Cast your minds back to August, a wonderful day, sun was out and Refresh was happening in Belfast with Ecliptic Labs. The kinds souls of Chris McClelland and Phil Strain were giving away a iPhone 3GS on PAYG and we all entered the draw. On that night John Cusick was randomly chosen and won the phone, well done to him. I won the amazing iPhone design stencil so I came away just as happy.That was all well and good, so life proceeded in a normal pace. Though I wasn’t at Build Conf it did filter through the Twitter feed VERY quickly that John had won again, this time a copy Adobe CS4 Creative Suite provided by Ian Sayers at Giant Training. Now we were thinking it was a fix….. it wasn’t.John’s got the midas touch – so it’s a good thing to keep close by him. The alternative is to change your name to John Cusick which will make life easier in competitions where iPhone apps are used to choose the winners.So, good luck John Cusick’s everywhere! 🙂
I’ve been head down for the last week or so getting some things finished off with “TNS” (The New Startup). Like I’ve said in previous posts (and talks at Barcamp etc) that it’s always good to have an advisory board of people that you know and trust.For TNS I’ve got about 8 people that I can phone up or Skype at any time and go, “Is this part a stinker?” and I know I’ll get an honest opinion. Good case in point this morning where I was talking to a client about a few things with the transaction path of TNS.With Open Coffee’s and Barcamps the idea is share and share alike, it may be skills, ideas, content, time or whatever. The overall notion that times aren’t great and we’re all in this together. But (there’s always a but) there is also a time to shut up and get on with it. Keep in contact with your advisory board and get product out. Share to your potential customers not the rest of the development/startup community.I find NDA’s a little pointless sometimes, all depends on the company and the stage that they are at. There’s no point on earth asking me to sign an NDA on something that doesn’t exist, isn’t producing any revenue and doesn’t have anything remotely unique. Get product out, get customers and then start getting NDA’s out when you are starting to stretch your arms. At this point you have something to protect.
No work is wasted, it’s just carried forward into what you are doing. For better or for worse you will always have access to history and you’ll always improve on what you did in the past. The Aerleasing story, a few people have asked so perhaps it’s now time to tell the story. In 2004 on moving back to Northern Ireland we found ourselves in the Belfast International Airport more times that I can remember, for two reasons: firstly the bookshop was better than all the others at the time and secondly Junction One was the only place with a Starbucks. True.I bought a copy of the story of RyanAir and all it’s trimmings and nestled within the first couple of chapters is the fact that Tony Ryan started leasing out Aer Lingus 747’s during the quiet periods. Brainwave hit almost immediately…. A quick look on the internet and there was a few sites full of listings but nothing like I was thinking which was realtime brokerage between lessors and lessees. Plus the thought of all those brand new planes in the desert doing nothing, it would be good to get those in the air.Before I did anything I found the trade magazines: Airline Business, Air Transport World, Airline Fleet Network and Planning and Air Finance Journal. I put calls out out to Airline Business and got a subscription based on the fact I was looking to advertise. Turned out to be my goldmine, the listings of the top 50 leasing companies was staring me in the face two days later. I spoke at Barcamp October past about not being a wallflower, I was one of them and it was really my wife that challenged me to phone one of them up and ask for advice. I phoned the first one listed and to my astonishment the chap happily spoke to me. Over three weeks I got the low down on the leasing business and by the end of it I “knew more than the banks do”. All the time I was coding the system up and actually paid a good graphic designer friend to come up with the branding.When I got to a point of testing I was invited down to Dublin to have a look around a few things and got into meetings with various folk about the product. I came back with a ton of feedback and then set about improving the system. As a bootstrapping startup you are your own PR company, market research company, sales team and IT department. The press releases were good but not great looking back, the Start A Business Programme was good but by no means relevant to what I was doing.Airline Business ran the press release and before I knew it people were signing up and the company names were flashing before me. Air Transport World wanted to do a small interview and this was pretty important as it was with their main editor in the US. He speaks and the industry takes note. So from my little admin console I saw people adding aeroplanes and then one day someone actually put a sealed bid in. Then the cracks started to appear, people were just treating it like another listing site desperate to get their phone number out there. Brokers hated it for the fact that the chain of brokerage was essentially broken by an upstart programmer. You live and you learn.About 18 months later I worked on an add on to Aerleasing called the Digital Broker, it could fire out a message to 350+ aviation dealers, end users and airlines with requirements from other airlines. This would save the end user a good couple of weeks emailing and phoning around. It was a lead generation tool and the airlines liked it. The major coup was when Air Finance Journal offered to do a feature on the Digital Broker as the next step forward for the sector. I was expecting a couple of column inches in the news section. What I got was a full page, with screen shots…. the user base shot up. From initial phone calls to getting the editorial took two years to secure, a lot of phone calls, talking to editors and generally having to sell the idea to them. Once they got it, they wrote about it.All the time there was interest but not adoption. There was talk of selling it to Boeing for $2m and there was various other talk by well groomed talkers. It means nothing until the mandate is signed and the money is in your account. Deals fall through, some salesmen talk rubbish, it’s all part of the rich tapestry know as startup. I’m a lot more guarded now.So where is it all now? Well Aerleasing just curled up and died really, users lost interest for the simple fact deals weren’t being done so people stopped logging in. The real issue is what I’d call the “old boys network”, most of this stuff is done on the phone to the folk you know and trust. Until the new wave come in then it will be hard to change the broker mentality.It taught me a lot, a heck of a lot about product, people, testing, beta customers etc. And it’s something that I’ve carried forward for the next wave of madness.The story continues…. tomorrow night is Go For It programme night.
