Polishing my mirror

reflecting the collaborative reality of our networked world

Tag: Startup

Do you know a developer looking for a business partner in the Atlanta area?

I am looking for a tech partner to build a finch startup together and change the world of finance! Who’s in!?!?

Do you know someone in the Atlanta area who would be a good partner for this venture? Please put me in touch.

Over the last 7 years I have learned a LOT about financial services, global business and startups. The spread of startups and the step up in the speed of change is truly the thing that gives me most hope for our kids. Ok, that’s bull. The pace of change is so rapid that it gives me hope for ourselves!!

In March my wife gave birth to two beautiful twins. Around the same time, the earlier startup I was working on dissolved after a year of excitement. This worked out well, providing me the time for the babies and for reflection on what to do next.

A VC partner advised me to start attending Friday lunches and pitch practices that take place after lunch at the Atlanta Tech Village. I did that and discovered a wonderful community of entrepreneurs in Atlanta.

About a month ago at one of the pitch practices, I got up and pitched the idea that has bothered me for years. To my surprise people liked the idea.

Now I have no doubt what I want to do!! Check out my video from the YC Fellowship application.

I got two quotes from local developers for building the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to go to market. One quote was $25k from an independent developer, and $36k from a company. Unfortunately, I do not have the money, if I did I would be already building it!!!!!

A VC friend advised me that there is no way I will raise this little money on power point alone. Those days are gone. This early stage is usually covered by family and friends investments. I have spent too much time fundraising in the past to take the long drown out fundraising on an idea route.

Without the access to capital, the only way to do what I have dreamed of doing forever is to look for a technical partner who could convert my product wireframes into the MVP1 and go to market that way. Next, gain traction and raise capital to grow! That is why I am now recruiting a technical partner. Please help!

To be perfectly honest, it is a very selfish idea. I want advice on managing my stock portfolio. There is plenty of advice out there, however, almost all in the wrong tenor. The washed down Wall Street advice makes me have dry-heaves. I have been working, studying, living with finance for decades now. Having lived in the devils den and having slept with the enemy, I know what I want, and its is not what’s available.

I am looking for a programmer to partner with me to democratize the world of finance. It is time to step up the good work that John Bogle did in the 70’s when he set up Vanguard. It’s time to update the concepts for our time.

If you are interested or if you know a great programmer that I should talk to, ping me!

Check out the co-founder position on Angel.co and tell your friends about the opportunity!!!

 

Growth of precariat is the wind beneath my wings, thoughts on replicating the Starbucks success in social finance.

Did anybody explain Starbucks success as perfect timing of product release with the tidal rise of outsourcing and emergence of Freelance labour? As I am searching for my next startup I watched Bill Gross, founder of Idealab, TED talk where he identifies timing as the biggest factor of success for a startups.

As reatail investors we are pushed towards dollar cost averaging and advised against timing the market, howaver here as entrepreneurs we are told that timing the market is the biggest success factor? What gives?

I know that Howard Schultz is from Brooklyn and Sara Horowitz runs the Freelancers Union out of Brooklyn. Do they even know each other? Regardless, I seriously doubt that in 1987 as he was taking ownership of Starbucks, Howard Schultz made a calculated analysis looking at the level of outsourcing among US business and the rising number of skilled class of career jugglers and independents who get income from contract gigs, projects, part-time jobs, temp work, moonlighting and consulting and said to himself: all those wonderful people without a stable income source will permanently need a temporary place to work from, why don’t I create Starbucks. I do not think he knew that.

The story we are told is more intuitive. “When I walked in this store for the first time—I know this sounds really hokey—I knew I was home,” Schultz remembered. “I can’t explain it. But I knew I was in a special place, and the product kind of spoke to me.” So that sounds a lot more like the follow your passion and intuition advice than a calculated planned well thought out success driving strategy is the only way to go advice.

Perhaps we can find a happy median in value investing: find what you love and wait for affordable pricing before buying to hold and cherish. Find your passion and wait for your opportunity to enter the market?

Can we really benefit from the Bill Grosse’s insight about importance of timing in the success of a startup? Or do I have to rely on my gut feeling telling me that social finance is where it’s at. This is the opportunity of our life time because it viscerally feels like home to me?

If I am looking to join a FinTech startup targeting the rise of social finance, what would be mine freelance union equivalent factor? What would be that yet unseen wind which will drive Starbucks type of success for social finance space?

If you want the answer or to discuss this further you can meet me at my office, the local Starbucks.

Love Is NOT Enough: An Analysis of Failure To Launch.

