Technology

The Story of Building Tesla: With Marc Tarpenning of Tesla and Shernaz Daver of GV

Marc Tarpenning of Tesla told the audience of entrepreneurs at this year’s StartUp Grind Global Conference to think big. It means going to look for those problems that need solutions and focusing on the issues that have real meaning.

The Big Think Idea

And, that’s exactly what he and the co-founder of Tesla did. Looking back, Tarpenning is still in awe of how their think big idea is now a global company with many vehicle models and numerous plans for more thanks to its current CEO Elon Musk.

However, the think big had to start somewhat small. For Tesla, Tarpenning and his co-founder, it began in 2003 in a small office. They were looking for a product idea around sustainability. That’s when they decided to focus on the electric vehicle.

Looking for Investment Money

They went after investment money in 2004. However, not many were convinced back then that the electric vehicle would be possible or even wanted by consumers. However, Tarpenning’s own doubts about the autonomous car were solve when he viewed one in action in 2010. That’s when he realized that technology doesn’t seem possible until that moment shows you it is possible. Then, there is that thought you could have thought of that. It seems so obvious once the solution to the problem is right there.

Creating the Tech

And, in creating the technology for the electric vehicles that are now out on the road, some funny war stories emerged that add color to the story of building Tesla. During the conference, he relates how they learned better safety practices and stopped using the parking lot at their small offices after a battery disassembled itself and launched onto the roof of the offices. There was a major learning curve there.

The VC’s in the Tesla

Then, there was the story of how they won over some venture capitalists after going for a spin in a test car they put together. It might have very well been the first drag race down Sandhill Road between a Lamborghini and the test vehicle for what would be the future Tesla. And, it turns out the future Tesla won so the founders also found themselves with some potential investment money.

Elon Musk

However, the best story may be when they pitched Elon Musk. Numerous other investment pitches didn’t go well because the venture capitalists just didn’t see how an electric car was possible. However, when they pitched to Musk, he was ready to get involved. Makes sense considering he was in the process of building space ships with SpaceX. He became a very supportive force and eventually took over as CEO in 2008 when the company needed leadership that fit the incredible things they were looking to achieve.

Fast Forward Ten Years

Fast forward to the current period, which is now 10 years on from Musk taking over. While both founders are no longer with the company, Tarpenning is one founder of Tesla who looks back fondly on the experience of building Tesla by thinking big and putting meaning to what he was developing. Besides the big idea, Tarpenning realized that it was critical to have supportive, visionary leadership like Musk delivered. Plus, it was a relief that all the customers were supportive and waited patiently for their vehicles that were years behind schedule.

Meaning and Solutions

Now, Tarpenning has spent the last nine years in education and politics, seeing how he might think big there. However, it may be the next chapter for Tarpenning as he considers other areas of interest where he could add meaning and much-needed solutions. Whatever that may be, it’s bound to be a good story just like Tesla.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/the-story-of-building-tesla-with-marc-tarpenning-of-tesla-and-shernaz-daver-of-gv/

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My Favorite CES Products This Year

The Consumer Technology Association’s Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped up in Vegas, after over 3,900 visiting companies showed their edgiest new products off to over 170,000 attendees.

Products on display ranged from the niche (Laundroid’s laundry-foldng robot) to the potentially revolutionary (self-driving cars). It can be a little difficult to sort through the sheer amount of innovation and exciting new technology on display.

Here’s just a few of our favorite products from this year’s big show:

Home Protection

StartupGrind started covering the Internet of Things about four years ago, and since then IOT has most definitely arrived in the American home, with everything from speakers to thermostats to lighting networked and remotely controllable. Now Angee is using IOT capabilities to make home security smarter, safer, and and easier to use.

Angee’s multi-mode protection allows users to switch between multiple security states throughout the day depending on the time and who is home. How does Angee know who’s home in the first place? Security tags placed at entrance points and around the home (or apartment) perimeter identify familiar users who enter or exit.

Angee’s 360 degree camera tracks motion when motion isn’t expected (meaning it won’t try to notify you if all it sees is your kid walking through the kitchen). Sound receptors can recognize unfamiliar or alarming noises such as breaking glass or fire alarms. If something unexpected is detected, Angee will immediately notify you.

Of course, the Angee app can always be used to simply check in using the camera’s live stream, unless privacy mode has been activated. Angee’s camera system faces the wall when occupants are home, so no footage of you or your family is actually being captured, and data is only sent from the system to the cloud when a possible threat is detected or you access it.

Home security is a big issue. SafeGuardTheWorld reports that about 2 million home burglaries occur in the US annually. — and Angee provides an innovative way to make your family feel safe without constantly tripping false alarms or threatening your privacy.

The Biowatch

You might not know it, but the vein pattern in your wrist is one of the most unique things about you. This small part of your circulatory system is totally different from anyone else’s, and unlike fingerprints, it can’t be lifted off of objects you handle. The Guardian reported in 2014 that many European banks have abandoned PIN or chip-based identification for vein mapping at some ATMs.

The Biowatch uses a daily authentication of your vein pattern to store credentials, managed in a companion app. Wearers of the Biowatch could unlock their laptop simply by sitting down in proximity to it – the Biowatch confirms their identity, and communicates with the laptop via NFC technology.

The watch is attractive and can be attached to the wearer constantly throughout the entire day, making identity confirmation essentially a mindless, yet highly secure procedure. According to PRNewswire, the Extreme Tech Challenge deemed Biowatch one of 2018’s Vertical Prize Winners. Wearable are going to be huge–StartupGrind recently reported on how they’re being used by millenials to transform fintech–and biowatch is one of the smarter new wearables out there.

Melomind Relaxation Headphones

Startup founders know that stress is a challenge to manage, and at StartupGrind we’ve tried to provide some ideas on how to relax and stay grounded. Chilling out by slipping on headphones and listening to music is nothing new. But Melomind’s creator, myBrain Technologies, are more serious about stress relief than your average headphone company.

