James Bond said it was okay, so why not? We are going to run this brief Experience interview with co-founder of Trade ChaseColin Smith. Trade Chase are an online BizSpark company that takes a very interesting approach to gambling. TradeChase is a stock market trading game.. They offer a range of day-trading games that pit you against other players to win real money. From their site: "Decide which way stock prices will move, trade your way to big profits, or plan your winning stock portfolio. The best bit? You can make real money from trading without having to beat the market - just beat the other players."
This post was written by Douglas Crets, Community Manager and Editor, Microsoft BizSpark
TradeChase are launching today in the UK. They can't launch in the US, because of gambling laws, but that won't stop them from having a little bit of fun. To announce their launch, they sent me a picture of James Bond with what appears to be their philosophy of life, and their business model. How's that for Lean Startup? The ironic thing about their game is that some would argue that stock trading itself is a form of gambling. We'll leave that discussion for another time, however.
Colin Smith and James Tromans Your business and your business url and Twitter handles for people to reach you?
Trade Chase www.TradeChase.com @TradeChase www.facebook.com/TradeChase
What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year? Right around the time that we wanted to launch, we received confirmation from our lawyers that we could not operate without a certain license. It is well-known that operating in a regulated industry is expensive and that regulation in the gambling industry is particularly complex and fast-changing. We had to decide whether to operate entirely above-board, or to cut a few corners to get going. In the end we made absolutely the right decision - don’t launch until we have all necessary permissions in place - but it cost us six months of revenue-generating time. Neither the decision nor the consequences were easy. How do you know when you are failing in product development and how do you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team? Sometimes you know you are failing in product development because your gut tells you so. More often than not, however, the realisation comes from iterative testing with a focussed user-group who you can trust. If a decision is particularly controversial or a major deviation from the existing plan, we might discuss that alone as founders first. However, when a decision about product development is made, we strongly believe that the whole team must be party to it, even if the decisions are split. Once all the important points have been put on the table, everyone has to come together and pull in the same direction, knowing why a decision has been made. Trade Chase is lucky enough to have a group of really smart people and a small enough team that makes this approach feasible. What signals from your consumers do you look for to signify that you are winning? As entrepreneurs, you have to take a lot of stuff with a pinch of salt. A lot of early customers are family and friends or people just happy to offer their support - as a result they are more positive than normal. In the early days when you are developing your product, proxies such as site usage stats and customer feedback are useful but not enough to signify that you are winning. The key factor is always whether or not they are buying your product. In other words, sales. Unless your site success is measured by volume or by advertising, you need sales. That being said, in the early days, there are two other things that seem to be strong indicators: Firstly, are people sharing your product through social media? If they are, it means they are willing to put their own reputation behind it. Secondly, do they come back to your site? This is different to how long they spend on it. If they come back, it means they have made the choice again to engage with your product and that is pretty powerful. What has overjoyed you in the past month? The last month has been a very busy period for Trade Chase. We have recently launched the website and we are now out of Beta. It has been over a year in the making. Throughout this hectic period, the support we have had from our early adopters, friends and family has been amazing. The number of people that have been happy to help out and share what we're doing has been remarkable and we're truly thankful for the enthusiasm shown for what we do. It is great to know that we are building something together as a team that so many people are keen to try out and use. Who inspired you the most this week, and why? One of designers was involved in a nasty accident over the weekend, which resulted in him spending some quality time in A&E. Thankfully he’s almost fully recovered now. One of the first things he asked about when he regained consciousness was how the Trade Chase team were and how long it was going to be until he could get back to his work. It is such an inspiration to know that the team care so much about each other and what we’re building here at Trade Chase. The right team can be such a huge source of energy. What came first for your company – the product idea or your existence on the internet? Strictly speaking, the product idea came first. Although Trade Chase has evolved a great deal from the original idea, by and large the original concept is intact and our “pivots” have not been so large. However, the very first step in designing our product was to put up a single page that told people what we were doing and allowed them to leave email addresses if they were interested. In that sense, we existed online before our product was even started. It just helped make that initial marketing period a little easier to have a couple of thousand interested people waiting to use the product.
Microsoft has some amazing tricks up its sleeve for the upcoming TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Thing is, I can't tell you what they are. I really want to be able to surprise you, and believe me, in a couple of days, I will be able to surprise you. But for now, I can tell you some other things. In the meantime, join our Facebook BizSpark page and you will get a direct intravenous feed of the surprises coming out in San Francisco in September.
In a spin on traditional marketing blogging, I am not going to give you the whole reveal. I'm only going to set the tone. We are up to something at Microsoft.
Today, I found out that BizSpark is listed as one of the top 100 Startup Experts on Twitter. That's good news, and it confirms what we suspected inside the organization -- that the constant conversations we are having with startups at events like TechCrunch and in the community pages on Facebook, and on Twitter, mean that some startup engineers, developers, founders, and just geeks in general, understand that we are not just a software maker anymore. We're actually actively digging in and getting our fingers dirty with some real startup work.
Which is what will make Disrupt so fun. But more on that later.
We live in an area of the world where entrepreneurs like Kurt Warner are living in their cars as they bootstrap their companies. By the way, Kurt, did you hear about this new opportunity from DEMO, which is just for bootstrapped companies? Oh, yeah. Taking risks. The spirit of entrepreneurship is all about making something new, doing something new, and creating your reality.
Brett Raffel, one of our Audience marketing managers in Microsoft's DPE (Developer and Platform Evangelists) organization, wrote a news post last night about what some of our team members on the West Coast are going to be doing at Disrupt. It's not just handing out Schwag Bags, as it turns out.
Have you heard all about and read about Windows 8, but haven’t gotten the opportunity to interact with the new operating system in person? Now is your chance! We’ll have a number of slates available for anyone to try out and play around with. Have questions about how to develop for Windows 8? Or about what the actual market opportunity is? Or on the release timeframe or the tools and ample resources Microsoft has available to you? We’ll have our A-team of technical evangelists there to answer all of these questions and many more.
For my money, that's pretty exciting. But that's not the surprise. Remember, I said that in this post I will almost surprise you.
Here's the kind of stuff that really gets me going.
