Ycombinator… The kids nowadays have it so easy and still they are so arrogant… Don’t recognise your experience… You have been to the field…… You are like the rambo of startups, battle-scared to the bone, loaded with a machine gun of advice, ready for destruction…… Cut that crap.

The true A-players in the world are humble and open.You don’t have to proof yourself to no-one and you know that there is always someone better out there. Be a true A-player, don’t play one.

Even if startups don’t respect your experience or disregard your advice, stay positive. Ignore their ignorance and take is as a sign of their potential – good founders are often stubborn idiots in their early days. Keep the good spirit and stay kind and helpful, all the time.

2. Pick your weapon of choice.

You are experienced in several things, that’s good, but don’t try to be jack of all trades. Nobody needs your 0,2cents about everything, they need the big-buck stuff. Focus on your strengths and be the experts for these topics.

If you are not an expert for a given topic and you have nothing to add that helps 10x - just keep silent or refer to people that might be able to help and let them move on to the next question. If they insist to get your advice make sure they are aware that this is just an opinion not based on own experience. You are not there to answer all questions, you are there to answer a few questions really well.

Pro-tip: Have links ready to the ressources you anyway mention all the time. Be ready to give these links (or search term) right at the venue.

3. Listen & Understand it from their point of view.

The number one thing startups complain about their mentors is that many are incapable to listen (thus truly comprehend). Sometimes a mentor believes to have a better idea about what they startup should do, no matter what they want to do. They complain that many mentors just try to force a conversation to their topic or opinion. Very often mentors rush into answers after hearing half the problem, because they want to get an idea or story that just came to mind of their chest. Don’t be that kind of mentor.

  • Never rush into answering
  • Listen patiently
  • Write your thoughts down
  • Give them one focused answer
  • Walk them through and catch them where they are
  • Show empathy and understand their point of view.

Empathy requires something extremely difficult: accepting the fact that we are not and never will be in the other person’s shoes. There’s no rational, universal course because individuals have different goals, different worldviews and different experiences. – Seth Godin

4. Do ask, don’t tell.

Don’t push your knowledge on the founders, instead focus on asking the “right” (slow) questions and help them to get their thoughts forward.

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn" – Benjamin Franklin

I highly agree with Fred Destin, who advocates using the socratic way for startup mentoring.

Additionally there is one book i would like to highly recommend everyone to read. And when I say everyone I mean everyone who interacts with other human people. For me personally (as a half-social geek) it is one of the most important books I ever read.

How to Win Friends And Influence People – Dale Carnegie

5. It’s not You VS Them, It’s You AND Them

There is a tendency of mentors trying to “ask the really hard questions” or “roasting” or “judging” them. That’s not what it is about.

"So… what is your revenue model and how are you going to scale it?" - other mentor

"Really…? Really? Of all the problems they have right now, this is your question?" - Stiar Tali

Focus on topics that are actually providing value to the startups right now.

  • Be aware of their current stage of company/concept maturity and adjust accordingly.
  • Focus on stuff that’s problematic and actionable for them right now.
  • Be as honest as you can about problems you see, no need to fluff it.
  • Help them see upcoming challenges and risks.
  • Help them to see common mistakes in their approach/structure/patterns.
  • Look for analogs or antilogs of other companies (eg ask about failed companies or competitors in their space) and see what they can learn from them.
  • Never get them defensive that’s when they stop learning.
  • Very important: Don’t share opinions, share experiences.

I highly recommend @destraynor's post as a starting point on how to find great questions.

6. Learn to let go.

Some founders are just very early in their personal progress. They are “visionary” first-time founders, all over the place, ignorant and super cocky about it.

  • No matter how spot on your advice is - if the team doesn’t pick it up, there is no way you can make them.
  • No matter how big their potential startup idea is - if the team is not “ready” they won’t get nowhere.
  • Sometimes your advice is just plain wrong, but don’t know it yet.

Just accept it and move on. It’s not your obligation to force-feed anyone to success.

7. Always leave on a positive note.

Mentoring sessions tend to focus on the negatives, the things that don’t work, the stuff take will kill the business. And believe me speaking for hours about the problems of your company makes you regret ever starting that damn thing.

Always try to mention the things you like throughout the session, but especially leave on a positive note. Finish the session by saying what you really like about their business/startup. It will leave the whole mentoring session in a positive light.

Exchange contact details and offer direct actionable help. Always offer to send intros if you think you know people that can help them.

More to read

If you are interested in reading about the optimal structure of a mentoring session and/or the startups side of view I recommend you reading the follow up post, coming very soon.

Every startup made experiences with mentors. Some good some bad. I am sure I forgot several aspects of being a good mentor. Please reach out to me via twitter and let me know which ones I should add.

