Airplanes & Startups

Airplanes & startups are my two biggest passions and it’s always such a pleasure when I get a chance to combine the two. The opportunity was presented to me with an intro from LA founder Matthias Galica who introduced me to Simon Walker, an australian entrepreneur who was working in the Leeap Project, a pretty impressive endeavor to explore the US tech startup community.

I had the chance to fly and chat about startup with Simon and local San Diego Entrepreneur Grant Farwell. Here’s the full video talking about the San Diego Startup community with portions of our flight.

 

The worst time to raise money

 

I recently came across this post on how to raise money for first-time entrepreneurs and found it extremely relevant with what I’m going through right now at Flaretag. The first thing I’d like you to consider is the following graph from that post:

This graph is spot on and clearly shows the path that we are going through. I want to give you the perspective of a founder who’s right in the middle of that 6 months post launch slump, but first a little bit of context and extra validation on Joel’s points.

The beginnings

My cofounder and I started working on what would become Flaretag in January of 2011 while I was still at Nokia. We never attempted to raise money with just the idea, we just started building it on our spare time. In March of 2011, I joined the Founder Institute and finally learned what it meant to run a Startup and not just develop some cool software.

During my time at the Founder Institute, we focused our target market and developed a very good 3 minute pitch deck and script. At that time we already had a product in Closed Beta so we were approaching the best time to raise money in the pre-launch phase. At graduation night and during the program I got some interest and was able to score meetings with good angel investors. Then reality hit, and though we came close with some, we didn’t successfully raise money. The reasons given by angles were varied:

  • Unbalanced team (we’re both software engineers).
  • Tough and  not tech friendly market (Real Estate).
  • The product wasn’t mature enough.
  • First-time Founders.

Luckily they liked us and were telling us that traction will fix all those things. We marched on with the product, focused on sales and marketing and stopped raising money.

Traction!!

And it came: paying customers, revenue, no cancellations. Only…. in very small numbers. Though I didn’t go back in full swing raising again, I did test the waters to see if this “traction” thing would change people’s mind.

IT GOT WORSE! The aforementioned post just nailed it for me. My company is possibly in the worst time to raise angel investment: I have traction but it’s not “hockey stick traction” so I can no longer sell the dream.

Marching on

Being an engineer, it helped to see my startup life put into a graph that can be analyzed  by the part of the brain that works best for me. Now I get it. I just need to keep marching on and climb out of that valley. The answer to my worries is pretty simple: get more customers faster!

Thanks Joel for making it crystal clear for me. I probably already knew it but now I can visualize it.

Avoid problems when running multiple Cake apps in one server

 

I was recently faced with a very puzzling problem causing seemingly random and annoying crashes in our CakePHP-based Real Estate application. After some debugging and chatting with the awesome support guys over at PHPFog, we uncovered the root cause and thus quickly came up with the solution.

The symptoms are easy to spot: Application failures that show out-of-path files being executed (these are the files from another of your Cake apps), missing Views, Layouts that don’t belong to your app and sometimes Auth redirects to controllers that belong to another app. The problem lays in the default cache settings for Cake. Whether you use APC or File cache engines in Cake 2.0, the default settings are not sufficient if you run more than one app in the same machine (or cloud using PHPFog’s terminology).

Here’s what you need to do in each of your apps:

  • Open your app’s /app/Config/core.php  file.
  • Locate the Cache::config  statement. The default code should look like this:
Cache::config('_cake_core_', array(
 'engine' => $engine,
 'prefix' => 'cake_core_',
 'path' => CACHE . 'persistent' . DS,
 'serialize' => ($engine === 'File'),
 'duration' => $duration
));
 
Cache::config('_cake_model_', array(
 'engine' => $engine,
 'prefix' => 'cake_model_',
 'path' => CACHE . 'models' . DS,
 'serialize' => ($engine === 'File'),
 'duration' => $duration
));
  •  Note the prefix  option in each of this setting structures. If this is the same for all your apps, your cache files will be overwritten and you apps will be executing code from each other. This results in very random behaviour.
  • Change the prefix  option to something that’s unique within your server. For example: myapp1_core_  &  myapp1_model_

That’s it, this should fix it. I hope you benefit from this and avoid any headaches.

