Ask An Entrepreneur: Three Ways to Enable Human Connection in Business

Rimma Boshernitsan is the founder and CEO of DIALOGUE, a San Francisco-based agency, focused on helping companies gain a competitive advantage by designing experiences of human connection. Prior to founding DIALOGUE, Rimma was a strategic advisor to CEOs of emerging businesses and Fortune 500 companies, working with some of the most well-known brands: Deloitte Consulting, Apple, Aesop, Levi’s, Kraft Foods, and Chevron. @Rimmabosh

Rimma was recently interviewed by Nishika de Rosairo for our Ask an Entrepreneur series…

With more and more startups in hyper-growth coupled with billions of dollars in funding, companies are at risk of losing sight of the most important aspect of conducting business: human connection.

Human connection is not only important in analyzing and understanding the consumer, it is just as important in creating the end product.

As an entrepreneur and business owner, how do you enable ‘connection’ in a way that paves a path for innovation and drives potential?

Create Meaning Through Shared Values –  Always Introduce Difference

The more clear you are about what your company stands for, what the belief system is, and what the non-negotiables are, the easier it will be to create meaningful relationships with the right customers and hire the right employees.

In our work, we’ve found that shared values, yet potentially differing points of view, contribute to the most diverse opinions, the most innovative thinking, and a high likelihood that the end product has the true impact.

Hiring for just shared values alone is not enough. Hiring people who can challenge each other and embrace the variety of opinions at the table ensures for a rich dialogue that will better inform the reason your company exists and the problems it solves for your customers.

Promote and Enable Curiosity as a Cultural Value – Think Big Picture

This is easy to say, yet hard to do when things are running at 100 miles per minute. Quickly understanding your company’s ‘why’ will drive your people and product towards better results and insight into what truly matters.

Why are particular customers being pursued? Why should they care about the product? Why are the mission, vision and values important? What purpose does the product serve in the world?

Whether understanding the reasoning for a colleague’s decision or empathizing with a customer in a rough situation, keeping the ‘why’ in mind naturally leads to increased curiosity, deeper knowledge, and a greater emotional connection — both at an employee level, and more importantly when designing the customer experience.

By leading with curiosity, you bring human connection back to the forefront and establish it as a core principle by which your company operates.

Design For Intention – Cultivate Collective Intelligence Through Dialogue

Collective intelligence is built through human connection. Yet, we are more often than not attached to our devices, running to the next meeting and answering the next most urgent email.

In this day and age, our productivity around connection happens by way of technology, often times with our devices rather than with our colleagues. What if we could measure our goals by how connected we are to one another? Or by how many different ways we discussed a problem? And then of course, by its ultimate solution?

What if we went back to being humans, connecting to one another for resources and ideas, rather than just to technology?

If our intention is to be more connected to one another, ourselves, and the larger goal for the organization, then we have to intentionally design for human-to-human connection. By doing so, we activate and amplify collaboration and creativity. We create opportunities to really see our clients, our colleagues and ourselves in a new light. To enable greater intention, it is important to tie the type of relationship (and therefore the type of connection you are seeking to create) to the core values of the organization.

Below are a few tips on how to shape your ‘connection’:

  • Create opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas to occur.

  • Create forums for dialogue amongst customers, employees and thought leaders both within and outside of your company.

  • Promote face-to-face interactions between colleagues and clients.

  • Enable people to go beyond the “dailies” to truly get to know one another. Email, Slack, Asana are great, however, what’s the opportunity cost of not moving beyond digital communication?

  • High touch, intentional moments of exchange can go a long way. Part of creating meaning and setting intention is building on our curiosity as humans, building on what motivates and drives us as a species rather than just thinking about “us” in the context of the company. What are the small ways to make a big impact? What impact is that experience trying to achieve? How can the interaction you create amplify the vision of the company and more importantly, can it amplify brand loyalty from your customers?

By connecting to one another, we make the invisible – visible, and take ourselves and each other to the next level.








