Product first, Business fast

How would I describe myself if raising a funding round? Here’s a typical boilerplate:

“MBA with 5 years of startup operational experience and investment roles with leading accelerator and family office.”

(I know, super lame)

I’ve recently spoken to many-an-entrepreneur with similar credentials. They came from a nifty operations/consulting/banking role, then did an MBA, and are now raising money for the next big thing.

Heck, it’s the “perfect” marriage of hands-on experience with strategic knowledge. But how does an investor view this background? Personally, I only think of one thing: Do they love building products?

Because that’s what tech companies do – they build products. And the best tech company founders I’ve seen are obsessed with their product. They love customer feedback, they’re freaks about metrics, they love lean.Watch Full Movie Streaming Online and Download

Yeah, biz dev/partnerships/managing are all important, but at the end of the day even with awesome relationships if users don’t like your product, you’re screwed.

So, how about this?

“Product-obsessed operations expert, turned investor”

(Still too lame)

Some say their co-founder is an awesome dev. Others plan on hiring a rockstar CTO post-raise. In my opinion, a startup CEO should own their product from day 1. If they don’t, who will?

If this same product-obsessed CEO happens to have a Harvard MBA and came from Goldman/Deloitte/Citi… great! Just don’t let that be the first thing you lead with. It makes you sound like a banker who doesn’t know shit about building a tech product.

So, what’s a super-bright Harvard MBA from Deloitte to do? I call it:

Product First, Business Fast (1)

That’s right, lead strong with your absolute love of product. Make an investor believe all you think of is how to build the world’s best website/app/whatever. On top of that, show how you’ve been honing your product skills – even if it’s just side projects.

If you’re really ballsy, don’t even bring up your sweet MBA/experience. At some point investors will realize you’re better than most when it comes to fundraising, managing, etc. So why even bring it up?

With this in mind, if I were pitching to investors here’s the preferred boilerplate:

“Startup operations junky with a passion for building products and working with entrepreneurs”

All of the above if factually true… I love building products and working with entrepreneurs. Even if it leaves out the MBA and investor roles, who cares – isn’t an initial pitch supposed to spur interest? It’s not like submitting a visa application.

As long as you have a rationale and some backing for the description, I suggest focusing initial investor discussions on your love for building products. Bring up academic record and business credentials later – as a nice surprise after you’ve sold them on an amazing product vision.

(1) Yes, of course this is a take from Mobile First Web Second, Web Second Mobile First,

Viva Colombia!

SONY DSC

Tara and I have made our way back to London after spending an amazing 10 days in Colombia. Much of this fantastic experience was due to our friends Juan and Natalia, who graciously guided us through their home country – they were truly the best hosts imaginable.

Juan and I met through my MBA program at Imperial College London. We introduced our wives and quickly realized they were American/Colombian replicas of each other. Unfortunately after school ended Juan and Natalia moved home, but have stayed in close contact.

Considering my knowledge of Colombia came almost exclusively from Clear and Present Danger, I expected our promises of “one day” visiting would be later rather than sooner. After more than a year or broken promises, my Things I’d like to do in 2013 post (which included traveling more) spurred us to finally schedule the trip.

A lasting impression

10 amazing days in Colombia later as we waited to board our flight home, Tara mentioned how interesting it was that most Colombians asked if we were enjoying our trip. This wasn’t the typical “how’s your trip going?” but rather a “we really hope you’re enjoying your time in Colombia, and encourage you to tell the world know how great this place is!”

Encountering so many Colombians who were genuinely proud of their country left a lasting impression. Funny enough, we learned the country’s motto is: “Colombia is Passion.” At first, the saying seemed silly… how can a country represent passion? And maybe 20 years ago it would indeed have been silly; but today’s Colombia is certainly bursting with passion.

They want the world to know their country has come a long way in 20 years. This was surely not the Colombia I envisioned.

Is Colombia the next Dropbox?

An interesting takeaway from my trip has been Colombia’s striking similarity to a promising startup.

When evaluating a potential investment, most investors like to think they employ analytical screening methods. In my experience most due diligence merely validates an initial hunch – a self fulfilling prophecy if you may.