Until then, yours truly, @andreasklinger

Startup Mentoring Sessions: How to get the most out of it.

Everyone is doing pitch training. Almost no-one does training for the mentoring session, but this is where most startups get the majority of their value. — Sitar Teli, Connect Ventures.

In the last 4 years I have been to countless mentoring sessions. I have been on both sides of the table and noticed a lot of mistakes done on both sides, often by myself. I wanted to share a few of my lessons i have made during those sessions. I hope it helps you getting more out of your mentoring sessions.

This blogpost is about mentoring session formats as you see in most incubators, startup weekends or acceleration events. Startups own a table, mentors circle in groups from startup to startup. This post is part of a two-blog series about this topic. This time I am focusing on the startup’s side of the table. Good Mentoring is about both sides of the table.

Dear Startups…

1. Work on your Attitude

I know you were just picked to join Seedcamp or Ycombinator or Techstars. You are right now in this extreme hype phase, this phase where things start to move, you want to meet all of Silicon Valley, right now. In the morning you were pitching in front of investors, now they put you down with worldly mentors… to talk… you don’t need words… you got words, loads of them… You want cash, need cash… want to get big… rush off… sky-rocket hockeystick! And you are an experienced entrepreneur anyway, you already build an successful agency, you are not like this other kids here, you have experience, more experience than whoever this guy is who is mentoring right now, you should have never applied to that b-level event……… And also you had really a long week preparing the talk next to all the normal crazy work, you traveled all night, you pitched all morning, you have office stress right now, you are tired……… Seriously cut that crap.

I have seen startups where some of the founders started fiddling on their phone, walked away to get themselves coffee, checked their emails, skype-chatted, looked bored into the corner, started side-talks. Honestly… don’t!… Pay attention or you just waste a big opportunity and look like an ignorant ass. Be present and use that opportunity to every extend possible.

2. Prepare! Know what you need

Prepare questions about each aspect of your company. Don’t try to come up with clever long-term questions about your international growth or optimizing your Series C. Focus on short-term problems you actually really face (or face in near future). Whenever you can focus on concerns that fundamentally question your startup.

Know whom – worldwide – you would love to have intros to. Who is the guru in your domain? Who would be the perfect advisors that could become angels ? Someone at that event might know that person.

Don’t come to just “get feedback”. Do your homework before or otherwise you are just going to waste everyone’s time.

Pro-Tip: Prepare a one-pager explaining your startup, your founders, what challenges you currently face and what kind of ressources or introductions you are looking for.

3. It’s YOUR table - take the lead

Own the table. Lead the conversation. It’s not the job of the mentors to judge you, roast you or take you apart. It’s their job to give you the knowhow you request. If you don’t take the initiative, a mentor will take it.

Dean and Vincent of Nuji - they never ever looked so not-hip again

Avoid repeating the same topics Especially when you are in an early stage with your startup many problems you have are big and friggin obvious. Every mentor will tend to ask about the same problems, press into the same open wound. Stop them. Admit the problem, thank for the feedback but ensure you discussed it with several mentors before and ask a specific different question. Get them to move on. Retake the lead.

If a mentor is disturbing your table - ask him politely to leave. It’s your time, your table, your rules.

4. How to start a session

Typical mentoring sessions are 15-30 minutes. That’s almost nothing - it will be quicker over than expected. Use the time and get as quickly as possible to the “value bits”.

Process:

Ask everybody on the table to introduce themselves and name their field of speciality. If someone joins late they should do that as soon as they sat down.

Explain the product in a nutshell. Don’t expect people to remember, there will be someone on the table happy about getting up to speed again. Also they are tired and for sure anyway confuse you with the social loyalty startup that has a similar name, and trust me there is one.

Agree together with the mentors what topic you want to focus on and what you want to get out of the session. Mentoring teams are usually mixed. Don’t worry if you want to focus just on (e.g.) PR because there is one great PR mentor on the table. It’s about you and your needs. The other mentors do understand it and are happy to learn from the PR person.

Pro-Tip: Have an ipad ready to show your product. Keep screenshots of the product on the iPad well… Most probably the WIFI won’t work at the venue. Additionally have the same screenshots on your iPhone for the discussions in the breaks.

Jakub Krzych of Adtaily wrote a very good and detailed summary about the optimal session process on the seedcamp blog, be sure to read it.

5. Shut up

You are not there to hear yourself talk. Keep your answers to the point, in most cases mentors don’t care about the details of your answer - if they do they will ask deeper anyway. They only want to know if you thought about it. Yes you do? Ok, let’s move on.

