Another entry in the mobile-first, private social networking for families space (yes, apparently this is a thing now): 23snaps, a new iOS application that works like a mini-Facebook for posting status updates, photos and videos of your kids. The app isn't anywhere near as dazzling as current private social network darling Path, but it's a functional and easy-to-use alternative to the typical private sharing paradigm: the group SMS.
We often joke Google (s GOOG) is like the old Microsoft (s MSFT) -- getting things wrong, bumbling its way into new markets, and getting things right on the third try. This seems to be quite true of Google’s efforts to develop a cloud PC. Google and its partner, Samsung, are launching a new Chromebook and Chromebox today, targeting them…
In an effort to continue my mini series on startup mistakes I would like to share my take on another really important topic that can also go terribly wrong: picking the right co-founders. I have experienced the importance of this in my own career as well as having seen it in companies that I consulted.
My take on it boils down to some very simple decision making criteria when selecting co-founders:
1) You really have to like these other persons
If you are not good friends already there should not be anything that would keep you from becoming true friends (in the very honest, traditional sense). Test this, ask yourself the true question if you would like to hang out with these people even after you have spent 12 hours working together. If you are so-so friends and kinda like the other guys, then it seriously degrades the way your communicate and especially the depth of your communication. I have experienced this in my first company and looking back it was probably really my fault that I was not available enough to my co-founder to talk. We were getting along well and became friends, but I’ve never let him into my true inner circle of friends – sincere apologies if you are ever reading this.
I also saw the same in a startup I was tech-consulting back in 2000. The company was made of some extremely smart and very professional people. I think the majority of them had met at the same company or they were colleagues via some further degree of separation. So they had this brilliant idea to found an eCommerce Internet startup and went on doing it quitting their day jobs, lending money from friends and family, etc. Unfortunately after some time, the co-founders true characters became more and more visible. Not that anyone would have a better character than the other, it is only that it became more visible that they did not really harmonize that well. Then there was jealousy coming up when one part of the senior management was throwing expensive parties and went off to exclusive dinners while the others were really busy building the product – tension developed. I would not say that this destroyed the company in the end, there we just too many things coming together. However it was certainly not doing them good.
2) Your must absolutely share the same ambition and have 100% aligned goals
This is a really obvious one and you can still go so wrong on this. When the daily business is keeping your busy, you may not realize that your ambitions and expectations misalign. Every entrepreneur will spend long hours questioning if he or she is doing the right thing, wasting all these nights for so little pay chasing that big dream. If you do not have your co-founders to cheer you up, put your thinking back on track and simply reassure you once in a while, you are all by yourself keeping up that intrinsic motivation. And this is bloody hard.
What happened to us in our second company was that right after celebrating having delivered the biggest project we ever did for the biggest customer we ever had is that we sat together on what you could call a strategic discussion on where to go next. Funny enough that meeting uncovered that all three of us had developed totally different ideas on where to take the business. Eventually we split up in good friendship and divided the pot between us. It turned out well for all of us so this was the right thing to do back then. Thinking back on this I am still amazed how we managed not to notice.
3) All your partners have to really want it
Running a business is hard. It really is. There is no shortcut it is just a lot of hard work, and then more hard work. Some people may be lucky to make a lot with a little investment – this is not the norm.
I can only advise anybody to very very carefully think about going into business with a colleague or basically anybody that works as an employee and has never been self employed before. You may have a lot of corridor/kitchen discussions with your colleagues that go along the lines of “we should really start a business together”, “we could build a company to do that”, etc. Think carefully, then probe, then think again.
What I have seen in my career is that out of all the people who dream about becoming an entrepreneur only maybe 0.5% really have what it takes to do it. Once things get closer to decision making they realize that they will not continue to have a 8000€ paycheck each month and that they need to seriously cut down on expenses. Maybe they have kids or simply did not explain the consequences well to their partners at home. Most people pull out when faced with this tough choice.
