Jevon MacDonald

co-founder of Startupnorth.ca

Zombie Factories

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

We Should Be Building Empires

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Last chance to get your tickets to this incredible event!

We don’t build a lot of empires around here.

Empires are big, they grow fast, and they use momentum to determine where to apply resources. Empires don’t respond, they set the new rules.

Carnegie. Rockefeller. Gates. Zuckerberg.

Lutke. McDerment. Baker.

We’ve had empires come and go, but we haven’t built the sort that stick around for 100 or 1,000 years.

We need to startup building empires.

In 2008 we held a conference in Toronto. Some of you might remember it. We were going to call it something like StartupNation, StartupConf or something else,. but we decided to call it StartupEmpire. Why?

We thought it was important to put a stake in the ground about the kinds of companies Toronto startups needed to think about building: Bigger, badder and more resilient.

Next week we are re-doing it. StartupEmpire is taking place in Halifax this time, a startup community that is in much the state that Toronto’s was 5+ years ago. It’s time to focus our gaze out in to the world and to say ‘”I’m coming for you.”

You can hear from some of the most ambitious and experienced entrepreneurs in Canada right now including April Dunford, John Baker, Dan Martell, Bala Kamallakharan and a lot more.

Get your tickets now, there are only about a dozen left!