Ask An Entrepreneur: Building a Startup In a New Industry

Daniela Tudor has been involved in the Seattle and Los Angeles tech scene since 2007. Currently, she is a Partner of The Beats Running Group and Co-Founder / CEO of Pala-linq, a mobile application helping those in recovery from addictions. Outside of work, she has a diverse range of passions including music, travel, and giving back to the community. @danielaluzit

Daniela was recently interviewed by Nishika de Rosairo for our Ask an Entrepreneur series…

How Do I Build A Startup In An Industry That I Have Never Worked In Before?

Before you make a decision to do so, make sure you have ONE thing aligned with this new industry you are about to break into: PASSION.

If you are not passionate about the industry you are looking to build a startup in where you have zero knowledge, I highly suggest you look for something else. The reason is, that there’s going to be difficulties and if you lack passion and knowledge in the area, the motivation for making money will not be enough to enable you to make it through tough times until you reach success. PERIOD.

Now, that we have that sorted, here’s a couple simple guidelines to build a startup in an area you have never worked before.

1. Be humble
You may be an expert in another field but all of that goes out the door when you enter a new field. You will not know their own unique industry lingo and you won’t know the main players. Don’t let that discourage you, just be humble and be open acknowledging the fact that you are there to learn and help the industry.

2. Question everything, while listening / reading up on everything
Being new to the industry puts you in a unique position to bring new perspectives that those on the inside may be missing out on; this is a HUGE value add that you will bring as you enter the new industry. Do not be afraid to question everything, but do it respectfully; this will also strengthen your relationship with those you are speaking with. At the same time, while you are questioning everything get INFORMED. This means reading up on everything you can and actively listening to people in the industry regardless of their position. You should be hungry to learn every aspect of the new industry you are looking to break into, and can include reading blogs, going to conferences, reading books and other publications that people in that industry recommend.

3. Network, network, network!
Google who the industry leaders are, do your research and go meet them! This means messaging them on LinkedIN, going to conferences, reading their literature and networking your way to meet the gatekeepers / leaders in the industry. Get these people to co-sign and support what you are working on. On the other hand, also build strong relationships with your local / small scale businesses in the industry. Having both sides of the coin in your corner will sky rocket you to success in the industry!

I started Pala-linq, a mobile application that integrates with activity trackers to provide accountability and connection for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction to ultimately prevent relapse, due to my own journey into recovery. I had zero experience professionally in the addiction or medical space, but I did come from the tech industry and had built out a startup prior.

I implemented the steps above, and 12 months later we are funded and on schedule to release the product to the community and treatment centers in May! It’s been a journey full of ups and downs and really it’s just the beginning – every day there isn’t anything else I’d rather be working on.








The Warrior Princess Entrepreneur

Fun fact, did you know the first know poet and author was a woman by the name of Enheduanna? She was a high priestess in the City of Ur. Enheduanna helped bring together the Sumerian cities through her religious work by consolidating all the local gods into the worship of one, Inanna, a relentless warrior goddess. One story struck a particular chord in me. Inanna needed to defeat a mountain, so she sought the help of the other bro gods, who naturally refused to help. Irritated by the lack of help Inanna singlehandedly destroyed the mountain and showed up the other gods. The story bears strong resemblance to our modern times.

The “mountain” is reflective of the struggles women face in our society. They have two options, one fight the mountain on their own without support. Or two resign to their systematic fate in the valley below. This culture angers me and it should not be this way. Entrepreneurship can be the warrior princess weapon to fight the “mountain.” However, in order to instill change we need to instill empowerment and alter our attitude towards women as soon as they are able to walk.

1-IWRP5y4tgjlwqpGEqqpTTgTake a stroll in a park and you’ll see how the system affects young girls on a daily basis. When a girl goes and picks up a football or a toy truck their parents immediately chastise them and say, “No, that is only for boys.” Or my all time favorite, “that is not very lady-like” when a girl states her opinion. No wonder we don’t see more powerful female giants across the world. What individual can grow up to be a leader when divisions are drawn and voices are silenced? We are to blame for the lack of leaders by raising a generation of women who are subservient to the system.

