Hey Engineer, If You Want To Start Your Dream Company Read This Now!

I recently wrote a guest post on Mashable titled  5 High-Risk, High-Reward Steps to Starting Your Dream Company, where I squash conventional the wisdom of starting a company.  The article is quite extensive with real world examples, but this is a short list of the steps I identified one must take if they really want to commit to starting their dream company.

1. Quit Your Job

Conventional wisdom suggests, “Don’t quit your day job” while you start your new venture; only jump over when it shows promise. Unfortunately, this decision can be a recipe for disaster.  I say quit and get to work on your vision.

2. Don’t Follow The Crowd

Oddly enough, once most entrepreneurs abandon a “normal life” and set out on their own paths, they then look at what others are doing in the industry and opt to imitate instead of originate.  Following others will only get you lost in the crowd. Why not be unique and stand out from the all the rest?

3. Join Strangers, Not Friends

Conventional wisdom encourages you to bring together a few friends — people you already know and trust — to help launch your new company.  In reality, starting a company is tough and many things can go wrong. Don’t let friendship get in the way as you pursue your dream.

4. Launch A Buggy Product

Which situation will produce better results: a perfect web application that took nine months to launch, or a buggy but working prototype released in four weeks that gets immediate attention from early test users?  Think about it…

5. Build A Board of Advisors — Now

Conventional wisdom says that entrepreneurs don’t need to report to anyone. On the contrary. Developing a board of advisors as soon as possible will help keep a company on the right path.

Read the entire article on Mashable, 5 High-Risk, High-Reward Steps to Starting Your Dream Company.

@jnickhughes

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One Big Problem: The Worlds #1 Search Engine Is Not The Worlds #1 Social Network

Google just made a big, bold move and integrated Google+ profiles into their search results.  Yesterday, Google launches Personal Results,Profiles in Search, and People and Pages, new features of its core search product that mark the real beginning of Google’s social search era.

It looks something like this:

The big problem with this is that Google, the worlds best place to search and find information, is assuming my Google+ profile is the most relevant social profile about me and so it should be surfaced first.  Well, I will tell you this:  It’s not.   I rarely (if ever) update Google+ with links, updates and information.   LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are better representations of me and my interests.

Sorry Google.  You are not my default social identity.

When Google+ launched months ago there was a strong reaction around the fact that we don’t need another social profile to keep updated.  There are already too many and this fact still remains true today.  Interestingly, I have seen less Google+ requests lately than I did last fall.

I bet this is the same for millions of other people.  I bet more people keep Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn updated and informed than their Google+ profile.

Am I correct?

@jnickhughes

Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook or Google+ Which Provides More Value?

Social applications have taken our world by storm the last few years and have indeed proven they are important utilities in our lives. I think it is safe to say some are mere vanity and fun; some are valuable resources to help us move forward in our life pursuits.

The question is: which is which?

I have to say LinkedIn – with the ability to keep me connected with important people in my industry, help distribute my writing as well as bring me updated with relevant industry articles and information each day – has positioned itself as the most valuable network in my life.  Consumer Privacy concerns aside, the future looks HUGE for LinkedIn.  I use LinkedIn pretty much every day, somehow someway.

Twitter is a close second.  It has helped distribute information as well as loosely connect me with thousands of people.  It’s potential to change the world is still largely untapped.  I check Twitter every day.

Facebook does not provide $100 billion worth of value in my life… do I really care about what all my old high school friends and other acquaintances are doing?  Harsh, yes.  But apparently it’s not very valuable to me.  It’s just something of a courtesy check every day or day to see the what’s going on in my friends lives.  But the problem is – I’m really not engaged with the network.  Will this change?

Google+ just seems to be skidding along right now with no real value proposition above and beyond all the others mentioned.  It is worthless to me at this point.  What say you?

I don’t care the valuation of each as a company; I am wondering which provides the most value to you as a user – every day.  I have a feeling the one with the highest valuation is not providing the most value… do you agree?   Answer why you feel the way you do in the comments.

@jnickhughes

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LinkedIn

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Ice-cream Is Great, But Utilities Make The World Go Around

Lately I have had a recurring theme running through my head – “didn’t I see that startup idea before, only with a different name?  Aren’t there more than a few startups doing this same  little sharing thing? ”  I believe we are witnessing another “bubblish” period of time, with valuations of young startups skyrocketing and investment money flowing like wine from Napa Valley.  When money starts flying from every which pocket so do the various copy cats and so called “Groupon’s for X industry” and “Airbnb for Y category” startups.  Ironically, creative innovation declines as similar business ideas get most of the available investment funding; I am not sure this is the best thing for the future of our economy.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone recently commented “Everybody said ‘Twitter’s useless.’ To which my co-founder Evan Williams said, ‘Well so’s Ice Cream, you want us to ban Ice Cream and all joy?’ We said, ‘Screw that. We’ll just keep working on it.’”

