Do you know your product?

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When you design your product you have a vision on what it is and how you will get it on the market. As development proceeds you need to make minor changes or sometimes bigger corrections but your vision generally stays the same. 

However when you meet with investors you often have to review your vision. Your approach may have too little perspectives on monetisation or you are not really solving a problem. Either way it calls for redesigning the concept and the vision or simply discarding it. But if you are lucky it is just your pitch that is simply not giving a clear enough picture. Then you seemingly have nothing that would convince an investor to risk his money on but maybe you are just not making a clear picture.

Because of this it is crucial to get feedback from professionals before you throw yourself to the lions. You may think you understand your product better than anyone else, but as the creator you may no longer grasp the simple approach of the listener. When I presented my last version of my pitch to an investor a few weeks back he listened carefully for more than two hours. It was a friendly and patient man with a lot of venture capital experience as it turned out. But his background was simple engineering as he called it. 

“Vision is not about how you launch your product. It is about how the market is going to prove you right.”

After going through the whole process he gave me a few lines of advise. Advise that I read before on websites and heard in speeches but I guess I was stuck in my own point of view and never understood what it really meant. The bottom line was “make it simple to understand”, no matter how complex your product is. And finally realising that lead me to a new pitch where the path for launching my product became abundantly clear. No it is not the path i had planned but more important it leaves the door open for the user to prove the point that I have been trying to make in each of my previous pitches but which I didn’t need to make. Vision is not about how you launch your product. It is about how the market is going to prove you right.

But before we get to that hurdle there is still user testing which will surely teach us a lot. Being able to face criticism in the first place…

Note : The investor I talked to did like the product. Upon request I wrote him a much better pitch which he currently uses to introduce my product to other potential investors in his country.

Timing is of the Essence

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Since its conception I have been struggling to find a way to present HowAbout to investors. Or actually to everyone. For as long as I was facing this problem I didn’t go actively looking for investors but used my own money. I read that investors only give you one chance and if you are not ready, you fail and it’s gone. Therefor there was no point in trying.

One would imagine that this would have put me under strain but the truth is I never doubted that I would find investors for HowAbout. I even felt I could permit myself to put down my pen and the whole project for a year and focus on priorities in my personal life. I was stuck anyway because the product at itself is way too extensive to explain in the usual five or ten minutes that you get for your pitch. I can only refer to a previous article posted here where I rebelled against ‘contemporary pitching’.

But one thing I always have believed in is ‘time’ or better ‘timing’. Complicated as it may be to explain, I do know very well that every product has its time. There comes a day where you no longer need to do too much explaining, a day where the market calls for a your product. I can situate this with a real life example. I used to be in the Fantasy games industry and a friend of mine had created a collectible card game. We went to a few game companies but it was new and complicated and nobody wanted to stick out their neck and produce it. And since in those days there was no Kickstarter we didn’t pursue the product. But six or seven year later a few guys in Seattle came up with a collectible card game called Magic : The Gathering. The gaming world had evolved and at the moment it was released there was real need for something new. It was the right time for a collectible card game and a few years later they were all millionaires.

I strongly believe now is the time for HowAbout to take it’s next step. It is the time for investors to step in and get his thing going and make money. There are many reasons. In a previous article I wrote about privacy. That was september 2016. Look how important it is now and how Facebook is struggling to keep its customers happy with their app. They desperately try to create false security but as long as their system is opt-out it will never be private. And so HowAbout is an opt-in system. It is based on privacy yet it still offers great opportunities for companies to do marketing and get sales. HowAbout is a completely valid alternative and a much better concept for the consumer.

But there is much more. Ebay is struggling to obtain growth because their business model stands in their way and they have no idea how to address emerging markets where their concept is just a rock in a pond. Google has overstretched itself and nobody sees it or has found a way to take advantage of this.  Real improvement in professional software like Outlook is nowhere to be seen. Other professional software companies don’t bother to make a mobile version of their application. It is as if half of the world’s software development is standing still due to lack of real innovative ideas. HowAbout has an answer to each of these.

Because of all this we obviously have thrown around our release schedule. We are now aiming at two big releases next year iso five spread over five years. When the market is ready you have to be ready as well.

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.