The Melomind headphones are outfitted with four electroencephalographic sensors that monitor your brain activity as specifically designed music begins. The music is then modulated based on your brain activity readings to facilitate the process of de-stressing.

Biofeedback therapy has well-documented medical uses, according to WebMD, and is very commonly used to alleviate severe anxiety. Melomind brings these benefits into your home, drug-free. And yes, you can use it to listen to your day-to-day music too.

My Special Aflac Duck

Robotics had a big year at CES–Geek.com reports on robotic participants ranging from dogs to personal assistants to exotic dancers. But The Verge reports that insurance giant Aflac quietly introduced a humane and needed concept to the excited flurry of robotic innovation.

The duck, designed by a partnership of Aflac and robotics toy company Sproutel, is soft and cuddly like any other children’s toy. But the ducky is meant for kids dealing with cancer treatments, and a range of functionalities provide emotional support for kids going through a scary time.

[Editor note: when I read this description, I had special feelings for Ducky without ever seeing her. Hence using the name of Ducky, instead of Duck. I know a child would…]

Ducky makes emotional responses — such as pleased chirps or concerned groans — when children use emoji buttons to share their moods. Children can use pretend IV tools to practice giving medicine to ducky, creating a sense of control over their own medical treatments.

During IV mode ducky can help kids with calming breathing exercises, and children can use ducky to create a “happy place” soundscape that they can play when they feel scared. This may not be the most cutting-edge edge project on display at CES, but it does simply and effectively show how robotics can be used to truly improve people’s lives.

What was your most exciting product at CES 2018?

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/my-favorite-ces-products-this-year/

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5 Ways Your Employees Are Being Unproductive — and How to Fix It

Productivity is one keystone of your business’s success. It’s a measure of how much your employees are able to accomplish each day, and accordingly, a gauge of the ROI of your workforce. With a high enough ROI, any raw expenditure on human resources will be worth it, as you’ll develop new products and serve customers with enough efficiency to generate revenue in excess of what you’re spending.

But productivity is an elusive area to master; most employees lose productivity in multiple areas every day, compromising your HR budget and throttling your startup’s potential to grow. Unless you’re able to track down and correct these areas of productivity loss, your business’s potential will be at their mercy.

Top Areas of Productivity Loss

What are the most common — and most egregious — offenders responsible for lost productivity?

1. Email:

If you ask a handful of your peers to rank the most egregious productivity offenders, I almost guarantee email won’t make the list.

That’s because we’ve accepted email as an essential part of modern business, and we don’t think about how much we’re emailing or how long we’re spending on it. Each email only takes a few minutes, so what’s the harm?

The harm is that we’re sending hundreds of emails a day, and even a slight delay in our processes or increase in email volume is enough to cost hours of work on a daily basis.

So what’s the solution? One option is to use a tool like Gmail Metrics, a kind of analytics app for email, to investigate how your employees are handling email and take corrective action (like rebalancing workloads or retraining employees on proper emailing standards).

2. Meetings:

Meetings fall into a similar category as email; they’re viewed as essential business functions, so any time they take is often disregarded and swept under the rug. But meetings are especially dangerous for a several reasons and to varying degrees.

Meetings involve multiple people, so any lost productivity is automatically multiplied; they’re often recurring, so the losses compound over time; and it’s hard to enforce consistent meeting rules across an entire organization. It’s estimated that bad meetings cost $37 billion a year. It’s definitely worth taking action. Include only the parties necessary for your meetings, and limit them to 30 minutes — 15 minutes if you can.

When you plan them, have a firm agenda and a stated goal for the meeting. Then, avoid recurring meetings unless they’re truly necessary.

3. Sleep deprivation:

You know that losing sleep can affect productivity, interfering with each employee’s attention span, motivation, and cognitive abilities — but you may not know how much.

According to one study, insomnia can cost businesses about $2,500 per year per employee in lost productivity — and that doesn’t factor in absenteeism. How can you improve employee sleeping habits without instituting napping on the job?

For starters, you can inform your employees about the downsides of sleep deprivation and encourage them to get a full eight hours every night. You can also be more flexible with start times, and you can consider enforcing a policy that prohibits late-night emailing.

4. Tech distractions:

It’s no secret that the marvelous new technologies that allow us significant leaps forward in productivity also take us a few steps back; distractions like social media platforms and personal smartphones steal employees’ attention away from more important tasks. In younger audiences, almost three-quarters of employees spend at least some time every day on tasks that aren’t work-related.

This problem is tricky to solve because some digital interactions are actually a good thing — it gives employees a break from work, exposing them to news that might be relevant to their positions. So rather than block distracting apps altogether, you can monitor productive versus nonproductive performance using an app like Time Doctor, only taking action with the most egregious offenses.

5. Procedural inefficiencies:

Procedural inefficiencies are usually the hardest productivity detractors to pin down. These are problems in your daily workflow that end up wasting time. For example, you might accidentally have two different positions accomplishing the same task. You might have too many checks and balances, adding extra hours to each project that passes through.

Audit your workflows periodically, and try to view them from an unbiased perspective. Are there new tools or automated functions you can integrate to make things easier? Are there areas of redundancy that can be resolved?

These aren’t the only ways employees can lose productivity; they’re just some of the most important. Start optimizing these areas, with gradual and focused changes; then, zoom out to uncover more areas where you can improve productivity.

And ask for employee feedback — your workers’ perspectives will help you more than you realize — and keep inching toward higher productivity. If you’ve implemented changes to boost your productivity and you’re still disappointed with the numbers you’re seeing, take a closer look at your workforce itself.

If you have teammates who lack motivation or feel disconnected from your company’s purpose, it may be time for them to polish their résumés — and they probably won’t have many productive accomplishments to show.

