Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Things Entrepeneurs should not pay for ...

Following my previous post, here are a few things that I don't think entrepreneurs should pay for.

  • Networking
I do not believe that paid networking events are necessary. There are many very good, free networking opportunities, especially in big cities. There are meetups, forums and many avenues to try before one needs to pay for a networking event. It might be worthwhile joining a long term group, but my experience of one-off paid events has always been a poor one.
  • Pitching
You should never pay to learn how to pitch, there is a world of information, examples and resources for free out there. You should use your family and friends as soundboards for your pitches. There is absolutely no reason to pay to learn how to pitch.   For that matter, I don't believe you should have to pay to pitch to investors (for example). Investors struggle more to find good opportunties than entrepreneurs struggle to find investment. As an entrepreneur you need to target the right person or people to pitch too and not have someone else organize this for you. 
  • Business Plan Writing
You should never pay anyone to write a business plan for you. It is the process of writting a business plan that is important and not the plan. Most sensible people soon realize that the business plan is mostly conjecture and not really a plan at all, at least not one that conforms to reality. Wirte the plan yourself, in so doing you will be learning. Don't pay someone to write it for you. It simply does not make sense to do so ! By the way the endless and boring debate over what should go into a business plan is a waste of time. Depending on the context of who the business plan is going to, it needs to be good enough to get their interest. Don't waste valuable time fretting over what should and should not go into the plan. Should it be a pitch deck, should it be 50 pages, should it be double spaced. Who cares ! There are great books that are short, others that are long, so what ? Great is great ...

  • Simple Websites
Don't pay anyone to develop a simple website, there are many ways of doing this for little or no money. Don't waste your money. You are going to pay way more than you need to and not get what you want. At first use the free stuff out there, does your blog work for purpose, can you use Facebook or similar, is there some free template you can use, is there some cheap template off-the-shelf. Far too many people waste time and money worrying about their initial website. More important is to prove the concept and get the business model behind it solid (ignoring the cases where your entire business is hinged on the web technology in question).

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Don't pay anyone to do SEO, it's a buzz word and very simple to learn the principles yourself. In fact it is so important that you might as well learn something about it on the job, without relying on someone else. Also, it is not a science, so don't be fooled. Certainly early on, you want to be innovative in promoting your online existence, assuming you are interested in that. Learn how to be creative here and use the tools out that are out there, will put you in a good/better position going forward. 

  • Analytics
Another buzz word. All someone can do with software is interact by clicking or entering data etc. This can easily be measured and the data anayzed. Don't be fooled into paying large sums for something that you can easliy do. Secondly, if you are not careful you land up with stats that you cannot process or make meaning of. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Selling the Entrepreneurial Dream is not productive

There is a growing industry of consultants, incubators, accelerators, books and courses centered around the "dream" of being a successful entrepreneur. The reality is that most of the individuals or organizations making money in this space are useless. This is a sector of the economy that is unproductive and for the most part does not add economic value. 

The resources that any country has can be put to use in a number of ways. If these resources are applied in a productive manner, economic growth will ensue. However, misapplying these resources can generate no growth or contraction for the economy.

In a situation where young graduates are encouraged to innovate, to become entrepreneurs without the proper support, this is an un-productive use of resources.  These graduates might be better used in an existing organization (be it at a reduced rate of pay). Fueling this misappropriation of resources are a host of organizations, who make their livelihood by selling a dream, appealing to emotion rather than economic sense.  All too often I hear of events entitled "Master Class" or "Pitching superclass" etc. There is no quick fix to innovation or entrepreneurship and I shudder even at the names of these events. The participants in this industry are focused on "quick" courses, quick fixes with unrealistic claims. Education and support is not a quick fix and there are no quick solutions or methodologies that will make it work. If there were, we soon would reach a saturation point, where everyone would be successful and innovating quickly (unlikely to be sustainable). However, with proper and well considered education there would be some success and at least a number of well or more educated individuals and organizations.

Today, the focus is often on raising funds, pitching creating business plans. These things, however, are secondary to developing an idea into a business. Funding, pitching and planning comes after the development of the idea which is aided by some fundamental business and economic skills.  Resources would far better be utilized investigating market opportunities, teaching individuals how to validate a market and helping with process development (how to develop business, software and other processes).

Monday, September 10, 2012

The road not taken and the death of traditional retail

Fuel prices are increasing and they are unlikely to decrease in the near future. Time is valuable, in our fast paced lives it is a valuable commodity. Moreover, the amount of specialized products is also increasing and this trend is likely to continue.

The true experience below illustrates why traditional retail is dying and why data overload and inaccuracy is also going to become ever more costly. We will all need to use technology in more productive ways and once implemented to maintain the data which is an integral part of digital technology.

My grape vine arrived overnight in the post, ordered online and delivered by a courier company. The online instruction video insisted on planting quickly and using a "friendly" fungi applied to the roots, called "Mycorrhizal Fungi". I hopped into the car and headed down to the huge home superstore 7km from my house.

Once there I headed for the gardening section and scoured the huge isle for the Fungi. There are hundreds of fertilizer and other products in this section and despite taking my time, I was unable to locate the product. I was also unable to locate a staff member sufficiently experienced to know what this product was. The first few sent me on a wild goose chase around the building. Finally, I went to information and we were able to ascertain that the product does exist, but was out of stock.

I then did a search on Google for a nearby garden center and headed to the car. I followed directions, through heavy traffic, only to discover that the Garden center had become a garden training center and did not sell products to the general public. The data online was out-of-date and inaccurate. This episode took me 3-4 hours and I was unable to locate the product.

I arrived home, went online, found more than 5 suppliers of the product, purchased it and it arrived the next morning.

