Do you know that feeling when you are doing random things and at a certain point your mind starts to see inefficiencies or you are trying to optimize the things you are doing or seeing no matter how basic they are? Let me give you one example of a situation where I see that for myself.
At the beginning of the year I started to walk to our office every morning. This 20-30 minute morning exercise works quite well for me and I try to take this as a good start into the day with getting some movement and fresh air before actually starting the working day. The strange thing is although this could and should be a relaxing thing to do, my mind starts thinking about how I could optimize things further. In this case its finding the optimal way based on the status of the pedestrian traffic lights on the way. In the first days I would just go the straight way and wait at the lights until they got green (ok, sometimes I go over red). But as I repeated the walk on more and more days, I saw certain patterns and rules by which the traffic lights work together. Its not only on one crossing but some patterns go over 3-4 crossings. As time went by I started adjusting my way and the speed in which I go, so that the total time needed was reduced more and more. In some cases you just have to go over a red light once and this will immediately decrease the time needed by 3-4 minutes. I guess explaining this to the police men would be quite a challenge.
I could name a lot more of these examples and situations like using public transport or watching other people do certain things and wanting to tell them that there is a much more efficient way to do it. In most cases I realize that when I am in an unknown environment like walking this way for the first days, traveling through new cities etc. I wonder if I do the same with situations that face me on a daily level. Will I keep optimizing my way further also after months? Will I see these optimizations in my daily routines? I think this a good example that outside in perspectives can sometimes bring very good ideas and that we should leave our used habits to watch at the things we are doing from outside.
Am I the only one doing and thinking about such things or do you see that for yourself as well? I would like to relax more but somehow these things happen automatically. Am I crazy or is this normal?
There are a lot of discussions about whether it makes sense for people within a tech startup to learn coding. I am not talking about the already technical people here, but rather about everyone involved in a tech startup team. If it’s a non-technical co-founder, an online marketing specialist or any kind of intern, everyone should learn how to code, because it brings so much advantages for yourself and others. This should go even further in the next years and the recently started campaign http://www.code.org/ (see video below) wants to bring coding skills to every student in every school, a great initiative from my perspective.
With all the online learning platforms around learning to code is now easier as ever before.
The first important point is that coding skills give you full understanding of the product you are selling. The full capabilities and limitations of your product only become clear, when you have knowledge about the technical design decision and actual implementation behind it. This sets different features into perspective. What is possible with this? Could we scale this by a factor of 10? It helps to answer clients questions with ease and also see potential new features having the technical limitations in mind.
Coding in general makes you think more structured. If you want to solve a problem with code, you have to write it down and when you run it you will see if it works as planned or not. No more talking around, no more discussions about things that could possibly happen. The “just do it” way should be implemented in all business decisions and having coding skills helps you find structured approaches to solve problems.
At quintly we recently had the SQL discussion based on an article at Udemy (https://www.udemy.com/blog/learn-sql/). This is a very good example at what coding can empower you to. No more need to ask your developer who is already stressed and busy, just go ahead and find the answer to the question yourself.
The next big reason for learning how to code is very simple. Chances are high that you will not find the perfect developer when you need him/her most. So you could start complaining about this over and over again or just get over it and do it yourself.
Developers are usually bored about the little design tweeks and font changes they should make for you. They want to work on big and meaningful things. Why not make the next update yourself?
Especially the abstraction behind coding can sometimes be hard stuff and it’s not for everyone. This is actually the reason why studying in a technical area is so tough and usually takes long. But everyone can still get to a certain skill level quite fast which is sufficient to solve the majority of the daily problems coming up.
What is your opinion on the coding debate?
My email volume keeps increasing from month to month and it is really interesting to see the different styles and formats used by the different people. The bad thing here is, that the majority of the emails are not really actionable, which makes it very hard for me to respond in a short time period. As I am a big fan of inbox zero, this creates a problem as these emails sit in my inbox longer than what I think is good. In the end this often leads to the result, that I don’t answer to some of them and archive them after a certain time period. I want to talk about a few points to keep in mind when writing business related emails and how to increase the chance of getting an answer quickly.
It always feels great if I get the impression that someone cares about me, but keep the introduction short and leave standard sentences out.
Usually most of the messages can be transported in very few sentences. If I open a mail and it consists of 4 paragraphs with 5 sentences each, I am already in a bad mood. If your questions require that amount of words, its alright, but many of the mails I get are just too long for the message included.
I am usually in many big email conversations and one of the things I don’t like is going back to my archive and searching for things that were said somewhere in one of the 100 mails within the last months. Try to make the picture complete.