You’ll never reach perfect efficiency, but you can always improve. If you push your team to take ownership of the problem alongside you, you’ll see your organization’s productivity soar– and its potential will no longer be hampered by the inefficiencies you’ve simply learned to live with.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/5-ways-your-employees-are-being-unproductive-and-how-to-fix-it/

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Having a Headphone for Business is a Must

Does the startup atmosphere make you dream? You imagine yourself already in full creative emulation in vast high-tech offices, flashy colors and contagious good humor? You may be disappointed.

Indeed, contrary to what one might think, open spaces are not synonymous with hubbub and effervescence but are now real places of silence and concentration. The reason; the systematic use of the headphone is just under 30 years old.

The Headphone: the New “Office” of the Younger Generations

The advantage of having the headphones on the ears is the calm they provide in a place where it is difficult to isolate and focus. But studies puts more emphasis on the disadvantages of this practice by lamenting “the misunderstanding of pepper and salt colleagues” who can no longer communicate with the new generation.

According to US executives and executives interviewed for a survey, the headphone is the new wall, the new closed door. “Headphones are a way to tell colleagues “Do not talk to me, I’m working!” according to Dave Snyder, Creative Director at Firstborn. Even worse, according to Vann Graves, founder of FL & G, some even say “shut up” when you try to talk to them.

But let’s not throw the stone too fast at the Y and Z generations. A few years ago, getting your own office was a “rite of passage” in a company. The standard today is large collaborative spaces, with rooms available for meetings or private communications. Young workers have never had other references than open spaces. Headphones improve productivity and wearing them is therefore natural and instinctive for them. We are far from the antisocial act described by Graves.

According to researchers, listening to music promotes the release of dopamine, also known as the “hormone of reward”. This completely biological process allows us to work faster and more efficiently. Ambient noise tools can reinforce the influence of this simply natural cause.

To enjoy music during your business hours, good headphones is necessary for your comfort first and also for those around you who may not appreciate the music as much as you do.

Most workers use headphones or a headset connected to their computer or phone. The bottom line is to find comfortable material for your ears. The music you need to focus and increase your efficiency, the material should not be a source of inconvenience. Opt for a material adapted to the appearance of your ears.

When we consider that the space per employee has gone from 46 m² in 1970 to 18 m² in 2010 in the United States (preferred country in terms of office space), it is a safe bet that our professional space continues to decrease with the time, and that the headphone still has a long life in front of him.

Listen to music to dispel noises or to motivate yourself

In short, listening to music at work, either to get away from the usual noise nuisance, or to motivate oneself is very good for focusing and efficiency in tasks.

According to each of our attributions, music has multiple effects on each of the areas of our brain that it stimulates. In practice, it promotes the diffusion of a neurotransmitter that acts on our potential for concentration and creativity.

For some people, however, music may interfere with their work because of certain memories or emotions related to certain songs. There are also genres of music that will complicate the memorization and understanding needed in tasks for some people.

The key for music at work is to choose songs that do not hinder our concentration, namely your favorite tracks, music without words at a gentle pace.

Many sites and applications also offer sound creations that immerse you in totally peaceful environments to improve your concentration. And to fully enjoy and make your work experience an extraordinary experience, it is advisable to choose a good audio equipment.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/having-a-headphone-for-business-is-a-must/

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Innovation, for Everyone

Brexit. Trump. Putin. North Korea. China. EU disruption. These are turbulent times around the world and they are impacting everyone on a political, economic, environmental and social levels. While many may find this uncertainty a reason to hide, Matt Britton of Google told the Startup Grind Europe audience that it’s the best time to be an entrepreneur.

All that uncertainty and turbulence is what allows for disruption to be accepted and implemented across industries and countries.

Britton focused on three key trends — connectivity, AI and smarter tools. Each of these mean new ways to learn. From an average of 2.5 connected devices per person in many countries and the new access to affordable devices in developing countries, the world is more connected than ever.

Technology is allowing for smarter tools that are changing how we can solve problems. Artificial intelligence is becoming more mainstream in both consumer and business applications.

Finally, more people in the audience admitted that they had turned to sites like YouTube to learn something new from someone they didn’t even know. This platform as well as the many other on-demand learning sites is an extraordinary way to teach ourselves new skills and further develop our capabilities to generate the kind of change we want in the world rather than fearing what those now in charge may do.

To hear more about how everyone can get involved in innovation and drive the pathways of change, click here to watch the rest of Britton’s insightful talk.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/innovation-for-everyone-1/

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Phoenix on the Rise: The City of Growth

[I wasn’t going to publish this post because it’s all about Arizona, by someone who loves this state. As I found the city of Phoenix absolutely beautiful and enjoyed this piece — I thought that you may also enjoy it.]

Arizona is home to 6.9 million people, with Phoenix being the nation’s sixth largest city in the US and the most populated state capital, having 1.6 million people. There are about 4 million people in the metro area which is half the size in population to New York city. Phoenix is bigger in land space, however, than New York City with it’s 8 1/2 million people. Phoenix averages 211 days of sunshine per year. It has the sun shining 85 percent of its daylight hours.

The Valley of the Sun and Forests

Most people know about the 200+ golf courses, but few realize that one fourth of the state is forested, having 11.2 million acres of National Forest, six National Forests, and six lakes within a 75 minute drive of Phoenix.

The state of Arizona has seen tremendous growth and innovation in the five years. As a result, Phoenix is quickly becoming a hotbed for venture capital, innovation, and startups. Just since 2015, there have been more than 35 articles chronicling the growth and success of Phoenix. Consider the following facts:

Fast Facts

Chief Executive Magazine has rated Arizona has #9 in the country as best state for business in 2015. The favorable business development programs, low taxes and regulations, good weather, and high quality of living attract and keep big-name businesses.