There is nothing very profound about this experience, however, it highlights the deficiencies of traditional retail. It also highlights the fact that generalist data sources will be hard to maintain and always develop inaccuracies. There will always be opportunity for niche databases that are limited in scope, but well maintained and accurate.

Traditional business will certainly continue to need to update their information infra-structure and online presence, meaning they will undoubtedly need to contract-in or develop competence in new technology areas. The ability to do effectively do so relies on human resources who are well versed in the application of this technology. This is an area which I feel has lagged behind the technology itself. There is little information, on how to evolve a business in this way and put more simply there are not very many good resources which deal with the process of software creation, whether it be a database, website or system of bespoke software ( this is the reason we created OpenCTO , in an attempt to improve the quality and dissemination of this information )

If, as trends suggest, we are heading to an ever more technology orientated economy, we should logically apply significant effort to ensure that this technology is produced and maintained efficiently and effectively. This would suggest that we invest significant effort in the processes needed to apply and later maintain this technology. Is this the case at present ?

I have spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs who still struggle with relatively simple issues, getting online, developing websites and e-commerce solutions. Ensuring that what is purchased is delivered and correctly hosted. I have heard of numerous situation in large multi-nationals of the incorrect specification and application of technology, lack of redundancy, back-up, data integrity etc. The ability to deliver this aspect of business is only going to become more essential in the coming years.

PLEASE VISIT AND REGISTER AT OPENCTO - To create, focused on start-up ideas, a standardized lean methodology and process for the conception, design and development of Internet and mobile technologies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Define, Design, Develop, Operate

Over the last five years I have met, talked too and worked with hundreds of technology entrepreneurs. Looking back I am horrified at the number of failed software projects I have encountered. From the now ex-wife, I heard about an entrepreneur who sank the family fortune into an ill-fated software project, outsourced to India. I met with the entrepreneur who had developed a web application without ever specifying it, naturally it never worked. I consulted with the astute businessman who after eight years was still nowhere near developing his software idea, due to a lack to sound technical knowledge, a lack of specification and software developers with no methodology. Moreover, I have received more calls than I can remember from disillusioned entrepreneurs who have fallen out with software developers, have systems that they want fixed or simply cannot get their vision implemented (in software).

In my view, these failed software projects are a very unproductive use of valuable resources, which, could be used for far more productive activities. Why do so many technology entrepreneurs fail ? Most of the cases above might very well have failed from a business perspective, however, most of them will never get to test their business models, as they will have failed way before they get to that stage. Why is this ?

If I were having a house built for my family, would I do so without specifying what it is I wanted ? Would I do so without sitting down with a professional and writing or drawing a specification, architecting my home ? Would I commit my money and time without seeing a viable plan and understanding the method by which the construction of my home would be created ? Would I not have a budget ? And finally, once my home is built, would I move in without making sure it is as I wanted and safe for me and my family to habitate ?

Why then do entrepreneurs, software engineers, project managers and technology developers undertake projects without following common sense practises that we see all around us in other disciplines ? This is a rhetorical question, but I would like to put down some of my thoughts on this :

  • Although software is used, it is not physical. Being an abstract thing, it is often treated that way. Abstract things are harder to imagine, harder to measure and generally harder to deal with.
  • Unlike hardware, the physical constraints imposed on software are very weak. This is especially true as speed and space become much less of an issue. 
  • The seemingly endless availability of software frameworks, libraries and technologies makes the software development eco-system a very confusing place. There is too much choice ! This choice is hard to manage. 
  • Hardware design does not change significantly as compared to software, over time. The software eco-system is moving very quickly and this adds confusion. 
In order to ground software engineering, we need to impose self-constraint. The more self-constraint we impose the easier the problem space. Contrary to what is practised in the world at the moment, we need more design discipline than for physical design, not less. If we stick to the fundamental basics of specifying what we want, designing the system, implementing the system with a consistent method and then testing and measuring what we have built, surely we can increase the rate of successful software projects ?

Please visit the OpenCTO project where we are trying to create better software development processes and methodology.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tech Entrepreneurs - Problem of the CTO

Focus on the development process

The biggest problem is not money or resources, it is lack of knowledge in undertaking the development process. Effort should be focused on creating an "open-source" development process for web-start-ups with a complete series of artifacts for them. Most web-start-ups that get past the concept phase, fail not due to lack of resources, rather they are unable to use the resources they have effectively. Most software projects are problematic, and for start-ups the problem of getting software developed in a efficient, painless way is a major problem. Little time or effort is spent in the specification phase and hence what is developed is often not what is required. We should develop an open-source framework which guides the development process.

How will your concept support web entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurs will have a proven process to follow, which will allow them to reliably take thier concept through to creation. This will allow them to focus more on the business and remove uncertainty and risk from the "creation" phase.

What kinds of resources will be needed to get this concept off the ground and scale it?

WIll need expereinced consultants and entrepreneurs who have worked with the software and business development processes. Large technology consultancies compaines like IBM, Accenture etc might want to collaborate as they have already a large library of artifacts that would be very useful to the entrepreneur. These large organizations might also fund such an innitiative as it gives them credibility in the market and brings them very close to the "innovation" happening in the UK and elsewhere.

Interested, register at http://opencto.com

How could we get started?

A simple concept website (launched currently at http://opencto.com) and the structure of an open-source project would be needed and a comitte of credible industry leaders who could apprach other thought leaders and eperienced entrepreneurs. This committe with thier advisors would need to establish a roadmap and in a co-ordinated fashion start the collation of information, which will lead to the establishment of a number of artifacts and processes that entrepreneurs can later leverage. The goal is to create a standardized set of development processes and documents for all to share.