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Month: January 2012

Children of Steve Jobs

Children of Steve Jobs, a Japanese documentary program aired by NHK last week, had an unexpected content to me.

The program mainly focused on the students who attended the commencement at Stanford University and listened to Steve Jobs’ speech in 2005. While I thought the program woud be about how these students are proceeding with their dream after 6 years and how they are becoming successful today, I realized right after the introduction the focus of program was completely opposite.

It was a reality show of Stanford graduates who lost his job at Goldman Sachs because of financial crisis, who walks down the street with a “hire me” sign on him everyday, who went back to India in exchange for helping own country and family by giving up a promised position at Google, who started own business as a journalist after being fired.

I understand it’s arguable to call it that way, but the program was just about “No more American dream” and the content was devastating to me. We are seeing global crisis right now. America is facing nearly 9% unemployment rate, which roughly results in 1 out of 10 people having no job.

Silicon Vally is still the place for all tech entrepreneurs to offer lots of opportunities that no other places on the earth can’t compete. Stanford University is still the driving force behind Silicon Vally and people graduated from the university were thought to be all successful. However, this show reminds me of being successful from someone else’s perspective is not always equal to being successul in his/her own life value.

If working at Goldman Sachs and Google gives you a ‘dot’ which leads to your valuable connection in the future as Steve Jobs said during commencement, just go for it. If you are doing it just because everyone will think you are successful, please don’t. Life is too short to play that kind of worthless game.

Call for New Logo Design

Our startup project Coworkify is now looking for new logo design. We’ve held a contest at 99designs and we had more than a hundred logos submitted in 4 days.

Cost we paid was $295 including various transaction fees and cut for platform holder. It’s just $3 for each design. Although quality of every logo varies a lot, it’s still huge time saving to us. If we were to produce a hundred logos by ourselves, it would have costed us more.

During product building phase of startup an entrepreneur must focus on one thing, which is to build a product in the most efficient way in a short period of time. At this phase he should not spend time on building a great team for future growth. All of his energy has to go into a product and people who can produce it.

For those who are willing to outsource some creative work I recommend that you take a look at 99designs, Hatchwise, Bootb, Prizes.

Don’t Be Fooled by TechCrunch

Ryuichi Nishida, a writer at TechCrunch Japan, published this great post (in Japanese) warning the domestic entrepreneurs about taking the words directly out of TechCrunch without understanding fondamental differences between Japan and Silicon Valley.

In his post he mentioned the below points often mistaken by the aspiring entrepreneurs so he gave thoughtful advises to them.

1) Far less acquisition activity in Japan (hence it is not a practical exit option.)
2) Convertible Notes should be treated as debt. They have greater benefits for investors, not for entrepreneurs in general.
3) No need to copy Silicon Valley businesses because you as a domestic entrepreneur don’t have to.

While I agree with all three points, I also saw countless number of domestic entrepreneurs in the past trying to apply the things that are only valid in the Valley. These entrepreneurs almost always have a great vision in the beginning just like ones in the Valley, but they will soon or later realize their businesses won’t go anywhere due to lack of available exits. This is particularly true if the business has no revenue stream.

In the Valley not all startups have revenue stream. Perhaps they still do successful exit mostly through acquisition by the larger business entities or sometimes by their direct/indirect competitors. I often brought up GroupMe as an example of recent startup which did very successful exit without making a dime in revenue. This kind of exit is only applicable to the startups based out of the Valley or by the acquirers based in the same area.

Now taking a look at our startup project Coworkify we are currently building the entire service in English. If we were to incorporate with some exit strategy in short period of time, we will choose the places other than Japan. Why? It’s because of the above points mentioned by Mr. Nishida.

Although we believe our service is unique and definitely needed by the certain amount of people, it doesn’t mean we can follow the same path as those startups in the Valley. If we want to do things like a Valley startup, we have to become a real Valley startup. Otherwise, what you read at TechCrunch has nothing to do with your startup.

Lastly, Mr. Nishida concluded his post by saying the domestic entrepreneurs should focus on the kind of services that solve a real problem instead of producing gourmet, fashion, social apps that already exist. Needless to say, we are focusing on the former.

Having The Right Team At The Right Time

Fred Wilson wrote this great post few days ago about the management team at the first stage of startup, what he calls Product Building stage.

Although number of team members and co-founders may vary depending on scale of your product, I personally had to go through the similar process recently and reduced our team size from 9 to 4 people as a result.

A couple of weeks ago I heard from someone who attended the previous Startup Weekend saying that our team was just too large so that we won’t make it to the presentation on the last day of the event. I initially had same feeling but somehow we managed it while letting everyone join our team without questioning anything about his/her skills and without caring about overlapping between people.

Now that our project is at Product Building stage where everyone in the team must have certain skills and responsibilities not overlapping with each other. For this particular reason I had to make a tough decision to say “sorry, we will come back to you when we are at a certain phase in the future.”

This is not easy thing to say, especially to the people who were around us for a while as team members. However, at the same time it is true that overlapped skills and responsibilities in such a small team will create unnecessary communication effort and lots of frictions between team members which only you can resolve most of the time.

As a startup leader you don’t want to spend your time talking to team members just to make sure they don’t overlap each other. You want to focus on building a great product. If you find yourself spending too much time on communicating team members, maybe you’d better start thinking of solving the root cause of your problem.

Here is our current team structure and role of each person. 1) Frontend and backend developer (which is me) 2) UI/UX specialist 3) PR/Marketing 4) Business development and overall strategy. I’m hoping we won’t have to reduce number of people at least until product launch at DEMO.