This is a retrospective on my failed attempt to build a startup. I wanted to change the world of wealth management. I wanted to be the next John Bogle, and just as the founder of Vanguard, I wanted to move the needle on accessibility of wealth management to the consuming masses. As it is for many founders, my story was a passionate love affair with my business idea. For hours at a time, I contemplated the systemic problems with our pensions, 401k funds and my brilliant idea for restructuring the retirement savings industry.

My specific goal for that startup, other than to build an operating company, is not the focus of this story. What is relevant is that as happens to many first time founders, I run my startup for far too long, beyond a rational stoping point. I want to share my reflections on how that mistake happens and my take on how to avoid it.

Passion and love are great motivators. However, if you fall in love with your business idea, you are also likely to smother the very business you are trying to build, not to mention you are likely to devote too much time and energy to an increasingly losing bet.

In no particular order, the following problems may arise for you as they did for me:

Fear
I became afraid someone would steal my beloved and brilliant billion dollar idea. Trust me when I say that the fear I had was palpable. When I talk to first time entrepreneurs today, there is no mistaking the person who is talking in circles, carefully avoiding revealing any business details that would presumably allow someone to steal their precious idea. When pressed for detail, the founder will ask you to sign a NDA.

The unfortunate result of this fear based protectionism is that it takes you, as a founder, a lot more time to fully develop your idea. Serial entrepreneurs, as well as investors, know that the determination, dedication, and sacrifices it takes to actually build a business are not easily copied. As a founder you stand to gain far, far more from the feedback you get from others than any potential risk you face of someone running off with your idea. I regrettably wasted several months protecting my idea with an NDA. Just talk to everybody. Do it openly and listen.

Pride
Intuitively, as a founder you create an origin myth, the story you tell people of how you came up with the idea. As you continue telling this story, to you it becomes the story of a real company, regardless of reality. In reality at this stage we are talking purely about potential and not a business. For you, as the founder, however, the volume of visualizations you have had of your business plan renders your business idea a very vivid and very real thing. Let’s call it your alternate reality.

It does not matter if people love, understand, or even care about your idea. You yourself see the brilliance of your proposed solution. It makes sense to you. As you tell the story, you start wondering how come I am the only one seeing this outstanding solution!?! I must be brilliant!! Inside your alternate reality you are a proud founder, or worse, Mr. CEO. Don’t do this. Retain humility and ask for honest criticism. Pride in your idea is a road to a painful drawn-out failure. The idea might be in fact brilliant but not viable.

Pride locks you in on a trajectory. It may be counterintuitive, but the fact remains that the more time you spend on your idea in absence of finding a product-market fit without creating a functional feedback loop from your customers, the more proudly delusional you become about the beauty of your solution. Going out and testing your product keeps you sane and allows you to adjust your track. Go talk to people. Do it fearlessly and openly before you fall in love with your solution to the point that it narrows your peripheral vision.

Objective
Your objective should be to test your idea and start a viable business. It is not just the development of the business idea, but actually the execution: testing the concept and starting the business. In days past, VC’s used to invest in ideas. Over time investors realized that in the process of execution ideas always change. They realized the team that executes is far more important than the idea. Do not try to develop the idea or product over years and then try to build the team in a month or two.

Team
Chances are, if you operate out of fear and with pride, you will have a hard time attracting, building and retaining a functional team. I ended up with a super thought out business plan which I discussed to death, but no one to build a product and thus no product to test. If you shift your objective to test your business idea quickly, you will learn more and go further faster.

Build a team and fail quickly as many times as needed before you develop attachment to any solution. Listen to the team. Remember the objective is not to create the perfect idea, but to test your concept and build an operational company around it. That may take much iteration. It does not mean build another PowerPoint deck! Failing is not only ok, it is a valuable lesson.Your plan did not work. Great! You get to adjust your plan. Better to test and know that now than two years from now when you run out of money. Learn together as a team and let everyone involved evolve or move on.

Brand
If you are not open to the possibility of failing quickly, as you generate more and more powerpoint presentations, you may even end up imprinting in your head a very strong brand image of your business idea before you have any product or product-market fit. In that situation, you are done. Chances are your untested idea is not the solution everyone is looking for. However, by that time you may become afraid of adopting any new feedback or any brand change that you perceive might tarnish the pristine image of your imaginary brand. Yes, this may sound funny, but it is very real.

