Choosing the right idea is critical

Leave a comment

I’ve been home from AppCademy for a week now. All week I’ve been thinking about what I learned there and how to make the best use out of it. My next few posts will try to describe the most important things that I learned.

One of the biggest things I learned was how to analyze my idea – and any future ideas I have – in an objective manner. My career goal is to become really good at starting really successful businesses, so this skill is really important to me.

When I sat down to write this post I thought about different ways of communicating what I learned in an easy way. So, here it goes. I hope it has the impact that I intend it to have.

So imagine yourself back in medieval times with castles and stuff… (wavy fade in thingy)

Money on top of the castle

Money on top of the castle

So the king’s sworn enemy has stolen money from the people of the county and put it in a large glass jar on top of his castle. The king has assigned you the task of breaking the glass jar and capturing as much money as you can before they open the gates and unleash the hounds on you.

You arrive at the castle and asses the situation. Your idea is to quickly set up a see-saw type device and launch a rock up to break the jar. Using this method you can quickly sneak out of the woods, set it up, and maybe get a few tries at it before you need to high tail it out of there. (wavy fade out thing)

Ok, so this is a completely unrealistic scenario. But you can draw a lot of parallels to technology start ups. For one, you have a limited amount of time to try your idea before it loses its luster and the public forgets about you. It has to be pretty spot on from the get go.

Comparing the scenario to tech startups

Comparing the scenario to tech startups

So in this comparison you can think of the rock as being your idea, the board you’ll use the launch the rock as your assets, the hinge as the leverage you will get out of your assets, and you as the human resources you can use to accomplish the task. Lets look at each. I’ll look at the idea itself last.

Assets

So what do I mean by assets. Well in the fake scenario above the strength and size of the board are critical to your success. If the board is too short or if the board snaps under strain you will fail. The rock will go no where and you won’t even have a chance of accomplishing your objective.

In business your assets  are all of the physical (and digital) things you can use to launch your product. Your network of contacts. Your online presence. And let’s not forget the money that you invest. Lots of money can get you the perfect board. But you need to know that the cost is worth it.

Leverage

Leverage is directly related to your ability to use your assets. If you have that perfect board, but your hinge is just a small log you won’t be able to use the board to its potential.

This is directly relatable to business. And we see it all the time. People blow a bunch of money on marketing that doesn’t work or on the wrong target market. The way you leverage your assets is to be smart! Proper research about exactly what your money will return, what your contacts can and will do for you, and who your real target market is will help you leverage your assets properly. To really leverage your assets you need to know how to get the most out of everything you do.

Human Resources

Human resources are probably the most underestimated part of the whole thing – at least to the entrepreneur. Why? Because they think they ARE the human resources. They are, but its pretty unrealistic for someone to think they can be an expert at technology, business, marketing, and everything else you need to run a successful business. In the scenario above think about how much more effective your mission would be if you brought one of the king’s engineers with you. He could help you quickly analyze how far and how high you need to go with this rock and he’d probably be able to tell you exactly where to place your equipment for the best chance at success.

In business surrounding yourself with people that are smarter than you is just as critical. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. And by weaknesses, I don’t mean where you are weak. Rather – where you could and should be stronger.

Idea

Ok, so let’s get back to the idea. Imagine if you showed up to the castle with a rock already in hand. You don’t have any idea how high the thing is, how far away you’ll be, what board are nearby or what you can use as a hinge. But you’ve found the perfect rock!

The BIG idea

The BIG idea

In business we often hear people talk about their ideas and how passionate they are about them. And why not? Without an idea you have nothing. Right? Well that may not be true.

How many times have I heard someone with the next big social media service? Wow – people can connect online to other people they know! Like Facebook! Well, that is all well and good. And you may be able to be a way better Facebook than Facebook can. But its like showing up to the castle with a boulder. The work it is going to take to get the thing off the ground is enormous. Look at the huge failure of Google+. A big company like Google and even they can’t compete with Facebook. But yet lots of little startups think they can do it.

Someday someone will. Maybe they know a giant with a giant board!

On the other end of the spectrum are people who just want to build a quick app and expect to make a bunch of money at it. Lots of people do it. Why can’t they?

