Building A Startup

I’ve been involved in building 4 startups of my own, and involved in several others in a close consultancy context. I just wanted to write a couple of thoughts of why I love building startups and a few words to those of you who would like to, but for one reason or another have not at this stage.

To begin, every single one of these startups has been bootstrapped. None of them have received any external funding, except perhaps a few thousand in bank overdrafts. The majority of it has been financed by time, savings, and occasionally small amounts of credit card debt. All of my startups have been in the form of online products (Games), or online service business (Consulting). I’ve also been involved in startups from the early stages in online retail and various types of advertising and other web applications.

It’s fair to say that the majority of businesses can be started for little or no upfront capital that utilise your existing skill set. Consulting in something you enjoy and know more than the average person about is a great way to get a few 1000 in the bank and learn a thing or two. The only cost is your time, and some small capital for various things like materials and a website.

There are two main things that I really enjoy about building a startup:

1) Being able to create

There is something powerful about a blank canvas, especially one where you decide how everything will be. You choose your brand, your prices, your services, your followup, your level of support etc. You choose how everything flows. Ultimately you learn a great deal through this process as the market responds to your brand and offering; or doesn’t.

I personally really enjoy this space, especially testing different offers, working on materials, and reshaping what the business offers based on feedback. It’s fun when you’re small and agile and can change.

2) Creating Value

It feels great when the system and brand you’re creating begins creating value for clients and customers. It’s extremely uplifting to see clients experience positive growth and feedback as a result of your work. Forming relationships and experiencing mutual business growth is a very motivating experience.

If you create a startup in the consumer space, seeing customers take up your software or service is great. In the digital age, feedback is often instant with social media enabling you to derive value of what you’re offering instantly.

What about the downsides?

You’ll usually ditch the 9-5 for longer hours and more unpredictability. What you gain for that is control and ultimately the ability to perhaps write your own bigger paycheque one day. The journey and experiences should provide you with far more personal value than just money ever would.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re on the fence, dive in and good luck!

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Business: Transactional Or Value?

One insight about business that I have had in the past six months relates to the value that the business provides and the position it occupies in the marketplace. I’m going to use a services based business as an example, specifically a Business to Business services business.

I’ve come to understand there are really two types of business: transactional and value based business. Transactional based business tend to focus on pushing a specific service that is well defined and can be fulfilled easily. There is usually a set price point, and sales people can be paid commission to make sales within the structure with less ownership of the result of the work. An example would be providing a monthly SEO optimisation service for $500 a month on a 12 month contract + a $1200 setup fee. The advantage is that if you can find a lot of customers who are comfortable at this price point. A dis-advantage is that there is less accountability to provide the service and likely less expectation of results at that price point.

The other option is a value based business. Usually this would be focused on a more customised solution. This would normally come to a higher expense as it takes more time to develop and takes more thinking so it requires a different type of team member to perform the solution. The solution determined by a value based business can potentially get a better result in some markets, and won’t be worth the time and money in other markets.

As the owner of a value based business, the reason that I want us to focus on value and not transactions is that transactional businesses can create commodities easily, and your service can easily be compared to others in the market-place. A more world-wide marketplace to platforms like Elance, ODesk and Freelancer has resulted in a “race to the bottom in cost” on many services, which makes providing a commodity not a desirable option. The disadvantage of providing a value based service is that your pool of customers is smaller, and you must rely on reputation and case studies to drive sales; not slinky sales tactics and a winning smile.

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Focus & Finding Something You Love

I posted some comments on Facebook earlier today and it got a response from some friends, so I thought I’d follow it up with a longer blog post with some thoughts.

Neil-Walter-Facebook-Posthttps://www.facebook.com/neilwalter

Some of the questions that came up were:

- How do you realise what you want to focus on?
- How do you find something that you love?
- How do you go from first-sight passionate love to committed relationship?
- How do you find business partners?
- How do you stay focused?

To begin, I certainly see what I’m doing right now with Walter Analytics as a journey, and I’m certainly still a fair way off achieving my goals for it. I’ve ticked a few things off the bucket list, but I have a long way to go.

To bring about my process of finding something I love, I might reflect a little bit on the journey that got me here. To begin, I created my own browser based online game around 12 years ago. I ran this for most of my teen years, actively until the end of High school/early Uni. This brought me some passive income, took a lot of time, and made me many friends. It also taught me a little bit about business and what it meant.

In Uni I got involved in Leadership activities, mostly AIESEC. I ended up going overseas to Malaysia to help run a conference and do an internship on the side. Here I got to apply some basic internet marketing skills. I ended up staying in Malaysia for 3 years, traveling and learning more about what I wanted to do. In this time, I ran a games consulting business focusing on marketing, addiction and helping clients make more money Random Ramble, mostly working with clients from the US and doing business through Skype calls. It paid the bills and for some travel, although it was never hugely successful, and I felt like I was in cruise mode.

Once I came back to Australia I got involved helping a client grow his business and setup his internet marketing structure. In this time period I also had discussions with a friend about partnering in a business which would later become Walter Analytics. The big change in doing this business was getting the opportunity to work with bigger clients, meet and pitch in person, and also apply some cutting edge ideas that were making a difference in online engagement. As we have worked with different clients, I’ve learnt what is most valuable in the marketplace and the ideas and systems that can make a difference to revenue growth and online positioning.