This initial investment hunch may come from a variety of sources – for instance industry insight, but more often than not investors look first for entrepreneurs who are excited to solve their own problem. In essence, they’re passionate about delivering change.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Passion is infectious, and without it good luck attracting initial employees or raising funds.

If I were evaluating Colombia from an investment perspective, I’d say the signs are all present for a massive return potential. The economy is growing quickly, security has stabilised, and most importantly an army of passionate goodwill ambassadors represent a baked-in marketing advantage.

And the initial traction is already showing. Socialatom Ventures launched in late 2012 and this year Wayra is expanding it’s Latin America efforts to Colombia through a startup and investor summit. Both are supported by a variety of mentors and investors, many that have returned to Colombia after successful startup careers in the US and EU.

With the inherent tourism viral effects in place to spread the “gospel of Colombia”, I’m guessing you’ll soon hear first hand about many amazing experiences like mine in this country. As you can tell, I’m long Colombia and already looking forward to my next trip back.

Rise of the walking meeting

Rise of the walking meeting

Remember back in the day when standing meetings were so hip?

For a while now I’ve been think about how my life has turned into a non-stop series of static meetings in either conference rooms or coffee shops. Nothing is original, the air is stale, and the background music lulls me to sleep.

Standup meetings: Do they work?

Perhaps it’s a matter of bad company culture. Why don’t we all stand up… that’ll solve everything! Right?

For me, the daily standup is a ritual I’ve lived through and even implemented Unfortunately, after the first few weeks it somehow just dropped off.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Although standup meetings may allow for a little distraction-free leg stretch, you’re still in a typically stale office environment. Surrounded by the same people sipping the same coffee/tea and saying the same things as yesterday.

The WSJ even wrote about the “fast-moving tech culture” where some companies went as far as removing tables to prevent (Angry Birds) distractions.

Standup meetings haven’t been the only trend attempting to disrupt the traditional office environment. There was a time when sitting on exercise balls was “in”, and even now a few articles mention the treadmill + desk combination (walking desk) as the next big thing.

The Walking Meeting

Why not change your whole frame of mind and leave the office completely? I’m not talking about going to a distraction-filled coffee shop or grabbing a quick lunch…

I’m suggesting holding your typical bulleted agenda with discussion meeting while walking.

How great would it be to begin a meeting at Westminster Abbey and end at London Bridge? Or easier yet, why not meet a colleague in the lobby to take a few loops around the neighborhood?

The core idea provides a more accessible, focused, and cheaper alternative to golf’s walk-and-talk dynamic. Though unlike golf, my core hypothesis is that walking meetings will produce original thinking and allow the participants to return refreshed and ready to move on with their day.

In general, not only would a walking meeting help achieve that crazy Fitbit 10k step goal, it removes participants from the status quo to provide much needed headspace.

So who’s with me? Any takers on setting up a walking meeting? I’ll even be your first partner! Conversation topic is completely up to you, I’d just be happy to get some fresh air and remove myself from the monotonous daily routine we call work.

When lines are bridges

When lines are bridges

I was lucky enough to recently attend the TechStars London launch at No 10 Downing St. along with many of the UK’s most well known investors (Yep, I felt like a gate-crasher).

Following the TechStars/Springboard merging announcement, a roundtable discussion focused on UK investing topics:

  • what stage most lacks capital
  • how to form an ecosystem
  • where are all the huge companies/exits
  • what role government should/can play

All of these are critical components to growing the UK technology scene, but at the same time challenging questions to answer, demonstrated by very bright people suggesting drastically different alternatives (an “oh snap” was once in order).

A “bridge to the US

To close the morning Jon Bradford made a comment that struck a chord: He described the new TechStars London as a “bridge” (to the US). While the previous conversation focused on potential UK-based initiatives (1), very little was said about expanding overseas relationships or direct investment.

The bridge Jon mentioned reminded me of a well-known post by Mark Suster comparing an investor’s get-to-know-you period as “lines” that connect the “dots” of individual interactions (in essence status updates). The post’s simplicity is awesome and worth a read.

