Startups and Relationships: Can you have both?

Brad Feld thinks so, and he’s ready, willing and able to explain to you what has and has not worked so far in his 18 year marriage with his wife, Amy Batchelor. Pat and I interviewed Brad – noted VC, blogger, early stage investor and cofounder of TechStars – for The Startup Success Podcast (Just posted as Show 127).

If you want to build a great startup, but have no wish to fail your wife, significant other, or yourself, this is one show you should listen to.

read more
Bob WalshStartups and Relationships: Can you have both?

Go back to school for your startup. Free!

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could take a class in how to build your startup, from a world known authority, at one of the best colleges in the world, for free?

That’s exactly what you can get from Steve Blank, at Stanford University, starting in February. The Lean Launchpad, also know as Engineering 245, is an online class with free enrollment. That’s right, for the price of your email address and name, you can take from the comfort of your computer an Honest-to-God Stanford University class.

How cool is that? (look for me there, third row on the left.)

Here’s the class description:

In this class you’ll learn how to turn a great idea into a great company.

We now know that startups are not smaller versions of large companies. Large companies execute known business models. They use big company tools – business plans, income statements, revenue models, etc. to help organized their execution. In contrast startups search for a business model. And all the big company tools are irrelevant in the early days of a startup. This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research library. The end result is not a PowerPoint slide deck for a VC presentation. Instead you will be getting your hands dirty as you encounter the chaos and uncertainty of how a startup actually works.

You’ll learn how to use a business model canvas to brainstorm each part of a company and customer development to get out of the classroom to see whether anyone other than you would want/use your product. Finally, you’ll see how agile development can help you rapidly iterate your product to build something customers will use and buy. Each week will be a new adventure as you test each part of your business model.

And who is Steve Blank, you have to ask?

The Instructor:

Steve Blank is a serial entrepreneur and has been a founder or early employee at 8 startups, including 4 resulting in successful IPOs. For the past 7 years he’s been teaching entrepreneurship to Stanford Engineering students. He’s been awarded a Stanford Undergraduate teaching award, and the San Jose mercury news has called him one of the 10 influencers in Silicon Valley.

Already know everything there is to know about building a successful startup (Ha!)? Well, how about a couple of other classes? Technology Entrepreneurship or Software Engineering for Software as a Service? Same deal: free, online, world-class instructors and information.

(A note re the sign up pages above – the html/css coding is kind of funky, at least on OS X Chrome and Safari. After you enter your name, hit tab, then do your email address, then tab to get to the sign up button.)

read more
Bob WalshGo back to school for your startup. Free!

What’s the most important question about your startup?

Go take a look right now at your site: What’s the first thing that catches your eye?

If it’s your logo, the start of a video, testimonials about your app – you have a problem.

If it’s the outdated look of your site, a sense too much is crammed into too small a space or that you’ve not updated your product in 6 months – you really have a problem.

The first thing that should get your visitor’s attention is your answer to their most important question: “Why should I care about this?”

If the first thing that gets their attention on your site doesn’t answer the question, nothing else matters. Not your site. Not your product.

The screenshot above is an example of how to do this right: Gauges has a very attractive site, but what starts the ball rolling is they answer the right question right off. And they do it in a way that:

  • Speaks to their customers – not to just anyone.
  • Focuses on what their product does for their customers.
  • Explains at a high level how their product delivers what their customers care about.

The pitch, hook, headline is your answer to why you are worth one more precious second of your visitor’s time. How well does your site answer that question?

(If you think your site nails it – comment your URL. If it doesn’t, email me and I’ll try to make a quick suggestion. If you need more than a quick suggestion, let’s talk.)

read more
Bob WalshWhat’s the most important question about your startup?

Using Evernote to manage your Startup

Whether it’s the latest set of Heroku commands or alternative revenue models for your startup, you need one place to store all the vital bits, ideas, and decisions. I recommend Evernote. While there are lots of alternatives (Wikis, Circus Ponies Notebook, plain text files, etc), Evernote gives you a set of nice features (versioning, formatting, device ubiquity, robust search) that no other single app has.

