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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Brainstorm a Great Business Name

Naming a business is by far the hardest task for startups when it comes to branding. It’s permanent, or at least feels that way. Somehow renaming a company seems like a much bigger deal than a logo redesign, although neither should be undertaken lightly.

Naming a company is also high stakes. A name is the primary calling card of a business, and shows up places that even a logo doesn’t. In casual conversation, for instance. It's also highly emotional. Think about people’s gut reactions to baby names. Everyone has a different association or interpretation (“That name picked its nose in third grade!”). And don’t even get me started on finding an available URL without resorting to some wacky misspelling.
When it comes to brainstorming company names, often quantity matters more than quality -- at least at the start of the process. Here are a few guidelines for generating a whole lot of quantity. Once you have at least a handful of solid contenders, you can decide on the quality.

1. Gather the right people and materials.
Get a good group in the room -- five to eight is about the right number. It’s helpful to have a mix of team members and outsiders. Invite copywriters or even just friends who are really good with language. You should have some way to display all the names being generated in real time. For example, go old school with huge pieces of paper stuck to the wall and magic markers. You will also need blank pieces of paper and pens for everyone involved.
Start with a few word-association exercises to get everyone’s minds working and generate stimuli for the next step. Typically, we’ll choose two to three topics related to the business idea. So let’s say you’re launching a business that facilitates mobile payment. You might do one word association around the idea of “payment,” and one around the idea of “on the go.”
With a blank piece of paper in front of them, everyone now has to individually come up with 10 names in 10 minutes. This is an incredibly short amount of time to come up with 10 names, and that’s on purpose. It’s so people can’t get bogged down trying to come up with the perfect name, and instead just start getting names on paper. No one has time to overthink or be self-conscious. (There are no bad ideas.) If it’s helpful, they can use the words from the first exercise as inspiration.
Next, everyone passes their sheet of paper to the person to the left, and each person has to come up with five more names in seven minutes that build upon the names in front of them. This provides each person with concrete stimuli for inspiration and allows them to expand creatively on the thinking of their neighbor. 
Papers get passed one more time to the left. Now each person, with 15 new names in front of them, circles their five favorites and shares with the group. As everyone is sharing, names should get visibly captured and people should be encouraged to build upon these names as they’re read aloud.

2. Loosen up.
Everyone in the room is encouraged to shout out any words that come to mind from these concepts. So for payment you’d get answers like: bank, money, dollar, exchange, change, cash register, merchant and others. Someone should be capturing these words in a way that’s visible to everyone, and you continue until you’ve filled a large page, and then move on to the next. Ideally at the end of this exercise, you’ll have a few large sheets filled with words on the wall.

3. Start generating.

4. Generate some more.

5. Share and build.
At this point, you will have tons of names on the wall, and even more written down on sheets of paper. Many will be terrible, though often gems do emerge. But this doesn’t mean you’re done. It's helpful to have everyone vote for their top three favorites, and then end the meeting.
In the next few weeks, sort through every name (including those that weren't read out loud). Type your favorites on individual sheets of paper. (It can be hard to evaluate names on an Excel spreadsheet of hundreds.) Check whether the URL is available, even though this process can be excruciating.
At that point, sift through the names again. Set short deadlines -- perhaps one name per day -- for team members to generate five more names each and add them to the list.
Then make a short list. Sit with it. Remember that there’s no such thing as the “perfect” name that tells your entire story and that everyone will fall in love with on first sight, especially in the absence of a brand experience. You just need a good, solid name that is own-able, pronounce-able, spell-able, and doesn’t have any obvious negative connotations. Branding can take care of the rest.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

9 Most Important Elements of Every Start-up

The best businesses are based on stronger stuff than just your 'vision.' Bring together these nine ingredients and you're well on your way.

It used to be that start-ups began with the “entrepreneur’s vision,” which was usually a highly product-centric idea for a company. Only much later--and after much agonizing--would the founder discover the idea itself didn’t amount to a complete business model. 

That era in start-ups is over. Or at least it should be. 

