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Time to get your startup unstuck.

Perseverance

On another note…

I wanted my readers here know about a sale starting today: Buy one MicroConsult for $99 instead of $147 (30% off). Or buy two MicroConsults for $198 and I’ll add a third MicroConsult, free (50+% off!).

You can schedule your MicroConsult(s) today or later. And as always, each MicroConsult comes with a money back, there and then, guarantee.

(So far no one has taken me up on this particular guarantee. :))

If you’re feeling stuck, if you’re not sure how to explain your startup on your site, if you need a big dose of productivity to get to the next level, please, give one of my MicroConsults a try. I think you will be glad you did.

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Time to get your startup unstuck.
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Putting StartupToDo to sleep; lessons learned.

September 29, 2009 – June 29, 2011

Well, that sucked.

I disconnected StartupToDo.com this afternoon. It was time – past time. If you’ve ever had to put a member of your family who happens to be a cat or dog to sleep, you have a good sense of how I feel right about now. Not that bad, but still.

I emailed the few remaining subscribers, made arrangements for the remains (data) to be interred on another server, and let them in on my new project. Then I sat down to write this post.

The rest of this post is a catharsis of sorts; these are three lessons I paid a very high price for. Heed them.

  • The single biggest mistake I made was not listening to the criticisms of prospective and actual customers. From the private beta on, way too many people said the same thing – good content, but too complicated. If I had let myself hear the doubt in their voices, taken seriously the “I don’t understand” emails, I would not have coded myself into a corner, stuck with a confusing mess of features. It hurts to listen, it’s easy to rationalize your way around listening, but believe me, they are right, you are wrong, because they choose what to spend their time, money and attention, not you.
  • Speaking of money, have enough money in the bank to get you through. For me “through” meant becoming a profitable microISV; for you it might mean landing your first equity investment. Each their own. But trying to make real your software idea while holding down either a day job or fulltime freelancing is a hellish monkey to have on your back.
  • You have to work on your startup every single day, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. Let me explain that one. Having written 5 books, the first and the last were the easiest to actually write because near as I could, I wrote at least a page or two every single day. Working on what you are creating every single day has (at least) 4 huge benefits:
    – You can pick up where you left off in less time, with fewer false starts.
    – There’s less opportunity for Resistance in all its guises to make mischief.
    – You get to market faster.
    – You build momentum.

I made plenty of other mistakes, but those were the big three. I hope you’ll take them heart so you won’t end up having to write you own ‘lessons learned’ post.

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Putting StartupToDo to sleep; lessons learned.
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Industriously smelling the digital roses

If you don’t focus, you can’t create. But if you don’t connect, you can’t meaningfully create. Here’s my new approach to the whole “be industrious or be online” quandary.

A.M. – Set up exactly what I am going to do and unless there’s an earthquake or a gun shot, do it. No interruptions, deviations, distractions, mercy or remorse. Plan the work, work the plan and the touchy-feely stuff gets a quick note but that’s it.

P.M – I go hippy, and like, browse the web checking out cool stuff, people and ideas, IM friends, check out the cool video of the latest ScobleApp* and oh yeah, get some stuff done.

Given what I do (write, code, blog and podcast), and that I’m a lark not an owl, I need to create LOC (lines of content/code) and smell the digital roses, network like a crazy, and keep an eye on the future, which tends to show up in the wrong order and unevenly.

Works for me. How about you?

*ScobleApp – An app, technology or startup that Robert Scoble digs up and finds. Definitely worth your time.

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Industriously smelling the digital roses
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Beauty is not optional

No, I’m not talking about how handsome, beautiful or sexy you are; I’m talking about how beautiful your web, desktop or especially your mobile app had better be.

We live in a world today that sees 5 new startups, 50 new books, 500 new sites and what feels like 5,000 new apps taking their walk down the runway, vying for our attention each and every day.

