About Incubators

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There is no doubt incubators are great. Especially for young people with little experience and an idea but just as much for businessmen who newly venture into entrepreneurship. And then there are all these other people who do have experience, and embrace the help to refresh all this knowledge, get deeper into it and learn to apply it to streamline the workflow for developing their product. Aside for those who think they don’t need to join an incubator for whatever reason, there are those people who are experienced entrepreneurs but don’t have the patience to wait for being selected by an incubation program. Usually they take the time to dig into the treasures of internet, where much of what you learn in incubators can be found. Knowing how to apply this knowledge to your product is then key.

Joining an incubator has one big problem : you need to have the time and resources available to join a six month program somewhere and show all your secrets to a group of highly skilled professionals. Taking the step to apply for such a program usually implies one can meet these conditions.

Being actually accepted for an incubator program however is another matter. In seed phase it is quite difficult since often your concept is not deemed market suitable in their view and even if it is, there is such a thing as trend in technology, which will reduce your chances of being picked out if your project is not ‘trendy’ enough.

Another possible big hurdle is the requirement of being a team. If you’re lucky enough to find the right people with the right state of mind , that’s a great plus. However this is not evident and if you don’t meet this requirement some incubators won’t even look at your idea.

Last but not least making your product being understood is yet another hurdle. In many cases this is an easy one, but sometimes it is not, and when this is the case, your product is easily considered not viable, too complex, or you yourself are considered not to have the right qualities to create a successful product. They just won’t accept that some things are not easy to explain without a product demo which you may not have yet. Not everybody has the talent to make smart videos.

When I look back and see the evolution HowAbout has gone through since its conception, I believe joining an incubator would not have saved me more than five or six months in the whole process. Aside from it being impossible to have joined due to turbulent times in my personal life, it took a while before there was money to get to programming and no matter what,  that is the key to any product. Sure, some incubators provide you with some money, but then again they get participation in your start-up. You get a lot of help, but you are forced into a working schedule for six months, which can be a good thing, however sometimes products need time to ripen throughout the development process. Stress is often not a good ingredient in a creative process. Ask any creative person.

Nowadays we got a few invitations from incubators to apply, but many no longer offer financial support, which is the most important element in the stage where HowAbout is now. Wasting six months to a feel good hotshot booster is not exactly what we are looking for. Mentors are not what we are looking for either if it is only advice they are offering.  Money and people who actually open doors for us are on top of our wish list.

Conclusion : Just for the experience, I would join an incubator if the time was right. Who knows I still will after HowAbout is launched. But when life pushes you around one can only go with the flow and keep working. Don’t ever think you can not create a good product without joining an incubator. Anyone can.

Personal Life and Your Start-up

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Combining personal life and your start-up is not always easy. And it doesn’t need to be bad things that mess up your working schedule. Selling property,  moving,  buying new property,  setting up the new property,  marriage preparation, a new born baby, these are ‘good’ things that will take a significant bite out of your  precious time and may temporary reduce your involvement with your start-up to ‘the highly necessary’. Combine any four of this with the usual december holidays and you achieve a build-up of work-to-do that takes months to catch up with.

Without going deeper into which four,  it is what I went through,  but that’s not all. When a partner in your start-up changes his mind about his financial involvement due to personal reasons in the middle of this mess,  there is not only ground for personal conflict but also a drawback in the further development of the product. That is where we stand.

Fortunately there is so much work to catch up with that this gap allows to get back on track and prepare for the search for investors. With a working prototype,  a strategic plan, a business plan, a financial plan and a timeline there is a great starting point to find them.

But that’s not all. It is a good time to take a good look at your product again and see if it meets the standards you set for a successful launch. Interestingly enough in HowAbout,  I found everything was smooth,  except for the main feature of the launch version. I knew it was the one thing I hadn’t streamlined yet,  so I knew the day would come I would face this but I didn’t quite have an idea on how to realise instant photo-sharing. Until a few weeks ago. It will take some extra months of development but they will be worth the wait. And then we will launch,  finally,  with a very strong product.

What’s in a Name?

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Brand awareness is the single most important thing in scaling your product. It takes a catchy name and a recognisable logo. Without them, it will take a whole lot more time and money to achieve this, unless you have help from a unique and wanted product. With HowAbout, I believe we have a catchy name, and inspired by Nike, I decided to give our logo a premium position inside the app.

