May 15 2012

In Defense of Business Plans

John

(I’m cross posting this from my Blog since I think it makes sense here too)

An interesting conversation took place at DOCC (Denver Open Coffee Club) that easily could have filled that hour. It was about Business Plans. Those in favor of them were in the minority by a large margin. WHile I’m not 100% business plans are evil, I think they’re a crutch like Brain crack.

I didn’t chime in during the conversation, because as I said that topic alone could have filled that hour, and I love DOCC for it’s variety. That doesn’t mean i can’t expand here tho :)

And despite the title, I’m anti business plan. Tom and I started 360|Conferences without one. We’re not rocking millions worth of sales and such, but we’re doing ok.

My strongest (and it came up at DOCC) argument against a business plan is that it forces you into the conventional wisdom of the sector you’re looking to get into. Had we known about conferences we either wouldn’t have started the company, or would have started YAOC (Yet Another Overpriced Conference). But not knowing anything about events helped us to avoid that path. And frankly if you look at the market, we led the space on conferences that don’t cost an arm and a leg to attend.

I watched Tom try to do a business plan for another company (he fired me from it) and it went nowhere. He spent weeks, maybe months fussing about the business plan, making it just right etc. And since he wasn’t shopping the idea for funding the plan really just sat there.

Like I said I’m not 100% Plans are bad, it might make sense for you. But the argument that you can’t start without one is bunk. It was funny, we talked about white boarding and the pro plan folks threw out “That’s a business plan too” which i don’t know that I agree with.

So yeah, play it by ear on your needs, but if someone tells you that you won’t succeed without a business plan, they’re trying to sell you their services in writing business plans. Or they’re not running a business and are trying to scare you out of doing it too.


Dec 19 2010

Introduction and 2010 in Review For My Startup

Dusty

Hi, I’m Dusty Candland, husband, father, software developer, and entrepreneur. And now, blogger for Our Startup Story! I’m going to be sharing my experiences starting up and working with startups.

I started working full time for myself this year. I did have one large client ready to start work, so I wasn’t starting completely from scratch. I like building web applications and being a part of growing businesses. With that in mind, I decided my target clients would be other startups with web based technology of some kind. I help these clients build out their web applications. Anyway, here’s a look at where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Some thoughts about how this year has gone.

My target clients, startups, can be a hard target. Most don’t have a ton of money lying around and want to make sure they are spending it wisely. Plus they can be hard to find.

Selling is hard. Especially when talking to people is hard. I need to get better at that, and I have been, but I have a ways to go. My first step was to just get to events and talk to the people there. It seems crazy when writing this, but I really have to try to be extroverted.

I’ve found keeping my focus is harder on my own, partly because I don’t have a set schedule or place to work. Also, partly because there is a ton of stuff that I’m interested in. I’ve recently heard a good tip about time boxing tasks and sticking to it, I’m going to give that a try for a while.

I’ve mostly been going this alone, I have advisers that help a ton, but no one to help keep focus and motivation on a daily basis. I really think that is key, but I’ve also found that finding partners is a hard task. I thought working at a co-working space would help me feel connected and social, but I’m not so sure now.

Some thoughts about next year.

I’ve outlined some specific offerings for startups that I think will help show value to prospects. Offering open ended custom software development is good, but too large and scary for many.

I have to get better at talking with and meeting people. I need to find a ToastMasters club and just get over my fears of public speaking. That’s going to be a top goal for this next year. This is critical to the success of any startup, I know it, however, doing it is what matters. Suggestions welcome.

I’ve tried to keep some time set aside for working on my own projects. I plan to keep doing this and think it’s critical to keeping sharp and up to date with technology.

I want to help grow the startup community in Denver. There is an awesome community in Boulder and I think there should be an awesome community in Denver as well. I hope to help get it there.

I hope you’ve found this review interesting and maybe helpful! If you want to learn more about me or my company checkout my web application consulting site and my software development blog. I’ll be contributing here once or twice a month.


Dec 9 2010

First Rule of Fight Club Does NOT Apply

jonrossi

The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.

Well that might be the case with regards to any fight club but it’s certainly not the case when it comes to your idea about a project, website, or startup you want to work on. One of the first things I learned in the startup community is that if you think you are the only one in the world working on this “Top Secret” project, then you are not giving proper credit to the other 5 people that have the same idea and are working on it.

