in Startups

Zombie Factories

best-zombie-movies-1412189038

We like to give out a Zombie of the Year award in our annual Unicorn Awards. The Unicorn Awards are the far more lucrative and weighty cousin of the upcoming Spotlight Awards (are you going?).

In 2013 Danielle Morrill wrote Zombie Startups and the gem is stuck in the middle, which I just noticed called out in this post today.

Are you a Zombie Startup? Here are the top 9 hints that you may be running one:

How do you know if you startup is falling into this trap? Here are some hints:

  • You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning
  • You don’t want to go out in public for fear you’ll have to explain what you do
  • You haven’t hit 10% week-over-week growth on any meaningful metric (revenue, active users, etc)
  • You’re working on the same idea after 12+ months and still haven’t launched
  • You’ve launched a consumer service and have less than 2% week-over-week growth in signups
  • You’ve launched an enterprise service and have less than 2% week-over-week growth in revenue pipeline
  • You are the CEO and hole yourself up in the offices so you don’t have to talk to employees and can read TechCrunch
  • You’ve hired consultants to figure out revenue, culture, or product in a company of less than 10 people
  • You’re at SXSW right now reading this post and trying not to cry

I think there is a Canadian context here as well. We have two more hints:

  1. You will miss payroll if you don’t get your SR&ED cheque in the next two weeks, and this has happened more than once.
  2. You spend more time meeting with and filling out forms for government economic development agencies than you do speaking to customers, angel investors and/or venture investors.

Being a zombie startup in 2008 was one thing… Frankly that was probably good enough to just pass the time, but if you are treading water today you are missing out on one of the most founder-friendly and lucrative financing environments we’ve ever seen.

Products are Lines, not Dots

I see a lot of founders and startups struggling with explaining what they are trying to accomplish. Many are just focused on how they are going to do the next thing. The next release, the next pitch, the next campaign.

Releasing a product is not an accomplishment in and of itself. Launching isn’t either. Getting a feedback and signs of traction never quite feels like enough.

Why are you doing all this?

Mark Suster wrote an important blog post in 2010: Invest in Lines, Not Dots.

The tl;dr: Relationships are important.

It’s easy to think that when you meet someone once, you’ve MET them. It just isn’t true. A relationship is that line that is formed across a series of encounters.

Products are no different and the sins that we commit are the same as those Mark describes.

Mark says:

“[ . . ] I tell entrepreneurs the following: Meet your potential investors early.  Tell them you’re not raising money yet but that you will be in the next 6 months or so.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 1.01.31 PMIn a world of fast iteration and Running Lean, it’s easy to think of products as the entire picture. It’s one big giant dot that we hope brings us success and a mass of users.

It’s never like that though.

Your Product  is a relationship with your users. Like Mark (and the rest of us), Users invest in Lines, not Dots.

When you have that first meeting you need to not only make a good impression, but you have to tell everyone where you are going. We call it Vision.

Release Early, Then Release With Purpose

Fast product iteration is important: You listen to users, you monitor and assess metrics and you make changes that bring your product closer to perfection.

Perfection is not what you need: Purpose is. Why are you releasing and why should users and customers continue to invest in you and your product with their time, money and feedback?

In looking for perfection (product/market fit?) it’s easy to think it is something that *just happens* and then you are instantly successful. It’s never like that. It takes work and focus, and a vision for how the future is going to be different for your customers because of it.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 1.23.18 PM

Vision is what defines the future you see for you and your customers. It’s why they try things for the first time and it’s why they will stick around even when you don’t quite get things right.

It’s easy to miss and it’s easy to get bogged down in the day to day, but if you have it and if you can articulate a vision, then you have a better business plan than you could ever put in a doc or deck.

When you iterate on your product and deliver releases, it should be about taking the customer closer to your vision for your product and why it’s important.

 

 

 

An Investor’s Rendition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Peanuts Christmas Panorama by Kevin Dooley

by Travis Cocke (sourced from Seth Levine)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the land
Not a banker was lending, not even “Gold-Man”
Foreclosures were hung by the courthouse with care
In hopes that Hank Paulson soon would be there.

The Bankers were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of bonuses danced in their heads.
And my teachers in their offices and me in my room
Had just settled an argument about the depth of the gloom

When out on Wall Street there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter
Away to the computer I flew like a flash!
Started up the ticker, and threw up some cash…

The i-banks on the brink of another bad blow
Sell all your stocks and look out below!
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear?
Green on the screen as the Fed interfered

With the same old chairman, so ready to lend
I knew in moment it must Big Ben
More dovish than Greenspan, his governors they came
And he printed and lended and called them by name!

“Now Lockhardt! now, Lacker! now, Evans and Plosser!
On, Geithner! On, Fisher! On Yellen and Krosner!
To the Treasury! To the Mile High Mint!
Now print away! Print away! C’mon now print!”

As credit spreads that before defaults do fly
When they meet with an obstacle, they drop green from the sky
So up to the Capitol the governors they flew,
With a chopper full of money, and Rick Wagoner, too.

And then, in an e-mail I read from a friend
Capitalism was dead, and this was the end
As I sold my last stock and started to cry
On the TV came Buffett and he said “Time to buy.”

He was bullish on stocks, from Nike to CVX
And his portfolio was tarnished with options and CDS
A bundle of buyouts he had flung on his back
And he looked like a genius, just following his knack

His stocks how they fell! His returns how scary…
Yet his cash-how it swelled! And His letters so merry…

He was chubby and cheerful, a right jolly investor
And I smiled when I saw him, despite my dreadful semester
A twinkle in his eye and the use of his cash
Soon gave me the know that stocks wouldn’t crash

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work
Shoring up balance sheets, and buying preferreds
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, UP & UP Berkshire rose!

He sprang to his NetJet, to his pilot gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove into the sky,
“Happy Trading to all, and to all a good buy!”

Featured Image by Kevin Dooley