There aren’t many people that have seen the center of a tornado on purpose but all of us can picture it quite clearly at the mere mention. Turmoil. Mayhem. Frenetic activity. Danger. Speed. Uncertainty. To most, this is probably a place that they would never volunteer to be but there are a few – the crazy ones – that chase these things down out of curiosity and even scientific advancement.
The closest second to the insanity of a tornado is being an entrepreneur during the formation of a startup. First off, building a company is, at times, the most stressful, tearful, joyful, self-deprecating and infinitely rewarding experience someone could have. It is also like driving a million miles an hour, 1 inch off the ground. The slightest wobble and all is derailed. This is the challenge for an entrepreneur in a standard industry growing and innovating at a standard rate, this is amplified in an industry like mobile and pervasive computing where change happens daily and business models change quarterly.
Right in the middle of this startup storm today are Blipboard co-founders Aneil Mallavarapu and Jason Fischl. The company is focused on mobile local discovery through location tagged “blips” left behind by your social graph. The concept is baked, the business is under constant upheaval and we get a glimpse into their lives as they build this company.
Aneil and Jason offer up their raw, unfiltered experiences in this episode – the longest ever recorded on UNTETHER.tv. If you have ever wondered what it looks like right in the eye of the entrepreneurial storm in the middle of a transformational industry, this is the episode you must watch. It is rare to get a glimpse of a company at this stage so learn from it and learn from these guys.
Here is a quick reference of what we covered in the show. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip
1. What is blipboard 1:15
2. Examples of Blip’s in action 3:00
3. How it works 6:30
4. What are parts of the app 10:00
5. What industry is a perfect match for blipboard 12:10
6. Aneil’s background and how is it relevant to blipboard 16:20
7. Jason’s background and the thing that finally convinced him to come to blipboard 22:25
8. Why do you feel this is the platform of the future? 26:30
9. How important is the power of simplicity 27:50
10. What is the penetration needed to create a successful company like this? 31:00
11. How soon do you try to make money with blipboard 34:50
12. How are you living? Funded? Bootstrapping? Looking for funding? 37:30
13. 7 Lessons learned 39:00
14. Lesson #1: Have a great partner 40:45
15. Lesson #2: Don’t be freaked out by competition 43:10
16. Lesson #3: Don’t get wrapped up in fancy design before getting the UI 49:00
17. Lesson #4: How did you test UI/UX – wireframes are not UX 52:00
18. Lesson #5: Dealing with distractions 60:30
19. Lesson #6: Don’t over develop the backend 67:45
20. Lesson #7: Get the pitch right 72:15
My key takeaways
Partnerships are about timing
For many years Aneil and Jason wanted to work together but the opportunity was never right. Forcing a partnership at the wrong time with the wrong skills leads to a disaster regardless of the skills of the partners. The timing could be around milestones, capabilities, funding, technical or sales requirements, among others. There is a misconception that partnerships can be exclusively about complimentary skills but that often time doesn’t cut it. Partners need to be aligned in more ways than just in-business skills (i.e. technical vs sales or marketing), there needs to be a point in time when they see eye-to-eye on business direction among other things.
Are you looking at a partnership? Is it one-directional? Does it only satisfy a technical or sales requirements or is it a deeper partnership where there is business alignement.
Humanize the vision
It is most often the simplest of ideas that resonate and stick. The complexity of Aneil and Jason’s idea could confuse people if there was too much detail. Instead, Aneil humanized it and, at the same time, identified the type of user they were looking for when he said they were building the “Twitter for nearby” – simple, easy to understand and the audience self-identifies.
How can you make your vision resonate? Simplify and test.
Stop thinking about sophistication – start thinking about marketing
We tend to complicate things. It is a human trait for many – especially when the outcome is so simple. For some reason we feel we need to add complexity to ideas or services or products in order to show value. Aneil and Jason stopped thinking about the product as a technology and started looking at it from a marketing vantage point. What’s the difference? One sells the features of the technology, the other pulls the technology through a clearly defined audience.
Start thinking about how you will market your product – is it something that is natural or are you having a hard time? If you are having a hard time, you might still be selling the technology. If it is still not happening, you might need to re-imagine your idea to better suit a market.
Positioning for the future (fill a hole to move another service company forward)
In the back of most entrepreneurs heads is the exit. We are told not to focus on it but, somewhere, some time there needs to be a thought about it – if it is part of the plan. Finding a niche means finding a place or company that the niche helps. It can’t be a stretch, it needs to be a logical evolution and there has to be a business between the start and the exit.
Ask yourself where your product or company can fit – eventually. Find the pain points that aren’t being addressed and start down that path. Do this only if your goal is to be acquired.
Define your magic moment
Why are people going to use your product? There needs to be a moment that hooks them, a moment that brings them back, a moment that makes them a customer. What is yours? You should always be asking this very question – what is our magic moment – at every turn. If you can’t answer it, figure it out and fast. If you don’t have one – if there isn’t a reason to use your product a second or third time – you don’t have a sustainable business. Find a magic moment or re-think your product or service.
Move away from defensive mode as an entrepreneur
If you are going to ask advice from someone – a beta user, an early customer, any one – do not get defensive when they respond. We tend to get blinded by our own product or service and defend it regardless of the productive nature of the feedback we receive. Listen, they are your potential customers, they know a thing or two, they may actually want to spend their money on your product. Listen. Learn. Listen again. Don’t get your back up, don’t get defensive, don’t get aggressive and don’t ever take advantage of those that offer feedback. They are assets for your business.
What do you think? Also, what do you think of the new format for the episodes? Do you like the chapters for quick reference? The takeaways? What else would you like to see. Leave a comment or two below or email me.
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About Aneil Mallavarapu
Aneil Mallavarapu is an award winning computer scientist from Harvard with a PhD from UCSF. As director of the little b project, he created a language for making biology computable. His work has been covered in Nature, Science, Wired and Ars Technica. At Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Aneil spearheaded genomics-based knowledge management. Technologies he led and developed were sold to partners such as Bayer, Aventis and Monsanto for over $50M. Aneil was part of a founding team which spun out a startup from Millennium. Aneil is the author of several scientific papers, which continue to be taught at top universities.
About Jason Fischl
Jason Fischl is a hands-on serial entrepreneur with extensive experience in the VoIP and Cloud Technology spaces. He has co-founded four technology companies. Most recently, Jason was a Senior Director at Skype where he led a program to reproduce all Skype functionality in a clean room (complete isolation from Skype and eBay). Subsequently, he built and managed the Product and Engineering teams responsible for Skype’s next generation, cloud-based architecture to provide web APIs to reach hundreds of millions of Skype users