The one thing that does matter and separates you from the other 5 people, is how you execute your idea. It is important to discuss your idea to anyone that will listen and give you feedback. After listening to Co-Founder and CEO Alex White of NBS (Next Big Sound) talk at an event in early November at the Techstars Bunker, he had this amazing idea about what he wanted to do but was afraid that if he shared his idea about NBS then people would take it and run with it. He kept his project under lock and key for 3 years while trying to decide how to move on it and in what direction he would take. He finally approaced some local friendly contacts at the University he was attending and decided to ask them for their input. As it turned out the 2 people he talked with in the beginning ended up becoming Co-Founders of NBS. Alex mentioned to the group that he wished he had been more open about sharing the idea because he would have been 3 years ahead of where NBS is today.

I mention this because if you think that you can’t share your idea unless you have someone sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) then be prepared to sit and wait a long time until someone takes you seriously. If you have an idea and your not really sure who to talk to about it or your immediate network of friends are not familiar with the startup industry, then here are some possible resources for you to use: reach out to your friend’s networks, use LinkedIn to connect with people, attend local events by searching Meetup , or even consider attending on of the StartupWeekend events. Remember an idea is only an idea unless you do something with it.


Jul 27 2010

10 Tips for Bootstrapping Your Marketing

John

i saw this and thought it was it an interesting list. With very little budget, beyond what I spend on Google adwords (Not a huge pay off, but does get a few registrations) and some moo cards from time to time, the marketing budget for 360|Conferences is very much bootstrapped.

The twitter rule is a big one. I manage about 7 twitter accounts. tweeting discount codes, RT’ing things I think the communities those accounts care about would be interested in, etc. It’s damn near a fulltime job on it’s own. but it does pay off over time. It’s not huge, or fast, but when looked at cumulatively, it’s a steady building wave. The more I tweet, the more people RT, the more widespread the message gets. For events, it’s especially important to leverage the network effect. the 360flex account has about 1500 followers, each of those has their own number, etc. so each person who helps spread the word, has near infinite reach.

#5 is something I need to do better at. I’ve got awesome friends, who introduce me to new people when we’re out. They do a great job of talking up the particular conference they’re tied to, but then it’s my turn and I nod, agree with their statements, and maybe add something boring. I’m working on that aspect. Not quite an elevator pitch, but a short burst of “Why you should be attending as well”

#6 is timely. We started video taping sessions this past spring. They’re very successful, each is $3.50 there’s currently a buy 5 get 1 free deal, and they’re selling pretty well. Not paying my phone bill, but covering hosting, etc and giving me lunch and beer money. Which is great since even if I’m at an even keel, that’s better than spending what little I have. We’re already planning to increase the video quality for the fall events, by buying some HD flip cams. Not everything this time will be HD, but we’re phasing out SD.

We’re also going to get more testimonial, man on the floor type video this fall, to produce some fun/cool videos to show people why they should be at 360|events.

#7 I think we came close to pioneering :) We reach out to our speakers to help get the word out. We don’t demand it, but we ask each one to help make noise, help raise awareness, etc. After all people pay more attention to the speakers, they’re big names in the communities, well connected, etc. When they speak people listen. It works really well. Leveraging their names, and fame to help increase attention on the event, is a big boost.

#10 is a tough one for me. As a developer and person who’s on lots of lists, every email campaign I create I have a mental block to get past of “is this too much?” For the most part, and this was awesome advice from Liz.. Go just past your comfort zone on sending emails. If you think you’re getting close to annoying, you can probly send one more email. Our own filters are naturally strong, so it’s tough to reach past them. But it’s true. My mailing lists for the most part grow weekly/monthly as I send out more and more interesting things.

What works for you? Leave a comment, share your thoughts.


Nov 20 2009

8 Secrets of Success

John

Some dude I’ve never heard of, has 8 words that are the secret of success. They’re below with my thoughts on them. I found them over on Small Biz Bee.

1. Passion – Duh. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, why are you doing it. I’ve found (although i never would have guessed it) that I’m passionate about bringing people together, helping people meet, creating an atmosphere were great things are born.

2. Work – Yeah it’s work. Doing what you love feels less like work, but it’s still work, it’s still hard. Possibly harder than a “job” since failure is on you, you don’t just punch a clock go home, and not care.


3. Focus – This is hard. Tom and I have struggled with this. We’ve been lured to Europe earlier than we probably should have (though we learned good lessons there). We’ve tried to expand into things without looking, etc. Focus is important it’s something I’m trying to get a better grasp on.