Likewise, I see TechStars London as a bridge that enables US investors to ascertain the performance of UK teams – forming a dot. By allowing multiple dots over the span of the program, lines will form and patterns appear. And with the right patterns we know investment is likely to follow.

Lonely Dots?

There is a recent trend to take accelerator classes on a US roadshow (2) – allowing teams to collect many initial dots. Keen entrepreneurs can later expand on each unique dot, but often the program’s structure doesn’t by default form a line.

I envision the TechStars London bridge will structurally enable US investors to connect multiple dots throughout the program. It will start with a series of video chats, followed by product feedback, and by demo day the lines will lead right to US investor pockets.

TechStars London seems to be the first international accelerator with an inherent US home court advantage. Others will follow. And soon we’ll ask why this progression didn’t happen quicker.

Global Bridges

The question I ask is: Who will build bridges to connect GLOBAL dots?

For now the US is tops for startup investing. Who knows when this may shift, but most likely the consumer markets of India, China, and S America will continue their massive growth and attract more investment.

Sooner than later capital will begin flowing on a global scale into startup hubs through bridges like TechStars London has built. Initially they will be US bridges, but emerging markets will quickly catch up.

It sure will be interesting when the first Chinese venture fund builds a US or EU accelerator bridge and moving east becomes the “cool thing to do.”

I think increasing access to the global capital and mentor markets will be a huge step forward for innovation in general – and has potential to disrupt both the current model for how startups evolve and the mindset of entrepreneurs.

Agree or disagree with my vision of the future? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

(1) For example, how to encourage more graduates to take up entrepreneurship, how to transfer more tech out of universities, or how to make people aware of the UK gov’s startup initiatives.

(2) Accelerators both within the US and from overseas have started taking their classes across the US to meet investors/partners in the major cities.

Things I’d like to do in 2013

Over the past 10 days I’ve spent 20+ hours in airplanes… the result of living on a different continent from family during the holidays. The vast majority of this time was spent watching movies and reading magazines, but as my mind wandered for the first time ever I found myself compiling a variety of New Year’s Resolutions.

This resulted in a list of 6 resolutions, which I intended to whittle down to one key objective for 2013.

As I contemplated the relative importance of each item, it dawned on me that I could achieve the full list in 2013 if I put my mind to it. In fact, the items ended up being things I wanted to do more – opposed to the typical metric-driven resolutions. So, the following is my “Things I’d like to do in 2013″ list:

Music

I want to bring back music to my life. Although I love not having a car in London, I do miss the hour of radio inherent in a typical US commute I’ve played piano for more than 20 years and just last month I received a keyboard for my 30th birthday – so not only do I want to listen to more music, I also want to play more music.

Mornings

I want to wake up earlier. I am naturally a night owl and often most productive after midnight. However, I feel like allowing extra time in the morning will result in a more calm and focused day ahead.

Breakfast

I want to eat more protein for breakfast. My energy level is always higher when I substitute eggs for cereal or a protein smoothie for a granola bar. It’s just a matter of time. Waking up early will allow me to make a healthy, balanced breakfast for my wife and I.

Travel

I want to travel more. I’ve been living in London for 2 years and failed to make a serious effort to prioritize travel. This will change in 2013 as I intend to plan trips further in advance and utilizing more of the glorious vacation time allotted in the UK. Columbia, Turkey, and Greece are just the beginning…

Think

I want to think more often. Not just the typical daily task-based thinking… but really stepping back to ponder things I find important. This could include anything from weighing the pros and cons of an interesting startup during a leisurely museum stroll, to thinking through all aspects of an www.opinsy.com topic while wandering through a park.

Breaks

I want to take more short breaks during the day. In my opinion too many people correlate time sitting at a desk with the amount of work being done. I’m a true believer in quality over quantity, and my preferred way to achieve this is through short bursts of high-quality activity followed by down time. Sitting for more than 90 minutes isn’t productive, and I intend to do less of this in 2013.

