Blood + Sweat + Tears + Code + Polish + Sales + Luck = Startup

Startups are tough…..  Here’s a simple equation to get you headed in the right direction.

Blood + Sweat + Tears + Code + Polish + Sales + Luck = Startup

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Blood – Like an initiation to a gang, founders basically cut their hand and make their pledge to build a successful company.  No Blood, No Commitment.

Sweat – A massive work ethic and a JFDI attitude  will be required to break down all barriers and knock down all doors along the way.  Better bring your gloves, water bottle and a sweat towel.

Tears – You will feel pain.  You will cry.  It’s ok.  A better way to think about it is if you haven’t cried because of your startup experience you are on the road to nowhere.  Comfort doesn’t equal success.

Code – Something needs to be built and someone needs to code it.  Piecing together other services or just pulling API’s is not defensible long term.  Figure out what you – and only you – can create and then protect the IP.  Once you build the secret sauce you can outsource all other technical needs of the product.

Polish – Design is quickly becoming the great differentiator between the good, the bad and the ugly of technology.  User experience, or how the end user interfaces and understands your product, should be your number one focus.  If a user doesn’t enjoy using your product why should they tell their friend to use it?

Sales -Plain and simple, customers pay the bills.  A startup’s need for sales and marketing talent is still undervalued in today’s technical heavy Silicon Valley.  Minus a large investment, your startup will wither on the vine if no revenue is ever generated.  And if VC’s ever do invest they will want to see revenues, so either way sales and marketing are a core function of startup success.

Luck – Perhaps the most important of all is luck, which unfortunately is out of the hands of the founders.   But the saying goes “you make your own luck” so being in the right place, at the right time, in the right market, talking to the right people and releasing the right product all can be influenced by the founders.  The more chances you take the more lucky you get so get out there and get discovered.

Pretty simple stuff.

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Startup Growth Requires Making Your Own Luck

Great things don’t just appear out of thin air.   You have to nurture and cultivate them over time into what you envision as your dream company.

That, my friends, is the secret to startup success.

Yes, you have to build a solid product.  You will need to attract great technical talent.  You also need to have enough user engagement and financial capital so you don’t end up in Startup Death Valley.  But even if you have all that in your favor, luck is still required if you want to succeed.

Luck gives you the breaks you desperately need to go from a no-name into household name.

Seconds has been given an amazing opportunity to drive payments for a nationwide holiday event.  I will provide more detail as the event nears but suffice it to say this lucky opportunity is only possible because of what we have done over the past year.

It definitely didn’t appear out of thin air.  Day by day over the past year we made it happen.

Launch early

We launched the earliest version of Seconds about a year ago, under a different name and clearly aimed at a different customer segment.  The product was buggy as hell and to be honest, a bit embarrassing.  But that’s the point of an early release, isn’t it?  It does you no good to have an idea without a product others can touch, taste and see.  We knew we needed to get something into end-customers hands ASAP if we were going to receive any feedback – feedback that actually led to our next iteration.  I consider it lucky we were able to have a team willing to quickly put out a buggy product and gain much needed feedback.  In fact, we created that luck by committing to releasing immediately and listen to the feedback.

Speak loudly

Not surprising, I like to write.   Also not surprising, I like to write about Seconds and payments in general, on this blog as well as others more well known.   For a number of reasons, I believe this is why we are in the position we are in now given we have only been around 12 months.

If you search Seconds, we come up fourth, above the fold, right below a Wikipedia entry for the time interval and a few links to a movie also titled Seconds.   This is huge, as early feedback on the name was something akin to “great name, but how are you going to be found in Search?  Pretty tough huh?”  Well, that’s where writing comes in…. the more links to a website the more “relevant and valuable” it is in the search index algorithm.   I have no idea how many links are pointing to Seconds but it’s quite a few, based on how many articles I have written as well as how many others have written about Seconds.  This tactic also has helped Seconds gain media attention a lot earlier than other startups in the same situation.  At least we had something written about us and our vision the media could go off of, even if it’s from the founding team.

Founders need to speak loudly about what they are doing.  If you don’t, why should the media?  Getting your word out and better positioning your product are a few ways to create your own luck.

Spray widely

Discovering product market fit is probably the most challenging task for an early stage startup.  It’s one thing to sit at the white board and determine your products are meant for __(whatever)___ market; it’s a whole other ballgame once you get outside the office and try to grow a customer base in that market.  Not so easy…

Seconds is a payments system, a mobile focused one at that.  Amazingly, almost every industry and market vertical handles payments in one way or anther.  This poses both a great opportunity and a large problem.  The fact that our larger market is HUGE is quite the opportunity.  The challenge is trying to serve everyone right out of the gate, which is pretty much impossible.  So we spent the last 8 or 9 months spraying our message quite wide, gaining attention from a number of customer bases.  Some turned out well.  Some did not.  But the incredible thing is we have continued to learn from each and every customer discovery conversation, resulting in refinement of our pitch, company positioning and – at times – the very essence of our product.  Ultimately, this practice led to a few very promising markets ready and willing to run with Seconds.

We refused to be boxed too narrow in the beginning, and it has paid off tremendously.  A year ago, we were a text ordering system for local restaurants, struggling to fit our solution to their non-obvious problems.  This winter, possibly millions of people will be using Seconds to make donations to an important cause with a few quick swipes of their finger.  Everyone wants their payment experience be easier and more enjoyable, especially when making a quick donation.

Are we lucky?  I would say yes.  Did we create this luck?  You bet. You can’t sit on your butt and think the world will come to you.  If you want the world, you need to go out and get it.

Here’s A Happy Thanksgiving To The ‘Dudes’

Here is a short Thanksgiving message I sent to my team today.  As I re-read it, it become apparent how thankful we must be for the “lucky” turns life can take.

Happy Thanksgiving dudes. I am thankful for being a part of this great team and this most incredible opportunity. A simple article from me and a quick email from Jacques changed my life forever… and I am very grateful for that to happen. Also, as I look around us and think of what we have done in just a few months, we have been blessed with some great people as Advisors and others coming out of the woodwork offerring to help us. Never forget some things are inevitable. Let’s keep working our asses off.. great things are going to happen.

On a random day in August 2011, without a job and without much money in the bank…. I wrote an article titled“Ice cream is great, but utilities make the world go around” and got it published on GeekWire here in Seattle.  Amazingly Jacques Crocker, aka @railsjedi, read it and quickly emailed me requesting to meet and talk about some ideas.  At that meeting he mentioned reading my stuff and believed have similar visions and would work well together.  He wanted me to join and lead the team that would ultimately found the startup Seconds.  Immediately after that meeting, I knew my life was going to change forever.

I take little credit for this happening at the time it did.  Yes, working hard for many years afforded me the perspective and knowledge to be able to write articles such as that one.  But sometimes we are in the right place at the right time and luck just takes over.  In this, we need to be grateful and thankful for where we are in life.