4. Persist – I can’t agree more. It’s hard, at least weekly I wonder if I should fold up. Do our last two events and try to find a job. It’s hard, we’re not making much right now, though I feel that’s on the verge of changing, i know it is, but i’m in the now financially, which is tough. I know though, if I persist and work hard and as Gary Vee would say, “Crush It” I’ll succeed.


5. Ideas – This is the fun part. I’m usually not short on ideas. Ditching paper surveys, USB Drives instead of CDs, an AIR app for surveys, etc. It’s fun to think of ways to 1. be a better company, and 2. innovate the completely whacked out, old school conference business. Some ideas are awesome, some, not so much. Tom and I are at our absolute best when we’re throwing ideas at each other, sharing the “Ah snap! That’s awesome!” moments.


6. Good – This is important. Tom is a bible thumper :) I’m not, but I do believe in Karma, and we both agreed, even before we had money to give that we’d make sure we gave 20% of each event’s profit to charity. Whether it’s a check, or service, or something else. We agreed, and as Tom moves on I intend to continue the tradition, that 10% goes to the community out event serves, and 10% will be to a charity making the world a better place. I firmly believe that any business not doing good for the world around it, isn’t doing enough. We haven’t always been in a position to write a check, and it makes us sad, but when we are, it’s the best feeling on Earth.


7. Push – This is tough. My wife pushes me. She pushes me because she wants to see me succeed, and she pushes me because she wants the company to make money so we can pay the bills. Both are incredibly important. I also push myself, for both of those reasons, but also I push myself (And I push Tom for a few more months) because I think we’re doing a good thing, and I want to continue to do that good thing.


8. Serve – Easy. Tom and I have never lost sight of who we serve. We serve two masters; sponsors, and attendees. Sponsors pay us to get in front of our attendees, to meet them, to introduce them to their product or service. Sometimes they sponsor just to help the community. But we owe it to them to make the event the best it can be, have the most attendees we can, etc. The attendees on the other hand, pay us to see and hear the speakers, to meet the rest of the community, and to learn. We owe it to them to make sure the event delivers all that and more. It’s not always easy, but we’ve never lost sight of why we do events. We do them to serve the community with something we believe it lacked. We’ll continue to serve them, until they tell us otherwise :)

I’m not sure these were necessarily secrets, but they’re truths for sure. At least in my opinion. What do you think? Are there more? Are there other ‘secrets’ you think valuable?

Watch the video it’s a good use of 3 minutes. My take away. Success is charging people $4000 to attend an event, that they they have to be invited to… ok it’s not, but damn talk about reinforcing “A fool and his money…”


Nov 5 2009

Philly Startup Leaders Interviews.

John

Jeff tweeted about this, and I had to write a post about it.

I had no idea this group/organization existed, but Philly Startup Leaders has a video  series (6 deep at the moment)

Screen shot 2009-11-04 at 9.22.21 AM

I just started watching the videos, which I plan to rip and put on my iPod (sorry youtube, but these are gonna be gold mines I’ll want offline), but what’s nice it’s not your typical tech startup schmoes talking about how great they are, how hard it is, how cash flow something to worry about tomorrow, etc.

These videos talk about real entrepreneurship (IMO), not just the sexy tech startup stuff.

Great find Jeff!


Apr 17 2009

It often sucks being a non software startup

John

I love creating things, writing software was for a long time very fulfilling. The thought however of doing a software startup, doesn’t do much for me now. Or rather, me being the code writer doesn’t. Which poses interesting problems.

360|Conferences, Corp is a purely service business. Our offering is our abilities, our community, and ourselves. That’s it. No app, no website, no SAAS, nothing that can be bought, sold, or processed. (bonus points if you got that)

We can’t attract investment capital in the traditional tech start up way, since we don’t have any ‘out’ or clear return. To quote David Cohen (whom I hope to meet in person one day!) “i think raising money right now, especially for a business that doesn’t have the best scale economics, is just tough. there’s not much debt money available.

Our business however, works like any other, we require capital to continue, we’re bootstrapping, and that get’s us sorta kinda by, but the reality is we need capital like any other start up business that needs to expand it’s offerings. It’s quite the conundrum to be sure.

It’s one of those weird start up problems, that I never really thought about in starting on this adventure. We figured bootstrapping would be just fine, but in actually executing on our business we’ve found that we’re at a place where we can’t easily do more events without the free time of paying ourselves, but we can’t pay ourselves full time (or even part time) without doing more events.

I re-stumbled across this blog post and it gave me some hope, I think our ’13 months’ is a bit longer than 13 real calendar months since our events are spaced apart and there’s low periods.