This is actually the most important point for me. Many mails contain very open questions and in some of them I even need to search for the question. This is bad for both sides, as it decreases the chances that I will answer to the mail and it has the result that you don’t get what you want. I personally think it is key to write questions in a very actionable format. Suggest solutions, give me alternatives and try to bring it to the point. Make it as easy as possible for me to reply to that message.
This is rather contrary to the points before, but reading a text and getting an impression about the writer between the lines is also important. The difficulty here is the combination of keeping it short while still transporting a personal touch.
It is also worth to think about different channels to use instead of mail. For many inquiries and questions, channels like Facebook or Instant Messaging are much better. Having this little thing that I can answer right away, write me a message on Facebook or Google Talk. I rather shoot 5 messages on Facebook back and forth than having that long conversation in my email inbox.
This all sounds very systematic and I don’t want to say that you shouldn’t be nice in mails But handling emails now takes several hours a day and we need to find a way to reduce the time we spend answering and get back to our actual work. I communicate with a lot of people from the US and the email conversations with them are usually much more actionable than what we do here in Europe.
What do you think? What does the perfect email look like? How do you handle your inbox, throughout the day or in bulk at fixed time slots?
Photo credit: © Beboy – Fotolia.com
At first sight, it may not be exactly clear what I mean with this headline. I would describe our tool quintly as a quite “heavy” product, as it uses lots of big data technology that make it more difficult to handle and to innovate and every little change has massive consequences on underlying data structures and relations. On the other hand I often see very light startups, ideas that are really simple but still can attract massive audiences with a very thin product. Examples of this could be the early days of Twitter (although its very heavy now) or Instagram. It makes me think about what is the best ratio of product heaviness and product potential.
Having a “light” product makes it very easy and quick to build and therefore the go to market time and idea validation works much faster. Also the marketing is a lot easier as the message is really limited to the core things the product does well. Especially when you can generate revenue with it (e.g., in B2B models) you can come up with nice revenue streams from the beginning. On the other hand, light products are easy to copy and therefore the risk of someone else coming to the market and giving you a hard time are really high.
The heavy products on the other hand are really hard to copy for other people, therefore there is a natural protection for your business model. Also the value that you build up over time can not be destroyed over night. Clients will really value your solution which also gives you flexibility in terms of adjusting pricing over time.
So the questions is, what is the best ratio of heaviness of your idea and the potential. I created a very simply graphic that tries to illustrate it.
You never want to be in sectors A and C, as the market potential is low there. You want to be either in sector B or D, but staying in sector D for a long time will increase the risk of failure. From my personal opinion, it is best to start in sector D with a light product with a high market potential and as you develop, move up to sector B and make your product more heavy and protectable against other market players. At many points you may move to fast to a heavy product and in these cases it makes sense to make it lighter again. It is very important to keep innovating and as further you are towards the heavy product, the more difficult it gets to keep up with the innovation pace.
Some founders start in sector B already from the beginning, but in this case you usually need deep pockets and of course an even stronger believe that you are doing the right thing as it will be very expensive, if it does not work out.
What do you think is the best way to start? Would you build a light or heavy product?
When I left my corporate job at McKinsey and decided to work on entrepreneurial projects instead, I actually didn’t know what this would bring to me and if it was the right decision. When I look back at this decision now it was definitely the right one at the right moment in time. The learning curve you get is amazing in a company like McKinsey, but what I learned from taking all the risk for myself and become an entrepreneur was even bigger. In such an environment you are forced to take your own decisions and take the full responsibility for everything that you do, no hiding, no excuses. This also forces you to become better in everything you need to know to run a startup. You don’t make concepts of what you are going to do, you just move quickly, make mistakes and fix them. Over time the decisions actually get better and better.
But one of the best things of becoming an entrepreneur was definitely the network we could build up over the years. I can not imagine how else I could come to a network of the strength I have currently. If its the local startup community here in Cologne (just moved here last summer, thanks for welcoming us so great), our many clients all around the world or our contacts to the US ecosystem, that really helps us drive innovation. Additionally, we and I personally could build up strong expertise in the field of Social Media Analytics, which allows us to take part in expert discussions and conferences all around the world. Network is one of the most important factors, if you want to become a successful entrepreneur. If its people to hire, money to raise or getting feedback, things are so much easier when you can talk to like minded people who have gone through these steps before.
My personal recommendation to everyone that starts up would be to go to many meetings, talk with a lot of people and exchange your ideas with others. Working in your own vacuum will not bring you the speed of development you can get with the right people around you.
What do you think? How important is network for you?
