Archive for June, 2008

Simple values matter!

June 28, 2008

In my precedent post, I have discussed the importance of using a step-by-step attitude once you get your objective. One method we have adopted has been to create three free accounts to Basecamp, a simple project management tool that allows us to make do-to lists to keep track of what needs to get done and who is responsible. That helps us to get a better idea of the (huge) mission we have in front of us! In fact, we are only using this feature so far. We might make use of milestones later to track when things are due but it’s not our top priority right now.

There are heaps of project management software or web-applications available for single user to multiple thousands users. Having worked within commercial companies before, I have witness people using such tools in Sales, Marketing or Development departments. My (really modest 🙂 experience push me to say that it doesn’t really matter how flash these applications look and how many features they have. In fact, it’s all about simplicity, intuitivism and needs-fulfillment.

I think the three of us share this idea of creating simple, easy-to-use, web applications that respond to real needs. It might sounds a bit naïve from three “newbies” but we are confident that having these simple values will help us to stay focus. At this stage, I am tempted to say “customer-focus” because I truly believe that we should build something that we will enjoy using ourselves. In fact, we are our first customers 😉

Let’s celebrate!

And we present to you… PocketSmith!

June 27, 2008

So we finally have a name that we can be proud of, rally around, and generally pimp to the world at large. After an extremely long process, PocketSmith was struck upon by Jason after some intensive brain storming with his (far) better half evil arch nemesis.

Our brand name has got to represent the most important qualities of the product and the value that it add to our users. It is extremely easy to cram a buncha descriptive words together and wack a .com at the end of it, but we need to take thing a step further in order to communicate more about what the brand represents, and get some feeling to it!

This is not to say the brand has been developed. Now with a name that has a whole grain silo load of connotations with it, the fun part begins. We can now progress with developing the message and feel that we and our product are going to present to the market; making the PocketSmith brand whole.

We found that this one little nugget hadn’t been squatted upon, and we could secure the domain name. So now we have our domain, email all rigged up, and are ready to be moving onto the next phase in our brand development.

Big things!

The importance of getting the numbers right

June 26, 2008

…and I’m not even talking about market research, pricing, pre-money valuation or venture capital here. No, nothing quite as sophisticated as that. We’re starting up from scratch, and so we went in to establish a relationship with our new accountants at HLB Smeaton and Co. yesterday.

The World Bank ranks New Zealand as the number 2 country for ease of doing business, right behind Singapore. So the steps we’re taking are not revolutionary, really – a good number of New Zealanders know the processes of setting up a business and the tax and accounting implications that come with it like the back of their hand.

What does that phrase mean anyway? I can’t say I’m too familiar with the back of my hand, but whatever.

But we three are novices, despite having managed a publicly-traded company. After all, we had specialists – a highly capable financial administrator, gorgeous accountants and auditors, all paid to take care of the nitty-gritty. But now that we’re adopting a back-to-basics, grassroots-development, good ol’ can-do, Kiwi DIY approach to setting up our very own small business (never mind that Francois and I are dirty migrants) – we’re having to learn a bit about the administrative stuff.

And so it’s important that we get the numbers right. 

Especially when we consider the nature of the application we’re building *wink*

How to do it right from the start!

June 25, 2008

It has now been two days since we started the company. After so many hours spent thinking about this project it finally comes true! Armed with laptops, Jason, James and I spent these two days sharing ideas and opinions about our product and slowly but surely we are walking our way… However, one question seems to always come back to my mind: How to do it right from the start? The process of growing a digital products company is something I have never learnt at school. Worst, it is something none of us has never tried before! So how are we going to tackle our relative lack of experience?

First of all, by learning from others people’s experience. There are plenty of articles out there about creating a new business and we found some of them really useful (Check the YCombinator Library for useful information). We got inspired by articles such as “Ten Rules for a web startups”; “How to start a start up” and “Building your own start-up technology company”). But you know what? You can read thousands of articles and still feel lost the first days of the creation!

Creating a business is like writing a book, you know what you want to achieve but the amount of work you have to put in seems so massive that you don’t know where to start! Consequently, I had to have a deep thought around what to do first to make things right from the start:

  1. Ask simple but essential questions: What are we? Who are we for? How are we different? What are we called? What are we like? What are we trying to achieve? All of these questions should be answered honestly and shared by people in your organization. It will help to create consistent goals to achieve (Check “Why Do Web Startups Die? Lack of Alphalpha” to read more about the importance of these questions).
  2. Once you have identified your objective and you get a better idea of the big picture, it’s important to adopt a step-by-step attitude. Remember that even the small steps and little victories along your path will lead to great success.
  3. Focus, focus and focus! Once you have a rough idea of what you need to do, just do it. Being honest, it’s easy to say but hard to apply. In fact, it’s all about finding the good balance between sharing, communicating and getting things done. Only experience will help us finding the right alchemy 🙂
  4. Finally don’t forget one thing: there is no better organization and management structure than your enterprise’s own business. In other words, don’t be afraid to experience your own way to do things because that is the way to learn! But make sure to learn from your mistakes, fast 😉

Stay tuned for more experience sharing!

The press

June 24, 2008

Today we had our first encounter with the press, as I returned a phone call from Danielle at DScene, Dunedin’s new weekly paper. Not that we’ve been seeking press attention at such an early stage mind you, but I gathered from our conversation that she was writing an article about eMedia’s recent acquisition – this is the web development firm James, Francois and I came from. Given I was the firm’s exiting General Manager, she wanted to hear my thoughts on the next stage in the company’s life.