I always look forward to Disrupt. That's where I met Sumaya Kazi, and began to learn about her crazy good app, Sumazi. It is around the perimeter of Disrupt that buzz about startups occurs, where people are exposed to that feeling that these are people who are literally changing the world.
I love working in this space. Someone showed me a prototype of the new Square the other day. He handed me his phone and showed me a picture of Square being made in China. It's clear, translucent. You can see the gears in it. When I saw it, I thought, this thing is growing. And sure enough, American Express announced a deal with Square yesterday or the day before, showing that this thing is going to show up everywhere.
And Ben Lang, one of the youngest entrepreneurs I know -- and I can't even remember where I met him -- was surprised to find in his inbox this morning an email from the Israeli Chamber of Commerce that announced the startup map he built.
Do you know what I love about this space? People not only make things, or products. Entrepreneurs make new ways of thinking. People notice. That is what we are tapped into at BizSpark. We're in this space where people will call us up each day and tell us about their company, or where I'll read on a blog that a major industry is getting disrupted, like the very industry of app building. And even language, itself.
Keep checking back. We're up to something, too.
The Microsoft R&D Center in Israel, through the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure, has launched a cooperative effort with the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Technion. This cooperation is the first attempt in the world, out of Georgia Tech’s accelerator – Flashpoint – to boost success of startups in an accelerator program using scientific tools as an integral part of the accelerator.
Georgia Tech, one of the leading academic institutions in the US, opened its Flashpoint startup accelerator in late 2011, with the first class of startups graduating earlier this year. For the first time, this group of startups implemented a new model known as Startup Engineering, developed by the accelerator director and Georgia Tech College of Computing professor Merrick Furst, which offers processes designed to increase the success of startups. The Startup Engineering methodology implements scientific methodology to engineer the creation of business models to establish greater market opportunities for startups. This model has offered an outstanding early success rate of 14 out of 15 (93%). The teams have raised a collective $8 million from angels and venture capitalists within six months of participation.
As part of the cooperation, for the first implementation of Startup Engineering out of Georgia Tech, they will be sending Professor Furst to Israel to take an active part in the Microsoft Accelerator. The model will be implemented in Microsoft’s second group of accelerator participants, which will start in December and which is now accepting applicants. Lecturers from the Technion and Technion entrepreneurship and innovation researchers will also be active participants in further developing and implementing the Startup Engineering model for startups entering the market.
Additional anticipated aspects of the cooperation will include having some of the Microsoft Accelerator participants (with expectations to include 1-2 Technion teams) spending up to a month in Georgia, and startups from Flashpoint spending a month in the Israeli accelerator. It is planned that Professor Furst will be leading a series of lectures on the topic for students at the Technion in Haifa. The three organizations are taking active part in the Startup Engineering initiative and will be researching and publishing data and findings resulting from the cooperation
According to the General Manager of Microsoft Israel R&D Center, Yoram Yaacovi, “Startups participating in the Microsoft Accelerator for Window Azure have the unparalleled opportunity to leverage the knowledge, experience and resources of these three great technology brands – Microsoft, Georgia Tech and the Technion. Such a collaboration further positions the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure as one of the top programs of its kind globally. Combining industry and academia, practice and theory, as done by the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that implementation of scientific tools is effective and has a major contribution towards success. As we are wrapping up the first class of the accelerator and starting the second, we are aiming towards this innovative model as an additional component that brings value to Israeli startups. Together with the Technion and Georgia Tech, we will continue to improve and deepen this model for a potential deployment in Israeli industry and for entrepreneurs worldwide. “
Professor Merrick Furst from Georgia Tech adds, “Once you get your head around the notion that we now know something different about making a startup more successful and less likely to fail, it’s not possible to go back to ‘engineering’ them the traditional way, which creates so many large funding craters. The methods apply whether you are a serial entrepreneur who sold his last startup for $612 million, as we have in the current batch of founders, or a first-time founder.”
Professor Aharon Ben-Tal , dean of Technion’s faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management concludes, “the Technion has an extensive program in educating, researching and supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. Noble laureate Dan Schechtman started the first Technion course in technology entrepreneurships many years ago; presently seventeen courses are offered across the Technion including an undergraduate minor in Entrepreneurship starting this fall. The cooperation with Georiga Tech and Microsoft offers a great opportunity to jointly develop and apply engineering principles and methodologies to technology entrepreneurship.“
The Microsoft Israel R&D Center is also opening up its second class for the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure. Entrepreneurs from any country are welcome to apply.
Join us Wednesday, 10am PST as we talk to Syncfusion co-founder Daniel Jebaraj about the perils and promises of building your own tech company. Here is your chance to ask questions of a technical co-founder of a successful tech company. Join the BizSpark Facebook page and then leave your questions for us to ask, or join us on the day and ask them yourself in the comments section of the chat.
You will find many new people to chat with, and answers to your questions about startup funding, finding partners, and building a tech infrastructure for your business. Our first live question and answer session on our Facebook page will be held at 10am PST, and you can join that chat by signing up now. Here is the registration page, which is hosted on the Facebook page. If you have misgivings about signing up on Facebook, but want your questions to be answered, you can leave the questions in the comment sections. You will notice, by the way, we are now using Disqus as a commenting system.
Hear his advice on commercialization, the best ways to manage growth, effectively scaling your product and what you need to ask yourself before deciding to take outside funding. Come ready to share the questions that you lose sleep over and the challenges that are giving you gray hairs.
Come ask questions of Daniel Jebaraj, VP and Co-Founder of Syncfusion. Here's a brief bio:
You can see the Syncfusion offers here: If you are not a member of Microsoft BizSpark, a global community that supports entrepreneurs working on the web, you can sign up here.
We hope the Mohawk Guy at NASA sees this. Steve Perry at DEMO Spring 2012 Winner TourWrist has taken 36 separate images from the Mars Curiosity Rover and made a lovely pano that we are showing you here:
Perry built a panorama image made from NASA's Mars Rover's self-image taken on August 5 by stitching together all the different frames taken by one of Curiosity's cams when it sent home an image to show the crew at NASA it had landed safely. The result is now on the TourWrist app and looks like this.
When I met Reuben Katz, it was during one of my walks through Rocketspace in San Francisco, where I usually go to see what new startups are being worked on by the intelligentsia and the hard-working developers of the world.
