Choosing the right idea is critical

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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!

Time to get down to business

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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!

 

A life changing experience

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Sitting here in Detroit waiting for my connection back to Connecticut I’m trying to digest the past month a bit. Its pretty hard for me to fully appreciate how this experience will change my life, but I know it will.

Well maybe a little bit about yesterday first…

Yesterday was our last day at AppCampus. We each gave a final, 4 minute, presentation – mine went pretty well I think. I’ll upload it when I get home. Then we got our graduation certificates.

It's official now

It’s official now

We then started to say our goodbyes. I can’t say enough good things about the AppCampus staff. They are really amazing at what they do. They made us all feel welcomed and special. I could tell from each of them that we were important them. And that made us work harder and get better.

Mike Bradshaw is great. I’m convinced he had previous careers as either a first grade teacher or a cat herder. How else could he have kept 20 teams from around the world busy, out of trouble, and productive for 4 weeks? Seriously Mike, I really appreciate the hard work you out in to make this a success.

Tiina and Anna in the office helped me get my app QA’d and all issues resolved! Its because of the that our apps will be much better than the average apps in the marketplace. Thanks Ladies!

Alina was extremely helpful with some marketing ideas for my app from herself and others. Us geeks don’t really have marketing brains so her knowledge and expertise is extremely valuable. Thanks Alina!

Speaking of geeks, Teemu – the guru – was a great technical resource. And what I like about Teemu is that he always has a smile on his face and is always willing to help. Thanks Teemu!

Paola Borella and Pekka Sivonen were really great mentors. They pushed us to strive for greatness. They helped us see our unique value and to develop ways of translating that into something meaningful. You guys had more impact on me than was probably apparent. Don’t worry, I’ll make you proud.

Friends for life

You know when you connect with someone that know you will be a friend for a long time? Well that happened dozens of times for me with the group of fellow AppCampers. I hope to feature a blog post on all of the teams at some point, but to mention couple…

My roomies Jodon and Doug from Vancouver were really great guys. We had tons of laughs. And I really respect their work. They released their app Fling Theory yesterday. Its super cool! Check it out here… http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/fling-theory/3fb05fa1-03e6-467f-9355-3b3778ca2858

BTW guys – its on the front page of the store! Top row!

Another cool couple guys are Anthony and Laurent from France. Their company is Monkey Moon check it out. http://www.monkeymoon.net/ They are working on a cool puzzle game called HarshQuad. When they learned Debbie liked puzzle games they put a special version on my phone just for her. That was a really cool gesture guys!

We really bonded last night – our last together in Heksinki. First we went to Sky Express for large pizza and beers.

Yeah, we took over the place

Yeah, we took over the place

Then we all hiked down to Swengi, a karaoke bar. And we took over that place too. We sang We Are The World and a bunch of other songs and had a really great time.

We are the word!

We are the word!

 

I’m looking forward to seeing these guys again. Maybe AppCampus will offer a Masters Program?

If you think this is the end of this blog – its not. I’m going to keep it up until I’ve accomplished my goals for Timmo’s Challenge. More on my next adventures coming soon.

Thanks AppCampus! It was really a life-changing experience thanks to you all!

Ode to Omena Hotel

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Our love affair was a brief one
only 23 days I enjoyed your pleasures
but 23 days I will never forget.

Some say you are strange
for not having a front desk.
But you always were a rebel.
Be gone front desk! Be gone helpful staff!
Be gone iron! The neat and tidy are wicked, wicked people!

You could never be taunted as wasteful
with your 3-in-one green goo soap… stuff
and your once a week cleaning
a finer clean there never was

Unscented, mostly water, green translucent gel

Unscented, mostly water, green translucent gel

Ah, but your greenish amenity shall never be taken!
For if he tried it would leak all over his underwear
because you do not even provide a cap!
Be gone caps!!

And you clientele – you shun no one
surely that is a character trait worth noting
Your lowest of prices welcome all sort of drunken being
and foreign gymnast team
(much acclaimed for their early morning door slamming)
and destitute Russian tourists

Ah - the drunk peoples poetry!

Ah – the drunk peoples poetry!

 

But alas I has fallen for another
her name is Radisson
She cannot compare to your charms
But we will always have the 2 am fire drills
and Ha! The memories of being woken up
by the cleaners of the rooms and their smirks
as they barge into our rooms unannounced

Farewell my love!