There are just days when you have to go it alone. For those who don’t know I’m bootstrapping a company from scratch. I thought it might be a good idea to chip in some blog posts along the now that I can talk about some of these things.Since my last job finished at the end of June I’ve been wondering the best way to take things forward. Ask anyone who really knows me and I can have a list of ideas that are ready to be coded. The most interesting thing for me is that this is first start up where I’ve been asking a lot of opinion of the product I’m doing (it’s still in stealth, there’s only a chosen few who know). So here we go, the bold pointed things to keep in mind.Writing it down on a one pager – It’s vitally important to write down on one page what your product is going to do, who the target market(s) are and what the total size of the market is. From there you’ve got focus and what you think it’s all worth. Ignore this step at your peril.Blag, steal, borrow and blag again – If you design, get a good back end coder. If you code then get a designer. This also goes for business advice. Some of the people I hold in high regard are willing to chip in and keep me on the right path. Finally, don’t forget a polite thank you goes a long way. Crap code is fine – Product first, coding refactoring later. There’s no point going over the finer detail of SCRUM or Agile methods if it’s not generating revenue. Market share or revenue? – In the initial stages it’s all about generating revenue (especially if you are a service company). If you’re hellbent on creating a brand or a world changing-everyone-has-to-have-this iPhone app then market share is your aim.What time do you realistically have? – If you are already working then it’s extra hours. I know some that are up at 5am and work through ’til 9am. I know some who do the late shift. There are times I do both and within time I suffer for it. Also, if you have family they will only put up with your Branson like enthusiasm for so long.Learn to do a basic cash flow forecast – Yeah it’s boring but I bet if I asked you now you wouldn’t have a notion what your costs are for the next 12 months. A simple spreadsheet is fine. There are a loads of good cashflow templates out there on the internet.Get an advisory board of people you trust – Ultra important this one. I have three people that I bounce stuff off in various parts of the world. I also have a number of industry contacts who I bounce ideas off. I have one friend who I can just cyberly puke on when I’m having a bad day (and they with me if needed). Don’t over do the networking while you are developing the idea – Any networking event the obvious question is, “what do you do?”. When you are just about to beta test fair enough. From day dot without a single jot of code, forget it. You could be using your time on better things. One thing I’ve noticed over the last five months is that there are an awful lot of people who can talk the talk but when you really press them…. you pretty much know it will come to nothing.Some of the above I actually covered in my talk at Barcamp Derry in October but they still ring true whatever the time of year.
Facebook’s general twisting on the way we live our lives begins to turn sour with me. Fan pages…. there’s tons of them, which is fine, but what is starting to annoy me is the “inviting” me to become a fan. With MySpace the issue was simple, either I followed you or I didn’t. Dictionary.com’s definition (among many) of the word “fan” is:an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.: a baseball fan; a great fan of Charlie Chaplin.Most of the things I get invites to be fans of are things that I’d never get involved in. What it does do is just increase the ego and it’s becoming tiresome. Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind friends sending me these invitations, it’s the nature of the invitation that bothers me.Social networking is not a numbers game, it’s about relationships. If I don’t know the person, company or organisation then what makes you think that I’m ready to be a fan?So, looking forward. Perhaps it’s time that Facebook lost its title of “social network” because it’s losing the social factor. It has become a big directory of linkage, a connected town with it’s own rules. Looking for real social networks, I’m looking at the true social nature of things like Dopplr and Locle. Real people, real locations and real life.
There was a time, in days gone by, when we Tweeted a bit, checked our Facebook and then did some serious work with LinkedIn. The race seems to be to merge three (and many more) separate mediums into one platform of information.Personally I’m doing a good job of keeping them as separate as I can. First of all you have to define who you really are and for me that causes some interesting crossovers.
- In York folk really know me as a musician and a software developer.
- In Limavady folk know me as a photographer and then a musician.
- In Belfast everyone knows me as a software developer.
- In Derry everyone knows me as a software developer.
So, where to start. LinkedIn is for my professional work connections, I’m still less than amused that LinkedIn introduced status updates I rarely use them because I feel that potential contacts aren’t that bothered about what I am doing right this second, more they are interested in what I have done in the last week, month, year etc.Twitter is Twitter and if you ask ten people what it is to them you’ll more that likely get ten different and valid answers. For me it’s a broadcast medium for those who really want to listen. My network on Twitter is generally NI based and geared on software development. No worries if you are a photog or a muso, you can still listen.Facebook….. more social than anything else. I certainly don’t spend most of my time trying to get any business links through it. It’s for friends (and one member of the family).
The time is nigh, the tipping point will occur soon when social media will create more link bait and spam than actual content. This is starting to be seen on Twitter quite a lot now, pointless retweets from bots, follows from bots and now the hacked account direct message fiasco….. we’ve given an inch and the others have taken a mile.
Unless your head is stuffed in a vat of marmite you may be aware that Build Conference is going on in Belfast today. I’m not at it…. no need for me to be at it, I’m not designery.Andy McMillan just posted this on Twitter. “Girls, Rock ‘n Roll & Design” — Ryan Sims, describing the typical web designer lifestyle at #buildconf Which now explains everything in webdesign to me. It’s like being in the band, everyone wants to be the lead singer so they can be at the front, pull the chicks and get all the glory 🙂 The real work comes from the rhythm section at the back, the bass player and the drummer (or programmers as I now know them) who just lock in, get on and don’t make a fuss. And for the record, 24 years of bass playing and the only people I got to wanted to talk about effects pedals and the strings I used (long shiny ones). It all makes perfect sense to me now…… (yes it’s all tongue and cheek). Andy’s put on a brilliant conference, well done mate.
Microblogging (Twitter, Friend Feed et al) has lifted the status of link shortening to new heights. They’re not new either, I remember friends putting together Make A Shorter Link which then got acquired by tinyurl.