Geekli.st, Katz's project, proved to be something of great interest. It's what I call a hyper community, a community that allows you to assemble in micro-detail content and relationships in categories related to specific tasks, or skills. Basically, it's a very intelligent repository for the conversations and community you need to have to make any impact on the web.
Here's a screen shot of what Katz and I set up for Microsoft BizSpark, the community that offers startups support in things like software, investor relations, product offers and networking.
It doesn't look like there is much on it, but that's for two reasons.
We just started -- you can visit our page and friend us -- and because the action is not just on the main page. It's in the several channels that you can develop to find people you really want to talk to, people you want to hire, all aligned along skills. When you set up a page, you can tag your achievements in software, code, hardware, phone apps, whatever. And then you end up joining communities that are grouped in the database like this:
You see where this is going, right? If I want to talk to someone who has a specific set of skills, I can dive into these communities and start digging around. But it gets better. You can curate content and post it to your page, attracting people who find it relevant. And you can start chats with people who are friends with you on the site. Give someone a lot of high fives? You might want to be friends with them. They may turn out to be a really great Windows Phone developer, and if the relationship proves copacetic, that Windows Phone developer may offer to make Geekli.st's first Windows Phone apps, for example.
I like using this, because it helps me communicate very directly with someone about a certain set of skills. Give it a try.
Congratulations to TradeChase, which is getting ready to launch. One of the co-founders, Colin Smith, holds an Olympic Silver Medal in rowing, which he won during the Beijing Games, according to our Emerging Business lead Bindi Karia. Keep following Microsoft BizSpark for more founder stories, or submit your own. You can find a lot of discussion going on between founders, developers, and more at our Facebook Group, where the Microsoft BizSpark community is going strong.
Nick Soman created an app that lets you find potential relationship partners through your friends' networks on Facebook. LikeBright taps into your network and your friend's networks, to find out who among that long list of good looking people is single, available and looking. And then it connects you, if the person you wish to connect to also anonymously wants to connect to you.
According to an email last night, Soman says the chief scientist from eHarmony is going to invest. That's a sign of good things to come. We interviewed Nick about his app, and also about his life as a founder. Here's this morning's Founder Interview.
BizSpark: How do you know when you are failing in product development and how do you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team?
Nick: The worst failure in product development is failure to prioritize. We have ideas for product improvements every day, and it's tempting to invest development hours and celebrate small upticks in our numbers when we haven't materially improved our chances of success. Most startups fail, so this is a version of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Instead, I work with my team to identify the big hairy problems that could bring our business down - these tend to be the issues smart investors ask about and the ones that keep us up at night, and the more we want to avoid thinking about them, the more important they are to address. At our best we ignore everything else and tackle those problems.
BizSpark: What signals from your consumers do you look for to signify that you are winning?
Nick: Clear expectations about what they're supposed to do and why. If our users know what they're supposed to do they can tell us whether they'll do it, and then we can tweak the ask and the value proposition until they say yes. Also, smiles when we explain what we do.
BizSpark: Who is your mentor, and what was the last great thing he or she told you and your team?
Nick: One of my favorites is Tom Laramee at Zulily. He recently told me "Progress means staying the dumbest guy in the room.” I didn’t get it at first, but now I’m convinced he’s right. My most important job as a startup founder is to surround myself with colleagues, advisors and investors I can learn from. From that perspective I’ve been making progress.
BizSpark: What has overjoyed you in the past month?
Nick: The founding scientist of eHarmony came on board to advise LikeBright. Right before our second phone call I found out he's also the lead singer in a great glam/punk band in L.A. We didn't even talk about LikeBright for the first half hour and just geeked out on music. The best advisors and investors will become your friends, and that's a truly joyful process.
Ever felt frustrated that you can never dig deep enough, and reliably enough, into Twitter to find the right influencers or connections for you to proceed with conversations and media strategies?
Social media information really translates into signposts that direct you to potential community members in what is essentially an expeirence of community building. If you are in social media for any length of time you realize that you are not consuming as much as you are building up reputation and clear communication that drives people to you, in order for them to gain some insight from you and you from them.
So you need an app that clears the clutter, uses targeting efficiency to show someone you like what they do, and draw them to you. I found something that does this. They are recently made BizSpark members.
Try Whosin App. This is a perfect app for the disrupted media channels genre, and for advertising and marketing. I am completely excited about the current state of Whosin, and its future. I recently spoke with one of the founders, Dev Kanel who came by the Microsoft BizSpark offices to talk about some backend ideas for his startup.
EachCloud is a translation tool for the cloud being developed at the Microsoft Research and Development Center in Asia, an accelerator program based in Beijing. It is one of several companies being accelerated in the R&D center, and it is the last of three companies we are profiling on this blog.
Back on July 4, one of three Accelerators in developing countries opened. Here is a photo montage of the opening ceremony. We have since run interviews with Wang Jun, the founder of iTestin app , and with Peng Fei Chen, founder of Atom and former CEO of MySpace in China.
BizSpark: What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year?
The EachCloud Team
Kevin Zhang: As CEO of a company, the major challenge is how to find the right people for your startup. Not everyone is good for a startup. In a startup, everyone has to be very hardworking and creative – it’s not like working in a big company, especially in China. In China, people have a huge pressure to chase after a salary and not a dream. Currently, we’re still facing this problem. We’re still hiring because people are constantly moving from job to job. People can’t work for a dream, especially in Beijing where living expenses are really high. True, there are many VCs here, with money, but there’s a difference between American and Chinese VCs. In the US, VCs might have a good vision and know what it means to invest in a technological startup, but China VCs want quick money. This doesn’t exist in a startup tech company – it’s a long term investment that takes years to build. Most Chinese companies don’t have this long term vision.
Another challenge is that Chinese people aren’t creative. They don’t have their own ideas; they copy others’. They want to copy people with success stories. IP protection in China isn’t very good either so far, so it’s a big problem. Even big monopolistic companies are copycats. It’s a shame.
Kevin Zhang: We have had a lot of correction for EachCloud (Jianke). When I first started having a vision for my company, I failed. We tried to create a cloud-based translation product, but after a while, we found that our product wasn’t a practical reality. It was too big. So we changed our idea. Now, our users can cut a part of any web page and translate as necessary.