Therefore, creating a space by women for women is of radical importance to breaking the patriarchal system that binds them from their true potential. Creating events such Startup Weekend Women and even Startup Weekend Girls is a pivotal step in the right direction! The change needs to come from within, those who privilege from the culture are blinded to the oppression it creates. Only women understand and can decide what is best for their needs and how they can achieve triumph. Let women personify the goddess Inanna and follow in her footsteps, destroying the mountains that hamper progress. For when women finally achieve equality, balance will be restored to the world.

 








Ask An Entrepreneur: How important is it to build your own brand?

Answer provided by: Nishika de Rosairo, CEO and Creative Director, dE ROSAIRO. Previous Employment: Strategic Human Capital Advisor for 9 years at Deloitte Consulting, Apple, Levi, Cisco, Salesforce and others.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 2.08.24 PM

How important is it to build your own brand?

When you’re in business, there are two types of brands you need to be fully aware of:

1. Your personal brand

2. The brand of your business

Spending time to create and understand both of these brand identities will be invaluable to you during the inception of your business. While these are two separate brand identities, they should be interwoven, and when they are developed in a way that they compliment each other they can give your business the competitive edge it needs.

So how do you create and manage your personal brand? Start by asking yourself a few questions: what do I want to be known for? What words do I want people to use when they describe me or talk about me? How should my brand identity match or differ to the brand identity of my business? Is it a good thing if these two brand identities match or differ?

I’m a strong believer of your personal brand identity shaping your business. Being in the fashion industry, I remember a time when I was walking a tradeshow in Los Angeles, and I met this designer from Paris who was selling beautiful high-end jewelry. I fell in love with her pieces, but there was a big disconnect for me. I couldn’t get past the brand identity of the designer in relation to the brand identity of her business. There didn’t seem to be a correlation, and in fact the two brands were quite contradictory. While the designer was dressed in very casual and rough street attire, the jewelry was delicate fine jewelry with precious stones. The disconnect between her personal brand and business prevented a positive brand experience when viewing her jewelry. To test my understanding of the role I believe personal branding plays in conjunction with business branding, I asked her how her sales were going during the tradeshow, and her answer was that they weren’t going well. I wasn’t surprised at her response, and it reaffirmed the need for a consistent brand experience extending from personal brand to business brand.

With my namesake brand dE ROSAIRO, from the very beginning I had to make sure that there was plenty of good overlap between my personal brand and the brand of my business. Luckily this wasn’t difficult for me to do, because the woman that I was serving through my brand was the woman who was an extension of me. If that was not the case, then I would have had to do a thorough analysis of the two brands to build them both in the right direction.

Creating the right brand identity for both yourself and for your business will be the most important thing you do at the get-go. Test your own brand identity by asking people (some who you know well, and others you don’t know well at all) to describe you using 3 words. That could be a great starting point to analyze your personal brand identity. The most important thing is to develop your personal brand identity to a point where it’s clear, precise, and is consistent with the business brand you are building.

Nishika can be found on: InstagramFacebookPinterestTwitterand on the web.








Ask An Entrepreneur: How To Innovate In A Saturated Market?

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 9.57.00 AMAnswer provided by: Nell Waters, Founder of SOAK, an urban bathhouse.

Past Employment: Owner, Whole Body Tonic

Featured Recently in: FastCompany — “This Anti-Spa Is Built Inside Shipping Containers

 

 

————

For over a decade I’ve worked in health and wellness, providing therapeutic solutions to people who suffer serious burnout or injuries. My former business, Whole Body Tonic (2005-2014,) was a staple in ‘curative’ care in San Francisco for people across the entire spectrum of the city, and was the recipient of many awards. I closed that chapter of my professional life to embark on a more ambitious project – to bring back the culture of ‘urban baths’. I wanted to create a place that nurtures creative potential because when people unplug and clear their head, they foster new insights and ideas. Imagine a small steel loft, with roof-top deck, wood sauna, and high-efficiency fixtures. Many treat SOAK as a disrupter in the spa industry. At SOAK, the idea is retrofitted shipping containers that house spa amenities in an ecological and design-driven way.