The Arizona Republic reported in 2016 that Arizona had a zero chance of recession after the historical Great Recession. Arizona was ranked as having a zero percent chance of falling into recession in the near term and has been expected to grow at a solid rate of 2.5 percent in economic output.

Startups are moving to Arizona in record numbers.

According to the online publication Thought Catalog in 2016. The cost of living is low, the cost of gasoline and transportation is low, and the cost of doing business is low. The business climate encourages success by having a government that supports business activity instead of stalling business activity.

Not only that, the beautiful year-end weather encourages a balance between playing and working. There is more productivity time in Arizona because there is no daylight savings, and the (no daylight savings), the infrastructure is well-developed so traffic isn’t nearly as bad as LA, and the diverse and growing talent pool contributes to thriving companies.

Phoenix ties San Francisco for best high-tech job growth two years in a row. 

According to the Phoenix Business Journal in 2016, Phoenix added 12,662 new high-tech jobs from 2012 to 2014. That is a 42.7 percent increase for the Valley’s tech sector, tying San Francisco for the top spot among the 30 largest North American markets.

In terms of percentage growth, Phoenix had a higher rate than the likes of Austin (33 percent), Silicon Valley (27 percent), New York (22.6 percent) and Seattle (18.3 percent). Phoenix also added more overall tech jobs than Chicago (10,192), Austin (9,313), Boston (7,755), Los Angeles (3,799 and Dallas (8,193) over the two-year time frame.

Arizona has the second fastest job growth in the country and is the second best state in which to find a job, according to Kiplinger Magazine in 2016.

Arizona is one of the best states for future job growth in the United States, according to Forbes in 2016. Arizona’s projected job growth is 3.1 percent annually through 2019, the best in the U.S.

In addition, net migration into the state is projected to total 679,000 over the next five years. Only Nevada is expected to enjoy a faster migration rate.

Arizona is ranked third behind San Francisco and Silicon Valley as best state for information technology jobs, says Forbes in 2016.

The desert city’s information workforce has expanded by 39.29 percent since 2010, the third highest increase of any metropolitan area, just behind the Bay Area.

U.S. News reported in 2016 that three of the ten best high schools in America are located in Arizona. Contrary to popular belief, education is strongly supported in Arizona, with half of the state’s budget being committed to education. Arizona is the national leader is school choice, which provides students and parents the freedom to choose where their child goes to school.

The Startup City

The success of a city largely depends on three factors: the cultural framework, the legal framework, and the economic framework. If a city, wants to grow and innovate, then it needs to pursue policies and behaviors that encourage a cultural, legal, and economic setting that allows entrepreneurs, startups, and companies to thrive.

Phoenix is less than a two-hour flight from San Jose, yet it stands in stark contrast to the Silicon Valley that is always experiencing a growth spurt. Hotbeds of innovation and wonder are beginning to reach many other cities in the US and in the world. What these new cities have in common with Silicon Valley is a belief that the cultural, legal, and economic frameworks of a city should allow the city to thrive. 

Image: Getty Images

[If you like pieces like this, about other cities stats, please let me know. deanna@startupgrind.com and I will curate more like this for you].

[1] Coffin, J. (2016). 2015 Best & Worst States for. Chief Executive Magazine. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[2] Hansen, Ronald J. (March 2016). Economists: Zero chance of Arizona recession. azcentral. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[3] Park, Daehee & Marino, JT. (2016).  If You’re Building A Startup You Need To Move To Phoenix (Not Silicon Valley). Thought Catalog. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[4] Sunnucks, Mike. (2015). Phoenix ties San Francisco for job growth in high tech. Phoenix Business Journal. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[5] 15 Best States to Find a Job in 2016. (2016). www.kiplinger.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[6] Badenhausen, Kurt. (2016). The Best States For Future Job Growth. Forbes.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[7] Kotkin, Joel. (2016). The Cruel Information Economy: The U.S. Cities Winning In This Critical Sector. Forbes.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

[8] The Best High Schools in America, Ranked. (2016). Usnews.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/phoenix-on-the-rise-the-city-of-growth/

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What Avengers Personality is Your Startup?

Heroes like the Avengers make us dream of what it might be like to develop superpowers. Part of their appeal is that unlike the X-Men, many of these powers were not genetic but obtained through some fluke event – which means we might just be able to relate to it. More importantly, Avenger characters tend to be unapologetically human, powers combining with personality traits to give each one advantages and disadvantages.

The question is, what is your Startup’s Avenger Personality, and what does that mean in terms of your strengths and weaknesses?

Black Widow

Natalia Alianova Romanoff was born in Russia and started her training towards the life of an assassin when she was just a child. In spite of having no superhuman powers, the Black Widow is an expert martial artist with thorough interrogation skills, a scientific mind, and hacking skills.

She can be particularly charming and sexy, ruthless, and loyal. Career-driven, she is the sole female Avenger and is the only person who can calm the Hulk down to a gentle version of his green self and back into Dr. Banner.

The risk Black Widow runs is that she is a woman in a man’s world and needs to avoid the pitfall of trying to be a man but instead, continue harnessing the fact that being a woman is a strength.

Business & Startup examples: Huffington Post & Thrive Global – Arianna Huffington is changing how journalism works, and now also how we live; Nasty Gal – the whole company is based on the founder being shamelessly herself; and Goldieblox – for taking on the gender gap by owning a skill set typically assigned to men (engineering).

If you’re a Black Widow startup… Own the fact that you might be playing in a man’s world, but don’t forget that you can still play by your own rules and that this is your strength. Don’t apologize. Lean in, connect with other women, and kick butt.

Captain America

Rogers is old school, literally from another era. At his core are values such as honor and integrity, complemented by serum-induced regenerative powers, stamina, strength, and speed.