My team was not as important as our users. Most of the time, founders are too self-confident. At the end of the day, they fail, but that’s too late. Customer feedback is key. We make decisions based on our customers’ needs. Customers are our best teachers.
Kevin Zhang: In the past two months, we have received our first seed investment so we had some money to accelerate our project.
Also, our acceptance into the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure was exhilarating as well. In China, people care a lot about the facilities. Before Microsoft, we were in a small apartment. It wasn’t charming, and candidates would often refuse to work at Eachcloud because we didn’t have a very professional office, and renting office space in Beijing is really expensive. That was a very big problem. Recently, we’ve been having interviews at Microsoft and candidates were impressed by the same we have to work with and the team members are so grateful for the Microsoft employee support and the environment and atmosphere. I love the work environment. And the filtered air!
BizSpark: When was the last time you fell in love with a product?
Kevin Zhang: I always fall in love with products. I believe that all entrepreneurs need to continuously fall in love with technology constantly. I saw a video and prototype of Windows8 and was so impressed. I fell in love. My company started creating a Windows8 app for Jianke (Eachcloud, just because I fell in love with the product. I also fell in love with the Asus 3-part device. It’s a pad, powered by your phone, which can be connected to a keyboard dock. It’s pretty handy!
BizSpark: Has starting your own company provided any answers about your life? Have you discovered something about yourself that you didn’t know before?
Kevin Zhang: I’ve lived in China for 35 years. I like computers, and I was a programmer for most of my life. But I love music, and I play in a band. For about 5 years, I had my own music studio. I composed and performed, and followed my dreams. But when I reached 30, I changed my goal. I didn’t want to isolate myself from the rest of the world. I had friends around the world, and realized that the culture I knew was too small – I decided to give up my music business and came back to the internet industry as a consultant to help people. I moved to Canada (Victoria) to work but also to learn English and Western culture. I found that they learn and think differently because of the different cultures. I had been educated in China in a certain way, but in Canada, I was so impressed by the different lifestyle and vision they have of the world. After 5 years, I wanted to do something different. I figure I still have 10 years to work. I have to do something big. I decided to make something that would change not only my life but everyone else’s life with cloud power. We need this exposure to outside cultures, especially in China. There’s a language barrier, which is further complicated by the Chinese government. Oftentimes, you can’t read anything directly; you can only read what the government wants you to know. Eachcloud can help with that. Also, a lot of information out there is garbage on social media sites like Weibo. A lot of great articles are lost in the garbage of existing Weibo, so people waste a lot of time. With Eachcloud, I hope to make a lot of good information available to the Chinese public so that Chinese people have the opportunity to become global citizens as well.
SendGrid is a cloud-based service that replaces your company’s email infrastructure and provides everything you need to operate a reliable and scalable outbound email delivery system. With SendGrid, developers can focus on building better systems and earning more revenue, while reducing costs in engineering and infrastructure management.
SendGrid makes it easy for developers to add email-based features into their applications. Integration is quick and simple via SMTP or API. Whether you’re sending transactional emails (automated welcome messages, notiﬁcations, password reminders) or a newsletter to announce a launch or feature release, SendGrid can help. They even have an API that lets your app accept email from your users, so you can create deeper engagement and a richer customer experience while utilizing the simplicity and universal familiarity of email.
As graduates of the 2009 TechStars program, SendGrid has benefited from a strong start up community and culture. By continuing to work closely with the startup community, they hope to create better and more effective information, tools and services that will make email delivery and web development even easier. Both Bizspark and SendGrid are global sponsors of StartUp weekend, aiming to bring together passionate entrepreneurs across the globe.
And now, as SendGrid becomes a BizSpark Network Partner, they are offering a special introductory offer of a free Bronze plan (40,000 emails/month) for six months for BizSpark member startups.
Learn more today about how you can leverage SendGrid as part of the BizSpark partner ecosystem and avoid the complexity of building and maintaining a proprietary transactional email solution. Check it out: http://www.microsoft.com/bizspark/offers/SendGrid.aspx
In information publishing, the more you publish, the bigger your opportunity to develop a community can be, and that basic tenet is what is behind the rise of Goodreads. To put it really simply, the publication of information on the web attracts readers with similar interests. As they congregate around this information, relationships develop.
From the TechCrunch article:
[Co-founder and CEO Otis ] Chandler notes that “the publishing industry has a huge discovery problem, because books are going digital” and brick-and-mortar bookstores are disappearing. Amazon.com is trying to solve the problem with its own book recommendations, but Chandler says this creates “a huge opportunity” for Goodreads — after all, one of the main benefits of a social reading site is finding friends’ recommendations for books to read, and he hassaid in the past that Goodreads has “the best book recommendations on the internet right now.”
Goodreads claims to have more catalogued 360 million books, with 22 million (and climbing) added per month. The site sees about 140 million monthly pageviews, Chandler says, and receives about 22 million monthly unique visitors — so Goodreads can deliver a big audience to its advertisers, and also provide them unique data about whether their campaigns are driving engagement in the Goodreads community.
When I say that the book is dead, I am lying. It's not that the book is dead, it's that the way we use the book is dead. What people gather around when it comes to published works of literature is not the message in any one book. they gather around the possibility -- or the expectation - that someone will react in a similar way to us when they read that book. We are looking for a family.
Publishers had a good model going. Publish great works of literature. People will soak them up.
But the web tacked on a secondary, and more important, action to the purchasing of published words of art. Now, people buy books, and then want to konw what other people think, who also bought that book, or borrowed it from the library.
We're all publishers now. And while publishers may think they are competing with information, I think what they are really doing is feeding the many different layers of quality, quanitity, and information styles that are reactions to the published work they model.
Here is part two of the series on startups coming out of some incubators in three countries -- China, India, and Israel. We sat down with WangJun of iTestin App, an app that helps developers test their code simultaneously while building it. I thought that the environment of the Testin office was really interesting and worth noting, so here are some notes from that visit.