I come from a family of artists and have a creative background, so when I think about innovating in a saturated market, the beginning point for me is always one of introducing something that is beautiful and simple in its design. At SOAK, the engineering concepts are pioneering but the principles behind them are straightforward. We work with the resources that are already there. In our case, sun (mounted PV cels supply all the energy that SOAK needs to operate), and filtered rainwater catchment. I know, drought makes rainwater use harder to conceive but it’s resource-conscious and that’s a meaningful proof point for our company.

Part of my driving ethos in the beginning was how can we do ‘x’ and make it into ‘y’. In this case, how can we be less opulent and more in line with environmental needs of the future; without sacrificing the customer experience. It definitely helps to be values-driven. This has always kept me on course and allowed me to fully understand the DNA of my company and in turn held me to my vision.

The next place I begin when thinking about innovating in a saturated market is delivering an experience that is artful and authentic. I’m always inspired by what’s not available to me, so I’m usually working against the grain. If I see what exists already, I usually think about all the ways it could be better and improve upon itself. In my process, what is already here is a great starting point for me to think, tinker, and push the envelope on how to make that thing richer and at the same time uncomplicated. Depending on your market, I prefer limiting the services offered. Every service you add is an exponential growth in quality control that must be managed well. But one, or two, or even three things can and should be executed with impeccable standards. This should yield a loyal customer base and enable growth that is mindful and sustainable.

As entrepreneurs, we are the cowboys/cowgirls that our grandchildren will talk about, the innovators and pioneers of new territories. It’s the wild wild west out here. Be different and back that up with a sound business model and a superior product. That should help you take the lead.

Follow Nell on: Twitter, Facebook and at urbanbathhouse.com








Ask An Entrepreneur: What it is really like to raise capital as an early stage startup?

d8a85880d11e0b3db61d824728ef42d9

Answer provided by: Brad Sams, CEO of Tracour.

Past Employment: Consultant at Clark Schaefer Consulting, Staff Auditor at Kendle International

Featured Recently in: TechCrunch — “Tracour Locks Up $335K To Help Uncover The Best Financial Analysts”

 

_____

Do you like bashing your head on the table, being told ‘this wont work’ and having to consistently sell yourself, your idea, and how you will execute this plan 100 times a week? If you answered yes to all of those questions, then you are ready to try and raise money for your idea.

My startup, Tracour, is a project that has been in the works for roughly two years and has taken a considerable amount of time to perfect the model and to get our pitch ready for prime time.

There are few people in this world who can walk into a VC office with an idea and get a check for $10,000,000 to kick start their endeavor…the qualifying statement on that is if you can answer yes to “I sold my previous startup and returned a 10x multiple to our investors”, then you are a special breed.

How we pitched Tracour

Here is the funny thing about Tracour, when we went out pitching, we did not show off Tracour, we showed off Sorsed, a project that we had previously built. Sorsed tracks tech rumors and vets journalists to see who is reliable and is crowd-sourced. We built Sorsed out of fun and it’s a lightweight product from developers’ point of view since it is all crowd sourced.

Tracour ranks financial analysts in real time to see who is generating quality investment advice using automated procedures. Hopefully you can see the comparable here and this began our journey to start pitching.

We got our foot in the door with our one-line pitch, “We rate financial equity advice in real time”, at least, that was our goal at the time of the initial pitch.

When we got face time, we showed off Sorsed and this accomplished two things. 1) It showed that we could build a product 2) It offered talking points about how we can turn Sorsed into our new platform and had easy comparable that investors could see at the time.

Here is what you have to understand; when I finally met with our angel investor and got him to invest he told me something to the degree of:

“I am investing more in you and your ability to execute ideas than I am in concept of Tracour. I like what Tracour will do and I believe you can build a product to deliver on these promises. “

When we pitched to VCs, we had a functioning prototype of Tracour thanks to our angel investment, this made it much easier to show that we were capable of building the platform but required additional funds to reach our goals. At this point, it was “we love the idea and know that you can execute on your promises”.

What it is like to pitch

If you are not willing to be a persistent jerk, you will not survive. You don’t have to be a jerk to the investors (I don’t recommend that) but you have to follow-up, get used to having your calls not answered and most of all, you better be persistent.