Here’s a list of what I have in my Evernote notebooks on DeveloperMemory:

  • Definition of the unmet need,
  • Various audio notes made while driving, in the bathroom, waiting for the dentist and elsewhere.
  • Dozens of posts culled from my RSS reader (Mr. Reader on my iPad), my desktop browser (Chrome), and email,
  • A list of major definitional decisions and their implications. For example, DeveloperMemory is not a flashcard application and won’t be marketed as such. DeveloperMemory’s primary market is experience developers striving to master the never-ending list of programming languages, frameworks, open source projects and tools relevant to their professional skills,
  • Various stabs at a domain name,
  • All my tech info (Rackspace for Startups info, Heroku notes, WordPress plugins in use now and for the future),
  • Ideas for the product,
  • Pricing model alternatives – pros and cons,
  • Dozens of pages of research from various sites on learning and memory,
  • Various versions of how I explain what DeveloperMemory will be,
  • Pdfs from dozens of cheat sheets I plan to turn into sets in DM (the paid version gives you very good pdf searching),
  • Screen shots of startups I think did a very good job of presenting their products.
I expect to be adding a score or two more notes including:
  • AdWord keywords, adds, and notes,
  • A page for each of the web services I am or will be using to administer, market, or otherwise help DeveloperMemory.
  • The rough and final drafts of each newsletter, mailing, blog post, and tweet,
  • A page for each DevMem member I end up having an extended conversation with,
  • A page for each specific marketing initiative – what it was, how it worked out.
Bottom line, If you don’t presently use Evernote, start a free account today, import in all those bits of digital information you have floating about, and bring some much-needed order to all the whirling bits of relevant information you are fighting to coalesce into a business.
If you are using Evernote, what do you store in it about your startup?
read more
Bob WalshUsing Evernote to manage your Startup

A deal I could not resist…

Well, I’ve been trying hard to resist the avalanche of Black Friday deals today, but I fell for one, and you should too:

$17 instead of $120? Grab it!

The megatrend is towards realtime web data and for good reason: the whole point of having a site is engagement. By the way, had to straighten out a few issues due to expired trial account, but thanks to James at GoSquared I’m all set.

James was able to work the problem with me live (there’s that realtime meme again!) using oLark. While I prefer, it’s vastly more satisfying a tech support experience being able to interactively get a problem handled than going the whole submit a ticket and wait routine.

read more
Bob WalshA deal I could not resist…

The Innovator’s Secret Weapon

By Jarie Bolander

Thomas Edison was famous for saying:

Invention is 1% Inspiration and 99% Perspiration.

What he should have said was:

Invention comes through practice.

Just like the endurance athlete, innovators need to practice.

Practice takes many forms. From the thought experiment, to the mockup all the way to beta, it’s all practice for the big event – shipping a product.

Innovative Deep Practice

I’m a big fan of The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. If you have not read it yet, you should. In The Talent Code, Mr. Coyle explains how we improve our skills through deep practice. Deep practice is a state where we break down new skills into manageable chucks and throughly master each component. It’s a place where we struggle, do it wrong, adjust and in the end master it.

The best innovators use deep practice to break down problems into manageable pieces, grind away on solving them, make mistakes and then move on.

Practicing More Deeply

Too often, innovators of all kinds want the “Home Run.” They want their idea, invention or process to work right away. This seldom, if ever, happens.

Instead, the consistent innovator uses deep practice to always make progress – even when experiments go wrong.

Listed below are some of the techniques that innovators can use to practice more deeply and innovate consistently:

  • Explore outside your comfort zone: Push yourself a little to see what might inspire you.
  • Thin innovation slices: Always look at big problems in thin slices. That way, you can achieve small, incremental wins.
  • Enlist others: Nothing beats collaborating with other smart people. Find some and get going.
  • Create mockups: Models and mockups are great ways to touch and feel something – even in software. The guy that designed the first PDA build one out of wood to see how it felt in his hand.
  • Make prototypes: The next level from mockup is prototype where the gadget actually does something. Like a mockup, prototypes give you a lot of insights into what works and what does not.
  • Ship a Beta: Building something and shipping it feels great. It also gives you a tremendous amount of feedback so that you can innovate even more.
  • Admire Art: Art provides great inspiration. Admiring art can inspire all sorts of innovative threads that might lead to other ideas.
  • Build pieces: Take those innovation slices above and build the pieces. This will allow you to make incremental progress towards the bigger goals.

Practice, Stumble, Fail & Practice Some More

Innovation is a game of doing. You can’t just think your way to invention or innovation – you have to get in the lab, write code, build a prototype or ship that beta.

Part of practicing innovation is failing. Well, not exactly failing. Let’s just say that most of the time, your grand idea doesn’t make it past the bit bucket and you need to be fine with that. Here’s why.