We also spoke briefly about this project, and with any luck, we might speak again once we have something a bit more concrete to demonstrate. Perhaps the timing was serendipitous after all.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not particularly comfortable around the press given my limited experience in dealing with them. This will all have to change of course, especially if we’re keen on taking our product global. As a matter of fact, media-savviness was a part of the focus of the NZTE Escalator workshop I attended last week on web businesses (I’ve just discovered the presentation notes too).

The three of us here spent most of yesterday morning going over some of the conventional wisdom offered by the presenters. I particularly enjoyed Tim Norton’s story on how he took PlanHQ to TechCrunch40 last year – check him out on this video: so comfortable and articulate in front of the camera! And such a well-presented young man too! Why do I sound like an octogenarian all of a sudden?

It’s cold out, but I have my feet by the fire, a glass of Jameson 12 Year Old on the rocks and an evening of Rails ahead of me. Now, where did I leave my glasses?

Squat that domain, squat it good.

June 24, 2008

So in the throes of finding an exceptionally excellent name for our product, we have been trawling domain names fairly extensively. This is one of the most frustrating processes that I have ever undertaken, simply due to the blight of domain squatters slaughtering the quest to be able to find that perfect name, describing both what we are building and the values that we are bringing to the table.

Domain squatters take it upon themselves to purchase domain names in bulk, combining either words or misspellings of common words and brands, and buying the .com domain at least – often when registration of such a name lapses. Then they hold these, displaying links to feed traffic off to other “search portals” like itself, or generate revenue through cost-per-click “sponsored listings” from third-party providers. Apple were clever enough to buy www.aplpe.com, however they didn’t quite catch http://www.appl.com in time (no way do I want to link to icky-yucky pages like that).

Three key problems here:

  1. Some internet users who are slightly less savvy may believe that these “Search Portals” will actually lead them to the information they seek, whereas they at the very least will send them in a frustrating loop; reducing the positive user experience of the internet internet for that user
  2. Legitimate start-up companies are forced to second guess every name due to domain squatters turning gold into a dirty ol’ link farm
  3. Existing brands whose value is damaged by visitors being sent to a pop-up ridden search portal due to a mis-type. This has got to have an impact on brand perception, no matter how small. But not relevant to us. Yet.

Many of these companies of course offer these domain names for sale; this is one of their revenue models. For example, the owners behind appl.com would be making a fair bit of money should Apple decide that they must purchase this domain – having said that they probably make a bit of money off the ads clicked by visitors. So a win-win then.

A startup is not able to afford the massive sums that these squatters ask for. We hit upon a name, a moderately good name, and saw it was squatted upon like so many… I’ll leave that one there. Clicking the “Enquire about purchasing this domain” presented the information that the minimum offer was $500 US. So hey why not give it a shot? Surely it would be near the mark; this was no weddingshoes.com.

The reply came back and said the selling price was $10,000 US. For a moderately good domain name. Sure, please take away a substantial chunk of our hard-saved seed capital for what is only a moderately good domain name. Please do.

So why don’t we go for a .net or a .info? Aside from the grotty Microsoft connotations of the former, most people will “default” to a .com and we wouldn’t want people to end up at a link farm in trying to get to our site. But more on this later.

So for now, we’ll keep right on searching and cursing.

…and we’re starting from scratch!

June 23, 2008

Which, after years of working within an organisation and pre-existing framework, makes for an interesting exercise. We three are eager to begin, however we’ll need to curb our enthusiasm for jumping right in somewhat, and pay attention to some of the more mundane details associated with starting up a company first: structure, accounts, a bit of forward planning, that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure we’ll find our feet soon enough and with any luck, determine some sort of routine that’ll provide us with some coherency.

So what are up to, exactly? 

We’ll bring more details to light over the next few weeks, but in short – we’re knuckling down and building an application. One that we believe fills a niche, and more importantly, one we believe in, and want to see used in our everyday lives (and with any luck, yours as well). 

Our development methodology will hopefully come to light (and be challenged) over time as well, but suffice to say:

  • we’re focused on solving one little problem at a time;
  • the market determines everything we do;
  • and so, we will respond to it (read:you), and iterate often
And if this isn’t quite mysterious enough, we also don’t have a name for our product quite yet – hence, codenameplannr. The one concrete lesson we’ve learned thus far is how difficult name selection actually is! But we’re determined to get going even if we have to remain nameless for the moment, but here’s hoping we get hit with a flash of inspiration sometime soon (if you have a name lying around that you’re not using, please toss it our way).
 
So. Day 1, no name, and no concrete details for you yet. Stay tuned!
 
I hope it snows tomorrow.

And so it begins…

June 23, 2008

So yesterday we organised to meet this morning at half past eight for the first full day of our new, kick-arse, three-musketeers-taking-on-the-world type company.

As you probably don’t know, being up and active starting at 8:30 is something that I have always difficulty all my life. I firmly believe that this was also the case when I was an infant as well. So at around 9pm last night I had every intention of instilling a new, early-to-bed, early-to-rise ethic into my life; especially as now I would be working on something that I am extremely passionate about.

Of course, my slumber addled mind blindly switched off my alarm come 7:45am. Obviously this has something to do with the fact that in my excited state, I ended up staying up until 1:30am tinkering with rails

Anyway, it is all on now. Keep an eye out for the ramblings here to stay up to date with progress on codenameplannr.

But, for now, I think that 10am is a more reasonable starting time. Call me a vampire if you wish, but for some reason everything clicks for me past the midnight hour… and I think these guys may just have to get used to that 😉