# Thursday, June 21, 2012

I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to talk with entrepreneurs all the time. There are tons of brand new startups here in Hong Kong and around the world. Entrepreneurs take me out for coffee all the time to pick my brain and seek advice.

Many founders mock up a few screen shots, cobble together a proof of concept, go to town in PowerPoint, then have lots of meetings with people like me asking: “do you like my idea?” and “how do I get money?”

As I said last week on this blog, the economics of a startup have changed, yet again. Since it takes less and less money these days to get a venture off the ground, my advice has been consistent to new entrepreneurs: don’t spend any time in the early stages looking for money.

Startup founders who spend most of their time meeting people and looking for money before they write a single line of code are wasting their time. This is precious time that could be used building a prototype and then going out and validating that prototype with potential customers. What Steve Blank famously calls “Get the hell out of the building” and doing Customer Validation. We all know that almost all startups go through the proverbial “pivot” and the faster we get there, the better.

Alternatively, if the startup got money right away, we all know what would happen, they would be nose down building their product and trying to sell it. The problem of course is that the idea would not be properly vetted and validated. It would take longer to “get out of the building” and eventually pivot, wasting your investors money in the process.

My advice is to scrimp, save, work nights and weekends, give away sweat equity and don’t go for any seed funding until well after your second or third prototype was validated by potential customers. Once you’ve done that, you’ll find that funding is much easier to obtain anyway.

Good luck.

posted on Thursday, June 21, 2012 3:08:56 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, June 14, 2012

While speaking on a panel last week at the BizSpark European Entrepreneurship conference in London, I mentioned how in 1999 we raised $36m of Venture Capital at Zagat in order to get from idea (expressed in PowerPoint) to paying customers. I asserted that back then in the stone ages, you had to: buy lots of servers (usually at overcapacity if you had some peak and valleys in traffic), hire lots of expensive people, and spend a ton on marketing to reach the masses.

Then I asserted that how those numbers started to change due to the cloud and the infrastructure around it (Skype, outsourcing, etc). I talked briefly how I started a successful company in 2002 for only $300k of investment and another in 2007 for only $100k of investment. I also recently invested in a company where the total raise was only about $25k and in less than six months went from idea to revenue generating customers.

The panel moderator, David Rowan (Editor, Wired UK), then asked another panelist, Bernard Dalle a longtime VC from Index Ventures, if his fund is seeing a slowdown in investment. He mentioned his recent investments in Path and Flipboard raised millions of dollars. Is there a disconnect between what Bernard and I said?

Another panelist, Rob Fraser, CTO of Microsoft, mentioned how the cloud does change everything. Rob, Bernard, and I went on to explain that you still need to spend a lot of money, but the big, game changing difference is that you don’t need to spend it all up front.

At Zagat in late 1999, I spent well over a million dollars on infrastructure (server farm, switches, priority based load balancer, etc, etc) in order to be able to “scale” when we hit the millions and millions of users when we launched a few months later. As I “scaled” from 100 simultaneous users to 1000 simultaneous to 5000 simultaneous users over the course of a few months, I was still running on the multi-million dollar infrastructure. Since we had a spike in traffic at lunch and dinner times (go figure) and after Super Bowl ads, etc, we had to have a large server farm. It took us a year to start adding more servers to the farm to accommodate the nearly billion monthly unique page views.

Contrast this with today’s startup economics. Today everything is cheaper and better. You can augment your staff with programmers in far away places and keep in touch via Skype, etc. But most importantly, with the cloud, you only have to pay as you go with the server infrastructure.

In order to get started today, it is virtually free. Just sign up with one of the incubator programs at AWS or Azure and you are ready to go live. Once you grow out of the simple startup incubator phase (and you will pretty quickly), you start to pay only for the bandwidth/compute cycles that you need (and can peak and valley as you like.) You can start out with only a few thousand dollars and slowly increase your infrastructure spending over time as you grow.

Our point on the panel is that you may well wind up spending the same amount of money as I did in 1999, but not all at once, most likely over the course of several years. This drastically changes the economics of startups: you no longer need to go to VCs for lots of money in order to get from idea to customers. Now you can get to idea to at least beta testers on your own dime (or a small amount of Angel Investment) and go to the VCs later on. If you never get to that later stage, you never would have had to spend that $20-$36m in VC.

Welcome to the new new startup economics.

posted on Thursday, June 14, 2012 12:31:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Monday Joel and I will be doing Agile Estimation at TechEd in Orlando . It is loosely based on my recent Pluralsight course, however, Pluralsight won’t let me make fun of Joel, while TechEd does. I have attached the slides below, however, we plan on using Excel as our main presentation tool. (If you have not seen this before, it is fun.)

 

AAP309
Making Agile Estimation Work
Breakout Session
Primary Speaker(s): Joel Semeniuk, Stephen Forte
Speaker Assistant(s):
We’re agile, so we don’t have to estimate and have no deadlines, right? Wrong! This session reviews the problem with estimation in projects today and then provides an overview of the concept of agile estimation and the notion of re-estimation. Learn about user stories, story points, team velocity, how to apply them all to estimation and iterative re-estimation. We take a look at the cone of uncertainty and how to use it to your advantage. We then take a look at the tools we will use for Agile Estimation, including planning poker, Team Foundation Server, and much more. We then take an alternative approach and look at using real metrics to limit the guesswork in estimating and still run a team that produces predictably and reliably. This is a very interactive session, so bring a lot of questions!
S210A Monday, June 11 3:00 PM - 4:15 PM

posted on Sunday, June 10, 2012 11:52:47 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback