# Monday, April 23, 2012

On Tuesday 24 April, I’ll take the train on up to Shenzhen, China to speak on startups at the Startup Tuesday group run by the Shenzhen Marketing group at the Chai Huo Maker hacker space.

The topic will be about exits: IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, liquidity events, and the like. We’ll talk about the process of an exit, how a deal is structured,  as well as how the money side of it all works (including earn-outs, stock payments, and incentive payments.) Should make for a fun evening!

While I expect this to be predominately Q&A based, here are the slides:

posted on Monday, April 23, 2012 8:51:19 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Monday, April 16, 2012

Last week I wrote about communication struggles at startups and small companies. Since Telerik is the largest company I’ve ever worked for, I’ve asked my sister, Caroline Forte, to write a guest blog post. Caroline has worked at large companies for a long time and is also responsible for several aspects of corporate communications in her current role. Take it away sis:

I’ve worked in communications at a large company for longer than I’d like to publically admit. During that time I have supported many different facets of the business, yet the communication challenges seem to be very consistent. No matter how much information you try to provide there are always two camps – the “you must be holding some information back” camp and the “I don’t have time to read this” camp.

As a divisional or departmental communicator you are competing with the corporate messaging – intranets, memos from leadership, electronic newsletters, messages from HR, internal blogs, message boards and …well you get my drift. How do you prevent your leader’s voice from getting lost in the shuffle? Now throw in the global perspective of language, culture and time zones. And the icing on the cake was when I supported manufacturing where more than half of the audience did not have a dedicated pc.

Basically as a communicator you are always competing - competing with the employees’ time and interest, competing with how the external media skews your internal news, competing with the internal message blogs where employees get to rip apart your messaging.

Readers are fickle – especially the younger workforce. If you don’t grab them in the beginning, tell it to them straight and answer the WIIFM then you’ve lost them. I’ve read somewhere that communications is one of the most stressful jobs – right up there with air traffic controllers. Scary thought, eh? Maybe I’ll try that on for size when I retire.

A few quick tips:

  • Communicate when there is new information - be timely
  • Don’t hide behind corporate jargon
  • Mix it up – experiment with different communication vehicles
  • Open the door – let the audience respond and seek out if the messages resonate

So why do we even bother, other than the fact that most of us are a bit quirky and we enjoy the insaneness of the job . Because knowing that each day you have answered someone’s question, pointed them in the right direction, clarified an issue and increased transparency then you can go home thinking, I guess I can do this all over again tomorrow.

posted on Monday, April 16, 2012 9:01:15 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, April 12, 2012

I’ve spent my entire career at start-ups. I’m use to small. I once worked at a big table with everyone else employed at the company, resulting in pure bliss. One company that I started with three other guys got up to eight people before we were sold to a company with close to 7,000 people in 40 countries. I am most comfortable working side by side with my colleagues; unfortunately over the last 10 years it has not really worked out that way.

Ten years ago I started Corzen with my partner Bruce. Our first office was the Starbucks on 6th and W 57th street in Manhattan. We got geeky pretty quickly and moved to meeting in my apartment so we can huddle around my desktop (this was before Starbucks had free WiFi). A few months later we took up space in what was probably the first (and at the time only) co-work space in Manhattan down in Union Square.

Very quickly we hired Bob, our sales, marketing, production, ops, product, project manager, and all around nice guy. Overnight we went from Bruce saying “Steve, the web site should have more blue over here and here it should be more red” to “let’s have a meeting and discuss this with Bob.” We went from one communication interface to three.

As you increase the number of people you work with, you increase the number of communication interfaces pretty quickly. As you increase the number of communication interfaces, things start to get bogged down, since the human brain can only keep track of seven things at a time. So the optimal size of a company is apparently four, since there are only six communication interfaces. (You can calculate the number of interfaces by taking the square of the total number of people minus the total number of people divided by two.) You are not going to build the next billion dollar business with only four people; even Instagram had 13 people, with a communication interface of 78.

In year two of Corzen things expanded rapidly (it didn’t hurt that we were mentored by the future rocks stars Fred and Brad over at Union Square Ventures.) We hired some programmers in New York with five more in Pune, India. After another year we had added a few more people in Cairo, Egypt. Altogether the company was around fifteen people, not only having 105 communication interfaces, but also multiple locations in three time zones.

A tiny company of fifteen people had some of the same communication problems of a global conglomerate. We had to learn on the fly. What did we do?