Here’s a fun fact for you, Tracour does not have a pitch slide deck; nothing, not a single completed PowerPoint. We always pitched demos, a demo goes so much further than static slides. Our entire pitch was a demo of either Sorsed (angel level) or of the prototype (VC level).

Granted, our financials at that time were pretty simple so we didn’t have customer growth charts so slides would have been boring.

What I learned from this process

1) Be ready to be turned down, a ‘no’ is only part of the process and it only takes one ‘yes’ to complete a deal.

2) If this is your first startup, be prepared to talk about how you are able to be ‘that guy’ who can build this product; They are investing in your ability to execute.

3) You cannot do it all, surround yourself with go-getters and divest the work as needed. Focus on what you are good at (hopefully pitching) and drive that home.

4) Prove that you can build something…Sorsed for us proved that we could build a product and got us our first bit of cash.

Not sure if this will help, but it was our journey to raising money. Build something (anything) to show off that is related to your end goal…let them see what you can do, it helped us out quite a bit.

Follow along with Tracour: Twitter and Facebook








Ask An Entrepreneur: Creating Short-Form Video Content For Brands.

ask and entrepreneurAnswer provided by:  LaDante McMillon, Founder & Creative Director of LDM Film Perspective

Past Employment: Production Trainee for the National Basketball Association, New Media Intern at Fission Strategy, and Production Intern at Brookline Interactive Group.

 

 

______ 

Understanding the influence a creatively told story can have on an audience is why I started LDM Film Perspective.

Everyday, I craft and articulate brand narratives through photography, animationfilm and graphic design in hopes of better connecting companies with their target customer. Through relationships with fashion companies, non-profits, and tech entrepreneurs, I have seen the need for creative content that enhances a brand’s digital and social presence.

My first projects under LDM consisted of producing music videos; from that experience I grew into developing short-form, branding content, specifically, videos less than five minutes long.

Short-form content is consumed quickly. Examples include things like short videos, photographs, gifs, infograpics, and memes.

Below is one video of a ten part series specifically created for Instagram that celebrates the history, present, and future of the black community. See more from this #blackhistory collection.  

Black History #9: Raising the Bar from LaDante McMillon.

People’s attention span is only a matter of seconds, it’s important to create concise, targeted, and useful content. There are numerous uses in which a startup can utilize a short-form video: the launch of a new product, a how-to video, an “about us” video explaining company origins and vision, or simply a creative video that generates curiosity. Short–form video content is easily shared and has no boundary in the amount of individuals it can reach.

Entrepreneurs should look for creativity, quality, and a strong sense of direction within a film company’s work. It’s vital to ensure the process is a collaborative effort and one that incorporates the vision of both parties.

Before approaching a video production company, having a clear vision of what you want accomplished and who your target audience is, will save you time and money. I always ask founders to have their personal and professional stories ready for when they come in.

Remember, you must have a strong team narrative to create an effective call to action!

Find LaDante McMillon on: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on the web.








Ask An Entrepreneur: What Can I Do To Attract Top Talent?

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 12.49.55 PMAnswer provided by: Denise Tran, Founder of Bun Mee – gourmet Vietnamese sandwich eatery with two locations in San Francisco.

Previous Employment: Corporate Transactions Attorney for 5 years at Aoki Sokamoto Grant.

 

           ______

I founded Bun Mee in May 2011. We have over 65+ employees with annual sales of $3.5 million+. Attracting top management candidates in a competitive hospitality market such as San Francisco has required me to get creative with recruiting, have a “hands on” approach to interviewing, understand the type of talent needed at each stage of my business, and clearly communicate Bun Mee’s selling points.

Although, I do rely on traditional channels to recruit talent such as recruiters or placing online ads, I prefer to lean on my industry network. This includes industry vendors who typically have recommendations of people looking for new food and beverage opportunities.

The best candidates come from professional introductions. My business is a fast, casual restaurant operating in a competitive hospitality city. I often compete with fine dining establishments or established restaurant chains for top management talent. Other than the basics – a competitive salary, vacation, medical, and bonus benefits – I can’t offer any additional perks such as: the ability to learn from a known chef or an experienced front of the house manager.  With minimal corporate structure, Bun Mee is still in our startup phase and requires employees that can wear many hats and is attracted to learning on the job with minimal training.  I seek out candidates with intangible qualities such as a strong emotional intelligence and aptitude, who can excel wearing many hats, and who have an entrepreneurial bent willing to take a risk with a young company.