The office has around 20 people, each stationed at a desk with a desktop computer. Most of the screens are filled with code – lines and lines of script that I took a look at and thought was gibberish. But they were so intently studying those lines, occasionally making selections/edits. Also, there were gadgets every which way you looked: phones, tablets from all sorts of different manufacturers. The interview took place in the back office, with devices of all sorts. Different sounds filled the air throughout our interview – some familiar, like those from Fruit Ninja, an online game popular in China.
WangJun took it all in stride and didn’t seem to notice the ringing/music coming from the devices on his shelves. He carried on the conversation as though he hadn’t heard anything. Everyone was so focused and determined.
BizSpark: How do you know when you are failing in product development and how to you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team?
WangJun: We’ve figured out our product, and it wasn’t by our team’s collaboration alone. I’d say about 70% of our product was drive by our customers and partners. At the end of last year, we created a product that allowed developers to control the cloud. The problem was, the bandwidth for each device was too big. The cost for bandwidth was too high for developers and operators. Customers also thought that it was too complicated to use our device. Our solution, based off of our customer feedback, was to stick with the idea of Testin – to enable remote app testing across many devices. We didn’t need a hi-fi show – we just needed to provide our customers with the information they needed, that is, the reports of the results of their app testing. Friendship with customers and a relationship where they can tell you what they need and what they like/don’t like is important. I’m just a teenager when it comes to startups; I know I have a lot to learn, and I’m learning a lot from my customers.
BizSpark: Who is your mentor, and what was the last great thing he or she told you and your team?
WangJun: Jiang Xiao Hai: he was the founder of PICA, a company I used to work for. Although he eventually ended up selling PICA for $90 million, he called the business a failure. PICA could not provide services to customers directly; a lot of outsourcing was involved. It was a product-driven company; every year, they would have to push their customers to purchase instead of catering to their customer’s needs and putting the focus on them. Jiang Xiao Hai has taught me a lot about what makes a business successful. It’s not quick money that makes for a great company – it’s the sustainability of great results. You need to focus on the long term business model, a model that is sustained by great customer and company relations, not the company itself.
BizSpark: What has overjoyed you in this past month?
WangJun: During the Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure launch two weekends ago, all the CEOs put their wishes into the time capsule. Part of my wish was to have the opportunity work with Microsoft. We can provide solutions to Windows Phone developers. This potential partnership is my encouragement; it drives me to get up in the morning. Also, the prospect of breaking into the global ecosystem gets me excited as well. If you do business purely for the china market, it’s too small in relation to a global sense. We have a big dream. Currently, we are only capable of handling Chinese apps, but we expect to be able to have support the English version of our product in the fall.
BizSpark: Who inspired you the most this week, and why?
WangJun: On Monday, I had a meeting with a big company – a CPU vendor (name and company undisclosed). They expressed an interest in our solution. Right now, they use real human testers, each of whom can test at most 50 aps a day. When they asked me what my performance level was, I answered “at last 300 and at most 1,200.” Developers can’t afford human testers – it would cost them $10 million, whereas if they used Testin, they would only have to spend $60,000. Over the past 72 hours, I’ve been reveling in this elation – they told me I couldn’t do it, but in actuality, I can. I was so glad and also inspired for future opportunities. The global market is our goal, and I feel like we are taking big steps in the right direction.
A little over a month ago, hundreds of developers and hackers packed into AOL's Palo Alto headquarters, and in three other cities around the country, to take part in AngelHack, an organized chaos run by Greg Gopman and his team. The purpose was to build, code and shape web and mobile apps that made people's lives better. One of those teams, Fashion Metric, a Santa Monica, California-based company that calls itself the "Pandora for clothes."
At the last AngelHack, they succeeded handily at building a cool app, so we asked them a few questions about the AngelHack experience to find out why anyone in their right mind would spend all day, all night, and all weekend, building something that might not work out for the best?
You'll love the answers. And the video that explains FashionMetric.
As background, the Windows Azure team is a backer of AngelHack, and BizSpark regularly serves as a media partner for AngelHack, driving some coverage of the events on the ground and supporting Gopman's efforts to grow this enterprise to scale so that elite hackers and hard-core builders of apps have a place to create and a channel into bettering the worlds of the consumer and enterprise.
What did you do before the event to prepare for AngelHack?
FashionMetric: Fashion Metric competed and won the startup competition Lean Startup Machine in Santa Monica the weekend prior to AngelHack. We focused on talking to as many potential customers as possible before going into AngelHack. This allowed us to have the confidence to know we had more than an idea, we had a real validated problem. We discovered that men have difficulty finding shirts that fit their body type well and although they would want to shop online for convenience reasons, they didn’t due to concerns about fit.
Why compete in AngelHack?
FashionMetric: After winning Lean Startup Machine (LSM) we had serious team momentum, we knew that AngelHack would drive us to continue forward with the same intensity and excitement that LSM had. While LSM is focused on validating the business idea, the next logical step was to build the prototype. AngelHack offered the perfect framework to build our solution and get more feedback on both the problem and the best approach to solve it.
Why build? / Why take the road of entrepreneurship? Why now?
FashionMetric: This has been a dream of ours for a long time now. After winning LSM and making it to the AngelHack finals we realized we had a unique opportunity to turn our dreams into a reality. Morgan and James are quitting their day jobs and Daina is leaving her PhD program at UCLA to make this happen. Daina and Morgan are excited to get married in August and want nothing more than to work together full time. Team synergy is the key, we all are ready to take a risk to change our lives and do something that we love.
What does it mean to you to Hack?
FashionMetric: To hack is to do something different, to innovate. In our case, we set out to bridge the gap between the physical and online worlds, enabling men to buy shirts online that not only fit their body type but also match their personal style. Only 7% of clothing shopping takes place online, our hack is the foundation of something much bigger that we think is going to change the way people buy clothes online.
Why do you think your team was able to succeed at AngelHack?
FashionMetric: We knew from day one that it wasn’t just about having a great idea, it was about solving a real problem. It takes a great team to solve a big problem. We weren’t fixated on solving the problem one particular way, but instead stayed laser focused on getting consistent of feedback to drive innovation in our product.
What platform will you be developing for and why?
FashionMetric: We are initially developing a web application. In the beginning we want to keep things simple while reaching the widest group possible. Our web app will be easy to use on any computer or tablet without requiring a huge development team to make it happen.