A stones throw

A stones throw

 

Well actually a lot of people don’t do it. The small stone is like the fart apps of the world. Easy to pick up and throw. But they don’t have the impact to break the jar. Sure maybe if you throw it 100 times you might chip the jar and get a few coins. But the chances are better that the stone will bounce off the jar, hit you in the head, and you’ll forever be known as the far app dude.

The right idea

So here is the thing. The right idea is different for everyone. And the right idea is usually not the first one. Everyone has to assess their own assets, how much they can leverage them, and whether they have the right human resources. Then, knowing all of that information, choose the right rock.

So imagine you are hiding in the woods looking at the castle with your engineer and a guy that can help with the heavy lifting. You’ve got your board and something that looks like a good lever. You find an area out in the woods to set up a few tests. You go looking for the perfect rock based on the size, shape, and weight you think you need. You try out a few of them to see how far you can launch them. You test their strength by smashing some branches. You test how many launches you can do in ten minutes – the amount of time you expect to have before the hounds get released on you.

Conclusions

  1. Choose your ideas based on your own personal assets and leverage. If you have bigger ideas spend time building up your assets and leverage before pursuing the idea.
  2. Test your ideas so to minimize risk. Start with small little tests and build up to a test that is as close to market conditions as you can replicate.
  3. If at first you don’t succeed… you are normal. Plan to make at least three significant attempts to try your idea before retreating.

The last thing I’d like to say is that this sounds like a lot more work that just throwing something out there and hoping for the best. It is only if you are lucky. If you’re  lucky go to the casino, it’s faster.

 

Please feel free to comment!

Advertisements

Time to get down to business

Leave a comment

I’m glad to be home, but I’m really missing Helsinki. Maybe its not Helsinki specifically. Maybe its just being in a new place and experiencing new things, meeting new people, eating new food. If going to Helsinki proved anything, it is that I could really get use to traveling more.

So I’m back to work on Timmo’s Challenge. This morning I got the Coventry and Helsinki versions (final) uploaded to the Windows Phone store for final approval. Coventry it suppose to go live next Saturday!

Coventry Start Screen

Coventry Start Screen

I’ve updated the app quite a bit in the past month adding some improvements to the user experience. Like, for example, when you are registering a player it can sometimes take a few seconds to return the call to the web service. So I’ve adding a “working” animation to let the user know it is doing something. And I’ve changes the keyboard to shows numbers by default is the answer is a number. Things like that to make the user experience a but more enjoyable.

Level Screen

Level Screen

I’ve also gone through the clues for each level of each of the episodes to make sure they are as challenging as I can make them without making them too hard. That’s is a difficult balance and I’m realizing that this is where this app with fail or succeed. Everything else could be great. If the clues are boring than the app won’t go anywhere.

I really think the New York, Boston, and Helsinki episodes are in good shape. The clues there are really challenging and – I think – fun.

I guess we’ll see starting a week from today!

 

One week to go!

2 Comments

Just a short post today. No pictures. Just want to make sure I keep posting something!

Anyway, this week has been exhausting. I started off exhausted and haven’t fully recovered. We’ve been working on our business plan a lot lately. We’ve been using a cool method (found here: http://businessmodelgeneration.com/) and taking apart our business plan bit by bit. We’re challenging things, changing things, challenging more things and trying to get it down to exactly what it should be.

Today we had a group of venture capitalists and angel investors in. This morning they gave us some presentations about their perspective when investing with our types of companies. Over the past couple weeks I’ve come to understand this more and several of my assumptions were proved wrong. Today clarified it even more.

We also got to meet one-on-one with these investors and get their take on our individual apps. I got some good interest in what I am doing. But also what the main challenges I will face.

Don’t Assume

So, some things I was wrong about.

PROBLEM 1: I thought I would build a ‘race’ in each city and make my way around to lots of different places. There are several problems with this thought. For one, I have limited content and limited budget for marketing in each location. So if I spent X in Boston I will get a certain number of people to play. They will soon run out of content and will go away. And since I had run out of budget to market no new players will find it. And eventually that market will die.

SOLUTION 1: A better approach would be to kick off in a limited number of markets (ie. Boston and New York because they are close) and nurture those markets with additional content. Probably even find a way for user generated content. Even if I have to test when users create before it goes live it is better than be spending all the time to create myself. As I build a community in those markets I can tweak the business model and once it proves itself sustainable I can move into other markets.

