The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner

The beginner’s guide to beginning by a beginner by Danielle Geva

If you’re thinking of launching a new project, here’s how I got started with Mypodnotes.

 

The Idea

A few months ago a friend suggested I write summaries for podcasts. The idea sounded interesting since podcasting is on the rise, and there’s no way anyone could keep up with the constant stream of new episodes. The best part was that I could test the idea without dropping anything. I started Myponotes as a side project, but after deciding to think like an entrepreneur I realized that it had the potential to become a business.

How to find ideas

Side projects, businesses, and high growth startups all start with an idea and don’t go far without commitment to pursue them. Even though you need both to succeed, it doesn’t seem to matter which comes first. The idea for Mypodnotes found me, but if you’re itching to build something of your own stop thinking up solutions to problems that don’t exist, and answer the following questions:

  1. What’s a problem that many people have?
  2. What’s the solution?
  3. How can I help these people solve their problem?

Think of as many problems as you can from your own life, and then ask your friends about anything that bothers them or wait for them to complain about it on Twitter. In the beginning it might be difficult to come up with ideas, but after you train your mind to think in this framework you’ll spot new opportunities everywhere.

When to commit

The bar for side projects is much lower, since resources can be restricted and failure doesn’t dramatically impact your life. So if you find an idea that intrigues you, go for it. This is an opportunity to get those creative juices flowing and learn some new skills.

Starting with a side project is also a good way to validate an idea if you have grander plans. If you’re unhappy at your full-time job, you don’t have to quit to find out if you’d be happier having your customers be your boss. I’m not a lawyer, but you should probably check your contract first to make sure there’s no conflicts so that you’ll have full ownership if you decide to leave.

After chatting about Mypodnotes with friends to gauge demand and the work involved, I found many people who were interested in Cliff’s Notes for podcasts. There just isn’t enough time to listen to every single episode, and no one likes to miss out. I also relate to people who remember key insights better by reading text over listening to audio. This was enough to take the side project seriously, but I only decided to fully commit to Mypodnotes once I saw actual traction on the blog.

It will take much longer for me to figure out a business model that works, but I’m in it for the long haul. All you need for building a company is time and determination, because you only fail when you give up on your idea.

How to name your business

The name Mypodnotes came to me randomly, and is pretty straightforward because that’s what appeals to me. Ignore the pressure to spend time searching for the perfect name, because you can always change it later on. Finding a name that’s unique and playful isn’t as crucial as making sure people can pronounce properly so that it catches on. Once you come up with a name, don’t get too attached to the spelling before you secure a domain and a Twitter handle. Try adding words like “The” and “App”, switching up vowels, or experimenting with new top level domains.

The Website

If you’ve ever heard of Lean Startup Machine workshops, then you know a business can start with a single piece of paper. Remember that when it’s time to create a website for your new idea. Instead of spending the next few months learning how to code, or figuring out WordPress.org again, I decided to go with Tumblr so I could focus on growing an audience for Mypodnotes. Your site is just a means to end, and the functionality you need to test an idea is usually offered by a third party platform. You can always build a custom site later on, when it’s time to scale. As you probably figured out, this section isn’t about how to magically create something out of thin air or how to hire a web developer. I’m a bootstrapped non-technical founder, so it’s all about distribution.

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Snapchat is Already Driving Ecommerce Sales

Snapchat post

It used to be tricky proving the value of engaging customers online, let alone the fact that people were actually interested in talking about brands. Currently, there are useful tools which visualize brand chatter and prove that people are talking about ‘boring’ industries, such as banking and healthcare. Other advanced tools were also developed to aid in calculating ROI, in order to demonstrate that social media done right is good for the bottom line. However, support hasn’t been rolled out for recent social networks, namely Snapchat.

Snapchat itself has yet to offer built-in analytics or cater to brands. Since there are limited metrics available, only a small number of companies have chosen to experiment with the platform. Regardless, the absence from any social network isn’t stopping users from talking about your brand on that very platform.

Increased Word of Mouth

There is no doubt that social media buttons boost word of mouth and drive ecommerce sales. However, there are certain products that consumers would rather not share with their network. Consumers may opt to send a formal email or a text, but the time it takes likely deters many from spreading the word.

Snapchat’s design is optimal for sharing, as the app is quick to load and opens directly to the camera screen. Doodles and text can also be included for additional context. Product images can be sent to a decision maker, the user herself, or even be saved and accessed for later viewing.

Snapchat DKNY

Even though Snapchat can be as intimate as a text, especially with Android push notifications, the app has more of a casual feel. Since images disappear after viewing, the pressure is off and users are more inclined to share moments without thinking twice.

Ecommerce businesses benefit from increased word of mouth as one customer browsing their products can easily let others know about a new item or an upcoming sale. Even if the user isn’t sure their friends care about the deal, she knows they can stop viewing the image at any time. Further more, since the emphasis is on sharing rather than conversations, users don’t feel obligated to reply to every snap unless they are interested in more information.

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The Five-Month Term

Toronto SkylineWhile checking out some local Toronto startups, I came across one that had an interesting take on the probationary period. They stated that the ‘project’ was for a five-month term, with the option to extend it indefinitely.