Razor usage tracker

Razor usage tracker

Like most people, at times I come up with what I believe are “bright ideas.” I typically place these ideas safely in an Evernote folder to sit for eternity. This folder now consists of 20+ ideas that to date have not seen the light of day.

Well, my bright idea for today was to post these ideas on my new AndyinLondon blog. This way there’s an off chance some entrepreneur will be in the position to pursue said idea. So here goes nothing…

The Razor Usage Tracker

I hate shaving. The hairs on my neck grow in crazy directions, and inevitably I walk away bleeding from most shaving encounters.

Electric razors work well on my face, but I’ve found a standard 2-blade razor is best for my neck. It’s not full-proof, but the first 3-4 razor uses I walk away relatively nick-free.

The problem – if I use a razor more than 5 times, I start bleeding profusely (believe me, it’s bad).

I try my best to remember how many times I’ve used a razor, but seeing as I shave every 2-3 days this requires me to track my shaving for over two weeks. What typically happens is I only throw a razor away when I bleed excessively – I’m guessing this averages the 7th or 8th shave.

The solution – a simple way to track my razor usage. I could envision this “tool” would be able to attach to any razor and include a simple counting mechanism up to say 10 uses (some people use razors longer than I do).

I’m actually surprised manufacturers don’t just design an integrated razor tracking system. Brita does for their water filters – in essence two stickers. I for sure change my water filter more often because of the sticker. Wouldn’t the razor manufacturer sell more razors if users were reminded to change often.

So, there’s my first bright idea – a simple way to track razor usage. It might not change the world, but it’s surely a problem that I would be willing to pay for a solution (and am guessing others do as well).

My neck awaits your brilliant solution to this problem…

Friends all around

I have this funny habit while on the tube. Every time the doors open I stick my head out to breath the “fresh” air. Yep… kind of like a dog in a car. There’s no rational explanation for this habit (fresh air + tube = oxymoron), just something that felt good and stuck.

Well, the other day I was doing my normal fresh-air-seeking thing when I heard a voice call out to me:

“Hey, where you headed?”

I looked around for a moment and noticed the person calling to me was in fact the train conductor. My first thought was ‘aren’t these trains automated nowadays?’ I answered “Kings Cross” and proceeded to retract my head in time for the doors to shut.

Next stop, same fresh-air-seeking followed by the same conductor asking another question:

“What do you do?”

This question was a little more intimate – especially from what sounded like a brit – but nevertheless I replied that I worked in finance. We both did a head nod in mutual agreement that I was one of ‘those guys’ in the faceless world of finance.

This little correspondence went on for a few more stops until I reached Kings Cross and went along my merry way. Before departing I waived and said goodbye to my new friend and he did the same.

What a great feeling it was to make friends with someone in such an unexpected way. In fact, it made my day.

Since this incident, I’ve found myself in a variety of situations where normally I would go about my daily routine without much thought. But now my conductor conversation often reminds me that potential friends are all around us.

I plan on taking better advantage of this potential. I suggest you do the same.

Where’s the McUpsell?

I love McDonald’s sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffins. Not only are they tasty, but with 23g of protein and 430 calories they’re a relatively healthy breakfast and keep me full until lunch (1).

My week consists of 2-3 McMuffin stops. I order exactly the same thing in exactly the same way: “I’ll take a sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffin, please.” To my seemingly specific order, the McDonalds employee responds the same way every time:

“Do you want just the muffin, or the meal?”

The question is typically asked in a slightly hesitant tone, almost inferring that my order is the first in history to exclude the obviously desirable meal deal. The thing is… after eating at least 500 McMuffins in my life, I have no clue what a McMuffin meal deal includes. And I only have a vague idea what a McMuffin meal upgrade costs (I’m guessing $1.50). To this I say:

Where’s the McUpsell?

I am a proud owner of McDonalds stock. Yes because of the company’s unbelievable brand value. But I’ll admit – mostly because I love my McMuffins. After owning MCD for a while, I’ve started to recognize a phrase called “same store sales” is a big deal. Most of the time same store sales vary because of the economy or different menu options. Well, here’s my suggestion to McDonalds:

Train your employees to convey what an upgrade cost and the additional value it includes.