What are the biggest challenges for you at this point?
FashionMetric: Our biggest challenge is ensuring that what we build provides the best possible solution for our customer segment. As a team we love the fit problem, but we also realize that the ideal solution might be different than our current hypothesis. By keeping customer development at the core of our feedback loop, we are consistently improving the platform and learning from our users.
In his t-shirt and jeans, Greg Gopman, the founder of AngelHack, looks like any other hacker / programmer, guy trying to make his way in the world of Silicon Sunsets and Sand Hill dreams. But a soon-to-be global series of hackathons led Microsoft BizSpark's Douglas Crets to sit down with the man and figure out what led him to this obsession with putting the hack back into the hackathon?
At the end of the day, what is the hack? We talk with Greg Gopman and find out. Our interview ranged over several subject areas, because I was really trying to get into the mindset of a guy who is seemingly obsessive-compulsive about biulding great code and extraordinary hacks over 36 hours in locations like AOL's Palo Alto headquarters, or the Microsoft Silicon Valley Center. What drives the guy? How do they know they are winning in their market? Is a hackathon a business? Why do it? What do companies get out of it, if they are sponsoring the event? What do they get out of the hacks?
If you have any follow up questions, leave them in the comments, and we will certainly drive the conversation forward.
Greg Gopman, courtesy of his Facebook profile
What have you learned about managing a technological business that you would pass on to the next generation?
Greg: Since moving to Silicon Valley I’ve learned that almost none of these great stratups got things right the first time around. The Facebooks and iPhones of the world are few and far between; making up less then 1% of the great tech we use everyday. What this means is you're more then likely going to get things wrong when you start, but the important thing is TO START and build in good analytics, so you can iterate fast as your market tells you what you need. For my company, that meant changing from a boys fallacy that he could help people build startups in 3-days to a now 8-week program spanning the globe combining startups with mentorship, travel, and the opportunity of winning funding.
What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year?
Greg: Everything was a challenge this year, because we’re less than a year old J. AngelHack Events organizes the largest offline coding competitions (aka, hackathons) in the world, which connect the 3 major communities of the startup ecosystem – developers, angel investors, and startups. We essentially throw mini developer conferences in every city. The top problem we’ve faced is figuring out how to scale up the business from San Francisco into other major tech hubs, where we don’t have relationships yet. It’s hard to hire dedicated people (most of the good ones are heads down working on their own ***) and understand the best developer marketing channels for each city. Luckily, through a lot of trial and error we’ve been successful at putting systems in place that work in most cities. I also visit each city to form relationships with community leaders and get a feel for what drives events in those cites. Though there are competing events happening every week, AngelHack is now the largest hackathon in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Boston, and we’re expanding to Los Angeles, Washington DC, Toronto, Paris, London, and Tel Aviv this November/December.
How do you know when you are failing in product development and how do you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team?
Greg: I look at metrics to know how we’re doing – event attendance, attendee surveys, and how the startups created through the AngelHack experience are doing when the dust settles. Everything is a constant work in progress and I consult my team (and advisors) at all steps along the way. If we’re doing things right, the communities love us, startups are solving problems, and investors are finding good dealflow. If all three of these things aren’t happening, then I tweak things like marketing channels (event attendance), event programming (feedback), and length of mentorship (startup success rates) as needed.
What signals from your consumers do you look for to signify that you are winning?
Greg: My customers are the sponsors that want to support developer/startup communities around the world. Without them we wouldn’t be able to subsidize event costs and provide adequate value to our community (AngelHack provides attendees with 5 gourmet meals, snack, drinks, massages, shirts, toys, and all expensed paid trips to Silicon Valley for the 2-3 winners/city). When the sponsors are happy to support our event then we (and our community) are winning!
When you need to ask questions on your team, who do you go to? Who do you usually turn to outside of your organization to ask questions?
Greg: I turn to my best friends -- a developer/designer, a community organizer, and a wordsmith. They're my rock. Now that our startups are getting funded (6 of 25 finalists from AngelHack S’12), I find myself talking to investors more and more to get their feedback. My favorite is when I sit down with an investor who came from the startup world like NYC’s Owen Davis or AngelPad’s Thomas Korte, because they understand both sides of the game.
Who would you like to be your mentor, and what would you ask him or her?
Greg: Fred Wilson (NYC) seems to be leading the pack of Angel Investors these days. Most of what he touches turns to gold. The same could be said of Ron Conway (SF), but these days the activity comes mostly from his group of wildcats at SV Angels. If any of them wanted to show support I would simply ask them what we could do to add value to our community and ensure we’re on the right track. As is, we provide startup docs, media attention, design help, group trips, recruiting services, weeks of mentorship, and a platform to get six-figure funding.
Who is your mentor, and what was the last great thing he or she told you and your team?
Greg: This is going to sound awful, but I follow a lot of Dave McClure’s teachings (500 startups). He’s one of the most outspoken and polarizing people in the startup community, but there’s a lot of wisdom in the things he says. If you synthesize his information properly, then you’ll have a blueprint for success in angel investing (spray and pray). Even renowned investors like Google Ventures’s Joe Kraus (founder of Excite.com) will tell you that no one knows what they’re doing in early stage investing—Dave is just the first one to embrace that whole-heartedly. My team takes a page from that book, adds a competitive angle to it, and supports top teams in anyway we can to ensure their success.
Jeff Tennanbaum from Blue Run Ventures has been really supportive keep my head down and keep crushing it and we’d have a 1m business in a year. Thomas Korte from AngelPad (#4 on Forbes incubator list) has been a great advisor also. I’ve had some great chats with Boston’s David Beisel also.
What has overjoyed you in the past month?
Greg: VegasTech (the investment arm of Zappos founder Tony Hsieh) flew our top hackathon teams out to Vegas last week to see their Downtown Vegas redevelopment program and recruit our teams to move there. It was an amazing experience and a great chance to bond with our AngelHack winners. While there, we also met some agency people who told us their brands would flip head over heels to be part of what we’re doing and support our global entrepreneurship initiative. I asked them what we’d have to provide them in return and they said “nothing…we just want to help you and your community succeed.” That was pretty rad.
What does something in your business vertical need in order for the product to be successful?