Important for strong co-founders: Don’t reiterate your co-founder’s answer just to add the missing 10% of the explaination. Don’t top-up your own knowhow to everything said. You are not there to learn from yourself – that’s just mental incest.

Shut up as often as you can. Every minute spent talking by you guys is a lost minute.

6. Learn to accept negative feedback

Startup-founders need to be stubborn and naive, otherwise they couldn’t start a startup in first place. But learn to take feedback and be ready to question your core-assumptions.

If you know a mentor is wrong - learn to let go. You are not there to convince mentors, you are there to learn from them. There might be millions of reasons why you and a mentor don’t agree with each other – but in any case it will eat up a lot of valuable time… Accept the other point of view, try to understand it, take notes, try to learn from it, move on.

It’s feedback, take it or leave it.

In many cases experienced people are right about their concerns – in some they are wrong.

In many cases you have a problem with your startup – in some cases the actual problem is how you currently communicate it.

7. Take notes

Too often I see founders going through 4-5 x 30 min mentoring sessions, with the assumption that they’ll just magically remember it. Some of the most valuable advice will be dropped in mere half-sentences, some of the best reasons for follow-ups will occur somewhere in the middle of a really really long day. Please have a piece of paper, and a pen at hand (no, your ipad isn’t sufficiently quick to record, and it’s disturbing).

Have the same person, writing stuff down, the same way for each session. Sort “applicable” vs “non-applicable” the next day.

(Thanks to @CsabaSol for pointing out this one)

8. Opinions – Loads of them

Very often people want to give you opinions… Always filter opinions from personal experiences and personal experiences from market facts.

"Well, opinions are like assholes, honey. Everybody’s got one and everybody thinks everybody else’s stinks." – Henry Larson / Home for Holidays

Instead talking about opinions get them to talk about a real experiences they had. If they try to avoid it or talk about “normal people”, “real world” or “the average customer” file it as opinion and add it to the suggestion bin (as pictured below).

9. Applying advice

No mentor knows as much about your business as you do, but they still advice you. That’s neither good or bad, that’s just normal. Advice is not meant to be followed. Advice is meant to be understood and incorporated.

Never follow advice. Apply advice. – @nivi of angel.co

Sometimes given advice is just not suitable for the phase of your startup or it might just assume a bit too much of "a perfect world".

Rob Fitzpatrick recommends in that very moment to simply ask “Would you recommend us to drop everything else right now and follow that advice?" - The usual answer goes along the lines of "… well not right now… but in a few months …after your series B round" Be careful how actionable the advice is meant to be.

10. Contradicting Feedback

During the time of your startup you will hear a lot of contradicting advice. Very clever, rich and experienced people will advice you to do completely opposite things.

The reason is simple: The judgement of EVERYBODY is limited to their subjective context.

The world-view, the values, the core beliefs of someone running an VC might be completely different from yours. Neither is wrong or right - it’s just differently biased. Try to decrypt the feedback given the background of the person.

Example: VCs always tend to focus on growth concerns like scaling customer acquisition for your “too-little-market” startup or want to dive into numbers about your made-up revenue model and push your product to be b2b as this would be better in the current market. Product people tend to freak out about the fact that your product is too visionary and not a real customer’s job.

Both will give you completely contradicting advice what to do next. And both are right from their point of view. Value their feedback, but understand in the context of their background.

11. Keep them working for you.

Exchange business cards after (or beginning of a session). Write down the reasons for followup. And do the follow up the very same (latest next day). Mention something they said or how they helped you. Ask very precisely for introductions or any other favour you might need at that moment.

Pro-Tip: I have seen several founders doing this very successfully: Create a newsletter of mentors and supporters willing to help you and keep them updated similar you would keep your advisory board updated. Ask pro-actively for support. I personally prefer newsletters (bcc-emails) over facebook groups as facebook groups live and die with critical mass and no-one wants to step into public posing with all the great contacts he has.

Update: Bonus - Learn from the best!

One of the best go-to people in London for advice and buttkicking - @geoffwatts, CEO of EDITD - allowed me to publish his presentation he does to new seedcamp recruits. It is a 15 minutes preparation for one of the toughest weeks in their startup career. He covers several parts here mentioned - but also several good extra details.

Download it here

More to come

As mentioned above this a two-post series. If you are interested to know how to be the perfect mentor i would recommend you to read the follow up post, coming very soon.

Please let me know if I forgot to mention any aspects via twitter. I would love to see this document becoming a living summary of best-practices. If you run an accelerator/incubator or events, let me know what I am missing that would help your startups. If you can send it to your teams, get them to feedback their experiences. I appreciate their input highly!

Until then, yours truly @andreasklinger