A Captain America startup has strong values that dictate its direction, and although some of its attributes may be more classic than revolutionarily innovative, its reliability and integrity make it stand out amongst its peers. On the downside, it may be reticent to accept change.

Business & Startup examples: Nokia – their relaunch of an old but improved model is a potentially brilliant move that might put them back on the spotlight; Alibaba – for taking the concept of EBAY and improving it while targeting the growing and seemingly unquenchable market that is Asia; and Waze – for taking an old school tool, maps, and adding the user base interactivity to make it more performant and reliable.

If you’re a Captain America startup… Don’t try to keep up with your competition by following what they do while lagging one step behind. Dig deep & think of how you can harness your old school flair and core values to do something better and show them how it’s done.

Hawkeye

Clinton Francis “Clint” Barton, codename Hawkeye, is the world’s greatest marksmen and is the only Avenger to have a family. This means he has the most to lose if anything goes wrong, which is a unique motivation to succeed every world-saving mission and survive it. Hawkeye is not a leader but always has his friends’ backs and has saved all their lives countless times.

Business & Startup examples: SAS – a software myriad companies use to run their operations; Square Space – which revolutionized website development and design; and Mobilize – leveraging the power of networks and communities for a different kind of people-powered startups.

If you’re a Hawkeye startup… Be one with the fact that you may never be quite in the spotlight, because anyone who knows what you do understands that it’s quietly revolutionary and essential to innovation. You are the catalyst that allows other superhero startups to shine.

Hulk

Dr. Robert Bruce Banner is a genius scientist who is exposed to gamma radiation and as a result, transforms into the Hulk whenever his heart beats at intensified speeds, often brought on by anger.

Anger management issues aside, a Hulk startup is prone to fast growth and is likely to be science-based. While it risks being reactive rather than proactive, it can also bypass “bandaid solutions” and go straight to the root of a problem. This earmarks it as visionary and potentially transformative.

Business & Startup examples: J&J – big pharma company providing medical solutions worldwide, known for treatments but striving to also focus on prevention; and AlphaMundi Group – an impact investing firm providing innovative startups with capital, focused on both a financial return and a measurable social impact.

If you’re a Hulk startup… Go to the source. Rethink what got us in trouble in the first place, and help the rest of us catch up with this better way of doing things. Just be careful of fast growth and its implications.

Iron Man

Tony Stark is a tech genius, perhaps even a genius all-around. However, he is very proud and stubborn, and because he has a seemingly infinite amount of money, he sometimes assumes money can solve problems.

An Iron Man startup is pushing the boundaries of innovation and changing the world as we know it. However, it also risks hubris – that condition described in Greek mythology whereby humans start thinking they are on par with the gods, which inevitably leads to their being struck down by the gods as a reminder that they are, in fact, mere humans. A worthwhile risk given the chance to quite literally change the world.

Business & Startup examples: Tesla – going from cars to batteries to solar power and roof tiles, and its sister company SpaceX launching rockets into space and preparing for Mars colonization; Virgin – dealing in everything from records to airlines to traveling to the moon, hotels, mega stores, and so much more; Ariana – providing an AI chatbot for personalized health solutions; and Curious AI – a Finnish startup working on solving the unsupervised learning.

If you’re an Iron Man startup… The greatest challenges you face are potentially spreading yourself too thin as well as figuring out your legacy. You have to pick your battles and focus to ensure impact and successful ventures before tackling the next initiative. Additionally, after a founder with such charisma, vision, and genius, a solid team needs to be in place so that any change in leadership stands the test of time

Thor

Thor Odinson is an Asgardian warrior-prince, the God of Thunder, superhero and a self-proclaimed protector of Earth. He had an idyllic childhood in Asgard, a futuristic Viking kingdom with warrior culture. As a result, Thor values strength, courage, and loyalty above all else. The eldest son of King Odin, he is a great warrior in line for the throne. However, he is also known to be reckless and can have vain tendencies.

A Thor startup may give the impression of being arrogant or vain but is in fact based on solid core values and has as an integral part of its mission to protect the environment – which, until recently, sounded alien to more traditional capitalistic business ventures.

Business & Startup examples: Patagonia – actively encouraging people to buy less while ensuring their production processes are as environmentally friendly as possible; and Sans Soucie – a fashion brand that uses hosiery factory waste to create beautiful clothes.

A Question of Your Weaknesses and Strengths 

The question of which Avenger personality your startup has was intended initially as an entertaining lunchtime conversation. However, if it ends up as a way to constructively bring up some of the challenges you face, as well as learn from other startups or entrepreneurs how to manage challenges (or how not to depending on the case study in question) so you can better dare to be different – all the better!

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/what-avengers-personality-is-your-startup-1/

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Challenges You Don't Know You'll Face as a Non Technical Founder

I’ve been marketing various products and services for years. Everything from dating programs to weight loss supplements. None of them have been as attractive to me as the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. 

In my mind, it’s simple – build an app people love and watch it get ten thousand users in two years. I was wrong.

There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes of building a web app that has nothing to do with the idea, marketing, and or sales. 

Since my strength is in marketing, I was basically lost at sea. Below are the challenges I faced (and still face) while creating KyLeads – an app to help entrepreneurs build viral quizzes, optin forms, and landing pages. 

Choosing a hosting environment

I’ve hosted a lot of websites in my day. I’m partial to WordPress. It’s easy to use, can be customized, and most hosts have a one-click installer. 

It’s a different ballgame when you’re looking for a service to host your SaaS app. The language on the marketing sites is targeted at developers. I’m not a developer. 

They used language like: 

– CLI (Command Line Interface)

– SLA (Service Level Agreements)

– vCPU 

– SSD Disk

– Elastic GPUs

– Spot Instances

I was lost. There isn’t much literature about it on the web either. 

Don’t even get me started on the pricing structure. 

