Categories for Strategy

What we count is what truly counts

Brilliant TED Talk by Chip Conley that reminds entrepreneurs to count what actually counts. During an economic downturn, Chris decided he was going to try and turn things around for his hotel chain by attempting to measure qualitative things.

Specifically he focused on two main questions:

  • 1. He asked employees if “they understand what the company is all about”?
  • 2. And secondly he asked his customers if they “feel an emotional connection to us”?
  • In this video Chris also mentions one on my favorite quotes by Albert Einstein:
    “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”

    What Chris discovered is a great reminder for all founders. As the leader of your startup, how do you measure the intangible things?

    When you say “passionate”, I think “show me”.

    I’ve noticed a trend cluttering my inbox. I receive nearly the exact same email about 5 to 10 times a day from startups looking for coverage. They believe they should get coverage because “[I’m] really passionate about my startup”.

    Oh really? Then show me what you’ve got.

    Every single person I’ve talked to that was serious about their startup was “passionate”. Passion is an important ingredient, but it’s not a fully baked cake.

    Furthermore I see people use their passion to create meaningless things. A startup isn’t a business plan or a slick Keynote presentation. Startups aren’t built on hubris or bravado. These are all fine tools to have but at the end of the day startups are built on customers.

    If you claim to have an “amazing idea”, I expect you to already have 20 (paying) customers lined up.

    Money talks more then a flashy PowerPoint filled with your guesses about the future.

    Why was acquired by AOL for millions four days after launch

    Why was acquired by AOL for millions four days after launch is an online profile aggregator that attempts to be the go to spot for finding peoples online identities. For about 3 and a half months was in private beta, and you had to have an invitation to sign up. Four days after opened up to the public, they were acquired by AOL. it surprised a lot of people to hear that AOL was going to acquire the four month old company for several million dollars. Reports on the deal varied from $1.3m to $10m.

    A lot of tech pundits were caught off guard with the acquisition, but I believe there are three key reasons why was able to succeed so quickly.

    1. Demonstrated traction:
    In 3 months had a little under half a million people signed up for their invite only beta. Their average rate of signups was over 100,000 users a month. Active users talk, b.s. walks.

    2. Provide Value:
    Anyone can buy a domain with $5 hosting and throw together their own personal website, but allowed users to be up in running in no time with an artsy page. It didn’t try to do to much, but it nailed it’s (admittedly narrow) focus of being a fun hub to your social graph.

    3. They leveraged their connections:
    A large part of their successes was being able to get big names on board quickly. Leo Laporte and Kevin Rose were some of their biggest supporters out of the gate for example.

    Why do you think? Did I miss any reasons to’s success?

    “Tomorrow” is an excuse today

    “I’ll do that tomorrow” is the worst phrase an entrepreneur can say.

    “Tomorrow” convinces you you’re making progress when you are sitting still. It makes you loose perspective. “Tomorrow” represents the future in the abstract. “Tomorrow” is a defense mechanism for your ego and pride that protects you from failure (but more importantly it keeps you away from potential success).

    The person who says that they “want to get in shape” but are “going to start tomorrow” will never change. They will never reach their goals. If you’re serious about getting in shape go run a mile today. Want to learn how to program? Read a tutorial or two then start doing it today.

    Do it for 3 weeks consecutively and you will have established a habit. It will be easier to keep doing it then to break it.

    The same rules apply to startups. I’ve been asked “how do you start a business” and I always reply “It’s easy. It just takes hard work every day”. Be brave, be bold, go try something today. If you fail (believe me, you will fail eventually) learn from it. Don’t sweep it under the rug and don’t meditate on it day and night. Learn from it and let it go.

    When I launched my first startup, I didn’t know anything. I learned by jumping in and doing it. It’s tough but you will learn and you’ll get better. Don’t wait for someone to hold your hand through the process. Do something first, then seek console. Get your hands dirty before you ask for soap. I always try to make time for friends who are serious (and can show it) about building a company, but I don’t waste time on people who refuse to take baby steps on their own.

    “Tomorrow” is especially poisonous because it makes you feel better instantly. Don’t fall into this trap.

    Go build something awesome then tell us about it. We will do everything we can to help. Read “Four guidelines to get your startup coverage online” then tip us at or on twitter @startupfoundry.

    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 or tip us on twitter @startupfoundry.

    What tips have you used while trying to get coverage?

    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.

    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?