Monday, June 22, 2009
The concept plan will define your product/service and allow you to flesh out the idea. Key facets of this should at least include: a description of the website's function and a proposal of the value added to its users; a(n at least basic site map); a flowchart describing the process of building the site; and design and usability considerations.
The strategic plan will allow you to identify the business model you are expecting to employ. If done right, it should be straightforward (though sometimes difficult) to construct it in a way that connects the dots. In my opinion, every strategic plan should include: a description of your core principles as an organization (vision/mission/goals/values); an analysis of your internal resources and external market environment (not limited to your presumed customer base); strategic options and a description of your choice as well as an explanation of 'why'; a plan for implementation of the strategy - including needed resources; expectations of performance (operational/market/financial); a description of relevant metrics you can use to gauge your business' performance; and a plan for how to monitor and respond to changes in your operations and/or market.
Developing your team of core advisors and mentors is very important, as I'm sure you already know. It sounds like you need some advisors/mentors just for general business purposes - and at least 1 or 2 that specialize on the web side.
Just my opinion, but I'd start by scanning through your business plan to determine core areas needed to get your business going. That will help you determine what KIND of advisors you need. You are particularly looking for people with skills you don't have. As an example, I have an accounting degree, so when I was looking for core advisors, I did NOT look for an accountant, since I would fill that slot, myself. If you can interest a lawyer and someone with an accounting/finance background, that's a real plus. For web models, I'd also say a really energetic, up-to-date marketing person would be a tremendous plus. The marketing person should be very knowledgable about current and up-coming web and new media (like i-Phone, etc.), able to evaluate what is working, all the legal requirements, etc., since all of these will, ultimately, be a part of your big picture.
On the web side, someone very strong in web development from the IS side - and, if you can get two, one who is also strong on web commerce (if this will be an e-commerce site). I have discovered that some folks who are terrific at innovative web design and management aren't as strong on e-commerce, which has a lot of legal and technical areas that are vital.
Once you've figured out what kind of advisors and mentors you need - I'd say no more than 8-10 people with 6-8 people being ideal - you can start strategizing on how to get them!
Depending on where you live, an area university or your alma mater may have a program that matches graduate students in a specific area with projects. A law school may have a free law program similar to that. I live in Nashville, TN, and Vanderbilt University does both of these. It's not just for start ups - some really big companies use these services. If your alma mater has an online business connection, sometimes folks from your school might be interested and willing to help - or identify someone for you.
Another way is to become active in some organizations that people that you need are likely to belong to. I belong to the American Marketing Association for just that reason. Check FaceBook for professional listings. Some pros participate in FaceBook. Even if they aren't available for a low cost, they frequently can match you up with someone good who is - or you may find them by visiting a page frequently and observing their posts. I have met an excellent career coach through LinkedIn, for example.
Networking is a really big key, but it needs to be networking with people who have what you are looking for, not just social events and business-card-swaps. Don't be bashful about "telling your story" over and over again. Come up with a couple of short pitches (one 2 minute one and one 5 minute one) that will explain what you are trying to do. That won't bore the people who will eventually say, "Oh, yeah, I have a friend that would be interested in that" . . . or "does that" and will be willing to give you an e-mail or contact to get in touch with them. And, if they are interested themselves, they will let you know and you can go into more detail. A lot of this is really viral and on-the-spot. The big thing on networking is to have a plan. Plan 1) what you are going to; 2) who you want to talk to; 3) what you plan to say to them; and 4) what you are trying to get (contacts, etc.). You'll get better results that way.
A lot of cities have Small Business centers that provide a LOT of help with this. Check and see if there is one in your area. They are frequently free. And, many Chambers of Commerce have programs that can help, too. Some of the COC programs are free - some cost some money, but not usually very much.
Its a very dangerous trap "if I build it they will come". I've fallen into that trap myself in the past and paid in time and money. Validate your business model first.
Does your product address a pain point?
Is your pain point recognized?
Is the pain great enough that people are willing to pay for it? (I can't stress this point high enough)
Will the payment model support the business both in start up and as it grows?
Second prototype and model your product. You should take an iterative approach starting with detailed static mockups, framework functions, etc. and validate, validate, validate with leaders in the industries or markets you want to capture. I've found great value in paying a graphic designer to produce myriad static displays (in fine detail) so that I could "show" the functions and collect feedback early on. An additional benefit is the coding team will have a much better understanding of what the final product should look like and how it should behave. They will also insert a number of technical requirements that would be missed otherwise.
Warning... you need a graphic designer that has worked with a development team before. They need to inject realism in the static product. It would also be helpful to finalize your business requirements. What is the end product supposed to achieve. Which of course dove tails in the business modeling.
An additional point of warning. Off shoring can work very well particularly if you've managed other development projects and have a good understanding of the process, the requirements and acting as a business owner for a project. Off shoring has its negatives including language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, time zone craziness, cost barriers to face-to-face engagements and challenges in aligning business requirements to technical requirements. If you've never done this before and you want to try this approach, get someone to coach you who has experience with this.
Also http://www.8kmiles.com is a wonderful concept to pull in a team, virtually.
Do not believe in free tools, or pro bono work or free items / widgets. Build up from scratch, you might have sometime and something to show to VC's and Angels.
You can also mail me at vijayashankar dot india @ gmail for many inputs, I can share.... if you can get me some venture / angel funding for my venture http://www.indiarealestventure.com
Friday, June 19, 2009
After reading through several posts both in this group and plenty others geared towards startups/entrepreneurs/web 2.0,3.0 etc. I had some thoughts...
Having worked with a lot of startups and talked to 100X more than that, there's some very clear distinctions between the true entrepreneurial startup, and someone who just has a cool idea for a site but no business behind it.
First off, building a cool site, lets say a new Twitter application, with absolutely no revenue possibilities doesn't make you an entrepreneur. It makes you good at building sites that are "neat". Sure people might come to your site. Throw up a few Google ads, maybe make a few dollars. Really though, sustainable business? Have a growth strategy? It's easy to put on paper "our site will continue to grow at an exponential rate" and associate higher and higher ad revenues with this, but in reality, if it's that great, someone will copy it. And chances are, it's just not that great, sorry.
The get rich quick companies almost aren't worth discussion. Their blatent posts in attempts to lure anyone willing to throw money at them are laughable. It's sad to think people still get drawn into pyramid schemes and ideas of grandeur that really wouldn't take long to think about in terms of a business, and realize there's nothing there. I've often found anyone who contacts me with the more passion and enthusiasm than actual information and conceptual facts about their business, doesn't have one. It usually goes hand in hand with them talking extensively about how much money everyone involved is going to make, and that alone should be why I should or anyone should be involved. Sorry guys, I've been around the block enough times to spot you a mile away.
True entrepreneurs, these are the guys and girls that keep me going. Passion, spirit, dynamic, an actual business model, experience in the industry they are entering are just a few traits. They know how to command a team, have realistic ideas about what it takes to start a company, how long it takes to really ramp up revenues, and what expenses they'll incur.
Any thoughts? Agree, disagree, think I'm a startup snob? I'm the first one to admit I am, but when you are amongst a sea of fools, you have to have some qualifiers to find those rare few.