Until now our whole working style was pretty much based on being at one location together with the team in order to get the most productivity out of it. When we were mostly doing work made for hire this was even more important because of the whole project management part. But now as we are completely based on a scalable product business it gets a lot easier to plan ahead and define work packages that can be worked on independently. My personal goal is to become completely location independent within the next two years. When I think about how much time you spend travelling to work and back then it would be much better if you could use the time and actually get something done. Also I really like to travel a lot and learn about new cultures, it would be great to be able to combine this with my work and remove the need to split my time into holiday and work. Personally I am pretty much used to checking emails and working even in my holidays, so why not make this setup work as a daily routine. The question is, how do we get this to done? I think there are actually a few points coming up here.
It is really important to have the right technology at hand to make the remote working style appear as close to in person working and meeting as possible. Currently we play around with different solutions like Google Hangouts, Google Docs, Jabber, IRC, Yammer, Podio, Facebook Groups, etc. but haven’t found the perfect solution yet. I would like to see something which really gives you the impression that you are sitting in one virtual office bringing all the technology together including video, voice, chat, file exchange and whiteboards. This could even be based on some kind of virtual reality thing like Second Life tried it, but it should be completely browser based in order to make it easy to use. Let me know if you know about such a solution. Otherwise I will have to build another startup
The second important point is to educate your team to be able to work in such an environment. With the remote working style there is no one sitting next to you taking care of your work packages. This needs a much more self determined way of approaching things and clear responsibilities. No one should get the impression that they need to work less hard because there is no one to check it. I think this is one of the more difficult points, as not too many people are capable of this, but you need such people in your team also without working remotely. So its pretty much the same problem you have currently, finding great people.
It helps a lot if you have daily and weekly routines which support the new style of working remotely. This can be video hangouts every morning or special status calls. It is very important to get transparency into everyones plans and know who is working on what. We are currently trying to introduce a daily morning hangout where everyone explains in 2 minutes what he/she is up to for the day and if all the targets from the last days were achieved.
Continue and even extend meeting real people
Sounds pretty basic and nonsense, but I think it is really important to meet a lot of people. The chance to work remotely and independently does not mean that you should sit at home on your couch. Meet with your colleagues, go to local coworking spaces, meet other people in the same industry or take part in conferences. This will give you a lot of new influences and experiences which can improve your personal life and increase your productivity. The nice part is that you are flexible and can decide where you want to be each day.
Since beginning of this year we introduced the Friday as a flex day, meaning everyone can work from where he/she wants. This is a first test to see if it can work out. We also want to implement a second flex day within the next months and even more towards end of the year. I am very excited to see how and if that works.
What do you think? Is it already possible to work completely remote or is the productivity loss too big?
In the past years, I was thinking a lot about different startup ideas in which we wanted to invest our time and money. When I think back to certain ones in the beginning, it feels quite naive now as I have more experience to judge if an idea is a good one or a bad one. Also I found it very hard to come up with ideas, but this has changed completely now. Today I nearly come up with one idea per month or even per week which I think is worth working on, but of course we have to keep some kind of focus (which is very tough).
Here are some questions which are often asked and I want to share my thoughts on these.
I usually derive my ideas from needs I see for myself or I am looking for a solution to a certain problem and cannot find an easy way to solve it. Personally, I am a big fan of outsourcing repeatable and scalable tasks to solutions and tools out there (SaaS) in order to minimize my time spent on things that others already solved better than I could ever do it. A lot of times I don’t find that solution and when I see that many other people are also looking for that certain thing, I start shaping a new idea in my head. At the moment I have about 5 ideas in my mind, which would need some more attention to bring them into shape and build a prototype. Its much easier to focus on problems and ideas where you are in the potential target customers yourself, because you really know whats important and you don’t need to rely on what others might want.
The first questions to ask youself are who are your customers and how do you plan to monetize the idea? Who is paying for your service? Are the customers paying directly? Do you plan to earn money through ads? When this is answered, I usually cluster my ideas by the target audience. Is it a B2C model or a B2B model?
I personally like B2B models better, because the possibility to grow organic and generic is closer to my personal values. You won’t become the next Google or Facebook with a B2B model though.
No matter how you decide, you should try to validate your ideas as early as possible to get a better impression if it could work out.
Some ideas, which sounded great in the beginning, die after the first discussion with a friend. The good ideas though stay good through the whole validation process. There are great events out there like Startup Weekend or Startup Weekend Next to get your ideas out and get high quality feedback in a very short time period.