Your software can have super powers and functionalities that any geek would swoon over, but if its looks don’t jump off the screen neither you or it will get to first base.

“I think beauty is absolutely critical in launching an app today,” says Jenny Wager, CEO and Founder of LeftTurn Labs. “I can speak first and foremost as a user and it is simply unappealing to use an app that has a poorly designed icon and interface. No matter how functional the app, I can’t stand to use it if it is ugly”.

Jenny should know: her iPad app Next!, a task and project management app, is doing quite well, thank you very much (60,000 sales and counting).

“When creating Next! the ultimate goal was to improve productivity, but that absolutely should not mean that it have a utilitarian or poor design.  So many apps just focus on the features, but if people don’t like to look at it the features are irrelevant.  For productivity especially it is so important to provide a clean and visually appealing work space – cluttered space=cluttered mind.”

Next!

Not that Next! is all looks: its unique navigational system breaks new ground and provides a new and cool interface for battling those familiar project management demons. But there’s already more GTD-centric apps out for this one platform than you or I can count; how did LeftTurn Labs make this one app stand out of from the crowd?

“We had two main goals when designing Next!: 1) Make it easy to want to use and look at Next! every day, and 2) Increase users focus on their information,” said Jenny. “If you don’t like to look at your productivity app you certainly aren’t going to be more productive!  It was critically important that we made Next! beautiful so that people would be more inclined to use it all the time.”

We’ve gone from a world where everyone used the same three bland programs, to a world where which apps we choose to use are a powerful reflection of who we see ourselves as. And nobody wants to see ugly in the mirror.

(So you know – I bought Next! even though I already own way too many GTD apps because it looked damn good; nor did the current sale price of $0.99 hurt. Then I reached out to Jenny.)

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Beauty is not optional
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Smiling all the way to the Bank

Smile!

If you make desktop software and you’re wondering how in the hell do you get on board the Mobile Bandwagon, study up on Smile (formerly Smile on My Mac). Here’s a little software company whose best-known product, TextExpander, was one of a number of such utilities three years ago, and now they’re are the talk of the Mac and iOS markets.

They didn’t get there with traditional advertising; their blog is nothing more than product updates in a Internet antique Kubrick theme, and any social media expert worth their fee would laugh at their Twitter/Facebook presence.

So how did they become the must-have iPad productivity App? On an operating system that makes the whole idea of running a background utility impossible?

First, Smile created an app that at least got them into the iOS game. Text Expander touch by itself is almost useless – if you want to use a text expansion you have to open the program, navigate to the right text expansion which gets it on the iOS clipboard, and then navigate back to whatever program you want to plop that text in. As a standalone app – last updated 8 months ago with almost as many 1-star rants as 5-star raves – not much to look at.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg.

  1. Smile built an SDK for other iOS developers and gave it away free. Smile’s well-crafted, non-afterthought SDK is a snap to use (“About 10 minutes to completely, start to finish, integrate TextExpander into Twittelator, worked the VERY first time.” – Andrew Stone).
  2. Then (I presume) they started cajoling other app makers to use Smile’s SDK. And they got 1 to do it. Then 5, 17, 25, 41 and as of today over 110 other iPad and iPhone apps are out in the wild, using Smile’s functionality free of charge to enhance their offerings, and by the way making TextExpander touch a must-have on an iOS device. (on sale for a $1.99 until 6/9 by the way.)
  3. They also did one key bit of sponsorship, in my opinion: Sponsoring the Mac Power Users Podcast early on (I think show #18). Katie Floyd and David Sparks do a outstanding podcast that is one of my must-listen-now favorites. Smile was smart enough to recognize sponsorship done right to a narrowcast audience beats any but the most massive massive campaigns.
  4. Here’s another smart move: today Smile began selling Take Control of TextExpander ebook for $10 at their site. I bought mine before I finished their email – other Take Control ebooks have been excellent guides to programs. Smile didn’t wait for some traditional publisher to decide to write a book about them (they’d have a long wait); they get that in our postindustrial world Every Company is a Media Company and that they have to step up. [Disclosure: I’m up to something re text expansion that you’ll get to see very soon – and I’m really happy to see some market validation of my gut opinions.]