PROBLEM 2: I thought I could build this thing up by myself. But in order to do it right I need to do this at a large scale I need to build the products, design it well, create new content, market it to users, sell advertising opportunities, organize testing, monitor statistics, do my bookkeeping, handle customer support issues, and whatever else come up. That’s all well and good at this point. I am a generalist and can do most things reasonably well. The problem comes with doing any of those things REALLY well. I’ve experienced the pain of not doing things really well and also taking on too much myself. Don’t want to do that again.

SOLUTION 2: Networking. One of my favorite things to do. And one of the things I do best. Networking is one way to build a team. There are communities of people interested in working with/for startup companies that have the capabilities I need. It may not be all of the things I listed above. But maybe I can find a good business development person or sales person or designer that is willing to work for equity. Its not unheard of these days.

There is more…

Of course this is a small portion of what I’ve been going through this week. But its a good example of what an “accelerator program” can do. it would of taken me a long time to come to these conclusions on my own, if I ever did at all.

I won a monetary reward from AppCampus of about $25,000 (US). But I’m quickly learning that the time I’m savings, the connections I’m making, and the knowledge I’m gaining is worth many multiples of that for this project and any future projects I work on.

 

Startup Sauna is heating up the startup thinking

4 Comments

Last night we visited Startup Sauna, a co-working space also on the campus of Aalto University where startups are not just fostered, they are launched into space!

Startup Sauna

Startup Sauna

We got to mingle with some Sauna Alumni while munching on the favorite meal of geeks – pizza and beer. It was a great opportunity to learn what it really takes to launch a real company.

One of the most interesting guys I met was Mikelis Studers from Catch Box. It is a throw able microphone for group events. Its shaped like a cube, can be branded, and makes presentations a lot more fun because people can literally toss the mic. Check out their site at www.thecatchbox.com Right now they are in the pre-development phase, but hope to have product on the shelves in a couple months.

Pizza, beer, business, geeks

Pizza, beer, business, geeks

So today I really started diving into the nuts and bolts of my business plan. I figured out the top 30 markets that I want to get into and detailed the cost to build apps in those markets. On average I’m looking at $1,300 per market in expenses.

I then finalized my pricing model. An episode will contain at least 6 levels. The app will be free to download and will contain 2 of the levels. Each additional 2 levels will cost the user $5, which they can purchase inside the app itself.

So in each market I need at least 260 users to download at least 2 additional levels to break even. My goal, however, is for 200 people per million in a market to download the app. For 30% of those to download 2 extra levels and another 30% to download 2 extra levels.

So in Boston I’d expect 800 downloads and an income of $3,600. This is over a one year period.

The big question now is – how do I get into those 30 markets? And how do I get into them before someone else copies the idea and does it faster. The common approach in the startup community is to look for an “Angel Investor”. Someone with so much money they actually enjoy risking it. Well maybe that isn’t totally true. But they do invest in newer and thus riskier businesses. I’m not so sure about it though. It strike two wrong nerves with me. #1 – I don’t do partnerships. Like my buddy Dave Ramsey says – “The only ship that doesn’t sail is a partnership“. And #2 it seems too much like a loan, which I also don’t do. I’ve been told that it isn’t a loan. It is someone looking to help me and make money from it. But I still feel like I’d be risking their money.

So that was the reason for tonight’s walk. To try to think it through. A night time stroll towards the docks turned into an idea for level 4 in Helsinki. I found some more really cool things. Like Hotel Hanko!

Hotel Hanko!

Hotel Hanko!

And this place got a giggle out of me. And then I laughed because I giggled all by myself. And then I snorted because I laughed out loud by myself. It could of gotten a lot worse if someone wasn’t walking directly toward me.

Cafe... Hahaha.. Fanny

Cafe… Hahaha.. Fanny

But I did find a great looking tower lit up. It was on top of a hill that looks out over the harbor. I’ll be back in the day time to get a picture in that direction.

Cool tower

Cool tower

 

Then I got lost. I thought I was going east, but apparently I was going south. I was walking through the expensive district. I could tell it was the expensive district because grown women were walking dogs with sweaters on that could fit in a purse. You know the kind. And because people were (#1) jogging at night and (#2) wearing clothes they bought just for jogging.