At the beginning (being quite naive) it was harder to find the right idea and easier to execute, as I could program things by myself. Through the years you get to know that creating the product is not the whole execution and things like online marketing and sales come up. Today I find it easier to come up with ideas and execution usually takes a lot of work to get on the road, to bring all the pieces together and to have a great team to really push it forward. Companies like Rocket Internet put their focus on execution rather than innovating on new ideas and they are nearly perfect at it. For me personally the balance is the most important thing, I want to spend time pushing the company forward but I also want to spend time being visionary about new things.
What do you think? How do you come up with your ideas and how do you validate them?
I really really hate all the paper coming in via postal service to my private mailbox (the physical one at the wall). If it is a certificate from one of the many insurance companies, your monthly salary receipt from your employer or tax statements from the government. It is really difficult and a lot of work to get the documents structured and the most difficult task is to find the documents two years later when you need them for your taxes or other tasks. As I don’t like to put paper into folders, I played a lot with different scanning and organizing/archiving options to get the documents digitized. I want to use this post to share a bit the way in which I do my daily document scanning and how I make sure I find the documents when I need them.
How do I get the documents into PDF format
The first question that comes up when you have the paper in front of you, is how do you actually get the paper into PDF format to work with it from there. There are a few different ways to do this with different pros and cons.
Once you have the document in PDF format the next step is to bring it into a system, that allows you to structure, organize and search for these documents. I tried out two services in the past, which I want to share here. I know there is a lot more, but for all the other solutions out there (like Doo and others), I just didn’t find it compelling enough to give it a real try. I am always looking for the easiest solution.
As I mentioned above, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is a big deal for me. It saves a lot of time, because I don’t need to put a lot of tags on my documents anymore. I can just go ahead and search for a term which is on the original document, making it very easy to quickly find the documents you are looking for. Some scanners have OCR software shipped with them, but I like to be flexible on the scanning side, so I prefer solutions like Evernote which do the OCR part on their own.
How do you handle your personal documents in the cloud? Which services do you use? Am I missing things? Let me know what you think.
Most of the time, when I hear about startups and successful entrepreneurs, its always about who sold shares, how much funding you got and if you made a successful exit. Even when we try to pitch stories to bigger blogs, one of the first questions is always what kind of funding we got. But are these good measures to say a person or a startup is successful? Of course its a kind of filter and reaching such targets gives you more credibility, but from my perspective there is much more in being an entrepreneuer than having the goal to make money, also noting that a broad majority of entrepreneurs never get to this point in their lives. When I listen to many people around it often gives me the impression that some people try to get funded to be funded and not primarily for pushing their startup and their ideas.
For me the question of success is much more if you are happy and really excited with what you are doing and investors help sometimes, but in many cases they also make your life worse. The life as an entrepreneur gives you great flexibility and allows you to really do the things you like and this does not only work with the big financial milestones that I mentioned above. Personally, I would like to see more stories of non-funded or “slow-funded” startups/founders in the tech press, as this also shows what is possible and sets a good ground for expectations of other future entrepreneurs.
Currently we don’t have external investors on board (although we had in the past and we may be looking for some during this year) and it feels quite right. Our products grow profitably and we can push our own strategy forward without any complexity in the decision making process, which allows us to move really fast. We can also be very pragmatic with everything because we don’t need to report to anyone.
How do you think about funding, selling and exits? Are these worth to be a goal or what is the main reason for you to be an entrepreneur?
Also check out this article on Forbes on the question if it pays back to be an entrepreneur: http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/01/03/does-it-pay-to-become-an-entrepreneur/
It’s been an exciting year for Facebook, from the introduction of its new ad formats, to its expansion into social gifting, to being the most watched IPO of the sector. The social networking giant now counts over 1 billion users on its platform, but the question remains — especially following its IPO and initial stock market performance — how does Facebook monetize its sizable consumer base? 2013 is the year Facebook grows up: brands are shifting toward deeper KPIs to measure fan engagement, while Facebook itself has either just launched or is set to release new features that will help advertisers make the most out of the platform.
Here are predictions for 2013 on what will matter to brands on Facebook in the coming year.
1. Facebook Metrics Will Shift To Interaction-Driven KPIs
2. Showdown with Google: Facebook Ads Everywhere as Ads Expand to the Whole Internet, the Mobile Web and Mobile Apps
3. One Billion And Counting: Who Said Anything About Facebook Fatigue?
4. Facebook Adjusts News Feed Moving Toward Interest Lists and Closer in Concept to Google+
5. Gifting and Social Commerce Offers to Expand as Amazon Edges In
6. SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile) Facebook Sets the Example for 2013
7. The Facebook Stock Will Recover From The Losses And Turn Upwards
Read the full article on Inside Facebook.