Innovation is about pushing the envelope of understanding. Way out there on the frontier, there is no one to guide you. You are alone in the vast wilderness that is the cutting edge.

That can be a little scary since all that time you spend wandering may not produce anything of “real” value that others can see, touch or taste.

Besides practice, the innovator needs some basic tools and techniques to make the innovation journey a little more predicable and comfortable. Some of my favorites include:

  • Keep an idea journal: An idea journal is an invaluable tool to find trends and cluster ideas. Just reading through a journal can give you all sorts of inspiration.
  • Have a hobby: Hobbies are great to spark creativity and innovation. I once had a friend who created an entire remote control toy business because he was sick and tired of not having enough frequencies to use.
  • Be well read: Reading a wide variety of topics and styles creates opportunities for cross over innovation. Great ideas will come from looking at a problem from a different perspective.
  • Take long walks: Wander, stroll, skip or run. Anything to get you out of a building and thinking. Many of my best ideas come when I’m working out.
  • Volunteer: Volunteering is not only tremendously rewarding but a great place for inspiration. You would be amazed at how much you can help an organization and yourself by just giving a few hours a week.
  • Help others innovate: Get out there and help someone else create. This is just like the recruiting others above and it’s for the same reason – the more brains, the better the idea flow.

Now, Get Out There And Innovate

The best kept secret about innovation is to practice and start doing something. Anything that can get your mind working and creating will benefit you. It might take time to build the next Twitter or Foursquare but you will never get there without practicing innovation everyday. Even if you stumble and fail, you are still making progress, and progress is how innovation comes to life.

Jarie Bolander is an engineering by training, entrepreneur by nature and leader by endurance. His new site, combines two of this passions – leadership and endurance athletics. Jarie is also a moderator at Answers.OnStartups.

read more
Bob WalshThe Innovator’s Secret Weapon

Your startup needs a pre-launch signup landing page

[After last week’s post on A prelaunch page for your startup, Josh Ledgard of KickoffLabs reached out to point out his alternative. Here’s more info from Josh.]

by Josh Ledgard
Co-founder, KickoffLabs

You need to start marketing your next great idea today.  Technology is easy, but marketing is hard. You need a head start and hard work because…

1. You aren’t famous

Yup, if you were the co-founder of Facebook buzz will build itself. (See Quora) But you didn’t invent Facebook and no one cares what your building.

2. Your idea sucks

No one has the heart to tell you that in person. You have to prove otherwise.  If you put up a landing page and can’t get anyone but your mom to ‘pay’ you with their email address… you need to go back to the drawing board. If you can quickly test and build an audience you may be onto something. Prove it.

3. You don’t know how to sell your idea
You don’t know what that pitch is yet.  The pitch needs to be ready for the tech launch. You use code to test your software and a landing page helps you test your pitch. Improving signup conversion rates will improve paid customer conversion rates at launch.


4. Your idea has already been ‘stolen’

A lot of people worry that sharing their idea early will lead to theft.  Sorry. It’s already been stolen.  Good ideas are not unique. Secrecy is irrelevant. Pitch, execution, and customer experience are the things you can claim uniqueness on. Transparency helps refine those things.

5. You can’t do it yourself

Creating a signup landing page before you launch isn’t just about getting customers. It’s about finding partners.  Engage signups to find testers, partners, & complimentary ideas you never would have received if you held onto everything.

6. You aren’t rich… yet :)

Do you have $20k to blow on generated traffic? Probably not. You need a head start. You need customers to find other customers for you.  You need your idea to get passed around for free… relatively speaking.

7. Your SEO won’t build itself

Slimy consultants have tarnished the term.  But it’s proven true that if you bring your URL up with the product launch you are starting with 0 SEO. It takes 2-3 months for search engines to start really sending you traffic.  Get a placeholder up so you don’t start at zero.  You don’t want to generate all the traffic yourself. You can’t. See #1.

8. You have no motivation

If your idea doesn’t suck and actual people start signing up and talking about what your building…it’s extremely motivating.  Way more motivating than sitting in that dimly lit cubicle.  A little social pressure can go a long way towards making your dream a reality.

9. You don’t know anything about your customers

They aren’t who you think they are.  When they start signing up on your landing page you can start learning, quizzing, asking, and engaging with them. What you end up building will be different than you envisioned… but it will sell better.

10. Buzz doesn’t happen… you build it.

You can’t just expect customers to start talking about your idea and signing up. You have to encourage them. Customers respond better to direct requests if you want them to share something cool. You can make a gimmick that’s not sleazy.