I also was passing shops that looked like they were more like a piece of art rather than an actual place of commerce. Like this sweet shop where every item looked like it was individually created for a specific person.

Expensive treats

Expensive treats

In the end I just came back to the hotel, turned on Mythbusters, and decided to give my brain a rest until tomorrow.

Tomorrow we have an open house where lots of people will be visiting and we’ll be pitching for a number of people.

So chow for now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proving my business model

1 Comment

One of the key points of my business model is that my cost to create a new app will be lower than the money I make from selling it. Basic business concept, right?

My secret weapon for keeping the costs down is a separate app dubbed “Capture” where I can visit some place and create a new adventure on the fly as I’m enjoying it myself. So I set out this past weekend to do just that here in Helsinki. I got one level done Saturday. And then yesterday I got two more levels done. It was a pretty crisp and cold day, or I would probably have been able to do another one!

The Zamboni on one of the many ice rinks in the city

The Zamboni on one of the many ice rinks in the city

Helsinki has so many great places to see. The tricky part, for me, was creating clues that were difficult enough, but still doable.

I set off for the waterfront again and was treated with finding even more interesting sites that I found last week. I found some docks that have cruises. It must be fantastic to be here in the summer with all of the boats. It kind of reminded me of Greenport. I can imagine taking the boat here for the day and enjoying some drinks with friends before heading back.

Helsinki Cruises

Helsinki Cruises

There is a really cool park near the waterfront too, which has a nice hill you can climb and get an amazing view of the water on one side and the city on the other. Yesterday there were lots of kids sledding. I had to respect them too. It wasn’t just a smooth little hill like we have back home. They were sledding through trees and off little cliffs!

And I saw something extra cool… An actual one horse open sleigh… And yeah, it had jingle bells on it.

Dashing through the snow...

Dashing through the snow…

Here it is jingling away…

A couple more photos of yesterday’s journey…

The buildings continue to impress

The buildings continue to impress

 

Camping? No camping? I can't figure it out. Maybe no teepees?

Camping? No camping? I can’t figure it out. Maybe no teepees?

 

I got a much closer look at the cruise ship

I got a much closer look at the cruise ship

 

So anyway… I was able to complete three full levels over the weekend and I have a full app ready to go. And, if I may say so myself, its pretty darn cool!

 

Which led into this morning…

So this morning I met with my designer coach again. With the weekend under my belt I was able to more clearly see that Timmo’s Challenge is just one type of puzzle trek that I could create. I could do a series that was more for history buffs or one that was more rural than city. We drew out a hierarchy where “Puzzle Trek” was the company and main platform. And under it was different versions of puzzle treks (lowercase). I could define this as a new activity and be first to market with something unique. While still owning the platform for creating them.

That has my brain going again. Which is good, because I walked for hours this weekend and I appreciate a day working in the office.

 

Timmo’s Challenge Helsinki has begun!

3 Comments

Today I had an awesome time working on Level 1 of Timmo’s Challenge – Helsinki! I got an entire level done and the app built. So tomorrow I can go out and get 2 or 3 more levels built and I should be good for testing this week.

Svenska Teaterun - Swedish speaking theater

Svenska Teaterun – Swedish speaking theater

I finally got to see open water! Well almost… There was a thin layer of ice, but this area seemed to be ice-broken.

See the cruise ship?

See the cruise ship?

This one was actually a lot bigger than it looks in the photo. It was bigger than the buildings next to it.

There was even a ferry running, and it was quite busy. I translated the destination and it said “Finnish Castle”. I’ll have to look at where that goes!

Finnish Castle Ferry

Finnish Castle Ferry

Then the site seeing really got interesting. I walked a few blocks to this Cathedral because it looked really cool from a distance. But it looked even better up close. I would have loved to see the inside.

Orthodox Cathedral

Orthodox Cathedral

Down the street from this one was another Cathedral that was just as spectacular. This one is a Lutheran Cathedral. Note the kids on the steps butt sliding down them. Its a lot easier when they are smoothed out by the snow.

Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral

Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral

I started wandering around the streets in this area. There were all kinds of little nooks and crannies that were interesting. I wish I had more time just for photos alone. Jess would be in seventh heaven here!

Gates and old buildings

Gates and old buildings

The sea is still frozen in most areas. I found one area where I could walk out onto the ice and right up to boats that were still in the clutches on old man winter.

Frozen boats

Frozen boats

They were going to use ball and chain, but they couldn’t get a permit.

Bridge of Love

Bridge of Love

It was pretty cold out. Probably around 20 degrees. So I stopped and had a cappuccino and “apple pie”. It was even better than it looks.

A nice break

A nice break

After warming up a bit, strolling through the streets was even nicer when it got dark. The city seems to come to life even more at night. Or at least Saturday night.

Street after street lit up nicely

Street after street lit up nicely

Dinner was a “Deer Rogue”. It was beyond good. Linguini in a cheese sauce with hot jam on the side. Yeah, jam. Boysenberry or maybe loganberry. It was outstanding.

Deer Rogue

Deer Rogue

 

Well that’s it for today. Sorry for all the photos. But they tell it all.

Chow.

Still trying to make a name

7 Comments

Today was either the best day here at AppCadamey so far or the worst. I haven’t decided yet.

It started off okay. I got in early, got  coffee and found a cozy spot to work for the day. I made great progress piecing together my Manhattan steps.

Great work cubes

Great work cubes

Today was the day I was to work with 4 branding and design experts 1-on-1 and get feedback on my app. My first coach was Pauliina, an expert on brands. She was a speaker yesterday and a group of us had lunch with her. She has a great outlook and personality.

Her task for me was to come up with my personal mission statement. Why am I doing what I’m doing. I went from “just because” to “to make a game to get people outdoors and active” to “to make people healthier and to appreciate their surroundings” to “to make people’s lives more enjoyable”. This was after much tooth pulling on her part. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but she explained I needed to in order to understand the emotion behind the brand. The emotion that would make someone want to buy my app.

Her homework for me was to come up with my “unique value proposition”. Me personally. What makes me unique and why would someone want to buy this from me versus someone else. I sense more tooth pulling. I have no clue right now.

So back to working on Manhattan. Sitting in  my cube and looking the steps I have captured in New York.

Manhattan is going to rock!

Manhattan is going to rock!

I went through my steps, put them in order, adjusted the scoring, made the clue wording better. I was on a roll! Manhattan IS going to be awesome. This is unlike anything anyone has done before.

My next coach was an actual game designer. I demo’d my app for him and he started asking me about how he could create his own versions. He liked the app, but he was concerned that it would be hard to scale and get out in a lot of places easily and without spending a fortune. So he thought my business proposition needs to be in selling the platform. Use Timmo’s Challenge to prove the concept and then sell the platform to other people to build their own versions.

The last session was with two designers and was for two hours. This is what I was looking forward to. It was billed as a session where they would really push our app forward a great deal. It was scheduled from 3 to 5. It didn’t last that long…

I demo’d the app for them. They didn’t seem impressed and didn’t have much to say other than it was a bit too minimalistic. They started asking questions that made me see that they just didn’t “get it”. This went on for an hour. Me trying to explain why they would want to play it. They thought if it were for fitness than they wouldn’t want to do the clues. If it was a puzzle than they wouldn’t want to do any running. They didn’t get it was what you wanted to use it for.

At 4:30 we gave up. I packed up my stuff and was the first to leave the building for the day. I went back to my room, laid down, and passed out. I couldn’t top thinking that if they didn’t get it then neither would lots of other people. And maybe my friends and family had been too kind.

I woke up an hour later and went for a walk. I needed some inspiration. Something to help me figure out how to explain what this app is in a way people would understand. Luckily, Helsinki has plenty of things to look at and inspire.

Looking for inspiration

Looking for inspiration

I didn’t really find the answer on my walk. But I did find a Mexican restaurant, which cheered me up! And I found this cool thing. it was made of these really beautiful wood slices. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

More inspiration

More inspiration

Well that’s all I have in me tonight. Hopefully tomorrow things will be a bit clearer.

Chow chow!

PS – I just brought my laundry to get washed. 21 euro for a grocery bag of laundry!!! Holy rip off.

Older Entries