I think 360|Confferences is at this tipping point right now, we just have to hold on. Hope we can.


Apr 7 2009

Starting up is hard for a Tinkerer

Tom

Lemme rephrase that title:  Starting up for over 2+ years is hard for a tinkerer.

I’ll be honest, because I’m a horrible liar.  Conferences are fun.  Conference planning is even more fun.  However, I will never see myself as a professional conference planner, no matter how many shows I do.  It’s just not in my makeup.  Yeah, I like the social aspects of it.  Yeah, I like tracking the money in and money out.  However, when it comes down to it.  I really just like the people and making sure they’re taken care of.

I’ve been working the biz for 2 years now.  I’ve also worked a FT job during that same time frame.  In addition to these 2 FT jobs, I have 2 boys to raise, a wife to love and a faith to keep active in.  As you can imagine, that doesn’t leave much time to tinker.

Last week, I had an internal breakdown.  No one knew about it.  Not my business partner, though it shouldn’t have been a surprise.  My wife found out a few days later.  Only a close friend of mine, Daniel Brunk, knows the full details of what went down.  The gist of it was though, my spirit cracked.  Not my religious spirit or ghost like thing floating inside me.  No, no, I mean more like “the little 3 yr old inside me that likes to tinker” spirit.

You see, a lot of stuff happened this past 2 months, personal stuff that just left me with no free time at all.  I’ve had 0 time to tinker and for me, that’s rough.  Very, very rough.  So rough in fact, that I was very close to walking away from the biz.  Mentally, I was minutes away from walking away and not looking back.

It seems sorta silly now looking back, and surely for those of you looking in from the outside.  But for those of you in my situation, I can see that spark of understanding in your eyes.  I can feel you relating to my pain. It seems odd that a thing like tinkering can break an entrepreneur’s spirit more so than finances, inventory, products, or any of the countless other facets of business.

So how did I overcome it?  At the moment of breaking, I played loud music really loud on the headphones.  LOL  In the following days though, I worked my tinkering into the business.  Some businesses expand for global dominance.  Some expand to take out competition.  We’re expanding for more steady income.  Now though, more importantly, we’re also expanding so I can tinker.

The Kindle of my tinkering

The Kindle of my tinkering

John and I have Kindles now.  (Well, actually, I have both, but I’ll give John his tomorrow.)  I’m a huge book guy, so I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.  I have to admit though, I LOVE it.  It’s been allowing me to satisfy my desire to tinker as well as use my time exploring new business ideas.  (You can read my personal post on the Kindle experience for more details.)

Some may see the $800 as wasteful spending on eToys for two geeky founders ($400 per person for a kindle and case).  I’m sure there is some truth to that.  We do have plans that may include the Kindle though, so it’s not pure fun.  More importantly though, this $800 has probably saved the company, because a disgruntled founder is not a productive one.  When 1/2 of a 2 man team putters out, you can rest assured that no good will come of that.

Therefore, if your a tinkerer (like me) and have been starting up for a few years (like me), look for ways to expand.  Don’t go waaaay off course.  Find something that makes sense for your business, but is something fresh.  Then go ahead and spend a little cash to let you tinker.  Trust me, it’ll be worth every penny you spend.  If you check out and possibly get a Kindle, click here and support a struggling entrepeneur.  :)


Mar 31 2009

Sometimes the hardest part isn’t the business

Tom

I moved the first of February.  I had this dream:  I’ll get to Arizona, setup shop in about a week and then I can get cranking.  I’ll be able to work on the business, doing the stuff we’ve always wanted to do, while moonlighting on some Flex projects.

Life is funny.  Business is funny.  Neither really seem to care much about plans.

In the past 2 months, I’ve met and hired an attorney, moved homes twice and gone to the courthouse 3 times before settling a case with our slumlord.  That was just the life side of things.

My moonlighting didn’t really happen as quickly as I would’ve liked.  There was a learning curve, that was hampered by the fact that I was thinking a Jira assigned to me was in one area of the app, while I was being told it was in another area.  (That turned out to be a good thing though, as I learned more of the app than I would’ve if we were in sync.)  I finally got some good time to finish getting up to speed, when I did a 4 day on-site pit stop before our March event.  Once I got back home, I pulled off my first 16-hour day in a looooong time, working until like 2 am even.  The result: the project is fun but life and unforeseen business work detracted from my planned arrangement.