This ice cream statement is referring to some people thinking Twitter and other social sharing applications are just petty fun but don’t serve much purpose and are not very important to the development of our economy.  Others believe the future lies in developing new technologies around people and infusing social in everything we do.  So who is right?

Well, let me go on record saying I beleive the application of social technology is indeed impacting our world and will continue to transform our society.  Yet, I will add a caveat to Stone’s point of view – ice cream is great, but ultilties make the world go around.  Ironies aside as Twitter becomes a utility to web users around the world, it ended up solving a problem we didn’t know we had at the time, which happened to be discovering people and distributing information.  But how many social companies are actually created with a strong economic value proposition in mind?  I think the point is very clear – when evaluating business and startup ideas, entrepreneurs and investors would be wise to focus their attention on things that solve a very strong need and plug into society’s daily function if they want to increase their odds of success.

Take a look at the following list below and observe what they all have in common:

Natural gas

Electricity

Telephone

Water

Old Steam Companies

hydraulic power

public transit

postal services

Public Infrastructure

All those industries and the associated companies all have one major thing in common – they are a public utility.  Being a public utility implies they serve a very obvious consumer need and  are frequently used products and services (speaking generally from a consumer point of view).  As a business they should have no problem developing a customer base, since their product is a need all consumers inherently have.

I suggest entrepreneurs think in absolute terms when developing their products or services.  Using an understanding of where technology is going, founders can anticipate aspects of everyday life which can be turned into utilities.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • What types of problems and challenges are consumers facing each day?
  • What problems are still served with older technological paradigms and are in need of more efficient solutions?
  • What types of industries have become ‘utilities’ and why?
  • What consumer activities seem to be more common place and will become utilities tomorrow?
Below are just a few examples of entrepreneurs viewing business as a utility.  Not an exhaustive list by any means, but they can serve as examples of clever business strategy and positioning.

 Schwab  and Wharton –  Steel

Steel was foundational utility as our country expanded from a small “startup” into the economic powerhouse of the 20th century.  Due to the expansion of the steel industry, railways, buildings, cars and other major industries advanced.  From wikipedia:

The Bethlehem Steel Corporation ascended to great prominence in American industry, installing the revolutionary grey rolling mill and producing the first wide-flange structural shapes to be made in America. These shapes were largely responsible for ushering in the age of the skyscraper and establishing Bethlehem Steel as the leading supplier of steel to the construction industry.

Edison – Electricity

Electricity, ala Thomas Edison, brought light to our night as well as power to our life.  Imagine a world without electricity… it is almost impossible to live in the 21st centuty (at least in the developed world) without this incredible utility.  Think about all the other multi-billion dollar industries that have been born and brought forth because electricity became widespread technology everyone could use.

Ford – Automobile

Although Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, he brought it (and mass manufacturing) to the general population.  With the introduction of the affordable car, consumers were able to travel more than a couple miles to spend their hard earned money, a transforming affect on the young US economy.  Commercial malls, retail centers, Supermarkets and many other industries were born from the advent of the automobile.  From the book American Entrepreneur:

Autos fundamentally changed transportation from a collective undertaking, whether in boats or railcars, to a principally individual experience.  Cars represented independence, not only freeing people from the confines of the city but from restrictions imposed by a particular geographic region. 

Gates – Software

Bill Gates had a vision – a computer on every desk!  Unofficially, he has achieved his vision and then some.  Shouldn’t it now be referred to as ‘a computer in every hand/pocket’?  But, who is keeping score…  Gates and Microsoft built the software found in almost all computers available, bringing to life the PC  revolution and birthing the connected world we live in today.  Productivity of Private, Public as well as Personal lives has greatly increased because of the software industry Gates created.

Zuckerberg – Social networks

As web connected devices continue to drive our daily activities, no one company has a better position to lead the charge in our new world as does Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg, at a ripe young age of 19, saw we would interact with devices, the web and people around the world in a whole new way.  In creating and growing Facebook, he established a platform users now consider a daily communications tool.  What can be built off it still mostly remains a mystery, but his vision of a utility is quite clear.

As a brieft list, these visionary individuals are amongst many others who transformed our world through groundbreaking businesses.  Importantly, all of them viewed their concepts through a utilitarian eye, observing where human life currently had a problem and how their company could offer a solution.  Find a need and fill it.  Serve a strong purpose in consumers’ everyday life.  Have a vision of a wide-spread platform, or a unique position where a multitude of new industries can be spawned from your one idea.  I believe that is the best position to start with when evaluating a new business venture.

@jnickhughes

Image courtesy of Flickr user Daniele Sartori.