After narrowing the field down to a few candidates, I take a hands-on approach to interviewing my candidates, multiple times, in different settings. This also includes meeting their spouses or significant others over dinner or in a more casual setting. Taking on a new job opportunity is often a family decision, this approach allows me to sell Bun Mee not only to the candidate but also to someone in their lives who is an important part of their decision making process. Meeting the spouse or significant other also allows me to understand my candidate better from a personal standpoint, which is critical when assessing culture fit.

My approach when interviewing potential candidates:

  • I provide background on myself, my family, my values and why I started Bun Mee and what it means to me personally.
  • I share my dreams and vision for the business both from a strategic perspective, opportunity for growth, financial opportunity, and how I want Bun Mee to be a great company beyond what it is today.
  • I highlight accolades, awards, and investor interest we have received to validate the vision and to show the candidate that they have an opportunity to be a part of something at the ground level that has great potential to expand nationally.
  • I tell each candidate how they would fit into the vision based on their background, talents, and experience and how it would be mutually beneficial to work together.

No matter the approach, an honest, sincere, and passionate pitch from the company founder is most effective in recruiting top talent.

Denise can be found on: Linkedin and on the web,  http://www.bunmee.co








Ask An Entrepreneur: 4 Tips On Partnering With Foreign Suppliers

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 4.59.10 PMAnswer provided by: Olga and Shane Rai, Co-Founders VinoRai, LLC – importers of quality Turkish wines. Bringing the Turkish wine renaissance to America.

Previous Employment: Olga- Marketing consulting at Accenture and other consulting firms followed by two years of marketing and strategy at Starbucks Corporate.

Shane – IT strategy and implementation consulting at Deloitte Consulting for seven years followed by two years of product management building social intelligence products for a UK based customer experience technology company.

———–

There are many reasons why a business would consider partnering with foreign suppliers.

– Cost efficiency
– The superior quality of goods or services
– A personal or emotional connection to an overseas land

For us at VinoRai, our raison d’être is introducing the United States to a unique experience that only a foreign partner can provide.

Our unique experience is wines – wines from Turkey. Our honeymoon adventure to Turkey a few years earlier led to this fortunate and serendipitous discovery of wines that we soon realized weren’t just only unique to Turkey but also embodied the deep and rich history of the region.

Turkey is regarded as one of the birthplaces of grape domestication and ancient wine making, and home to 800+ grape varieties many of which are unique to the country. While many established wineries exist in Turkey today dating back to early 20th century, the last 10-15 years has seen an encouraging surge in new and prolific wine producers after the wine industry was opened to privatization. Many are heralding this Turkey’s wine renaissance and it is poised to blossom further.

We’ve now been importing wines from Turkey for a year and a half, and over this period we’ve been fortunate in expanding our portfolio of wine producers to five.

With zero prior knowledge of the trade, there were many on-the-job lessons learned, good and bad, just like many of you have surely experienced or will experience.

For those of you contemplating kick-starting your own venture that would need extensive partnerships with foreign suppliers, we’ve compiled our top 4 things to consider:

Vet, vet and vet some more: it’s imperative to vet your suppliers and their products before you ink that deal and sink those funds. Making onsite visits and in-person meet-ups are a good start but not sufficient. Bring in a few samples or prototypes, test & validate in your market with your customers, and then make a decision. Repeat for every new supplier and product. This iterative model has been our bread and butter approach.

Success needs to be mutual: sounds cliché but can your partnership really thrive if success is mutually exclusive to either of you? Spend the time & money to build a relationship. Genuinely get to know your suppliers, their culture and their business practices. Go visit them, share your market success stories as well as challenges, and seek out government export/import subsidies that might be beneficial to them. Relationship building takes time, so be patient and invest the time. The pay off is well worth it down the road: you’ll get better pricing terms, consistent quality and many other benefits that incrementally will help your business thrive.