If you liked this post check out KickoffLabs. We’ll help you find customers with a viral landing page in less than 60 seconds! Are you more of a do it yourself person? Build your own site and use our viral API.  Our simple goal is to help every business find at least 5 more paying customers every month.

Like any good idea there are alternatives to the KickoffLabs service. Some are even cheaper. We differentiate ourselves by being simpler, supporting you better, and creating a customer referral platform that goes well beyond the landing page to include analytics, auto-responders, newsletters, and an API you can use well after you launch.

read more
Bob WalshYour startup needs a pre-launch signup landing page

Rescuing from obscurity…

Aging well!

Want a quick introduction to social media for your startup and getting “the media” to pay attention to it? Here’s Chapter 6 “Social Media and your Startup” from my book The Web Startup Success GuideGuide. (I rescued this sample chapter from obscurity at

What’s in this free chapter: Cluetrain, building social media radar, doing Twitter right , drinking from the RSS firehose with  Google Reader with PostRank, building your startup’s blog, getting big news blogger and media attention, creating a community.

And Interviews with: Andy Wibbels, Mike Gunderloy, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Rafe Needleman, Al Harberg, Les Suzukamo, Luke Armour, Ginevara Whalen, Matt Johnson, Veronica Jorden, and Maria Sipka. All good stuff, and some very good advice from people who know what they are talking about.

While the book is 2 years old, the content is current, useful, I’d like to think entertaining, exclusive, and free! Give it a read, let me know what you think.


read more
Bob WalshRescuing from obscurity…

A prelaunch page for your startup

Startups can survive anything except obscurity, which is why you need to start building your audience and market for your startup before you start coding your killer disruptive app. One very effective approach is creating a prelaunch page for your startup. That’s what I’ve done today for Project Y – a.k.a

Your modest objectives for this page are threefold: win a tiny modicum of attention, get permission to at least announce (if not market) via email your startup to potential customers, and win a toehold for your startup in Google’s search results. It is not to list the 24 features of your app, promise the world, or (with apologies to LaunchRock) “go viral” before you have anything to show.

Here’s what that list of people willing to at least look at your startup gets you:

  • Huge morale boost as you see real people who aren’t being nice to you interested in your startup. Akin to getting date with Angelina Jolie because she’s interested in you.
  • A pool of potential private beta customers who can hammer on your product, provide testimonials or even pay for your beta product.
  • A beginning to the customer discovery process as you engage with these earliest of adopters – a process you ignore at your peril.
So how do you create a great, memorable prelaunch page quickly for next to nothing? WordPress of course! Here’s how I did it: total time, about two hours.
  1. In one of my two favorite hosting services,, assigned to a subdirectory, installed via SimpleScripts the latest stable build of WorkPress. (5 minutes)
  2. Went on to Themeforest, went looking at landing pages, prelaunch pages: way too many choices, most too complicated for what should be a very limited experience. (30 minutes)
  3. Googled around a bit and found LaunchEffecta free WordPress theme for viral launches. Turns out it’s not just software startups that need prelaunch pages. Downloaded, installed, filled out all but the main copy. (15 minutes)
  4. Now for the image. The point of a prelaunch site is emotion. Not marketing, customer education, or self-congratulation. You want one image that grabs the visitor’s attention and connects emotionally with them – at least enough so they will provide an email.
  5. Checked out my usual image source – – but then went over to Themeforest’s new sister site for images, PhotoDune – and found two shots that I think connect the visitor to my startup. (PhotoDune’s half the price of istockphoto pricing and 50% credit back for November purchases didn’t hurt.) (5 minutes – really.)
  6. Resized the image, wrote the first cut of the copy (pulling from my running file of DM marketing concepts and pitches).  (20 minutes.) Let it stew overnight so I could have a fresh look at it this morning.
  7. Tweaked the copy and its CSS this morning (h2 line-height) while writing this post, found that you do need something in the “Description text, after submit” field, and set up a new Google Analytics tracking code. (30 minutes)
  • Biggest issue with this first version of LaunchEffect is it does not integrate with a double opt-in mailing service like Mailchimp. The developer is promising this by November 15.
  • Remember, this is all about emotion – and forging with the image an emotional connection.
So there you have it: a creditable prelaunch page for your startup in two hours. Now my problem is which of these two images works better?

Do you like Photo A or B for’s prelaunch page?