Google Cloud Computing and Amazon Web Services had the most convoluted pricing structure. I don’t even know what I’m paying for. Digital Ocean had the clearest pricing structure. 

The following questions helped me clarify what I needed 

1. Who’s worked with them in the past?

This lets you know if they’re able to support the type of app you’re building. It also gives you an idea of their scalability. If they can boast huge players then you know their system is robust. 

2. What about the support and SLAs?

Are they ready and willing to hold your hand when all hell breaks loose? It will – trust me. How much uptime are they guaranteeing you in their SLA? if it’s anything less than 99% then you need to take a long hard look at what you’re signing up for. 

3. Do they take security seriously?

You’re about to build an app that could be worth millions. You don’t want to be taken down by hackers or careless security issues concerning your data. What measures are they taking to actively secure your investment?

4.. Can they scale with you?

SaaS is all about scale. Is your hosting environment able to handle 500 as well as 5,000 users? Will the cost be prohibitive? Will they be able to properly distribute and balance the load? Does their system have built-in redundancy?

I went with Google Cloud Platform. It took me weeks. Only time will tell if I made the right decision. 

Choosing programming languages

This one was a doozy. There are so many languages to choose from. off the top of my head you’ve got:

– PHP

– Python

– Ruby

– Java

– Swift

– Objective C

The list goes on. I’m not a developer. This process was like reading Latin. 

After I discovered the sheer number of languages available, I took a step back. The approach was wrong. Instead of looking at the language first, I needed to look at what the app would do. 

Questions to ask yourself

1. How fast do you need to develop the app?

Do you have all the time in the world or are you on a strict deadline because of internal and external pressures? 

2. Are you cash-strapped?

Certain languages need more time and energy which translates to higher development costs. Can you swing the bill or are you staring the end of your runway in the face?

3. Is cross-platform support a priority?

Your app needs to look good everywhere every time. Some languages make this easy while others will make you pull out your hair (if you have any left after getting your startup off the ground).

4. Does your product run on big data?

If so, you need to be sure you’re choosing a language that can easily handle your needs. Not all of them are built with scalability in mind. 

Hiring technical people

I’m still actively struggling with this one. At the moment, I’ve outsourced to a small firm to help me with the development process. We’re coming up on private beta soon. I’ve dabbled with a few freelancing sites and my results haven’t been ideal. 

The problem is that I’m not qualified to vet their technical skills. I don’t know enough. 

I’ve learned. 

Don’t hesitate to fire fast. 

I’m all for giving people a chance. You come on board, do some work, and we go from there. The thing is that a startup moves fast. A bad hire can have horrible consequences. I can’t afford to teach you what you should already know. 

They’re not your friends or your family members. They’re your employees. If they’re not pulling their weight then let them go. It’s simple. 

Define their roles clearly. 

Working at a startup is a fluid experience. Developers are part of the sales, marketing, customer service, and product teams. That’s no excuse for slacking. If they want to help out in certain areas, fine. At the end of the day, they have responsibilities to take care of. Period. 

Get Help

Look, unless you’re willing to put in a lot of time right now to learn how to hire tech talent – get help. They’ll guide you through your first few hires. You’ll avoid common mistakes and may find a few rock stars too. 

If you don’t get help, I can almost guarantee you’ll mess this step up. It’s easy for someone with a basic understanding of computer science to convince you they can fill a key role.

When you find out they aren’t a good fit skillwise, you’ve already wasted 3 – 6 months.

Hiring isn’t foolproof. There will be mistakes. Your job to avoid a fatal one as much as possible. 

Conclusion

I’ve just begun my startup journey. I’ve already been thrown out of my comfort zone and into uncharted waters. 

There are so many challenges still ahead. It’s easy to look at them and give up before even starting. Hell, I almost did.

You can’t do everything by yourself. Your best option when it comes to navigating the tech side of things is to get a partner you can trust. I lieu of that – educate yourself. 

Ask the hard questions and define what you’ve set out to accomplish. That’ll inform everything from your first hire to which hosting company you eventually settle with.

I’m in it for the long haul, are you? 

Image URL https://unsplash.com/photos/71Ql9l7dyrQ

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/challenges-you-dont-know-youll-face-as-a-non-technical-founder/

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The Myths and the Realities of Product Testing at Tech Conferences

Testing product concepts and assumptions is critically important to the success of tech startups who bring new technologies to market. To do it properly a sophisticated approach is often required. However, it is a common misconception that you can’t do product testing at a conference, because it is just too complicated.

Testing at conferences, takes team prep.

It often becomes complicated as a result of lack of team preparation or misunderstanding of Product Testing practices. This inevitably means that founders are often concerned about the value they can get from attending conferences as a startup. Is it worth the price of the ticket plus related expenses? Will our ROI for the event be negative?

In this article, we reflect on our experiences of testing our product at conferences to address some of the common misconceptions, so that our startup peers can get as much value from attending conferences as possible.

Please note that ‘Product Testing’ forms part of the overall Customer Development process, popularized by Steve Blank in his book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany.”

Myth One:

“You can only test finished products.”

​A common mistake startups make is that they are afraid to show their alpha / beta version to the public waiting too long until the product is perfect. But the truth is that perfection isn’t a realistic target, just like chasing the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, you’ll never quite attain it.

As Reid Hoffman says: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Typical mistakes.

A typical mistake is that when startups spend too much time on development, they don’t have time to listen to customers to understand their real needs and perceptions. The result is they often need to redevelop large parts of their product, because they aren’t taking quite the right approach to the customer problem.

  1. It is important to keep in mind that most attendees of tech events have early adopter mindsets. They often don’t get hung up product flaws and bugs and are instead more interested in the product concept. So no need to be embarrassed if your prototype isn’t perfectly polished by conference day, do your best though!

  1. In most cases you don’t need to test the whole product. In fact it is better to focus in on testing only the features you need to, to inform next steps along your Product Development journey.