Greg: We need more support from the investment community in mentoring our teams. As we expand across the globe we’ll be looking for local angel investors to mentor/guide and potentially invest in our top teams as they begin their startup journey. That is our priority right now.
How does your company utilize next generation marketing techniques?
Greg: This is going to sound passe, but for us having a strong twitter presence was crucial to taking things to the next level (@AngelHack #AngelHack). It took us 6 months to find a team member who could manage our account well, but once we found her things got pretty awesome, pretty fast. Our last event only had around 1,000 attendees, but almost everyone I meet has heard about AngelHack since there was so much activity on Twitter. At one point we were a trending topic, which was pretty rad.
Has starting your own company provided any answers about your life?
AngelHack is my fourth company, but my first Silicon Valley venture. Starting a company in the Valley teaches you how to focus on community and what it looks like to work around great people. It also provides you with the best entrepreneurial mentors in the world – bar none! Combined, you have no excuse to not succeed here except for your own shortcomings (and luck—all startups are 50% luck). What I’ve learned with AngelHack is that I wasn’t a failure because my previous businesses didn’t succeed, only a failure in seeking out great mentors, opportunities, and the right community of people.
Have you discovered something about yourself that you didn’t know before?
From pushing myself to succeed I’ve learned my second gear – the tear through walls, act now, don’t hesitate mentality that once you get going will give you the confidence to tackle anything. One of the nicest feelings in life is knowing you have the power to get things done and FAST! The key for me was to stop worrying about getting things done right and just focus on getting them done. The quality of work will increase over time as your brain gets used to moving so fast. Too often we give ourselves excuses to slow us down – overcoming the bullshit is what makes great leaders and in tech – great founders.
Special opportunity for Silicon Valley and West Coast folks. Steve Blank talks with Dan'l Lewin at the Commonwealth Club this Tuesday.
Photo courtesy of Startup America Steve Blank, Serial Entrepreneur; Founder, E.piphany; Professor, UC Berkeley and Stanford Engineering; Author, The Startup Owners Manual
This is our first interview with one of the participants of one of Microsoft's international accelerators, which is officially called the Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D HQ. We talk with PengFei Chen of Atom, an Azure-based solution that offers corporate services to companies via the cloud.
We asked Chen, who was the CEO of MySpace China, to talk about the challenges of running a startup in China and how his group manages the hits and misses that come from usability testing, formulation of the app, and developing a customer market for their work. Here are his thoughts on what it means to start from scratch in the world's largest Internet market, by customers.
Photo: PengFei Chen, Atom. Courtesy of the Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D HQ
Microsoft BizSpark: What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year?
Chen: We grew from a really small team of 6 people to 15, which is still really small, but we’ve more than doubled. For the new people who came to our business, there’s a lot of re-education, bringing them up to speed, and also, you can’t be overly affected by them. You need to know what you want to do. When new people come in, they bring new expertise and can flood you with information. It’s easy to get confused, but as CEO, I know that managing a company and developing according to one unified vision is important. Growing too fast has its risks.
Microsoft BizSpark: How do you know when you are failing in product development and how do you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team?
You know you’re failing in product development when you try to explain to your mom or your friends, or people a little older, or 10 people at random, and 5 people don’t really understand it and another 4 are hesitantly like “yeah that’s a good idea.” That’s not good. And when you don’t feel excited about it, it’s definitely headed south.
I had an idea, and I’m not an engineer, I think more in terms of “how does this help my life” and then I hired a bunch of engineers, who said, this is a great idea, but this is how you should do it, and it became too technical and it didn’t really solve my problem anymore. And I just couldn’t get up in the morning, because you just don’t see the point. You know you see it, you understand it logically, but emotionally, you know that it’s not what you want. I got back on my feet, took a step back, asked myself ‘what problem are we trying to solve, what customer are we trying to serve?’ Now I get up at 6 in the morning, and I found my direction again by spending a lot of time trial and error and a lot of time thinking, if it was worth it or not.
The biggest thing that we’re investing, as young people, is our youth. I was talking to my investor and he was like “I want to give you more money” but I was like “I don’t want it. We don’t have a solid product yet; can you wait until we have some customers, some validation?” And he was like “Nah, we wanna get in right now” and I was like “you know there’s big risk right?” and he said, “well, compared to the risk you’re taking, a couple million dollars is nothing. You’re basically betting your youth, you can’t get that back. So if you’re willing to spend the better half of your 20s doing this, then I’m willing to invest.” So yea, the thing with startups is you gotta constantly think, “Is this worth my time, am I building something valuable? What impact does it have the on rest of the world? I don’t want to spend 5 years building something that nobody uses. It doesn’t even have to make money; it just has to be useful to even myself. So we were working on this really big project and I couldn’t really see the point. We were trying to disrupt a huge industry; financially it made sense, but there were too many assumptions. Those assumptions were too optimistic, and for me, it was betting yourself on hope and that wasn’t solid enough for me. If you spend enough time on talking to friends and thinking about things, then you’ll figure it out.
The Atom Team, Courtesy of Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D HQ
It’s like walking in a desert – if you walk in one direction constantly, then you’ll eventually get out. Problem is, sometimes you run out of water, or food or whatever and you die and sometimes you get lost again. But if you have enough time, water, food, you’ll get out - if you’re lucky. I feel like I’ve been very lucky. A lot of entrepreneurs if they were in my situation a couple of months ago might’ve gotten really lost but I was lucky I walked out.
For every type of product, there is a buyer. There are 6 billion people; there’s got to be someone who wants your product. If it’s too hard to find those people, then it might mean the market’s too small, or you’re not reaching the right audience. And you never know what’s the case.
Microsoft BizSpark: Has starting your own company provided any answers about your life? Have you discovered something about yourself that you didn’t know before?