Ownership
As the proud founder/CEO with a very clear brand image even before the product is built, you identify some team members you think may be good enough to execute what you view as your brilliant, flawless, well developed idea. With high levels of fear that your idea will be stolen and tremendous pride in the thinking behind it, there is only one possible outcome. I overvalued my contribution to what it would take to execute my idea, and I undervalued the contribution of the people I tried to recruit. In that moment, as the founder, you just do not understand why the rest of the potential team do not want to be part of this immense brand and mega corp you have created!? It is quite clear in retrospect and it is rather painful when you see others sabotage themselves like that. I wish I had learned these lessons before and I wish I humbly sliced the equity more evenly among the founding team without fear, to energize all. You are splitting an imaginary pie and there is good material available on how to do this. The key take away here is that splitting equity is an emotional exercise, not an arithmetic spreadsheet exercise. Do not confuse that. Motivate all to grow the total pie, do not create competition for your share.

Experience
Since I closed my startup, Stocks You Love, I have also been involved in two other startups. This has given me ample time to observe other founders make the same mistakes I made. The biggest discovery for me was that first time founder lessons are unfortunately not transferable. It is like the first time you fall in love. Everybody needs to experience it for themselves.

In other words, starting a company is experiential learning more than intellectual. Even if you know the theory, took Steve Blank’s and Eric Ries’ classes and read their books and have the right information and advice, you have to go through the motions to sense what’s going on. Just as you cannot learn to play a sport by just reading about it, you cannot learn how to start a company without putting theory into applied practice. Those lessons have to be experienced.

Obviously, it is good to surround yourself with people who are not first time entrepreneurs, as experienced people will have a better feel for what traps to avoid. However, if you fall in love with your idea, there is no guarantee you will be taking any advice from anybody. Be humble and listen to everybody.

Advice
Solicit advice wherever you can and enjoy the learning process. After talking to number of experts in any field you will become expert yourself. You will learn more than you realize. After failing in my first startup that tried to reform retirement savings, by chance I ran into and had a few hour discussions with a senior World Bank pension expert. I was in heaven! I knew my stuff and it was a validation of my research and passion.

You certainly learn a lot. However, if you want to put your learning to use, drop the love, share the learning, share the equity, test the market, be pragmatic, fail quickly if needed and move on until you succeed. The company you end up starting might be different from your initial vision, but chances are it will also be much better. That would be my advice to my younger self.

The fact that you spent 12hrs a day on a project does not make it a business or your job. It could just be a hobby or worse, love mixed up with business. Although you will still learn a lot.

Iterations
Go do it, fail before you fall in love, and enjoy the process. Do not get discouraged. Just fail quickly and move on. Failing quickly may seem very counterintuitive. As a loving parent of your startup you want to give it time to grow-up and nurture it until it is sustainable. The problem is that most of us have limited resources and time, not to mention the pitfalls of misplaced love as described above. The fail quickly model is your friend as it avoids most of the love pitfalls and it allows you to iterate and learn from the process. The ideas may die, but the lessons you learn stay with you! That is a very positive thing and may be the difference that will make your startup a huge success!!!

Happily, I now get it and I’m looking for my next venture.

Best of luck with your startup!!!

Running a startup is a team building exercise, so why not share the joy and learn from each other.

The illusion:

Comfort and luxury are not drivers of innovation. How do I know you ask? Well, I feel as if all three of us here at RareBridge are running around seeking solutions as if our heads were on fire and we were looking for water! Comfort or luxury would not describe our circumstance, though at least judging by my two coworkers innovation is a necessity. Ignorant illusion at times creeps into our subconscious that if we only had more resources we could be more innovative and productive. Well, the past week I was dissuaded of that false illusion!!!

 

The contacts:

Working on a startup and being broke, one cannot afford many luxurious vacations. However we do have friends at global mega corporations with very deep pockets. One such friend informed me that they were planning a major corporate off-site to work on their corporate communication issues, a team building if you will. I laughed thinking of our great team of three, we could only dream of having communications issues. Though when I learned that my friends off-site was going to be held in Medellín in a posh hotel and I was welcome to crush for free, I knew my world was looking up.

 

The disillusion:

Little did I realize the mega corporate team building retreat is going to help me realize how lucky our startup is in terms of our scale and limited resources. The mega corp with their huge cash flows has many layers across all the continents, for them communication is not just something they do to get things done, it is an department in the organization. Learning and innovation as it turns out has to take a second seed to a lot of other organizational issues. For the team-building event they hired a professional facilitator with fancy degrees to help them figure our how to communicate. At our small startup we can only dream of access to the resources they have, but we have absolutely no problem communicating. You could say running the startup is a team building exercise, a perpetual off-site.

 

The pitch:

For us, the young entrepreneurs, resources of a mega corporation should not be an allure as that is a false image of prosperity. We are the foundation of the new economy. What we need the most is access to nimble starved creative open-minded over educated entrepreneurs like ourselves. Our conversations our collaboration and our ideas will help all of us succeed and come to market with the success that we are. At RareBridge we are creating a platform to make that communication and collaboration happen for all of us. Come check us out.