The value disconnect

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Don't get caught by this!When you’re looking at starting a business, the one thing that you need to be very careful of is who has control of whether you succeed or fail. One of the most common (and most fatal) flaws in a startup business model is when they don’t control the value that they provide – and as such aren’t in control of their futures. This is surprisingly common!

TEST: Any business that cannot provide it’s primary value to only one customer runs this risk.

You’re guilty of this where you are dependent on someone else providing information, a service, a deal, opportunity or product. Any time that you cannot control the value that you are selling to your customer. This (seemingly obviously) poses a difficulty when trying to find a way to make money. Continue reading

So you’ve got a startup idea. Now what?

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I come across a number of people who have an idea and want to be entrepreneurs, but have no idea where to start. And most ideas remain just that, ideas. Knowing how to get to where you want to go is the part where the most ideas fall flat. Thats what this post is about: the steps you need to follow in turning your idea into a business. It’s not rocket science, but there is also no silver bullet. The steps below are just a guide where the details will depend on your idea, market and a whole bunch of other factors. This is just a place to start.  Continue reading

A small business is NOT a startup!

The phrase ‘startup’ has become very trendy and is heavily overused. With governments and incubators touting ‘startup support services’ and ‘growing the number of startups’. Everyone seems to think that any early stage business is a ‘startup’, which, in my opinion is very misleading. Most of the time what they’re talking about is a business starting up.

Every business needs to start somewhere and at some point it will be small. Does this mean that all small business are ‘startups’? NO!

Let me clarify. A ‘startup’ – in the sexy trendy sense – is a small business with high growth potential. They’re highly scalable and can be very profitable. Small business that remain small business or grow slowly into medium size businesses are not this. (i.e. just a business starting up) NOT a startup (in the sexy, Silicon Valley, big potential kinda way.

Venture capitalists, rapid IPOs, ‘overnight’ success stories only happen when you’re swinging for the fences and aiming for the sky. This is not the trajectory of normal businesses. No matter how you are funded, you must be thinking big to call yourself a startup.

There is nothing wrong with starting a normal small business, wether it’s a lifestyle business or not. But not distinguishing between one that has real potential and one that is just mediocre is a grave mistake. You have to approach the 2 totally differently in every way. Your strategies are totally different. And if you don’t distinguish what you’re aiming for well enough, you’re always going to do it badly.

Be careful taking advice on your startup

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Founders generally fall in the category of knowing enough to see an opportunity, but not enough to see the obstacles. Which is normal, as otherwise they wouldn’t start in the first place, but this means that they need to rely on a community of people to get feedback, guidance and to learn from others experiences.

I’ve had a couple of instances of late where entrepreneurs with very viable businesses are told that their idea is not feasible, not scaleable or not worth their while. It normally comes from a VC (or incubator). The advice is not wrong – possibly misplaced – but the one thing you need to be very aware of is the motivations and perspectives of the person giving you advice.
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Entrepreneurs are Artists

I’ve never really thought of myself as an overly creative type, more of a logical problem solver or realist. Having said that, I’d say that it’s more accurate to categorise entrepreneurs as artists than as businessmen.

The term “business”, brings to mind a corporate office, managers, suits and a hierarchal environment and structure. It’s the rat race. The political process called ‘the corporate ladder’ and it speaks to long repetitive hours of grind as you steadily move your way up.

Entrepreneurship is different. Continue reading

Best location for startups? Cape Town or Jozi

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Which is a better environment to launch a startup? It’s a good question and to get a general idea, the best thing to do would be to look at international standards of how startup locations are measured. There was a recent report the the Startup Genome Project who listed the top 20 startup locations around the world. Cape Town and Johannesburg both made it into the top 40 (not 20) but I thought it would be interesting to measure them on the same metrics used in the report and see how they compare:

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How to find a domain and name for a startup

The hardest part about finding a name for a startup is finding a decent free domain. In most cases,  the available domains is one of the main determining factors for which name you choose. With an awesome domain normally going for over $10 000 US it’s no wonder why startups are looking for variations away from the norm. The global village doesn’t help much either…

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When national strengths become weaknesses

Back in 2010 I hear Dr Vincent Maphai speak on “Understanding the levers of our Society” during a BYM conference. Seriously smart guy and I find myself remembering parts of his speech almost every time I read the news. His comments and thoughts seem more relevant every time there is a new crisis, such as the Limpopo textbooks or Lonmin. Here’s some parts of his talk that I scribbled down and really stood out for me: [Note: I’ve paraphrased a lot as it is reconstructed it from my notes]

South Africa is still a very young democracy. Most countries took a very long time to become a stable democracy. Think of the UK which took over 400 years, Sweden who took 80 years or Turkey who 70 years later is still wrestling with the concept. We mustn’t be in such a hurry. Things will settle, we must be patient.

Being very involved in the ANC struggle all the way through apartheid, he observed that “the tools that you use to liberate yourself are not the tools you need to successfully run a country.

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Why idea’s (+NDA’s) are worth nothing

Knowledge is not power. If that were true, then universities and libraries would rule the world. It is only the application of knowledge that leads to power – that is why businesses rule the world.” – Napoleon Hill, Think and grow rich.

It is one of my favourite quotes, and one that I find myself repeating more often than not. Every time someone tells me about this fantastic idea they have all worked out, but haven’t even got a paying customer (or sometimes even a minimum violable product worked out) yet. Continue reading

What to (not) put on a CV for a tech startup

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It’s been a while since my last post but one of the things that’s been keeping me busy is hiring staff for the tech startup I work for.

I’ve been through almost 600 CVs for four different positions in the last few months and there are some definite trends on what to do – or not do. During the process I’ve been making notes of some of the more common ones, as I really think that it will be useful to people applying.

Disclaimer: I’m not an HR specialist. I work for a tech startup and all of my advice is tailored towards that. This is not true in all cases, but it is what I’ve found relevant in my case. Use at your own risk…

Ideal format:
There are many schools of thought on how long a CV should be.  I’d recommend a short 100 word paragraph in an intro email with a CV attached. (This depends on what they ask for, but is a pretty safe bet.) The CV should only be two pages. No more. And I don’t care what you’ve done, make it two at a max. Page 1 should be all your personal information, enough for me to gauge what type of person you are. Page 2 should be a summary of your work experience.  Pick the most important stuff.

Short and sweet.
I want to know two things:

  1. Will you fit into the culture (i.e. hard working, smart and fun?)
  2. Can you do the job (do you have enough of the right kind of experience?)

Give me just enough info to answer those and I’ll ask for more info in the interview – bring a long CV then if you want.

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