Execution is nothing without Potential

“Execution is everything” a mentor once told me when he learned I was building a startup. I now respectfully disagree. I now understand that potential must precede execution.

Why? Because of LeBron James and Nokia.

As a basketball fan I had one of the greatest revelation of my life last night: I have the same amount of NBA championship rings as LeBron James. James is the most dominant player in all of basketball with back to back MVP awards to prove it. Last year he led the Cavs to a league best 61 regular season wins but they stumbled in the Conference Finals to the Orlando Magic. His execution in game 1 was nearly flawless (he put up 49 points) however the Cavs still lost the game. Why? His team lacked championship potential. There wasn’t a supporting cast around him. It didn’t matter how well he executed, the potential for his team to win a title just wasn’t there.

Fast forward to this season when LeBron James moved over to the Miami Heat. He is now on a team stacked with talent and they have the potential to win a championship. All that’s left now is the execution.

For your startup to be successful you must have both potential and execution.

Last night Engadget leaked an internal memo from Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop. It provided an honest look at the company and it appears Elop understands that Nokia has a huge problem. Elop is working against a company culture who’s thinking is flat out wrong.

The former CEO (That Elop replaced) at Nokia believed that Nokia’s platform had potential and they came to the conclusion that the problem was that they weren’t executing their strategy well. If you have ever used a Nokia smart phone you already know how laughable this line of thinking was. Don’t believe me? Pick any Nokia phone available today and compare it to Apple’s first iPhone that was released in 2007. The iPhone blows it away. Execution without potential is nothing. You’re already dead in the water.

It appears Stephen Elop has great perspective on the situation (read the full memo here), and we wish him the best in righting the course for Nokia.

Startups learn from these mistakes and make sure your idea has potential before you try to execute.

Four guidelines to get your startup coverage online

Late last week I was pitched by 60 startups in less then 12 hours. I saw the good, bad, and the ugly. I personally looked at every single email and I jotted down notes on pitches that caught my attention (both good and bad). I distilled my notes and turned it into a guide to help startups hone their “cold call” emails and avoid common pitfalls when looking for coverage.

The Guidelines:

1. Be personable, but don’t waste time.
Nobody wants to cover a robot (“Our world leading brand creates synergy for our customers…”) and nobody wants to read Shakespeare in their inbox. Find the balance. Include a paragraph or two explaining the mission of the startup and where it’s heading (traction, bootstrapped/funded etc…) but don’t waste words.

2. Make it scannable:
If you’re like everybody that I know, you don’t really read your email, you scan it. Think of your email as a cross between a table of contents and an index. You should be able to jump in at any point and at least have a sense of what’s going on. Be able to answer “What does your company do” in one sentence (Put this just under the greeting).

3. Be persistant but not obnoxious:
Admittedly this is more of an art then a science, but you might have to gently remind people who you are if you’re not a big player in your space. If I get 60 startups in less then 12 hours, I’m sure the big boys (Techcrunch, etc.) probably get at least 100x this amount every day. Don’t take this personally. If your site requires a login create one specifically for the people you’re trying to get coverage from and include that information towards the bottom of the email.

4. Give them media they can use:
High resolution screenshots, logos, and images go a long way in helping writers understand a Startup at a glance. Writers have a limited amount of time and you want to “lower the cost of entry” for them as much as possible. Writers don’t always have time to read a 5 page summary of your business, but could easily become interested if you “show” instead of “tell”. Pictures>Words.

If you’re looking for coverage on TheStartupFoundry, follow these tips and email me at paul@thestartupfoundry.com or tip us on twitter @startupfoundry.

What tips have you used while trying to get coverage?

Visual Website Optimizer: Bootstrapped, Profitable, and over 4,000 users

When you’re trying to squeeze as many conversions as you can out of a landing page, A/B testing is critical. However, a lot of startups I talked to don’t use A/B testing because it’s a lot of work. Visual Website Optimizer is hoping to take some of the pain out of setup and tracking to become “the world’s easiest A/B testing tool”.

Sample Campaign Analytics

Here’s how they plan to do that:
Visual Website Optimizer is targeted to marketers who may not have technical training. Its goal is to make designing, publishing, and analyzing tests as simple as possible. VWO provides a WYSIWYG editor for creating A/B tests and it eliminates the need for tagging specific sections of the page with code to run your tests. With VWO you have to add a small snippet of code to your website once and then you are free to create an unlimited number of tests from the interface without the need to touch any more code. Their goal is allow a marketer to go from an idea to a live test in less than five minutes.

Visual Website Optimizer is bootstrapped.

Visual Website Optimizer has 4,500 users, and is seeing healthy growth at a rate of 20% every month.

Biggest Competitor:
The 800lb gorilla in the room is Google Website Optimizer. Visual Website Optimizer believes that it’s key advantage is in its user interface. The refined simplicity of their app allows even the “non-techy” person to get up in running in no time.

One of my favorite things about VWO is that they have subscribed to the mantra of “do only one thing, but do it the best”. If you need to do A/B testing, I can’t recommend a better solution then Visual Website Optimizer.

At a glance stats:
Company: Visual Website Optimizer
Founder: Paras Chopra
Founded: 2009
Sentence description: “World’s easiest A/B split testing software”
Twitter: @wingify
Website: http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/

AOL buys The Huffington Post

The Huffington Post just announced that AOL has acquired it for $315 million.

The 6 year old startup started with $1 million in funding, and grew into a power house of online news.

Arianna Huffington gives some background to the deal:

There were many more meetings, back-and-forth emails, and phone calls about what our merger would mean for the two companies. Things moved very quickly. A term sheet was produced, due diligence began, and on Super Bowl Sunday the deal was signed. In fact, it was actually was signed at the Super Bowl, where Tim was hosting a group of wounded vets from the Screamin’ Eagles. It was my first Super Bowl – an incredibly exciting backdrop that mirrored my excitement about the merger and the future ahead.