Another thing that can happen is that your new partners start to really enjoy their new found “freedom” (note: there is no such thing, you are always dependent on someone else: employer, investor, customer, etc). They may come to work very late and leave really early, take vacations that other people would classify as sabaticals or overspend on company expenses when not necessary (think Porsche). If you all really really want it, you will not waste your precious working time doing long holidays ;-))
4) You and your co-founders have to be top-notch professionals
This also goes without saying in a way and is probably your number one problem when it comes to hiring. However you really do not know how good someone is at his job until he works into you – be it a project or in a line management kind of way. Over the years I have seen many occasions of this. People (and yes, this may be more of a corporate phenomenon) create an impression of themselves and their skills. Because the human brain tries to optimize workload, you will tend to believe this impression. Once they work for you, this picture can change 180° if you are unlucky. In the worst case you will have to do a lot of compensation work. You got that co-founder in because you thought you knew he is going to be so good at creating top notch sales pitches and then you come to realize he always had them done by his junior sales rep. – the quality he comes up with is anything but what you expected and need. You have a very expensive employee now that does not get his job done and you can not fire him. Even worse – getting a replacement/compensation means that you cannot spend that money somewhere else. And even more worse – you may have to spend your precious time supervising both of them.
So if you only remember one thing then I would like to remind your that you can not (or not easily) get rid of your co-founders. So test/check/think really carefully here, you only get one shot.
Yesterday evening I had the great pleasure to attend the Startupbootcamp Berlin mentor kick-off event. Just having become a mentor for one of the most effective startup accelerator programs I can safely say that this was a very inspiring event for me. I am really looking forward to the program, helping young companies do exciting stuff.
During the presentation, Angie (the new CMO) put out a really nice challenge for the mentors to think back in their professional careers and identify their biggest mistakes. As I have made quite a few I thought this would actually be worth a full series. So let’s see how many I can come up with.
I guess looking back all the way to the beginning, probably the biggest mistake I made was not getting enough professional, qualified advice early enough. Let’s rewind… I co-founded my first company (4ward Internetsolutions GmbH & Co. KG) back in 1996 at age 23. By today’s standards this is probably already a senior age, back then this was pretty darn young. It was actually the time when people in Germany did not really know what the Internet was and why one would need it, the average person was using a 28.8K (max 56K) modem to dial into their mostly local providers. Even our investor and access provider only had a 128KBit uplink for the whole city (they actually had to increase their bandwidth because of us eventually ).
So we were in the business of creating websites for clients, operate some portals and hack away using Java a large portion of the day. Our main attention creation vehicle was Java midlets (these little things that ran in your browser – Netscape 2.0 back at that time). We got quite some organic traffic from winning awards, being featured by partners and press and the like. The internet was still really small then, so our website operated on a Pentium 100 (I think 64MB RAM) which would happily take all the load.
So while we received a lot of attention, getting actual business done was really hard. Even our biggest client back then (Georgsmarienhütte Stahl) was only worth something like €10K. So we needed quite a bit of business to sustain our cash burn rate of about €16K (5 employees plus 2 partners, office, car, etc).
Through our network of supporters (one of the things we did really well) and partners we received really amazing business leads. I still remember our meeting at Siemens that wanted to license our eCommerce solution. My hair was quite long and I was everything buy appropriately dressed for that meeting, not actually wearing a hoodie but something pretty close to that. Obviously the deal did not happen (I really wonder what they must have thought when we walked in there). Other deals were very similar. One of the calls I remember was with a guy from Dell (still really small back then) who also wanted our eCommerce Applet but could simply not justify buying it as it only worked in Netscape 2.0. We had a nice chat and then just hung up the phone agreeing the the solution did not make sense for them.
Boy – how can you be soooo stupid. I guess we were just so totally overconfident.
Thinking back I wish we would have had someone with a good portion of relevant experience and credibility on their back simply giving us a big slap in the face, forcing us to adopt the solution to Dell’s needs. While it would have been a major shift in technology, it could have made all the difference and possibly it would have been worth all the effort. We were really to blind and too young to see what the customers really needed.
Another request we received (do not remember from where) was to write an auction system for the web. Back then I seriously thought this was a totally stupid idea as nobody was going to any auctions in the real world, why on earth would they want to do that in the web??
And so on…
So in essence, we were great at technology and we had no clue how to run the business effectively. Eventually we got an advisor in at a very late stage – too late to turn things around. In the end the company got sold for a totally different reason, but that is not the topic of this post. I think if a programme like Y-Combinator, Startupbootcamp or similar would have existed back then, things would have turned out very different for us. I can only encourage every young founder team to seek as much advice as they can get, ideally in an accelerator programme – but any other credible source will be helpful as well.
