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.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

yellowbrick    HowAbout has been a work in progress since May 2014. Although it has developed, the basic concept is still prominently there. Some parts got to play a more important role, some got a more intuitive approach, or have been given a better, more interesting functionality, like the interactive calendar and the Powwow function, which takes the possibilities of what is known as ‘a doodle’ way across its current limitations. The application has also been broken up into segments. We are now releasing MVP, with new functions to be added in the coming years, and we hope to arrive at the original full blown concept by 2020. After that; more new additions are already being investigated.

Fact is that nobody ever asks about the money. It is assumed that someone takes care of it. The shareholders, the investors, or of course the designer of the whole thing. Now frankly, it is a fact that the founders of HowAbout never really worried about money, and we honestly still don’t. The product will likely launch in November with all bills paid and as only debtor one of the founders, and we can continue this path for at least another year.

In the same context, the attentive follower of our project will have noticed that we are not following what we call the ‘Yellow Brick Road’. We have not been talking early to market representatives or investors about our project, neither have we been telling the press what we are building and how it will work, nor did we join any incubator or other start-up program. Everything has been relatively confined. Only the last couple of months, we have been quietly lifting the curtain a little on our Facebook page and now in this blog. One reason is that we are using a new intuitive interface that we don’t want other companies to introduce before we do. That by itself should be enough reason. But also, we have long time been unsure about the final design and functionalities of HowAbout, and only with the start of the programming phase itself, we were reassured that it will look great, and overall work out as planned.

At this moment we can not tell if this will end up as a problem. We sure have the experts against us, who say you can’t talk early enough about your project : awareness is key. The good side is that our open beta test phase may go relatively unnoticed, which would give us an advantage because possible competition will need some time to catch up with us. Also, HowAbout’s consumer version is free of charge, so there is a very low step-in barrier. That means a good press release could already create a large user-base if the product is good enough, so we have work to do.

On the other hand without any sizeable exposure, we are unlikely to gain explosive growth and will need a great marketing effort and convention presence to get an amount of attention worth the while. We are running the risk that by the time we are getting somewhere, a big player could release a similar product to ours with a lot more marketing, and dilute our chances of becoming a sizable market player. Fortunately however, HowAbout is not a simple concept -even though it may look like one. I guess it will depend if they estimate our product as a threat or an opportunity. If neither of them, we will stand a good chance. If any of them, in best case we get bought, in worst case our product will remain on the sidelines. Still, most importantly, nobody can stop us from making HowAbout.

Bottom line is, that we know what we are doing, and why we are doing it. We believe HowAbout is a great product that will spread by word of mouth, because it is quite unique, well designed and totally useful for everyone, with a very intuitive interface. That should be a good enough explanation for any potential investor to gain confidence, no matter we follow the Yellow Brick Road or not. Sometimes it is wiser not to follow the money in the beginning. Which application has made money the first year of its launch anyway?

Does that mean there will be ways to monetise HowAbout? Sure there are. We will tell you more when version 2.0 releases. Unless you want to become an investor of course.