So today’s takeaway: Stop thinking about other small software vendors as competitors and start thinking of them as a market. How can your product help them ship a better app? Smille did it – and so did Dropbox and Evernote.

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Smiling all the way to the Bank
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The Revenge of Microsoft: Windows 8

After years of being pegged as the impotent giant, Microsoft turned heads and changed expectations today with its first public showing of Windows 8. Windows 8 isn’t Windows 7 with a ribbon bar and new lip gloss: it’s jawdroppingly impressive.

Assuming there’s real code behind this demo, Microsoft just kicked PCs as we know them to the curb while confirming something most people get in 5 minutes with an iPad: mobile tablets will rule, and soon.

If you’re reading this on your Windows Vista (insert virtual paper sympathy card) or Windows 7 desktop whatever, you may want to skip clicking through to this video – it will just make you soul ache for an experience that is not going to ship for a while. And if you’re reading this on your iMac or iPad, you can take consolation that Apple will be be announcing iCloud next week – pay no attention to that nagging little voice you hear saying, “that came out of Microsoft!?.”

By the way, the interface, and Windows 8 will be written in HTML5 and Javascript. Glaringly absent: Any mention of .NET.

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The Revenge of Microsoft: Windows 8
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The Startup Genome Project is going to shake things up.

For an industry at the cutting edge of science, the Startup Industry for too long has relied on myth, folklore and tribal tales to explain why some startups become Google and most die.

Now, Hermann Björn (of Startup School), Prof. Steve Blank (one of the Lean Startup Amigos) and the rest of the Startup Genome Project have changed the discussion by releasing their first survey of 650 startups – stripping away the myths and old VC tales about what makes a startup successful and contributing real data and real facts to the discussion.

The Startup Genome Project team came together 3 months ago to attempt to crack the “innovation code” of Silicon Valley and share it with the rest of the world. Today they released the first Startup Genome Report— a 67 page in depth analysis on what makes Silicon Valley startups successful based on profiling over 650 startups.

Here’s some of the conclusions that caught my eye – I’d strongly suggest you read the full report:

1. Founders that learn are more successful: Startups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7x more money and have 3.5x better user growth.
2. Startups that pivot once or twice times raise 2.5x more money, have 3.6x better user growth, and are 52% less likely to scale prematurely than startups that pivot more than 2 times or not at all.
3. Many investors invest 2-3x more capital than necessary in startups that haven’t reached problem solution fit yet. They also over-invest in solo founders and founding teams without technical cofounders despite indicators that show that these teams have a much lower probability of success.
4. Investors who provide hands-on help have little or no effect on the company’s operational performance. But the right mentors significantly influence a company’s performance and ability to raise money. (However, this does not mean that investors don’t have a significant effect on valuations and M&A)
5. Solo founders take 3.6x longer to reach scale stage compared to a founding team of 2 and they are 2.3x less likely to pivot.
Don’t want to read 67 pages? Check out the cool infographic that summarizes the findings:

Excellent Infographic

Hats off to the Startup Genome Project for bringing real data to the party – it’s time to stop doing faith and superstition based startups.

 

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The Startup Genome Project is going to shake things up.
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Of eBooks new, somewhat new, and 170 years old.

Ever notice how interesting things tend to happen in threes? Here’s my three things for the day, starting with that 170-year-old ebook.

No, when Ralph Waldo Emerson pulled together his notes for Self-Reliance from meetups where he’d social networked with other thought leaders his time, the only things digital were at the ends of people’s arms. Instead, he was trying to fill a gap in the public discourse, get a message out in the preferred media of the time that people then and now need to hear: conformity for the sake of conformity is quicksand for the soul. Being a nonconformist is more than an attitude, it’s a perspective.