Like Alex Farcet was saying last night, in the end it is the startup teams that decide about the faith of their companies – we as mentors can only be their candid advisors.
Now, this topic has come up several times in the Facebook site of the Vodafone 555 Blue and I would like to answer it here instead of the Facebook page.
The simple answer is: you can not log out of Facebook on Vodafone 555 Blue.
This is intentionally done this way and there is actually no need to do so. It may be the case that a user has not really unerstood how the device works with Facebook when the desire to log out comes up. So let me try to explain what is actually happening:
When you login to Facebook, we synchronize your contacts, wall, messages, newsfeed and albums. By default, the device will now connect to the network every 20 minutes and check for updates (like new messages and notifications, etc.). You should have received a suitable data tariff from your local Vodafone country with the device so that this data traffic should not be of any concern to you.
If you still want to save on the amount of data the devices requires, we have implemented several mechanisms that allow you to control your data spend without requiring you to sign out of Facebook. Please go into the “Settings -> Facebook settings” menu. Then go into “Background updates” and put all three settings to “Manual update”. This will switch the device to complete manual mode and it will not fetch any updates in the background anymore.
Please note that this means that you will not receive any Facebook messages, notifications or any other updates anymore. You will have to manually refresh by e.g. using the f-key (set to “Refresh Facebook data”).
If you are not worried about data consumption but you care about privacy only, then you can protect the device with a lock code from unwanted access. In this mode, you will have to enter a 4-digit code every time you unlock the device. Please go into “Settings->Security->Activate phone code” to turn this feature on. The default code is “1234″ and you can change it in the menu below (“Change phone code”). You can obviously always use this feature, regardless of your data prefetching settings.
Lastly, if you want to use the phone with a different Facebook account, you can simply go into “Settings->Facebook settings->My account” and sign in with a different account. Please note: This will not immediately clear your phonebook and other settings. So if you want to completely change the account on the phone (e.g. sell the phone to someone), then you will have to perform a factory reset to wipe all your data. Just turn off the phone. Then keep the “v” key pressed while you turn it on again. Then follow the instructions on the screen to clear the data.
I hope you can see that there simply is no need at all to log out of Facebook. You can always log in with a different account, turn off all background synchronization to control your data spend and protect the device from unauthorized use.
One of the things that I felt really strong about from the very beginning is the Favourites feature. We have been through a few iterations of how to do it and it was invented even before Facebook launched the new Groups feature and before Google+ introduced the circles feature.
The idea was that out of your whole Facebook friends, you really may not be close friends with absolutely everybody. So we wanted to have a way to filter all the incoming status updates to only show the most relevant of your contacts. This way you will not miss important updates of your closest friends in a long list of Farmville-Spam.
Managing your favourites has the effect of the News Feed showing updates from your favourite friends in a seperate tab and your phonebook showing also only the list of your close friends in the same tab. We also created another seperate application that combines these two into one simple view.
Another not so straightforward goodie is that you can add any person from your contacts directly onto your homescreen. So your best girlfriend/boyfriend can be added here any you will see their avatar appearing. This gives you direct access to their profile with just one click.
Managing favourites is as simple as going through your contact list and mark people from the options menu.
In order for everybody to get the most out of the Vodafone 555 Blue I have decided that I will start to post a few tips & tricks that may or may not be so very obvious in the beginning.
One of the features that I am personally really excited about is the automatic merging of Facebook and Phonebook contacts. So for every contact that can safely be matched, the phone will automatically merge the accounts. Safe matching is currently defined as having the same phone number or email address.
The automatich merging will happen when you:
- Import contacts from SIM
- Import contacts from Facebook
- Import contacts from PC Suite
- Add a new Facebook friend
So for example when you add a new friend on Facebook that you already have in your phonebook, the next time your device synchronizes, the Facebook profile will be added to the existing phonebook entry. We really liked this, give it a try
As a recommendation, it will work best if you import your Facebook friends at first as per the normal device setup flow and then import your Outlook/Windows contacts using the PC Suite. In some versions of Outlook, the PC Suite can be a bit hard to use. Just go to the contacts section first and wait for your Outlook contacts to load and after that do a phone synchronization. The PC Suite can be downloaded here.