  • Every Friday the whole New York office went to lunch together. Even though we all worked at the same co-work space, it gave us time to clear the air on any issues and then talk about whatever was on our mind. Was also a great way to catch everyone up on your last trip. We also talked about non-work stuff too. (Usually baseball, politics, the attractiveness or whoever new started to work at the co-work space, etc.)
  • Monday morning New York staff meeting. We did not do many meetings at the company, however, we did do one staff meeting once a week.
  • I traveled to Pune and Egypt. A lot. I went to Egypt so much I was put on the TSA watch list. I learned a lot about doing business overseas, other cultures, and a distributed environment. For example I had three young, Muslim, female programmers working for me in Cairo. I had to have multiple meals with each of their families before I made any progress. (Lucky for me, the food was delicious and their families would try to “force feed” me.)
  • We did a tremendous amount of on-site, customer visits. We sometimes brought everyone in the office. We shared the results with the remote teams.
  • We instituted Agile methodologies, since Agile, and Scrum in particular, stresses communication.
  • Skype, Skype, Skype. More Skype.
  • Any document that we created was shared on Google Docs
  • We had an intranet and internal Wiki about many things (and posted funny photos of co-workers)
  • Stressed the importance of face to face meetings as part of our culture

While we still had some communication issues, we did pretty well as we continued to grow. A few years later, we were acquired by a company based in the French part of Canada with about 50 people. Overnight our communication interfaces went from 105 to 2080! (Plus I don’t speak French.) Luckily for me, the acquiring company was impressed with what we did both with Agile development as well as with our remote offices (the buying company was all located in one office), so they put me in charge of leading this effort during the transition. After about six months and going to Quebec City more often than any American should have to, eating too much poutine, and countless meetings and sessions, we all were very happy with the new combined company’s communication.

As you start your new business, or are working at an established company, big or small, make sure communications are part of your corporate strategy. You’ll be better off for it.

posted on Thursday, April 12, 2012 5:28:25 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [2] Trackback
# Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The news today is buzzing with the announcement of Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram for $1billion.  Instagram co-founders, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, literally had a billion dollar idea. The idea for Instagram was also Systrom and Krieger’s Plan B.

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger raised $500k of seed funding from Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz while working on Plan A in early 2010. The original idea for Instagram was called Burbn, a check-in app that competed with Foursquare and allowed you to check-in to locations and add photos and videos to your check-in. Burbn’s focus was suppose to be a mash-up of Foursquare and Mafia Wars (where the name Burbn came from.) Burbn (Plan A) did not really take off and after a lot of minimum viable products, several months later Systrom and Krieger pivoted, and released Instagram (Plan B) as we know and love. The rest, they say, is history.

Instagram’s story of pivoting is a great reinforcement for anyone starting a new business today. I’m sure that Systrom and Krieger loved their first idea (Burbn), but they did not fall in love with it and keep sticking to it. This happens too often when a founder keeps hacking away at a bad idea over and over without pivioting. The truth is that most great companies today are the result of a Plan B, or even Plan C, or Plan D. So when starting your business, don’t fall in love with your idea, accept that fact that you will most likely have to pivot and get to Plan B. It just may be a billion dollar idea…

posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:27:04 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [1] Trackback
# Monday, April 02, 2012

Over the past few months, I’ve judged both the Startup Weekend and ServiceJam in Hong Kong, attended pitch nights, and spoke at some start-up networking events. Almost all aspiring entrepreneurs who I talked to at these events struggled with when was the right time to release V1 of their product. One guy even told me that he was sitting on an idea, an idea that he thinks can be bigger than Facebook, for almost 12 years waiting for patents!

My advice to each all of these entrepreneurs is the same: start small and start now. Your best bet if you are thinking about something is to just do it. Many people think that they can’t do it or that their project is too big. No problem! Start small and test your theory out. We’ve all heard about MVP or minimum viable product, but my advice goes even deeper: minimum viable idea (MVI).

What is a minimum viable idea? It is the smallest version of your idea that you can test and get meaningful results. If you are unsure of your idea or want to validate your idea, you have to build the minimum viable product of your minimum viable idea and compare the results against your assumptions and expectations. Then as the saying goes iterate or exit.

For example someone recently came to me with a social networking idea. They had a big grandiose plan to build their own platform with all the bells and whistles. The idea was good, but would it fly? I just don’t know if their assumptions are valid. They complained that they had to wait a few months for their first MVP to be built so they can start testing and validating their assumptions. I told them why months? You can build a super small version of the idea as a Facebook app, share it with some friends/testers, and gather the results. A minimum viable idea’s minimum viable Facebook app would probably take a HKU student one or two weeks to put together.

Another friend wanted to build an elaborate social media powered electronic display in a drab public place, requiring government approval. (The goal is to increase happiness as well as make some money.) What would be a MVI? Ask for permission to paint the drab public some happy colors with a painted easy to remember link for people to +1 or “like” or comment and display those comments as an RSS feed. No difficult software to build and a much easier conversation with the public works department. (Or maybe this can be accomplished just by buying advertisement space, no need for any approval!) The results that come back will help validate the idea!

The best way to get started is to actually get started. Go out there and find a fast, cheap, and creative way to test your idea (MVI) before you even start to think about the MVP of your true offering.

Good luck.

posted on Monday, April 02, 2012 5:02:32 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [2] Trackback