When YouTeam attended Startup Grind Europe we were testing only one major product update: our new search results. So we focused all our efforts on polishing the search results page.

The booking process.

The booking process of particular software engineer, for example, didn’t provide a seamless user experience, but rather than addressing issues with the booking process, we placed all our efforts on preparing a new version of the search results page. Our focus for this experiment was to gain insight into what the users were expecting to be shown in our search results in response to their query / search request.

Before you can sell your product effectively, there is a lot of learning and discovery that needs to happen. Conferences can be an excellent source of feedback, provided that you have hypothesized who your target market is and they are present in significant numbers at the event.

Product tests.

There are many types of Product tests you can do before even creating a semi-functional prototype. Here is a list of some of the prototypes you can take to conferences to gather feedback from your target audience:

  • Problem-Solution Presentations – slideshow listing the problems, their implications and screenshots of the proposed solutions.

  • Video of the Solution – some products are inherently hard to explain without video, i.e Dropbox & Slack, videos are often quicker and easy to create than developing products.

  • Product Marketing Collateral to test the comprehensibility of product descriptions or stickiness of Unique Value Propositions etc. (e.g. product fliers, presentation deck, coupons, vouchers).

  • Low Resolution Wireframes – can be done in grey scale, created within Invision.

  • Facade Prototype – high-quality, full colour representation of only the workflow(s) under investigation created within Invision or TestFlight.

  • UI Prototype of the Full Experience – Full color, high definition prototypes of complete workflows through the product including onboarding / sign up for users to explore, created within Invision or TestFlight.

  • Website Landing Pages – to test product comprehensibility, Unique Value Propositions and decision making related to onboarding / signing up processes.

  • Fake Door/404 Page – to test user’s interest-level in a particular feature, you can add buttons to your product which lead to screens, you haven’t even designed yet!

  • Semi-Functional Prototype –  to verify user interactions with certain features which have now been fully developed, the learning process never stops.

  • Wizard of Oz Prototype – An application which looks like it is fully functional, however, in actual fact, many features are facilitated manually by someone behind the scenes.

  • Mechanical Turks – Most of the application is fully functional, however some of the processes that appear to be automated are actually done manually in the back office.

Clickable UI Prototype.

The following is an example of a clickable UI Prototype, which depicts of the selection and shortlisting process of engineers which can be hired through youteam.co.uk. It is designed to test what kinds of information are most important in the decision making process; rating, price, availability, tech stack etc.

It is often difficult to anticipate when a startup product company will be able to ship enough value to its target market, so in the meantime it makes sense to focus on testing your most fundamental product & market assumptions. This will assist you to steer product development and also to ensure those pesky assumptions don’t come back to bite you further down the track.

Myth Two:

“Everyone will flock to our stand and be super interested in our product concept.”

People are naturally curious about new ideas, however at startup conferences visitors can be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of stands and everyone wanting to showcase their own ideas/products.

WhatsApp Image 2017-08-09 at 11.44.11.jpeg

It is also difficult to read an attendee’s mind, so it is hard to know whether visitors to your stand are just browsing or there is the opportunity to connect with them in a meaningful way. People at conferences are typically in a good mood and friendly, which adds the confusion because you don’t know whether they are just being polite or if this an idea that genuinely resonates with them.

If your idea genuinely resonates with an attendee, the next question to ask is which group does this individual fit into:

  • Leads in our Target Market, who would be interested in:

    • Helping us testing our Product at the conference,

    • Becoming a future customer

  • Potential Investors – Strategic Angel Investors or VCs, who have the right backgrounds/experience

  • Strategic corporates/partners – who can help us bring the product to market quicker or more easily

  • Other connectors in the Target Market (Sales Agents, Distributors and Re-Sellers)

Our experience is that providing entertainment for entertainment’s sake does not translate into meaningful engagement. However, don’t let that limit your creativity!

Our horribly designed shirts.

For one of the first conferences we attended, we decided to wear some horribly designed shirts showcasing one of the most important parts of our product. Our product allows for searching a database for the availability and technical profiles of full-time employed software engineers working for Eastern European development companies.

So we wore shirts with our faces and showing our experience & tech stack, as if we were software developers who could be hired based on our credentials.

For the record, none of the team attending the conference were in actual fact developers ;).

The response was fascinating, people were intrigued about why we were doing this & many even took photos of us and posted them on Twitter.

But more importantly, we were recognizable among a sea of attendees and the shirts were interesting/engaging, they provided a reason to strike up conversation organically.

Myth Three:

“Everyone attending conferences is too busy to test our product and give us feedback.”

It might come as a surprise but it is often possible to convince the ‘right people’ to come and test your product and be interviewed at conferences, in sessions lasting up to 30mins.

During one of the first conferences we attended we were able to interview more than 20 target customers! Each interview lasted over 20 mins and we were able to record the feedback as audio & video files as well as all of their interactions with our web app! Holy Moly!

So what are the secrets?

  1. Planning. You need to think through the Target Market recruitment process in detail.

  2. Rewards. Appropriate rewards for Target Market participation!

Here is an example of the vouchers we were offering Product Test participants at a conference, 40 hour of free development services!

Here are some other examples of ways to incentivize Product Test participants, which are suggested by getworm.com:

  • Recognition (profile badges, special mentions on your website/newsletters, moderator rights);

  • Free upgrades to premium versions of your product

  • Discounts on your product or services, or free at best;

  • Merchandise (stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs)

  • Skip the waiting list, etc.

Myth Four:

“No need for preparation, I just need to get my product in front of the right people and they will give me the feedback I need!”

Your product and market assumptions.