Loading ... Loading …

Prelaunch A

Prelaunch B


read more
Bob WalshA prelaunch page for your startup

Picking a VPS – or getting Rackspace for free!


This post started out on my list of non-programming tasks for Project Y as “Find an inexpensive VPS.” Unless you’re creating desktop software (Why? In this day and age?) with a zero net footprint, you’re going to want at least a Virtual Private Server for your app or service to call home.

So who do you pick? The heuristic for this looks something like this:

  1. Ask your startup friends who they host with.
  2. Check out what others have to say at Quora and Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow.
  3. Run Google searches like “Best VPS hosting 2011“, “Top 10 VPS hosting 2011“. (There’s a great deal of SEO spin and fake “comparisons” awaiting the gullible. Any hosting company you’ve never heard of that is the #1 choice for no less than 3 comparison pages is not someone you should trust.)
  4. Look through the results of #2, #3 (skeptically!), and look closely at your startup friends’ hosting companies.
  5. Wish you could afford Rackspace, but hey, you are funding this on the side and they’re expensive.

I IM’ed Rackspace, just on the off chance they had some really low end deal that I could afford. They did: Free.

Rackspace for Startups provides qualifying startups with free hosting/other services to the tune of at least $1,000 a month for at least 6 months. That’s a lot of cloud hosting, file storage, and more. A lot.

It turns out that the Rackspace for Startups initiative is being run by Rob La Gesse, Chief Disruption Officer (yep, that’s his title), who I met and connected with a few years back. He’s Robert Scoble’s manager at Rackspace. After I applied (and before I got in), I Interviewed Rob on why Rackspace was giving it away to startups:

Q: Why is Rackspace giving away to startups free cloud hosting? I thought you guys wanted paying customers!

A: We targeted startups for several reasons – they are much more likely to adopt cloud computing, for example.  They also have a huge potential for growth.  We give the service away so these companies try our cloud.  We are confident that once they do – and once they experience our Fanatical Support, that they will choose to stay with Rackspace as their business grows.

Q: Does everybody going through one of your listed startup incubators get this offer?

A: Yes.

Q:  If you’re a self-funded startup, how do you qualify?

A:  Classified :) Actually – right now almost everyone is qualifying.  [ I can vouch for that :)] We have turned down a few people that were basically just doing a blog.  The program is aimed at companies writing applications.

Q: How many startups (self-funded or incubated) are in the program? How much room is there in the program?

A:  This really is classified.  We have a huge number of companies in the program and plenty of room for more, but we won;t be sharing those numbers for competitive reasons.

Q:  What’s the turnaround time between applying at and getting notified if you’re in?

A:  Usually less than a week – unless we get backed up for some reason (the flu is hitting hard here right now, which slows us down a bit – for example).

Q: For purposes of this program what’s a “self-funded startup”? A guy and his cat? Just the cat? Microsoft BizSpark’s definition of a company making less than $1m revenue a year, younger than 3 years?

A: If that cat can fill out the form and code, we will support it! We don’t have a rigid definition.  Generally someone that has not been accepted to an incubator and has not taken angel/VC funding.

Q: When do you kick people out of the program? A year, 2 years?

A: Our relationships with the incubators vary – and so does the duration of the offer. Minimum duration is six months though.

Q: Do even tiny little startups get the full Fanatical Support treatment (not to mention 4,000 sendmail slots a month) or are they all locked away on a 10 year old Dell server Rackspace tech use to test video games on?

A: Trust me – we use only the latest technology for our gaming servers! And yes, even the tiniest startups get the Rackspace and Sendmail love :)

Q: What exactly do they get? What if they need 4 server instances (dev, test, production, TechChrunch)?

A: They get a dollar amount of hosting/month.  99 % of the companies in the program do not utilize the full extent of the offer.

Long story short, I got into the Rackspace Startup Program (if I got in, you can too.). Only other requirement worth mentioning when you sign their offer letter is your startup will need to have a “powered by Rackspace” logo on the main landing page of your primary site. Or put another way, your tiny little startup gets to put the logo of one of the most respected IT businesses around on its home page.

Two takeaways here:

In case you scanned this post, if you are pre-server infrastructure (or are tired of your crappy VPS’s lame support), go over to the Rackspace for Startups program and apply. You’ll get an answer in a week.

What could you do building a customer base, getting attention and building your numbers if for the first 6 months – maybe longer – you have zero server costs? What if you can afford to have a million customers before you started changing?

read more
Bob WalshPicking a VPS – or getting Rackspace for free!