Train your employees to convey what an upgrade cost and the additional value it includes. Click To Tweet

By informing customers about a meal deal’s value proposition, I’m guessing there’s a high probability many (including myself) would upgrade. I understand memorizing all possible upgrades isn’t easy. Upselling takes strong product knowledge and the incentive to go above and beyond. But think of the rewards.

  • The average McDonalds restaurant serves 1584 customers/day who pay approximately $4.75 per order – resulting in annual restaurant sales of $2.7m. (2)
  • Let’s estimate a strong McUpsell would convert 2% of customers (3) to purchase a meal deal (4). This doesn’t seem like much, but if these 32 customers pay 60% extra for a meal – each restaurant would make an additional $33,300/year in revenues (5). That’s like adding 4 days!
  • I estimate a McUpsell would increase global revenues by $225m/year (6). This equates to 12% of McDonalds total revenue increase between 2011-12. In addition, because meal deals include higher margin items (fries, drink, etc.) they’re great for profit margin.

I’m guessing there are a variety of industries that would benefit from instilling more of an upsell mentality. Gas stations? Movie theaters? Restaurant servers and car salespeople have been employing the upsell – but then again they’re compensated as a % of revenues.

There are a variety of industries that would benefit from instilling more of an upsell mentality Click To Tweet

It’s a difficult task to supply the training and motivation required to instill a McUpsell mentality, but I’m guessing over time the benefits often far outweigh the initial hurdles.

Thanks to @FranciscoGtrz for diligently checking my math skills (I was awarded a C+)

(1) I am now actually told that a .78 protein to fat ratio may be “nutritionally poor”
(2) http://www.burgerbusiness.com/?p=9385&fb_source=message
(3) I could see 1/50 customers go for a really solid McUpsell
(4) Assumed minimal dropoff from longer waiting lines
(5) $.65 increase x 32 customers x 365 days
(6) McDonalds operates about 6775 of it’s own stores X $33,300

Complements really do matter

16 entrepreneurs have pitched me in the last 30 hours. 11 of these were f2f and 5 were part of an angel event. It was overload. My head still feels like a form of eggnog that’s just about to harden to start thinking rationally again.

Of all these pitches, only one made me smile as I was brushing my teeth just now. In fact, only one made me smile at all.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Instead of rushing into the pitch, this entrepreneur sat down and casually said: “your Linkedin profile really made me smile”. This was followed by something like “it’s great when they show some personality”.

I can appreciate her sentiment, as most Linkedin profile are a combination of corporate BS and spelling mistakes. But really, my profile made her smile? Check it out – it’s scraping the bottom for humor – http://www.linkedin.com/in/atshannon1

But I guess that’s not the point.

I guess the point is this person made me smile while I was brushing my teeth. And along with this smile came a happy memory. And this happy memory is now associated with a person… and a conversation… and a business.

All from one complement.

Not only did this entrepreneur demonstrate she checked me out prior to the conversation (bright idea), she succeeded in being the 1 out of 16 I am certain to remember. I’m also be very inclined to reply quickly to her followups, connect her with other investors, and in general lend a hand however I can.

I’m not saying everyone should have the goal of flattering their local VC. But I am saying a small but unique differentiator can go a long way. Whether it be a way of speaking, a crazy shirt, or a complement – bringing something unique to the table is always the way to go.

30 today, time to go big time!

Yep, today is my 30th birthday.

And I’m thinking there’s no better way to celebrate than start something I’ve always wanted to do – in this case my own blog.

At the moment I don’t have really a goal in mind for blogging, so much as a desire to aggregate my thoughts in one central place. I figure, why not share those thoughts with the world?

Worst case scenario – nobody cares.

Best case – a few people other than immediate family care (hi mom).

So, we shall see what the future holds. From here on out I’m going to shoot for 2-3 posts a week. More is very much acceptable. Less would be unfortunate, and likely means I’m not trying hard enough.

Hopefully something valuable comes from these thoughts…