Adapt and don’t unnecessarily accept: nothing is perfect, and chances are cultural and business differences will almost certainly exist between you and your foreign supplier. Common yet crucial differences will relate to pricing terms and sense of urgency/timing based on our experiences. Try to uncover these differences as quickly as possible and then decide which ones are acceptable to your business and those that aren’t. Surprises later down the road are always costly and a blow to your relationship building efforts.

Protect yourself: congrats, you’ve built a market for your products. Chances are competition is not too far behind now. What stops your competitors from partnering with your valued suppliers? You can start by seeking exclusivity agreements from your suppliers (if applicable) and seek legal counsel to draft the agreement. Understand what legal action you can undertake later should you (unfortunately) need to.

Olga and Shane Rai can be found on: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vinorai.com.








Ask An Entrepreneur: How Can a Non-Tech Entrepreneur Build a Tech Startup?

unnamed-1

Answer provided by: Cache Merrill, Founder and CTO of Zibtek – a company that provides US offshore development.

Previous Employment: Development Manager at Delta, Sprint, and General Motors. CTO for a startup called Zinch which was acquired in 2011.

—————–

I won’t lie – not having a technical background makes launching a tech startup significantly more difficult. Hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I think this quote from Eric Ries (The Lean Startup) sums up the reason why quite well:

“Startup success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”

I would add that startup success is not a consequence of knowing everything. Whether you like it or not, the fate of your startup will rely on multiple brains, not just your own. Creating a tech startup in today’s world can be done by any smart entrepreneur – the key is knowing how to connect with the right network.

If a non-techy is concerned about how to move forward with a more technical company, I’d recommend following this plan of action, in this order:

1. Start with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Simply put, an MVP is a stripped down version of your product. Don’t worry about having a perfect, finalized product before testing the effects of its core benefit on your market. What is the absolute minimum you need to have in order to start validating assumptions and maximizing learning about your market?

I’ve seen this happen time and time again – entrepreneurs will waste thousands of dollars developing and perfecting their product before testing whether it will even resonate with their target market. Nailing your MVP prevents you from sinking time and money into solving the wrong problem for the wrong customers with the wrong solution.

So create a clear idea of what problem you are trying to solve, make the product in bare minimum form, and start experimenting.

2. Build out your plan before building out your team

Once you’ve defined your MVP and feel confident you’re building a worthwhile product, start outlining your company’s game plan. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to draft a lengthy business plan, but at least get the basic wireframe out.

Consider your unique value proposition. Strategize your marketing channels. Plan your cost structure and build out a list of key metrics to be measured. The list could go on, but focus on getting the core structure down (I’d recommend the lean canvas outline) as opposed to stewing over the nitty gritty details.

The purpose of this step is to create a basic outline of what you are trying to accomplish and, more importantly, to discover the riskiest part of your plan. As you reach out to developers, and possibly a tech co-founder, your fluency in technical language won’t matter as much as your ability to paint a clear vision of what you want them to accomplish.

3. Hire a developer or team to build your MVP

Now that your plan is mapped out, you’re in the wonderful position to put your idea “out there” and start attracting people who believe in what you’re doing.

Not having a technical background can put a damper on your business, so I’d recommend seriously considering the idea of a tech co-founder. Finding the right developers or business partners can be tricky – not only do they need to be proficient in the skills you lack, but they need to share your vision, or at least be willing to listen and learn.

My experience with freelance sites has been horrible, so I wouldn’t start there. Cheap developers are always available but the downside is their quality of work isn’t typically good enough for the successful product you are looking to build. So start with your own network and build from there. Review your LinkedIn connections and web of professional acquaintances and gauge their interest.  If nothing comes of that, you may consider even hiring an experienced team, like Zibtek.

Once you’ve built your team, you can focus on learning and validation by listening to your customer’s needs.

In the end, the most important skills for an entrepreneur to master (tech or non-tech) is that of organization and inspiration. As long as you can build the right team and keep them motivated, you’re at least on the right path.

Cache can be found on: LinkedinTwitter, and Zibtek.com.