By combining HuffPost with AOL’s network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we’ll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform.

Read their full announcement at Huffington Post.

Why everything about the modern workplace is wrong

Jason Fried from 37signals fame sits down to talk about why you can’t actually work at work. Brilliant idea about using a ping to see if someone is available or not. This allows them to answer non time critical questions when it’s most convient for them and avoid interruptions.

Would this help you “work at work”?

Get quick and easy wins. Your startup needs them.

“I worked 60 hours this week”, bragged an entrepreneur. With a wry smile his friend replied, “Well I worked 80”, as he let the word eighty hang in the air as a badge of honor I began to wonder about their teams. If you’ve ever been to a startup convention, you’ve seen this happen repeatedly.

There is nothing wrong with obsessing over your startup (in fact, if you’re not slightly obsessed, you’re probably doing it wrong), but there is danger in obsessing over the wrong things and ostracizing your team.

A founder can often work long hours because they see the big picture. At a high cognitive level, they should see the steps necessary for success. Employees can have a tougher time seeing that far so give them (significant) milestones to obsess over. This helps you to shorten the playing field for them. You’re their quarterback and you’re making the calls, it’s your job to help your team succeed. When milestones are reached you should celebrate together, after all, you are a team.

As milestone after milestone is met, you’re pushing your team closer and closer to realizing the big picture. It’s easier to sustain momentum then start from scratch. It’s the same way your car will use less gas maintaining 60mph then having to go from 0-60 repeatedly. This is just a natural law.

How have you helped your team keep momentum going strong?

P.S. Go Packers.

Thumbtack wants to be this Generations Yellowbook

Thumbtack is essentially a marketplace for time. When you buy a service, you’re buying someone else’s time and the associated skill and effort that comes with it. People purchase services to free up some of their own time (childcare, house cleaning, etc.) and to get the benefit of expertise they don’t have (dance lessons, interior decorators, caterers, etc.). Thumbtack’s goal is to reduce the friction of these interactions.
The founder of Thumbtack, Jonathan Swanson, put it like this:

We’re aiming to create a marketplace where buyers and sellers can easily find and transact with each other. To the consumer, we offer a vetted network and ease of scheduling and paying. To the provider, we offer the support of a back office and the marketing power of having a virtual storefront that we’re bringing consumers to. Thumbtack makes money from each transaction, and from the added services we offer to providers.
Most of the services purchased today are sourced, vetted and transacted offline, but this is changing. We’ve got a big vision–we want to be the infrastructure for the local service sector as it moves online.

Work on Thumbtack began in 2008 and they launched at the end of 2009. Since Thumbtack is creating a marketplace they have two different customers — service professionals, and consumers looking for services. They spent 2010 focusing on signing up service professionals and based on results on their site, they seem to have had a positive response. Tens of thousands of professionals have already signed up all around the country.

I see Thumbtack is what the Yellowbook would have been if it was made today.

Mark Zuckerberg on the Three Keys to Facebook’s Success

Mark Zuckerberg recently sat down with The Business Insider to give insight on why Facebook succeeded.

The biggest take away from this video is Zuckerberg figured out early on out what business he was in. Facebook isn’t just a web app, it’s a social platform developers can leverage. This shift in thinking allowed Facebook’s user base to explode.

How can you apply this way of thinking to your startups?

The Art of the Start: Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki was one of Apple’s first employees, and marketed the Macintosh in 1984. This talk is based off of his book of the same title. Although a long video to watch on your computer (40 minutes), Guy has a lot of insights that you won’t want to miss. This is a must watch video for startups.

You can keep tabs on him via twitter @guyKawasaki, but be warned… he tweets nonstop.

It’s “GitHub” meets “Shopify”: Binpress sells your source code

Binpress is a marketplace for source-code where software developers can buy and sell code from each other. Binpress launched 2 months ago.

Their Story:
For the past four years the founders of Binpress, Adam Benayoun and Eran Galperin, were helping to build startups. After going through this process several times they realized there was certain things that would have to be developed over and over again. For instance, they would have to create a login system instead of working on the core app.

How it works:.
The seller on Binpress is a developer crafts an awesome piece of code that could be reused or incorporated into other projects. The buyer is another developer that is looking to get a head start on a project. It could be anything from a login script to an image manager.

The biggest challenge facing Binpress is the lack of code available for purchase on the site. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. Developers would love to sell their code on Binpress, but they are going to go where the customers are (and vise versa). This is a pretty common problem for startups that have a user generated marketplace. To try and combat this problem, Binpress is running a $40,000 developer contest. I’m very curious to see what sort of influence this will have on the community.

Currently Binpress is bootstrapped, but it will be looking to raise funds after internal milestones are hit.

Biggest Competitor:
When asked about their biggest competitor, Eran Galperin(Binpress’s CTO) mentioned Code Canyon. Code Canyon provides a similar service as Binpress, and it has been around longer. I asked Eran what made Binpress different and he replied:

That it was hard to gauge the quality of code [on Code Canyon], as well as find more heavy duty functionality (those seemed more focus on snippets and widgets). For this reason we put a lot of stock in finding and recruiting professional developers and curating all the code published on the site.

Wrap up:
Binpress has a lot of potential. I hope they are able to attract some top notch developers, it will be impossible for them to succeed without the communities involvement. Their $40,000 challenge tells me they understand this too, and they are going to do everything they can to build the best place to buy code.

You can visit their website at binpress.com.

At a glance stats:
Company: Binpress
Founders: Eran Galperin & Adam Benayoun
Founded: 2010
Sentence description: “Binpress is a marketplace for source-code for developers.”
Website: http://binpress.com/