Hats off to Seth Godin and company for bringing this classic back to life, and adding insights from thinkers and doers today. In fact, today and tomorrow you can pick up this classic in digital form free: Ibex is sponsoring the Kindle version so it costs you zip nada zero to get.

Speaking of today, my ebook, MicroISV Sites that Sell! had been rebranded, reformatted and hopefully debugged as Startup Sites that Sell – and you can grab it today only over at Bits du Jour for $12.47. If you already have MicroISV Sites that Sell, and you want a copy that will read well on an iPad and won’t gobble up your printer color cartridges, email me. No new content in this edition, but there’s a lot of developers jumping into the murky waters of marketing for the first time that I think this ebook can help, based on the many emails I’ve gotten since its first release in 2008.

And finally, I’m working on a new ebook especially for mobile app developers who need to build their own web sites and connect with customers outside the confines of any particular App Store. After buying 664 iOS apps, I have a pretty good eye for what works and what horribly misses the mark when it comes to creating a web site for your brand new baby. How do you reduce the odds your very first app gets slammed in its very first customer review? What’s different – very different – about a software web site where the actual buying happens elsewhere? What do people need to see back on that sales page to buy not just a given app, but buy into letting you on their smartphones?

I hope to find the answers to these and other questions as I write this ebook. Find, not pontificate about, because my approach is to go find people out there who know firsthand the answers, and bring back to my readers their insights, experiences, and hard-earned lessons. Case in point, I interviewed today Josh Clark, author of Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps and Best Iphone Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders and a guest on the Startup Success Podcast (Show #80) who has thought long and hard on what makes an app work. Josh shared some excellent, actionable insights that every mobile app developer (or at least the ones who want to make money) need to think about.

If you make/sell a mobile app and want to share your experience, insight and URLs, please email me! bob.walsh@47hats.com.

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Of eBooks new, somewhat new, and 170 years old.
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Why Startups fail to sell.

[This is a free sample from my ebook, Startup Sites that Sell! – Creating and Marketing your Unique Selling Proposition. You can get the rest of this ebook designed to substantially improve your startup web site for $24.95 USD, or, you can take advantage of tomorrow’s Bits du Jour Sale and grab it for a mere $12.47, including The Developer’s <code> ,a 50-lesson ebook by Ka Wai Cheung, of Chicago-based web development shop We Are Mammoth.]

Startup Sites that Sell! is a re-release of my popular MicroISV sites that Sell! ebook with much better formatting for iPads, tablets and printing.
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Before we can get to the good stuff, we need to do a bit of garbage collection. We need to take a look at six mistakes startups often make. These are mistakes for one simple reason: they turn off sales.

Mistake 1: Where’s your Hook?

We will talk about the Hook in much more detail in the next section, but the lack of a Hook is easily the number one mistake I see developers who sell software make. Simply put, the Hook answers the question, “Why should I spend another second on this web site?”

You have to put yourself in the mind of someone who for the very first time arrives at your site. They may be coming from Google search results, your Google Adwords campaign, your signature line in a forum posting, a blog post that mentions your product and three others or who knows where.

The first time visitor has no emotional investment in staying on your home page or landing page whatsoever. Yet. What you sell is completely irrelevant to them. For now. They have no reason to believe you actually sell something, let alone something that they want.

The Hook is your initial statement which answers why your product is relevant to them, why you might be credible as a solution provider and how exactly your solution is in one or more ways better than either continuing to have the problem or whatever they are doing or using right now.

Note: Initial means just that. It not everything about your product; it’s just enough to get them to read the next paragraph of your copy on your home page.

Second Note – it has to be the very first thing on the page that gets their attention – because if it’s not, either because it isn’t concise enough, compelling enough, big enough – most first time visitors will leave right then and there.

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Why Startups fail to sell.