We'll always have fire drills

We’ll always have fire drills

 

 

Last Sunday. Last Capture.

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Well today is my last Sunday in Helsinki. It seems that Sunday has been my best day each week. Lots of walking around, good weather, good food, etc. Today was no exception.

I’ve got tons of photos, so I’ll just kick it off…

Parliament Building

Parliament Building

Level 4 (which may now be level 3) started off with a tour of the official buildings on one of the main streets in Helsinki. The Parliament building was especially interesting. The clues for this one are going to be pretty hard to find. 🙂

Overlooking the Olympic Stadium

Overlooking the Olympic Stadium

There are miles and miles of parks in Helsinki. I followed one part and saw the hill. I climbed it to get a better look of what was around and whammo… the Olympic Stadium. Pretty awesome!

Rose Garden

Rose Garden

On the way around to the front of the stadium I found this really cool rose garden. The building was really interesting. I bet in the summer it is even better to visit.

Football

Football

On the other side of the stadium there were several soccer fields (football here) and there was some sort of tournament going on because there were lots of matches going on. Note the girl in the lower right… carrying cross country skies. You see that all over the place here because there is so much snow everywhere that people ski from place to place.

Another semi-outdoor arena

Another semi-outdoor arena

Then there was one of the highlights of the day… The Olympic Tower. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

 

Olympic Tower

Olympic Tower – 1952 Olympics

There are plenty of naked lady statues in Helsinki – if that’s your thing. This one seems to have a fascination with seagulls. Seems kind of weird to me. So I took a picture of it of course.

Whatever floats your gull

Whatever floats your gull

Then came the real highlight of the day. The Sibelius monument. I loved this thing so much it deserves several photos. Its really a lot larger than it looks. (That’s what she said)

Sibelius 1

Sibelius 1

Sibelius 3

Sibelius 2

Sibelius 3

Sibelius 3

Artists signature

Artists signature

This is what the texture looks like up close

This is what the texture looks like up close

Sibelius

Sibelius

Nearby there was an AWESOME little café. It was right on the shore. Besides selling coffee you could have a campfire and cook assorted meat products on a stick. Smelled spectacular, but the place was busy and I was on a mission so I couldn’t partake.

Yum

Yum

 

Small place, big line. Must be good.

Small place, big line. Must be good.

Its hard to see… but here is the hot dog cookery. I wish I could insert smells into this post. :o)

Smoking hot

Smoking hot

 

Apartments on the water

Apartments on the water

The apartments on the water are awesome looking. These all look out over the sea. I took the photo from basically the docks on the other side of the road.

Ok, time for pizza and beer with the gang. Probably our last beer drinking shin dig of the trip.

Chow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do a good turn daily

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Well I did my good turn for the day. And it will probably be one of the most memorable events of the trip.

I was walking back to the hotel when I see this woman who looks lost, looking around the hotel. As I opened the outside door she said something, but I didn’t understand her. Crazy Finnish language. I tried speaking to her in English, but she didn’t know any. That was weird because every Finn I’ve met so far has been able to understand English.

So I motioned inside, thinking she needed to get in. She followed me in. Then she was looking around still while I waited for the elevator. She said something else to me and I got an idea. I lead her into the pizzeria next door and asked them to translate. But they didn’t understand her either. I could see she was getting frustrated. I tried different things to understand, but no use.

I motioned upstairs. Maybe she is looking for a friend. So we got in the elevator and headed up. She passed a few floors then followed me off of mine. Great, now I have a tag-along. That I don’t understand.

Next idea – maybe she can use my laptop to translate somehow. So we go into my room (I know what you’re thinking. No.). But she couldn’t even type anything! Finally she motioned for a pen and paper, which I gave her. I totally couldn’t understand that either.

Say what?

Say what?

But that gave me another idea – to find her nationality. Russian. Ah! I know some Russians and they are right down the hall. So I go grab Andrey and Roman and they determine that she was basically dumped here by some “friends” and needed to book a room. but, since the lovely Omena doesn’t have any on-site staff she couldn’t. And, she only has cash.

So she gave me the cash and I got her a room. Yeah, I made someone’s day. Maybe three people’s day… Andrey and Roman thought it was pretty funny.

 

 

One week to go!

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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.

 

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