Chen: I think starting my own company made me realize more aspects of this world. When you’re at school, you only see part of the world. When you’re running a business, you’re managing a couple guys and you realize that they’re very difficult to change. If you’re trying to change him, it’s very difficult. It’s about you seeing the talent and the strength in him, the weakness in him and applying that to a task. So some people are just good at something, and some people are not, and you have to find the right match. My original idea was that everyone was the same. We’re a bunch of smart guys, we can just figure it out. Without really trying to figure out peoples’ strengths and weaknesses. I mean, I’ve been trying to change my brother for 20 years – hasn’t changed. Changing people’s hearts, changing your employees’ hearts, changing consumer’s hearts – try not to touch consumer behavior. You try to satisfy them they have an innate need for something, although they probably don’t know sometimes; if you explain to them, they don’t get it. If you tell them when you do this, what if you do this, and they’ll be like “oh yea this is so much better” then that’s good because it’s behavior they already have, but you’re giving them a better solution. So don’t try to change people. You can’t tell people to change, but they can change themselves. If you get them to change internally, that’s more effective.
I realized that I like to sell products. I thought I was a designer, I liked to design projects. But no, I like to be passionate about a new technology and get other people passionate about it too and sell it to them. I like to communicate ideas to customers, almost the same as what we’re doing right now.
I get excited by companies like Instagram and Kayak.com. The fact that they were able to identify a pattern inside something as big as Google was inspiration. What I do for inspiration is I look for patterns. I do a lot of puzzles, play a lot of games. Everywhere I go, I try to identify patterns. Just recently I was in New York to visit my girlfriend, and she’s very fashionable. I thought I would have to read a lot of fashion magazines and articles to catch up with her, but I was so far behind I couldn’t catch up. I looked instead for patterns, so I looked in her wardrobe for a few minutes, and there were all sorts of bands, clothes, different colors, cuts, different shoes. I made a mental note and went out shopping; the whole time I was trying to find a match. Using past experiences and data to predict the future, and I was able to fairly accurately predict what she would like. So I like to do that and it helps me with stuff; so identifying patterns in nature and in work and life not just on the internet. Its interdisciplinary – you can’t be that innovative if you focus on just one field. I get inspired by everything.
A Windows 8 hackathon will take place this month, but instead of being in one physical location, we are making it virtual, so that anyone, anywhere, can take part in it.
It's an online event, so you can code from the comfort of your home. App submissions will be accepted from August 17 - 26. Check out Matt Harrington's blog for more details.
Register now to secure your spot.
Let's go hackers! See below for a shout out to hacker culture, which we liken to the brilliant geniuses who make graffiti. Subversive, disruptive, a new art.
We just saw the the new trailer for The Founders, the TechStars reality show.
It's real. That's all I can say. "*** goes bad inside your companies. Don't hide bad news."
We got word this morning that BizSpark company Wappwolf, a cloud automator app, has just released a version of the app in the Windows Store for Windows 8 charmbar, the toolbar that runs on the Windows 8 interface.
You can check out the Wappwolf Windows Phone app here.
Image of the Charm Bar from Calling All Geeks.
The worst thing you can do to your startup is to act as if you are the only person who can make it work. Startup culture demands collaboration and a startup is the perfect opportunity to build a spirit of camraderie and inspiration. We interview Pingar CEO Peter Wren-Hilton about Pingar, a metadata discovery tool and a BizSpark company.
Here are some insights into management culture and startup creation.
BizSpark: What have you learned about managing a technological business that you would pass on to the next generation?
Wren-Hilton: You cannot do it all yourself. Recruit a strong team around you at both an executive management and at a Board level. There will be times when you will require the expertise and networks of your wider team in order to execute your company strategies more effectively.
Wren-Hilton: Growth: Headcount and cost have increased exponentially as we have built up our product development, sales, marketing & support teams. This has required additional investor funding and a significant investment in hiring the right people to build up these teams. This is an ongoing process and one that consumes a lot of management time.
Wren-Hilton: My wife, Jacqui (also a director of Pingar): She frequently reminds me that ‘I have my head in the clouds and that she has her feet on the ground’. Jacqui is my reality check. Every entrepreneur in this crazy start-up world needs one! Saying ‘NO’ to what sounds like a great new opportunity is a strength that I am very slowly acquiring.
Wren-Hilton: Without doubt, the announcement by Microsoft that they had launched the beta Office 2013 Store. The Pingar team is very proud to be the only Microsoft partner to have different applications in both the Office 2013 & the SharePoint 2013 Store categories. As a New-Zealand based start-up, it is great that our research and development team’s capabilities have been recognised in this way. Hobbits across the country are celebrating!
Wren-Hilton: Bradley Wiggins. Watching him pick up an Olympic Gold Medal having just won the Tour de France demonstrated how a total commitment to a dream can come true, delivering amazing outcomes. In the case of Bradley Wiggins, this was not just a personal victory, but one shared by a whole nation. Very inspirational.
Wren-Hilton: For a time, starting Pingar was my life. It was a complete 24/7 existence. Learning how to delegate was not a natural instinct for me, but over time I have become much more comfortable delegating key tasks to people far better qualified than I. That has not only helped the business grow, but it has also enabled me to experience life outside work once more. Fish in the Bay of Plenty are no longer safe and I am beginning to think of new ways of reducing that golf handicap.
Further Information about Pingar
Pingar was interviewed by Robert Scoble last year and Wren-Hilton and his team spoke about Pingar for about 15 minutes. The content mentions the company's SharePoint integration.
You can also check out these product videos.
We asked Bruno Ligutti, a BizSpark member and founder of Chain.ly, to explain his startup company, a social network that matches people who need help with other people who can help.
By Bruno Ligutti
Chain.ly is a social network matching people who need help with people who can help, through chains. Chain.ly brings trust and added value to the old concept of chains, and helps viralize people’s needs through their social graphs and in a broad array of categories, such as finding missing people, lost pets, and even a job.
We look to disrupt how people help one another worldwide, and we envision taking Chain.ly to developing countries lacking the institutions and infrastructure to bring hope to those neglected and forgotten. We envision the middle and wealthy class using Chain.ly to help those with fewer opportunities.
We are a team of two co-founders –Bruno Ligutti and Arif Mahmood. Bruno serves as the lead software engineer, whereas Arif serves as the main investor and business strategist. We also outsource work to an additional engineer. We have released our first public prototype and validated hypotheses with a small group of users, following a lean methodology. We are close to release our next version, and we are driven everyday by our love to help the world. We trust we will get there step by step, and Microsoft BizSpark and Windows Azure has surely accelerated our efforts.
Here is our napkin sketch, which started up the whole thing: