I'll be the first to admit that I often invest a disproportionate amount of time analyzing hardware and software. I've recently caught myself dicking around with Android for a couple days. Seriously, a couple days....hours spent trying to see if I "like" an OS.
I've been the first to jump on bandwagons of apps too and spent time analyzing which email or calendar or messaging app is best. I'm getting really tired of this (my wife even more so) and have recently stepped back and asked myself why bother. Furthermore, I realized it was extending my workdays and wasn't the best use of my time whatsoever. Forget the time spent blogging.....I'm not really that good at review posts anyway.
Ultimately tools are just that...tools. They are there to help you get your job done. It's all about the outcome. No one in hindsight gives a shit if you used this app or that hardware to get a job or project done. Have you ever really cared what was used to make the chair you are sitting on? Ever discussed what machine built your car or its parts? No? I haven't either. The case is the same for the product you are producing at your job. It's all about the results. We are coming into a wonderful age where computers, smartphones and online services are very commoditized. I see this as a huge benefit and a major timesaver since you really can't choose "wrong". A product or service may have drawbacks verses its competitor but you can still get shit done.
True, we are all geeks at heart and we love to discuss the benefits of iOS vs Android or Mac vs PC or nowadays...all the rage...electric vs gas (see Tesla debacle recently!) What a time drain! Again, I've done this all myself and of course it's fun to debate. Nevertheless I feel that so many people have made it a sport to become fanboys of whatever new product or service they have at hand. You don't necessarily sit around talking with people how to make your product better or how to win that new customer or what management can do to make working conditions more fun. These are the things I want to spend my time on. Expect far less of me on the technology debate front.
Now, on the other hand, those Google Glass things are really cool........:-)
Please excuse this commercial break on BabblingVC. We've recently launched Device Ident out of Liquid Labs and are looking to quickly build out the team. Due to very positive market resonance, we're looking to quickly ramp up a sales team of two to three people. Initially, we need a Head of Sales to help us get going. If you or anyone you know has some start-up experience, comes out of the sales space and wants to be part of a quickly growing, financed business let us know. Below is the actual job description which will eventually be online but right now, is only posted here. Contact Roberto or drop me a line.
Device Ident is a startup founded in 2012 and sells online fraud prevention software as well as services since January of this year. Our customers come from the eCommerce, online banking and online payment industries. We're an independent, 100% subsidiary of the Otto Group. To support our sales activities outside of the group, we're looking for sales executives.
HEAD OF SALES
-You will be selling an innovative SaaS solution in the fraud prevention segment, relevant for anyone offering their services online.
-Your customers will be large online retailers, payment service providers, banks and online financial services players, either as users or resellers.
-The people you will be addressing are either at managing director level or responsible for Risk Management at their company.
-You will be acquiring new customers as well as following up on leads provided by business development.
-Representing Device Ident at conventions, fairs and industry events alone or with management will be a part of your responsibilities. Travel will amount to approximately 60% of your time in the first 9 months.
-The department will eventually grow to 3 people. You will be responsible for their hiring and will carry responsibility for total revenue of the sales department.
-Sales is focussed on Europe, specifically the DACH region, UK, France, Sweden and Russia.
-3 to 5 years sales experience, ideally in the online space with a focus on new customer acquisition.
-Experience selling to enterprises beneficial.
-We expect a high level of motivation to learn about the product.
-Must be able to do cold acquisition of new customers as well as develop new market segments independently.
-Languages: English is a prerequisite. German is expected. A third language would be beneficial.
-Professional appearance and work ethic necessary.
-An interesting and evolving product with strong market potential.
-A startup atmosphere in a small team with an office in the Hamburg city centre.
-Competitive base salary dependent on seniority as well as a variable compensation component on top.
-Benefits from the Otto Group, known as a fair and preferred employer in the region.
-Large amount of independence as well as management responsibility for your team.
We look forward to your application (PDF, digital). Please send to Roberto Valerio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a VC and even now, I have a pet peeve about hired advisers (or board members) at very early stage businesses. In general, start-ups should not be paying for advice up until a certain point. Sure, there comes a time when you have to pay external professionals. Early on you're most likely going to need legal advice and here I urge you to work with the best. Do pay for their services as you probably won't get them for free. Same goes for bookkeepers or real estate agents and so forth.
More importantly though, surround yourself with mentors. I all too often see founders get caught up in thinking they can pay their way to success. There are plenty of people who will gladly take your money (or equity) if you offer it. I've seen ever more of this again recently and hence this post. Why would you when the reality is that you don't have to?
If you put in the leg work to find good mentors, they can open up so many channels for you. There are tons of blog posts out there on how to find htem. They'll help you find talent, avoid mistakes they may have made in their own past, find partners, get access to customers and so forth. On the other hand, most paid advisers see you as a time slot. They will only do so much and when their timer rings they move on to the next thing. Even board members whom you pay are actually disincentivized by being paid. By putting a measurement on their time, they become far more aware of it and hence actually tend to do less.
Although I don't have scientific data on it, from my own experience with multiple companies, the paid advisers were always the least value-add. Don't get me wrong. These were often top notch folks. Unfortunately, by paying them they became dead weight or at best just average. It was always the guys who did it for free by being mentors to the founders that brought the most to the table. They tended to be available at all hours, opened their Rolodexes and actually did the grunt work alongside the founders to help the company grow. Consider this the next time you're opening your checkbook and think twice before you do.
I just received the Nexus 4 from Google last week as I felt it was time to get to know Android a bit. I'm so accustomed to the iPhone that I felt technology may be passing me by on iOS. I had played with various devices running different flavors of Android in the past. I wasn't impressed.
What basically made me feel that it was time to change my mind was the raving reviews the Nexus 4 was getting. There were multiple reports about how FINALLY, Android was competitive with the iPhone. Many even went as far as to claim it's better. Not being religious in any way about platforms and one willing to give new tech a chance, I've been testing the Nexus 4 heavily since Saturday. I literally sat down with it and "learned" it. Thereafter I went to multiple blogs to read all the tips and tricks about using it. In total, I spent at least 3 to 4 hours really looking into the OS and playing with the device. Further, I used it as my main phone the rest of the time and if you know me, I am constantly using my phone.
So what do I think? Well, I tweeted this to a friend yesterday. Android is great but it's just become COMPARABLE to iPhone. Is it better? No, I don't think so. It's still far more difficult to use and even more so, learn. If I put this phone in a novice user's hands, they'd struggle with it for a while, probably never figuring out half the things it can do. I am an outlier when it comes to phones. I really dig into them and try to figure out all the features. It's simply much more difficult with Android when you know what you are doing. If you do not, it could be super frustrating.
I do like that the device has a "fresh" feel to it. Many things on Android are newer than on the iPhone. Like myself, I presume many people are getting bored of iOS. Especially when you consider how little has changed in the past year and half or so, totally understandable. Part of my motivation to play with the Nexus 4 (as well as the Lumia 900 a couple weeks back) was looking for something "new". A couple days in though and I am sticking with the tried and true. Instead of listing out though what I liked, it's probably better to list what I didn't like about Android and maybe this will help you make up your mind. On a side note, I believe my device may also be defective as the back panel makes a weird noise when pushed in certain areas, as if the seam wasn't aligned. It kind of reminds me of loose back covers form the day and age when you could change out batteries (like two years ago).
1. There are five home screens which you fill with apps. Why five when I only use two or three? This is odd and better resolved on iOS, where unused homescreens aren't shown and there seems to be less clutter.
2. The "settings" menus are not intuitive for many things and unless you know where to look or google it, you will be lost for a while. There are little things I still haven't figured out how to set up.
3. There are all these gimmicky things for logging into the device, including patterns, face recognition and so forth. You know what, a PIN is just fine. Sometimes choice is not good and leads to indecision.
4. Figuring out how to get necessary keyboards (in my case US English and German) plus Emoji's is not trivial. This took me a while to figure out. Why so difficult?
5. All the options for the lock screen, plus a notification screen and the little icons at the top of the screen lead to information overload. Yeah, it's nice to have notifications but I don't need them all over the place.
6. The combination of hardware with this software is not necessary for me. The screen on the Nexus 4 is a bit larger than the iPhone 5. It's not phablet-huge like some other manufacturers, but it seems worthless. My phone doesn't need to be a tablet....that's what I have the iPad for. I actually found myself enjoying the "smallness" of the iPhone 5. I wasn't expecting this.
7. Battery life of the Nexus 4 is quite poor. This may have something to do with Android since there are always so many processes running unless you shut them down. Seems like overkill. Not necessarily better on iOS but I was expecting longer battery life.
8. Too many choices! I alluded to this above but Android feels like it tries to pack everything in. There are a ton of things you CAN configure but the real question is do you WANT to. I found myself answering no to quite a few of those questions. Simplicity does have its benefits.
9. I like Gmail but it wasn't so amazing in terms of integration with the OS. Everyone notes how great Google's products work on Android. They are OK but not better than the respective apps on iOS. No idea why people feel it's so much better an experience on Android.
10. Media and photography still seem to lag iOS. The camera is great as is the software but iOS's approach to this is just better and the camera is superiour on the iPhone 5. Same goes for media. Music and videos somehow just seem better on iOS but this could very much be my taste.
I'll stop there as I will probably start repeating what a ton of other people wrote. Would I recommend Android and specifically the Nexus 4? If you are strapped for cash, at the price point, it's the best phone out there. The hardware is quite good and you can't do better for 300 bucks. If you are not price sensitive and just want something that works and is polished at this point, go for iOS on an iPhone. (And pray you don't get buggy ones.....this week I'll be on to my fourth iPhone 5!)
Update: on a random note, I couldn't for the life of me get the Android device to pair with the Bluetooth in my Audi. iPhone is zero problems and works every time. I tried all the tricks I found in forums about this issue and there was absolutely no way to pair the Android device to the car.
One of the mistakes that I often see people make when hiring is mistaking popularity and personality. This leads to disaster after people have been on your team for a while. Someone who may have seemed like a great hire ends up causing all kinds of problems with the rest of your team. Or vice verse, is never able to become a part of it and ends up leaving. Unfortunately, the reality of hiring, especially in the tech sector and start-up world, is that a lot of people who may be great colleagues aren't necessarily people you'd be friends with. Again, this works in both directions. They probably don't want to hang out with you after work neither and that's fine.
No one ever said that the people you work with have to be the folks you socialize with outside of work. In this touchy-feely, politically correct day and age it's often forgotten why we go to work. Love it or hate it, you go to the office first and foremost to get stuff done. We can debate endlessly about whether you should love your job or not but no one will argue that it exists for you to do things.
Thinking you can always work with the best and always be friends too is delusional and striving for that with each hire is nuts. I'll admit that some of the best people I've ever worked with were total freaks. Sure I'd go grab a beer with them after work here and there but I wasn't planning family vacations with them nor spending weekends out with them. They too were not necessarily inclined to spend a lot of free time with me. Even more amusing is that I'm best of friends with some people whom I worked with. I hated their guts though when they were colleagues and couldn't stand them in a work environment.
It's not rocket science but bears repeating. Just like trying to be your kids best friend will cause problems, so too will trying to be best friends with your colleagues. It's great if colleagues click on personal level and spend all their waking hours together. Just don't bet on it nor expect it. People have their own personalities and may not click with you privately. This doesn't mean they shouldn't be your next best hire.
I was on stage this weekend at the Slovak Startup Awards and was asked a question I've heard many times. A founder asked whether they should use an advisor to help raise their first round of external money and if so, whom? My fellow panel member answered positively, recommending advisors and specifically if trying to raise money internationally. Then I chimed in and said "Hell No!"
You should NEVER use an external advisor to raise money. The reason is that most of them suck! Sure, there are exceptions to the rule and I do know of a few guys who actually do have the connections and can help you navigate VC waters. Yet, there are so few that the chance of you finding someone worth using is less than your chances of actually raising a round on your own. Even worse, most guys who are really good at it do it for a while and then move on. Hence not only are they hard to find, they disappear quickly.
Why do I think most advisors suck? Well, they are no better than you. Let's be honest with ourselves....if an advisor is so good and well networked, why isn't he a VC or an entrepreneur or whatever else is far sexier than being an advisor. It's not a field you can get really passionate about. If you can work wonders getting money raised for everyone, a VC will get you on board as a partner. The reality behind most advisors is that they've already lost their jobs at the top tier or never managed to break into the jobs they wanted or raised that fund they longed for. Advisory is the side gig. Would you really put your fundraising fate in someone who's treading water?
Another problem with advisors is that they don't build the relationship necessary when raising money. You may find dumb money with them but you won't build that relationship that is necessary to find the VC that will get into bed with you. It's a long-term play when raising money and putting the advisor in as middleman is doomed from the start, even if you do raise some cash.
Further, most advisors are annoying. As a VC you get hounded by them all the time. Most VC's who are worth it won't spend any time listening to them nor take their calls. This is just a fact. VC's want to find you to take you to bed and not speak first to your pimp (see this post). Likewise, you want that sugar daddy who'll also love you and not just see you as an accessory or decoration.
And finally, it just doesn't make sense to take the money off the table. By paying an advisor a percentage of whatever you raise, you're taking money (from the VC) off the table. You see, you aren't really paying that fee, the VC is. Why in the world would I want my money as a VC going to an advisor who after the round does nothing with this money to increase value of my investment. It's just dumb all around.
Fundraising is hell but you have to do it. If you already have a VC or angel on board, they should be helping you. (Remember, you didn't raise dumb money, right?) Ultimately though it's you who has to go out and sell yourself, your co-founders and your idea. Put in the effort and don't be distracted by potential shortcuts.
Being the Apple fanboy that I am, I find it hard to type that title. It's true though that I will be passing on the iPad Mini. I had actually decided this even before I had a chance to play with the device. After having the opportunity to fondle it, my mind hasn't changed. Don't get me wrong....it's a great device. There is a scenario in which I would even consider buying it but right now, it's a pass.
So, most importantly, in what scenario would I actually buy the iPad Mini. Well for one, if I didn't already have an iPad. I had the first generation iPad and now use regularly the iPad 3 (or whatever the right number is for the last one with the 30-pin connector.) I'm quite happy with that device and have grown fond of the form factor. Together with the Switcheasy case I have on it, it's my go-to travel machine. I hardly ever take my Macbook Air on the road anymore and my iPhone 5 is with me at all times anyway. So, if I didn't already have an iPad, I'd immediately get the iPad Mini. It's the best combination of tablet and portability as well as usability if you already have an iPhone and laptop. Further, I use the device for content consumption and email first followed by some content creation (I don't blog on it for example.) Therefore the Mini is perfect for everything I need....I couldn't care less about it not having a Retina display and a faster processor.
So, you may be scratching your head and wondering why I don't just get it. Well, here's the main reason. There will be a follow-up device to the current Mini. It will be faster, have Retina display and some other features which we may not be aware of. Most importantly though, it'll come out in about a year's time. At that point, I am sure my current iPad will be getting tired. Further, I will have upgraded most of my charging accessories to Lightning (thanks to iPhone 5) and will also want my iPad to have this technology. Hence, the current Mini just doesn't fit into my upgrade schedule. Same was the case for the iPhone 4S. Sure I wanted it but it just didn't make sense. I was fine sticking with the iPhone 4 until the iPhone 5 came out, skipping a generation. Same is the case for the Mini and Apple knows this. I'd also bet that by the time the next iPad Mini comes out, it will be just as fast and feature-loaded as the full size iPad. It will simply be a matter of having options in terms of size, just like with the Macbook. There you have the Pro and Air. Both can be bought fully loaded and are wonderful machines, each with their own fan base. I went from a Pro to an Air and would never go back. Highly likely that this will be the case with the iPad too.....just not now.
It is not money that you need to be most careful of when running a start-up. It's time! No matter how much money you are able to raise (or how's-this-for-novel, earn) time is always working against you. Unfortunately, I recently made the mistake of wasting my own time. Don't misunderstand the term "wasting time" as being completely derogatory. Let me explain!
I went to London to attend an event. Many people whom I know had mentioned that it was good and that they would be there again. I let myself get caught up in the "trend" of everyone going. I didn't necessarily think things through to completion though. Yes, I did see a ton of people and it was great catching up but if I am honest with myself, I didn't need to be there. This doesn't mean I should not have been at another event, just not this event. It also doesn't mean it was bad. Unfortunately for me, it was the best event in a long time for start-ups which wanted to fundraise from German VC's. It was also a great event for people who wanted to see the whole German community plus some UK folks in one place.
Was this what I needed? No, I should of been at an event where I could recruit developers or find folks looking to start companies. As I'm focused on the finance vertical, any event directly dealing with this space would of been better for contacts to potential customers, partners or employees. If nothing else, I could of learned something new about my industry or find an idea for something I want to build. My time would of been spent far more wisely.
Here's some questions to ask yourself before booking that next event which can help you make up your mind about how to spend your time:
1. What am I trying to achieve by attending this event?
2. Will the people whom I want to meet really be at this event?
3. Am I fundraising, recruiting, selling, looking for partners. etc.?
4. Will I meet new people or do I already know most of the people attending?
5. Can I go for a day or do I need to be there for the duration of the event?
6. Is it possible to attach any adjacent meetings in the same geography?
7. Can I get a speaker slot so as not to have to pay for attendance and gain visibility?
8. Could I send my partner or an employee in my stead?
9. What other events am I sacrificing by attending this one?
10. Do I really have to go to this event or am I just going to get away from the office and see that wonderful city where it's taking place (and my wife or husband wanted to come along)??
Bonus question: am I endangering my relationship or marriage by leaving said husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend at home to see someone else while away?
Be honest to yourself. If 10. and the bonus question threw you off, forget the other questions and rethink this whole start-up thing as well as your relationships.
Mike has a nice post up about the "new kids" in the VC scene. I'm seeing the same thing but do have one very important point to add to what he wrote. Take a look at the following quote from his post:
The fact that Teli left the venerable DHTV for what is effectively a startup VC speaks volumes. As well as Amadeus, other VCs that have seen people depart and not be replaced include Eden Ventures – which shed two junior associates last year – and Balderton Capital. Partner Dharmash Mistry recently left Balderton to pursue his own investing. These may not add up to a trend away from the old guard of VCs, but it is certainly interesting to note.
Mike writes this is not a trend but I'd say it is. It's also going to get worse since the old guard will have a hard time keeping it's younger players. I'm not talking about the fresh graduates from Insead, WHU or EBS. They'll keep coming in droves and will fill the junior positions. The folks I'm talking about are the more senior players who have at least three to five years under their belt in the VC scene, may have already done a start-up or two and probably have spent time working in the US or are from there.
Why are these young guns leaving the old guard? Well here's my theory:
1. The Old Guard of VC's mostly made their money in the late 90's and a nice chunk at that. They got the getting while the getting was good. As is the case in Europe, once you make your money, you relax and take life a lot easier than the folks in the US scene. (Both entrepreneurs and VC's in this case.) Why actually work when you can let others do it for you? Why also give up any of your power (or carry) when you don't have to? You want to work "for" these guys? Fortunately there's only a handful of these funds left and they'll disappear into obscurity via this trend.
2. A lot of the older players were entrepreneurs in the hardware, telco or infrastructure space. That's not where the puck is going and the younger folks know this.
3. The younger players bounce between geographies, i.e. Valley, NY, maybe Asia and some now even in South America. The old guys don't travel much nor feel inclined to network. Hell, most US VC's and entrepreneurs don't even have a clue who they are, nor care. Folks like Sitar (and ten more I could name off the top of my head) are actually known entities in the US. See Dave McClure's comment on Mike's post.
4. The new guard wants to be operational. I am sure there are multiple motivations for this but this new round of VC's in Europe is willing to again get their hands dirty and actually talk about product details and want to understand the underlying tech. A lot of this may stem from the fact that a lot of these folks may have been at a start-up but "fell" into VC a bit too early. Venture capital is a game where you bring your experience to the table. 40 is a good age to start and better than 25. If you don't have enough experience, you're never going to differentiate yourself. These younger players know that they have to continue learning and I'd wager they're throwing themselves in the deep end to get their operational skills jump-started.
The last point is the reason I started Liquid Labs with Michael. We both had been in the VC space but wanted to actually work directly on start-ups and build things again. I felt like my skillset had become stale in comparison to the new start-ups I was seeing. The way people work has also changed a boatload since the late 90's.
Hence, the trend of younger VC's to return to start-ups or to "Start-Up VC'S" is a good thing and will deliver a nice wave of funds in the EU in five years time. It'll be painful to watch the old guard wither but have no pity. They all have plenty stashed away on the personal front and the community will benefit from it immensely. Further, innovation only happens when you break things and it's time people started breaking more in Europe.