Since the HowAbout button is the key feature of HowAbout app, I decided to make it more than just an anonymous button. Featuring our logo there would enhance the chance that it will be recognised by a factor thousand. The logo itself does not carry our name though, but since that is viewed each time you start up the app, I have no worries. Especially since HowAbout is a catchy name at itself, and fits very well to the concept of an organiser app. Sending a Powwow or an invitation to an event is quite similar to asking ‘how about a restaurant next time?’ Or a movie, going to a game, etc. That is basically how I came up with the name :’What would you ask when inviting one of your friends?’

HowAbout app in the first place is a handy, fast and intuitive way to send and keep track of invitations, complete with interactive calendar, overview, contact and group management etc. The people in your contact list are people you actually meet in person. Far away friends that you never meet will just take list space, although there is a way to share photo’s with absent friends instantly, if that is what you want to do : it’s called event based photo-sharing, and is linked to your event.

Where other apps mostly start asking ‘what do you want to do’, HowAbout starts with ‘who will you ask’. The philosophy is that you will likely already have a mood to see a person or a certain group of people when you have an intention to set something up. Since there are activities you do with one group of people, and other stuff you do with another group of people, you generally already have something in mind when you decide which people you will ask.

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That is why we like to encourage users to start making groups, and use them. Since any contact can be in several groups, you can configure every group the way you like. It’s also very practical to make temporary groups which you delete after the event. The contacts are not deleted, just the group will be.

The interface is actually created upon this principle. Using groups will soon feel very intuitive and the obvious way to use HowAbout. Dragging contacts and groups to the HowAbout button will become part of your daily routine. And every time you will see a HowAbout button anywhere, you will immediately know what it means. Isn’t that what brand awareness is all about?

Look and Feel

Recently, the gameification of software has been a hot topic. Finding the balance between the goal of the software and it’s amusement value  was the holy grail of the next generation software. Having a background of card games and boardgames, I couldn’t help but design HowAbout with that element that has given me a homey board- and card game feeling for all those years. You may have noticed this from the mobile app design, but the Web-version emphasises this even more :

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Howabout is really easy to use.  It’s mostly clicking and dragging, very clear and intuitive, and most of all very useful. For people like me who never got to really incorporating the use of a calendar in their lives, this is as close as it is going to get to achieving that.

But what about the business use of such a design?

We think your business is a serious matter, but so is the psychology of the people who work in it. Where Apple has done groundbreaking work in simplifying the use of software, and optimising it’s efficiency, we believe we are moving beyond the minimalist view that has carried them through the past 20 years. Offering the same efficiency and easy of use, we choose for a more playful design that speaks for itself. When Apple recently flattened out the look of their icons, I believe that with it, they removed the character of the design. We want to bring it back with a blast.

So the question remains, will businesses implement this kind of design in their corporate software, or do they prefer a static, ‘professional’, boring look. Feel free to leave your thoughts in a reply.

On the divination of the pitch

images A few days ago, I was listening to a lecture on pitching by Guy Kawasaki for The Berkeley Entrepreneurs Forum, which he did two years ago. Besides the fact that it is incredibly funny, there is plenty to learn from it for the average beginning entrepreneur. Since I have been reading on this matter for a long time, there was a lot I already knew. However, there was one important statement that made me hold my breath: a demo is the best pitch. It may sound very obvious, but how often do you get the chance to do a demo? Most of the time, you have to go through a whole process of administration and elevator pitching before you get the chance to do one.

A few days later I stumbled across Web Summit, and decided to apply for a booth promoting my product at its startup event ‘Web Summit Alpha’ in Lissabon. I was surprised to see that the Web Summit Alpha application form did not offer a chance to upload a two minute video about your product. Just a seven word description and a reference to your company website was enough. That made me believe there wouldn’t be much of a selection aside from the approximately 1500£ participation fee. After filling in a secure web application, I got an email that I was to make an appointment for a 15 minute conversation. So I made an appointment for 9.30pm the next day, at which time the phone rang and a guy introduced himself. He spoke English with a strong Scottish accent, on an inferior international telephone connection with time lag, talking very fast and asking me questions I didn’t quite understand given those circumstances. I had expected a conversation about the event and some practical information on taking a booth there, but I caught a few words like ‘Uber’ and ‘Investor’. I kinda guessed he asked me what I would expect from an investor in my company, so I answered just that, ending with ‘did that answer your question?’

Clearly not. He wanted me to pitch my product at the phone, just there.

Can you imagine any worse situation than where you have to pitch your product totally off-guard, to a guy of whom you know has no money to invest in your product, whom you hardly understand, on a poor international telephone line? No rapport, no fundamental curiosity from the person you’re talking to because he’s just doing his job and has to listen to 20 more pitches that day to get his wages. Well, I was not ready for this, and surely I blew it. After 5 minutes in the conversation he suddenly got very hasty and didn’t even let me explain the third function of my product. I could hear from his voice that I performed pathetically and that he wanted to end the pain as soon as possible. When I mentioned I would actually launch my product at the event, the response was no more than another attempt to escape the horrid experience of yet another newbie who likely can not even spell the word pitch. Or is it ‘pich’? The announced 15 minute conversation lasted 7’32”. Thanks for the opportunity.

Most professionals will tell me I should be ready to pitch at any time in any circumstances. Well I have to disagree. I will pitch like a shark to people I can get money from, because the tension drives me to do so. However I can’t do this with similar passion to some irrelevant guy who likely doesn’t understand the product anyway because it is new, and he doesn’t get to see it. I tried pitching without a demo before and it usually sucks. People start making senseless comparisons based on their poor imagination of a new concept because they have nothing to go from, thus making a pitch largely impossible. It is like Steve Jobs once said : ‘A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.’ And I need to show it to them.

So now I guess you are wondering what do I say to the consumer to ‘sell’ my product? For starters, I treat them as people, not as consumers. They deserve this basic respect. They will use my product because it means something to them, so they might as well mean more to me than just a puppet dangling on my commercial string. Then I take my phone and demo the alpha I have running on it. That actually does the trick in most cases. Only Facebook power-users seem to build resistance, since Howabout is basically an ‘Organisor With Event Based Photo Sharing’, and they already organise their lives around all of Facebook’s features. I can imagine stepping down from it and moving to a new platform is a challenge, even if it would be more easy and intuitive. And more to the point.

So what about divine pitching then?

The problem is that there is a consensus on what works best for startup funders. People have to perform the perfect pitch, have the perfect team, and a valid product. If you fail any of those, you fail all. I think Guy Kawasaki made a good point saying the You Tube founders’ fundamental approach was ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could offer stolen video’s for free online?’. It really sums it up. The founders can have a wicked team and a crooked mentality, as long as the idea ‘rocks’. They were no geniuses but a bunch of college guys, they were no ‘perfect team’ as it is idealised these days. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were not a perfect team. I can understand that investors want to see a great pitch, but I doubt if they will judge you at the phone, on a poor connection, without fundamental interest in investing, all spoken with an awkward Scottish accent. Step off it people! If you want to make money on entrepreneurs, at least give them a proper chance when testing their metal. That goes for organisers of startup events as much as incubators and the like. The bottom line is : if the product speaks for itself, the pitch won’t matter, so give the product the chance to do just that. Good sales people can be hired. Good ideas can’t.

From the above experience, it is obvious that Web Summit Alpha has grown out of its proportions as it introduced telephone workers for selecting entrepreneurs for their event, who  don’t get the proper information and training to prepare for the conversation, neither do they properly inform the entrepreneurs to prepare themselves. I can imagine the quality of Web Summit Alpha declining in the coming years unless they do something about it. #websummitalpha #guykawasaki #pitch #startup #incubator

 

140

Like so many others, I was surprised to see the announcement from twitter to move from 140 to 10.000 characters, thus destroying the whole concept of their application. I surely don’t have to spell this out for you. There are many popular public ways to share a statement that long, Facebook as the leading candidate. There is no way and no need for Twitter to compete with that.

Personally I never was so fond of the twitter concept though. The main reason is obvious : almost every week you see apologies from famous people or company leaders for tweets that were sent in haste or high emotions. I always thought there should be a warning on the ‘send tweet’ page : “The world is listening. Be respectful and think before you send.” Unless of course you consider bad advertising is also advertising, which obviously is true.

Never the less, I would prefer a shoutout like this to go no further than my friends circle. Utter my frustration where there is a better chance that I won’t get publicly humiliated. My friends know me, they understand I often say things I don’t mean. Do you?

Sources :

http://fortune.com/2016/03/19/twitter-keeps-140-character-limit/

UPDATE : Twitter will no longer count links as part of the message sent so you will soon have 140 actual characters for it. It’s about time.