 

How to transition from employee to entrepreneur

 

Last week I wrote a post about how difficult it is to go from being a corporate employee to a full-time successful entrepreneur. The purpose of this post is two fold:

  1. Are you really sure you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. Give yourself the best possible chance by preparing in advance.

The following activities are mostly risk-free (check with you employer and spouse first though)  and achieve the two points stated above.

Moonlighting

There’s no better time to start working on your idea than now. Use weekends and nights and keep your day job or consulting gigs. Aside from the obvious benefit of trying something without having to start the “money clock”, it will test your ability to work insane hours and see if you are truly passionate about your idea.

The devil is always in the details so the sooner you get started, the better you’ll find out if the idea (or the whole entrepreneurship thing) is for you.

Joining an entrepreneurship program

As I explained in a previous blog post, you need to start building your network, getting to know other successful entrepreneurs and meeting like-minded people. If you have been in the corporate world for a long time, chances are most of your friends are corporate employees too. The start-up community is different and you need to start appearing in their circles. Let them know you’re serious.

The best way I know for a first-time entrepreneur to effectively achieve this  is by joining an entrepreneurship program. I recommend The Founder Institute, they’re great and helpful and as an added bonus, you can keep your day job while you’re part of it.

The pressure of having a day job, building you product during nights and weekends and going through a demanding program like the Founder Institute makes you stronger and tests your persistence and time management skills. Features that you will need later as things get worse.

Preparing your finances

You are making good money, right? Now it’s time to learn how to live without it. This is perhaps the hardest part of the transition.

Your goal is to put aside in a savings account all the money you make. You might not get there but try to get as close as you can. Cut costs, learn to live on the cheap and re-evaluate all your recurring expenses.

Once you make the decision to quit your job, the clock starts ticking and two main factors will determine your runway (available time before running out of money): Monthly expenses and savings. There are no paychecks anymore.

Generally, the longer your runway is, the more you learn about your product and market, the more you can fail and learn and the bigger your chances of success.

Start trimming now, don’t wait!

 I hope this gives you ideas on how by the end of a 3-6 months trial period using these methods, you either know that entrepreneurship is not for you and you still have your job or, you can take the entrepreneurial path with much more confidence, a bigger runway and a network of people that can help.

Good Luck!

Can corporate employees become entrepreneurs?

 

Let’s start by confessing that I’m the first one to hope the answer is YES. I spent 10 years working for a massive company: Nokia.

I’d like to explain first why I think somebody that starts out as an entrepreneur has a much better chance at making it than a corporate employee jumping into it later.

Entrepreneurship is still not a science, it’s an art and more often than not you fail, learn from your mistakes and try again. Only a very small set of people will hit a homerun in their first start-up. The odds are against it even though we all believe that we can beat them.

Two different paths

Most of us started our professional careers with little money, crappy cars and lived in shared apartments, right?  When you start out as an entrepreneur, you develop a standard of living that allows for irregular low income, long hours and constant hustling and networking. If you get a nice steady job on the other hand, you start to feel the itch to spend all that money and become comfortable.

Entrepreneurial path

The entrepreneur constantly keeps the same standard of living because there isn’t a great deal of money coming in. Occasionally working at Starbucks or doing consulting, she devotes most of her time to the start-up. The first idea fails but it’s easy to find a new one (there are always problems to fix),  assemble the team and try again. This time with a little bit of a network. If the entrepreneur is persistent, this process is repeated a few times until a) something sticks and finally allows for a decent salary or maybe even an lucrative exit or b) the entrepreneur caves in to social pressures (they increase with age), gives up and gets a job.

Corporate path

The corporate path goes like this. The person gets a job and money starts coming in. She gets a car and moves to her own apartment. She’s promoted, buys a house and gets a mortgage. Another promotion, better car and a trip to Europe. Every increase in income is followed by an increase in recurring living expenses and a feeling that she can never go back. It’s hard to go back to: renting, driving a crappy used car, not being able to afford trips. You get the point.

Now she wants to start a company, how can she continue to live without the income? Would her entrepreneurial passion be enough to withstand the pain of going back to where she was some years ago? How many times is she going to try before she gives up?

So… what if you wake up one day, 10 years into your corporate career, and find out that you really don’t enjoy that life? Well, it happens, I would know. In this post I explain what you can do to have a chance at making that very difficult transition.