Using the Customer Development process along with the business model canvas first developed by Alexander Osterwalder, it’s possible to assemble a far more detailed version of your “vision” that includes the nine most important elements of any successful business (we’ll get to what those are below). With that in hand, you can validate your vision with the only possible “validators”--your potential customers.  As customers applaud or pan elements of the business model, you iterate the model and pivot over time based on that feedback. The constantly updated business model becomes a “scorecard” for monitoring progress as you go through the Customer Discovery phase. 
And that’s how you develop an idea based on more substantive stuff than just vision. 

9 Most Important Elements of a Business 

Osterwalder’s business canvas helps illustrate how a company intends to make money. It’s made up of nine key points that represent any company’s complete business (for much more detail, read either The Startup Owner’s Manual or Osterwalder’s Business Model Design (Wiley). 

In step one of Customer Discovery, you’ll first summarize (and then develop a one- or two-page brief) about each of the following: 

1. Value Proposition: the product/service, its features and benefits or uniqueness vs. competition; size of the market opportunity; and the MVP or minimum viable product that best illustrates the product as quickly as possible to elicit customer feedback early

2. Customer Segments: who your customer is and what problems the product solves 

3. Channels: how you’ll distribute and sell your product

4. Customer Relationships: how you’ll create demand

5. Cost Structure: the fixed and variable costs required to operate your business

6. Key Activities: the tasks the company must perform to succeed

7. Key Resources: suppliers, commodities, or other essential elements of the business

8. Key Partners: other enterprises essential to success of the business

9. Revenue Streams: revenue and profit sources and size 
In the earliest stages of business model development, it’s often most helpful to start with the first four elements at the heart of most businesses.

Testing the Model 

Step two of Customer Discovery involves testing your above list of hypotheses with customers, preferably in face-to-face interviews. At least once a week, update the canvas to reflect any pivots or iterations, highlighting in red the changes from the last week. After you and your team agree on the changes to your business model, integrate them into what becomes your new canvas for the week (with accepted changes then shown in black). During the next week note any new changes again in red. Then repeat, repeat, repeat. 

Don’t expect every customer or channel prospect you interview to have a valid opinion on every aspect of the business model. Some users will know a great deal about the features they’d like to see, and perhaps about competition. Others will know more about how the company buys products, some will know about how much the company might pay, or how serious the problem actually is. Most will offer good feedback about the way they learn about new products in their industry.  

Your team’s job is to get as much feedback as possible using the Customer Discovery method to assemble a credible, validated “mosaic” that over time will affirm or validate all nine sets of business model hypotheses.

Note:  This post is an excerpt from the recently published book, The Startup Owner’s Manualwritten by serial entrepreneurs-turned-educators Steve Blank and Bob Dorf. 

Source: http://www.inc.com/steve-blank/9-most-important-elements-successful-startups.html

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Monday, July 9, 2012

5 Reasons Why Running a Startup is Like MMA

I’ve been practicing martial arts as far back as I can remember.  As a geeky kid, I got bullied a lot in grade school.  My dad enrolled me in Karate classes and I’ve been hooked ever since by what is, for me, the most intellectually-stimulating sport in the world.  In around thirty years of training, I’ve done Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kali/Arnis, Aikido, Judo, Boxing, Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, and Muay Thai. 

Also, it’s now my seventh year of running a company.  It started as just a two-man Java & Agile training firm with my business partner Butch Landingin, with practically no capital. Now it’s a 130-strong consulting firm with a clientele of the some of the largest companies in the world, and some of the top software professionals in the country. Looking back at my struggles in starting the company, I can see a lot of parallels between running a startup and the martial arts.

Endurance Comes First
In the ring, your technique, speed and strength are useless once you run out of breath.  After that you’re a sitting duck.  In business, your endurance is your cashflow.  You might have a unique product, be the darling of the media, have rapid customer acquisition, or even a growing amount of billings.  If you’re not able to pace yourself to fit your inflow of cash, or if you’re not able to collect on billings fast enough, that’s the end of your business.

Fight Your Game
In MMA, a coach would say, “don’t play his game, make him play your game”.  A wrestler shouldn’t try to trade blows with a kickboxer, and instead try to take the kickboxer to the ground where strikes will be ineffective.  Likewise, a kickboxer will try to keep the fight standing up against a wrestler.
However, a lot of business people, including ourselves at O&B, have a tendency to look at what their peers and competitors are doing and then feel an urgent need to do the same thing.  “Mobile is hot... we should do that!”  “Xxx is going into the healthcare industry, we should do the same!”
There’s a tendency to undervalue one’s unique strengths.  Instead, define and cultivate your strengths and formulate a strategy around them.  Make the world play your game, not the other way around. 

Probe Constantly
A good coach always reminds his fighter to jab and feint constantly.  This is to probe the reactions of the opponent.  Rushing in with a fixed plan in mind at the beginning of a fight is a good way to get knocked-out or submitted.
The Lean Startup movement considers every part of a business plan as a hypothesis needing to be validated.  Spending a lot of time and money on wrong assumptions can leave you with no room to adjust your business plan.
Go out and talk to potential customers to find out what they really want.  Create low-cost internet ads even if you haven’t built your product yet, just to find out what features people want and what price they’re willing to pay.  Release a product that has only a minimal set of features, then ask customers what other features they want so that you have a better idea of which features are worth building. 

Just Do Your Job
I’ve gotten in the ring and the fear of getting hurt has kept me from executing my game.  I’ve also gotten in the ring flush with overconfidence and aggression that I spent all my energy in the first minute. 
Running a startup is an emotional roller coaster, and both the highs and the lows can distract you from doing your job properly.  Maybe you’re worried about how to meet payroll next week, but collect yourself before facing customers or they won’t buy from you.  Maybe you’re thrilled that a venture capitalist is interested in your company, but don’t spend all of the next month on presentations and due diligence requirements and forget your customers and employees who need you for the day-to-day work. 

Respect Your Community - Your Peers & Competitors
There’s been a lot of trash talk in MMA lately, but you know it’s mostly for show, since most trash-talking competitors show great respect for each other after the fight.  The martial arts is still well-grounded in mutual respect.
Cultivating goodwill in the martial arts community is valuable since your peers allow you to train with them and exchange techniques.  Many of the top fighters in MMA do their rounds training with various camps. 

The media like to play up company rivalries - patent suits, executive poaching, cutthroat marketing campaigns... but behind the scenes is a community of businesspeople with a mutual personal respect for one another.  When a Coke employee tried to sell the Coke formula to Pepsi, the Pepsi executives declined the offer and informed Coke.  Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt had been seen having coffee with each other when they were CEOs of bitter rivals Apple and Google.  My own experience in the Philippine software industry is a community of business people with a sincere desire to give back to the country - through collaboration in helping the academe, in marketing the country, in lobbying the government... - even as we compete fiercely with one another for clients and recruits. 

There is such great value in maintaining goodwill.  I have always received help in one way or another from my peers in the industry, without expecting anything in return.  Sometimes it’s just a little bit of advice.  Sometimes they even send business my way!

On the other hand, I have seen people in my industry try to build companies while holding real contempt for their fellow businessmen.  For various reasons, most of these companies don't succeed as far as they'd hoped, and many don't last. 

Work ethic, strategic thinking, and a strong culture of respect are some of the values in competitive MMA that are just as important in the world of startups.  MMA isn’t for everyone, but if you’re an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur that’s interested in trying it out, there’s a lot important things you can pick up from the MMA culture.  On the other hand, if you’re already a competitive MMA fighter, you might consider trying your hand at entrepreneurship!  The values you’ve learned in the fight world carry well into the business world. 

Source: http://calenlegaspi.blogspot.com/2012/07/5-reasons-why-running-startup-is-like.html

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When Do I Quit My Day Job?

Today's post is another video by successful entrepreneur and CEO, Jay Adelson. Jay demystifies the process of launching a company by answering aspiring entrepreneur's questions. 
In today's post, he discusses one of the most asked question: When do I quit my day job?!

Enjoy the video! More to come soon..

Entrepreneur, CEO, and business owner Jay Adelson (Equinix, Digg, Revision3, SimpleGeo)

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