On the business side, our sites were hacked, so we tried everything under the sun to get them up and running.  The last ditch effort was to move off of our current cohost to another.  In addition to that, we switched from the blogger platform to the WordPress platform.  This entailed me learning how to write WP themes and converting our old themes so our customers wouldn’t notice anything.  I also had to wrap up our finances from 2008.  (One word of advice: avoid Google Checkout if you can cuz importing that data into Quickbooks is a pain in the butt.)

The one thing we did manage to do that we “wanted to do” was expand the business.  We launched 360|iDev, our iPhone/iTouch developer conference.  It was well-received by the iPhone development community.  By comparison, it was “easy” compared to the rest of what was going down in life.  Sadly, I was hedging that a potential partner was going to be coming on board.  They did…sorta, on the Friday before the show.  By then, it was too late so we never signed the contract.  The buzz I was looking for them to help gen never occurred and so we had a roughly $10K deficit.

Whether it’s life, hackers, prepping for taxes, or a partnership not coming through, you see that a bajillion things outside your control can and do affect your business.  It can be very disheartening.  From what I can tell though, it’s the norm.  LOL

Therefore, if you have a startup and are wondering if everyone’s non-biz stuff is as crazy as yours, I hope this proves it is.  Welcome to the party!  :)


Jan 26 2009

7 Sins of Success, or even close to success

John

Jeffrey posted his 7 sins of success, and they really hit home.

Gluttony

This one I find I’m ok with, mainly because I don’t take on too much. If there’s one thing I’m acutely aware of it’s my limitations, and how much I can take on. I find at 31 (hell at 21) I don’t have the energy for all nighters, and working like crazy all weekend. I’ve come to terms with it, and try to only take on what I can accimplish inhe hours I’m awake. So far so good.

Greed

This one I find myself struggling a bit with, but Jeffrey’s advice is spot on. My wife and I have an idea, and I’ve been trying to vet it to see if it actually makes sense. One opinion so far, that it doesn’t. I’m not 100% convinced yet, but open to feedback.

Sloth

This one Tom and I struggle mightily with. We seem to go in fits and starts, where one of us is super motivated for a week, firing emails like crazy, making calls, etc then there’s a lull of a week or two where the business seems to be the lowest thing on the priority list, sadly. I’m not a slow and steady person, but I am a moderately fast and steady person, so Tom and butt heads often as our two motivation/energy levels don’t often mesh.

Lust

Tom may see it differently but this is a big one. There’s tasks that each of us don’t like to do, and fall squarely to the other. It mostly works, until one of us suffers a Sloth moment, then that set of tasks doesn’t get done. Be it blogging, replying to emails, invoicing sponsors, paying vendors, etc. It sucks for sure.It’s frustrating when we don’t send invoices that will be net 30, or don’t follow up on emails and stuff, it’s one of my hugest pain points in our model.

Once we’re our own FTE’s I hope, this problem fades, my fingers are crossed.

Pride

Not a problem for us. It was earlier and who knows may come back, but right now, it’s not a proble. Italy taught us that “we are not as hot as we thought”. We thought our brand would precede us across the pond, and found that while a few knew who we were, most did not. The community wasn’t big enough or interested enough in us, and overall we just got our teeth kicked in. It was one of the best learning experiences we’ve had so far.

Wrath

Tom is a planner too. I’m not, not much at least. I’m more of a “set the larger plan, and move towards it”. Some of our biggest fights have been around this. Tom wants to plan, so he tries to extract a plan from me, which is about as easy as getting blood from a turnip. What sucks is without a plan, Tom get’s discouraged, and his work output drops to nil, and he’s in a funk.

I’m not complete anarchy mind you. I try to be about GTD, I use OmniFocus, but in general, for a phone call, I just do the call. If some new technology is available or something, i just try it. It’s the early adopter in me. Tom and I struggle with this since he’s more the “late, when it is free” adopter which I think doesn’t mesh much with being an entrepreneur. it’s tough some times.

Envy

From time to time, I find myself envying another event. Mainly it’s for their having more funds, or being FTE. But I’m working on realizing that in every case, they’ve been around a bit longer than me, and in every case, their event costs more, and offers less of what is important to me (and Tom), so it’s not a fair comparison. That helps, but I agree with Jeffrey, envy is the fast track to losing focus.

I also think there’s reverse envy. “we’re already better than X so let’s slow down and not innovate as much” which goes against my grain. I know being over innovative (over engineering) isn’t good, but I also know that when you slow down, and rest on your past successes, you’re over taken.

So those are my thoughts, I linked to Jeffrey’s, what’re yours? Have you experienced any in your startup?