 

Mobile is changing the web

 

When we think about the internet in the 90s, we imagine websites inside a browser and web pages that took us from one corner of the web to another. Today, we think about social networks, maps, videos, and applications that make our lives easier.

The internet is in the midst of change once again. The main driver: mobile. Cellphones have browsers and are increasingly always connected. However they have two main differences with the prominent internet device of today (the PC):

  • They are not linked to one place.
  • They are constrained by size.

Size makes it difficult to conveniently enter data and mobility creates different usage patterns. The mobile internet is mostly used for data consumption and with a different attention span.

Mobility also brings opportunities for new uses of web content. The ability to use mobile to identify a place or an object is what I believe is going to define the next big shift in how we are going to use the web. This is generally referred to as Augmented Reality. The ability of your phone to use web content to complement (or augment) the world around you.

There are different ways to achieve that. From simple location-based services that detect where you are and give you relevant information about your position to QR Codes or NFC chips that identify objects and link you with information about them. More futuristic are also glasses that can overlay information in real time when you look at things.

The web has come out of your PC and is all around you via your phone. The possibilities to create products in this new reality are endless. More to come :)

Look for partners not investors

 

I’m currently visiting my birthplace of Andalucia, Spain where I met an old friend who’s also an entrepreneur. We chatted for a while and the conversation sparked a thought that might now turn very useful in the face of tougher times for startup financing in the US. There are virtually no early stage investors for tech startups in the area. People start businesses without the figure of an investor ever crossing their mind. Naturally most of them start as a service business.

I started thinking, wouldn’t this be the right way to go? Why couldn’t all businesses start as a service and fund themselves? Why is it that in the US ( or at least certain areas ) the norm is to start by seeking investment almost at the beginning?

In reality only a few companies that seek funding actually get it. Also not all investors are good for your business. So I started thinking that I should target to build a business that thrives without outside investment but at the same time is open for the right investor to come on board.

In line with my previous post, you should seek help, advisers and people that love your product. You should look for an investor that’s going to be  your true partner in the business. Somebody who would be there for your ups and downs, and who can mentor you by sharing previous experiences. Somebody who’s excited about your business and not just interested in making money.

The ideal investor loves your product, you and your team and is hooked to startups (possibly done some before). These are the two questions that I ask myself:

  • Do I want them or their money? If the answer is “money” keep looking.
  • Am I worried about keeping as much equity as I can or giving them enough to make them more excited? Again, I must really want them.

When your company is built to survive organically, you don’t have to make hasty decisions about funding.

First startup: 3 mistakes you’re making

It’s still fresh in my mind how naive I was about the way startups are built. Don’t get me wrong, I’m probably making many other mistakes every day but at least now I have put behind and rationalized the ones described here.

Chances are that, if this is your first startup, you think you have a great idea and, once implemented and launched is going to take off to the heights of facebook. Trust me when I say that you’re going to need a lot more help than you think. Read on and see if you’re already making these mistakes:

Over-protecting your idea

If your idea is awesome, it’s probably already in the works or even launched somewhere. You might not have found it yet. Now let’s assume that you really do have a unique idea. If simply by telling somebody they can go off and implement it, forget it. You never had a viable business, the competition would eat you alive at the start.

For an idea to become a product and for that product to become a business, you need the right team, advisors, mentors, timing, defensible technology and business model AND a little bit of luck.

What to do: Share your idea broadly, get people excited, change your idea when needed. The idea is just the seed, the first step in a marathon. What follows is much more important.

Thinking you can do it alone

You’re probably a great engineer, marketer or an awesome sales person but know that one of the main disadvantages that a first time entrepreneur has (and there are many) is the lack of a network. A network will help you get investors, advisors and top employees. All needed when creating a successful business.

What to do: Go out and network, find mentors and successful entrepreneurs that like you and your idea.

Trying to have the perfect product

You have a great vision about what your idea can become but it’s probably abstract and only you understand it. Your idea needs to be explained as a product that’s concrete and a has a customer. You need to explain it in common language and using examples that most people can relate to.

What to do: Drastically trim your idea to a concrete product that you can launch in 1-2 months without outside investment. Get as close to the money as possible. Get trial customers and show it to people.

I hope this helps you breeze through this initial phase of ignorance. To speed up this process join an incubator or local entrepreneurship program. The Founder Institute did it for me. I highly recommend it.