Outside of the startup world, it’s common to have a three-month probationary period. However, you can usually tell long before that if an employee is the right fit, especially within a small and nimble startup. After the first week, it’s pretty clear if the new hire can actually code or close. After the second week, you can usually tell whether they’re a good cultural fit.

If the startup has been burnt before by low-performing hires, then the probationary period would be shorter. Perhaps it’s based on some legal advice, or maybe the founders are simply being honest about their current resources. Instead of using the five-month term as a cop out, this might simply be a way of letting candidates know that they might be let go if the business doesn’t become profitable.

The honesty is refreshing, but it seems that some people might be turned off. Even after they realize the five-month term doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of belief in their skills, the thought that the founders are ready to give it all up in five-months isn’t very inspiring. Even if it is realistic.

Working with startups, you’re always ready for funding to run out. But you’re also ready to make compromises and eat ramen together until the vision finally becomes a reality. If you have the determination it takes to succeed, you don’t schedule an end date.

 

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5 Ways to Leverage Your Existing Customers for Growth

Rising Bread

No matter how small your current user base is, these five simple tactics will help you acquire new customers by leveraging existing ones.

1. Video Testimonials

Creating video testimonials is a powerful way to convey customer satisfaction and convert prospects. You may have been avoiding video due to high production costs, but unlike your intro video an engaging testimonial can be as simple as a Skype screen capture. The lighting doesn’t matter as much as the sound; however, don’t forget to have the customer clearly state their name and company (if relevant). Upload the videos both to YouTube and your site, and consider using memorable quotes for written testimonials. Instead of constantly asking loyal customers for references, you can now simply direct an endless number of prospects to the videos at any time.

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Why do you want to work for us?

The Office

The make or break question. Interviewers often end interviews with this seemingly simple question in order to weed out those just looking for a paycheque. However, less than qualified candidates can fake interest with a shallow answer.

It seems as if some candidates prepare for interviews by only spending a couple of minutes on online research. They then mention a unique aspect of the company during the interview, which may fool some inexperienced interviewers. While information can be harder to find when applying to smaller businesses, I used to wonder why recently launched startups even asked interviewees “why do you want to work for our company?”.

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Startup Mistakes by Software and Tech Companies: The Rebuttal

A friend of mine shared this article with me over Twitter, after we discussed (and agreed), that tech startups underestimate the power of sales and marketing. I still believe that to be true, but the article sounds like someone in a suit with a ‘real’ job wrote it without the slightest insight into the mind of an entrepreneur.

While some points are valid, the majority of them were presented so poorly that any entrepreneur reading this would just shake their head in disgust and miss the message. Seeing as Twitter arguments usually go nowhere, I decided to write my ‘rebuttal’ here and highlight the important points from a different point of view.

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How to Survive Launching a Startup with Only One Founder

Scoutzie

Beautiful Idea
Those of you that have been following me on Twitter know that my new favourite startup is Scoutzie, founded by Kirill Zubovsky. Scoutzie is a curated community for the best mobile designers in the world. The beautiful site does an awesome job showcasing only the best mobile designers for hire.

The Setup
After approaching Kelly Smith for a job at Zapd, the two got to talking about Zubovsky’s passion for starting a business and the rapid growth of mobile applications. Since Smith is already involved with other companies, they decided it would be best for Zubovsky to pursue the opportunity, with Smith as an Advisor/Investor.

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How to Build and Maintain Relationships with Mentors

Five steps for building and maintaining relationships with mentors were revealed during a Mixergy interview with Darryn Lee. Darryn has been practicing these 5 techniques since high school, and has since landed his dream job.

Events

Events are often used to network with prospective mentors, however, it is also an opportunity to reach out to current mentors and touch base. Take advantage of every invite you receive, but focus on seeking out people and events within your industry. Be sure to talk to as many people as possible, and connect with both potential and current mentors.

Business Cards

While the practice of exchanging information electronically is gaining momentum, most people still prefer a physical business card. Be sure to ask each individual for a business card, and be ready to give out your own card. Keep in mind that obtaining a business card from a desired mentor is not the end goal. Once you receive the business card, convey its importance by reading the information and putting it away carefully. After the conversation ends, jot down 3 memorable things on the back of the business card. This step is crucial, as it will serve as a launch point for a later conversation or email.

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Advice for New Entrepreneurs from 50 Fans

Entrepreneur Magazine asked their fans “If you had to give new entrepreneurs one piece of advice, what would it be?” After adding in my own two cents, and reading over 200 comments, I decided to share some of the insights.

  1. It is ALWAYS too early to quit. – Pamela
  2. Think Big! – Ramakrishna
  3. Learn from your mistakes, as you will make lots of them, but DON’T throw in the towel! – Sloan
  4. Start small. – Andrej
  5. Be true to your word and your friends and inspires others. – Julie
  6. Sacrifice in order to be successful entrepreneur and consistency is the key. Don’t waste time with college; it’s nothing but a debt when you graduate. – Janelle
  7. Bootstrap as much as possible. – Mary Lynne
  8. Stay Committed. – Amarilys
  9. Surround yourself with a good team. – Yael
  10. Please your customers. – Colin Continue reading