Startups should always be clear about which product and market assumptions they are testing before attending conferences. The assumptions you will be able to test at conferences typically fall into one of the following categories:

  • Positioning

  • Customer/User Persona

  • Buyer Persona

  • Target Market

  • Product Design/UX

  • Onboarding Process

  • Execution/ Go-to-Market Strategy

  • Stakeholder Management

Indicatively, this is the process to prepare for Product Testing at Conferences (at high level):

  1. Agree with your co-founders upon the Product’s:

    1. Target Market(s)

    2. Use Case(s)

    3. Problem-Solution Pairing(s)

    4. Unique Value Proposition(s)

    5. Overall Product Positioning

  2. List all the assumptions you need to test and decide on 1-3 most important assumptions. There is so much you can test but focus is everything.

  3. Create a plan of what and how you are going to test (which product features, elements, how (asking questions, observing the reaction etc.) and where to store the feedback).

  4. Develop the Recruitment Strategy – to maximise outcomes you should start the recruitment 2-3 weeks in advance.

  5. Develop prototypes to allow for carrying out of the Product Tests (Refer to Point 1 for further details)

  6. Create all the supporting documentation to carry out the Product Tests:

    1. Brief information on product positioning

    2. Interviewing Scripts

    3. Pre & Post Interview Surveys

  7. Source all the technology you will need to run the Product Tests. We use Loom for video recording, Typeform for surveys, Invision for prototypes.

From our experience, all of the above takes quite a while to prepare with a lot of sync meetings, but it is definitely worth the effort because Product Testing (Customer Development) needs to run in parallel with Product Development.

Myth Five:

“Product Testing participants are easily converted into leads.”

It is often true that “if you ask for money you often get advice, and if you ask for advice you often get money.” Our experience is that Product Testing participants rarely convert into leads. This is because the chances that they need your product at the precise moment you introduce them to it, is relatively low. But that is okay, because the primarily objective of Testing Products is to get feedback. Also your product might not be ready to be sold.

With this in mind though, you are still demonstrating your product to your target market and they might gather all the information they need to make a buying decision, which might result in sales. However, it is important not to overestimate the number of sales and website visits which will occur as a result of interacting with the target market at conference.

Myth Six:

“The preparation process for all conferences is more or less the same.”

Unfortunately, this is another misconception, because different conferences attract different demographics of attendees.

This may affect the list of assumptions you will be able to test. It makes sense to check who is in attendance to ensure that they match your current needs with respect to Product Testing.

Usually global big conferences provide access to their attendees list in advance (so you can search them and filter according to the type of industry, job title, country etc.). Also, many conferences provide the attendees with useful apps to connect. If you are applying as a startup you might also try and get in contact with organizers to get more info on the attendees list if it’s not available online.

Bring it all together.

As a startup you might have different strategic purposes for attending conferences. Many of the outcomes you desire will only be possible if you have a great team and are well prepared.

If you decide to conduct Product Testing, make sure you have at least two full-time team members assigned to carrying out the process.

As a final note.

A lot can be achieved with respect to Product Testing, but don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations!

Best of luck with your product testing at conferences! Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

​About YouTeam.co.uk

YouTeam is a curated b2b platform that matches businesses with vetted software agencies and engineers around the world.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/the-myths-and-the-realities-of-product-testing-at-tech-conferences/

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The Biggest Initial Coin Offerings (ICO) of 2017

This year has been the breakout year for blockchain-focused startups. With massive gains on the top 100 cryptocurrencies, early investors within the community are re-investing in projects of all kinds.

This year specifically hundreds of blockchain entrepreneurs have set out to disrupt industries of all sizes. From traditional industries like education with AcademyCoin to modern file storage with FileCoin, there are exciting projects launching every month.

These are the top eight largest ICOs of 2017 (so far)

1. Tezos is a new a blockchain that fixes the governance issues that blockchains like bitcoin face. They’re bringing a self-governance mechanism built into the protocol and recently launched a $50M fund for developers. The Tezos ICO ended in 14-days and they raised $222 million.

2. Filecoin is pioneering file storage on the blockchain. Despite having technical issues during the ICO, they raised $200 million from US accredited investors in under 60 minutes. Some notable investors include Silicon Valley investors like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and Union Square Ventures.

3. EOS is building a blockchain specifically for businesses and corporations. It plans to provide blockchain solutions that offer efficiency, security and data integrity.  They launched their ICO in June 2017 and raised $183 million.

4. BANCOR is trying to build a decentralized exchange ecosystem that will allow investors to trade peer-to-peer with little risk to the security of their assets. An interesting goal of theirs is to support any token that is issued regardless of the number of users. Backed by amazing investors like Tim Draper they raised $153 million in June 2017. 

5. STATUS is essentially going to be the WeChat of the blockchain. They are a browser, wallet, messenger app, and a gateway to dApps (decentralized applications) that built on Ethereum. They took the mobile first approach and the team raised $95 million in June 2017. 

6. TENX is building a cryptocurrency debit card and developed a protocol called COMIT that enables every blockchain in the world to connect to TenX. Currently, the platform supports Bitcoin, Ethereum, ERC20 tokens, and Dash.  In June they raised $80 million in 7 minutes. 

7. MOBILEGO is a mobile gambling platform and app store for in-game purchases. With hundreds of mobile games already available on the platform, they set themselves apart from many “pre-product” ICOs. The MobileGo team raised $53 million during their ICO in April 2017.

8. BRAVE is a browser competing head to head with Google Chrome. Often called the ANTI-CHROME, in many cases, the browser has sped search times up by 7x to 10x. In June they raised $35 million in under 30 seconds from many elite Silicon Valley funds and investors.

Overall, blockchain startups will continue to rapidly change industries in the coming years with the fuel of many high growth cryptocurrencies. As the market capitalization continues to grow, investors will continue to re-invest in ICOs making the crypto-space a powerhouse for exciting innovation.

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/the-biggest-initial-coin-offerings-ico-of-2017/

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