To address the questions of the post:

How do you realise what you want to focus on?

Through trial and error mostly. However I believe it is much easier to focus on things that you enjoy doing. Work for me doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like I’m adding value to others, and that feels good. The great thing about doing consulting on topics you enjoy is that you could talk about it all day long and it doesn’t get boring. See clients change their strategies and create more success makes me happy. The money received is just a side benefit.

I believe adding value to others is something we are naturally drawn to, so finding something that fits with your natural skills and motivation will give you something you will actually focus on.

How do you find something that you love?

You experiment. You deviate from the “normal” path. Hopefully you have enough resources to travel a bit. You go outside your comfort zone. I believe many people have an idea of what they love doing, but either lack the confidence to do anything about it, or have the wrong supporters. Too often we get pushed into things we don’t love due to the expectations of others. Breaking away from this pattern for some can be challenging, but doing it can bring a lot happiness.

You can also ask the question: “If there were no consequences or limitations, what would my average ideal day look like?”, or “If every job in the world paid the same, what would I do?”. Go from there =)

How do you go from first-sight passionate love to committed relationship?

I assume this is a work related question. I believe commitments to yourself are far more important to consider. For example, if you refuse to let yourself down (don’t break resolutions, deadlines etc.), then having a commitment to a business or an idea is easier to handle. There are a couple of considerations though:

- If you want to be committed to a business, then you should give yourself a time-frame and single overall goal. For example, I want to earn $100,00 in the next 12 months. To earn $100,000 in a year, you need to earn $273 a day, or $1911 a week. If you can figure out a way to charge $100 an hour for your time, you can work 3 hours a day. If your goal is monetary, work out if it is realistic to earn that amount on a daily/weekly basis and work out how to scale it.

- I believe you can maintain this commitment by tracking yourself on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. I personally do both, and I have a list of weekly benchmarks for myself and my business that I track every Sunday night. This makes it much easier to see if the ship is sailing slightly off course and make adjustments.

- Every “opportunity” that comes up, I ask myself: “Will this contribute to my primary goals?”. If the answer is no, then I say no. Even if it is shiny and the person promoting the idea is oozing with charisma, a quick objective check will prove if it is in line with goals.

- The reality is that the world is full of people who want to take your time away to push their idea. The “entrepreneur” club is full of them. It’s easy to sit around talking about ideas and making an impact on the world, it’s hard to pull the trigger and put in the hard work. This doesn’t mean the groups are not useful, but you need to moderate your participation.

- The most important point above all above is cutting something if it fails for a certain period. You cannot get your time back, so if it is obvious through your tracking or planning that it won’t work, then don’t spend more time on it. There is a certain truth to persistence being an important quality. There is a quote on my wall that reads “When riches begin to come they come so quickly, in such great abundance, that one wonders where they have been hiding during all those lean years” – Napoleon Hill. What I believe now is that if you’re not having an expected success, then it’s better to get advice and examine what is it about your method that is not working. Usually it’s something obvious to someone wise on the outside, but invisible to you because you’re in the middle of it.

How do you find business partners?

Network and become vulnerable to others. Be willing to ask for advice and take it. Find people you can provide value to and do it. Decide what you need a business partner for (time, resources, leverage, reputation) and what you’re willing to give to get it. If you are going to find partners that are working alongside you in something then make sure you have a steady set of rules of how things work and how disputes are handled. Have clear provisions that cut out people when targets are not met, avoid working with people you don’t know well.

- How do you stay focused?

I added this one in because I believe it’s very important to create anything meaningful. I’ve touched on various points in this post, so I’ll just summarise here. I believe that focus is a result of having staggered goals and rewards. It’s much easier to focus on something when you have a clear expectation of what will happen when you reach certain points of progress and reward yourself appropriately as you achieve goals along the way. Focus is also much easier when you work effectively for a time period then have a rest. Relaxation, getting enough sleep and having time to pursue hobbies is extremely important in putting your best energy into something meaningful. I stay focused by reminding myself that what I am doing daily is just a tiny part of the bigger picture, and once I’ve reached a certain milestone I’m able to relax knowing I’ve inched forward. Of course, this doesn’t always go perfectly to plan, so I’ve developed daily habits that help with it, such as ticking off each successful day.

I just want to finish by saying that I’m contributing this piece because I believe I have some experience, but I’m still extremely humbled by what I learn everyday. I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to pursue something meaningful and I’m excited where it is going. If you’ve got this far, consider that finding something you’re passionate about thats fits into your life will take some exploration and some failing. It will also force you to risk things that may otherwise be comfortable to you. I certainly believe that we should make the most of our lives and time which is why I am determined to pursue things outside of the norm. If you feel a similar way, I hope this post helps you achieve that =)

Feel free to contact me via the contact page if you would like to discuss your individual situation further.

Thank You

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The Red Marker

April CalendarIn April I had a full month practicing marking off each day depending if I deemed it to be successful or not. I spoke about this in my post Optimising Work Environment in the past.

In April I had 4 days where I deemed myself not to have a successful day. 3 of those were consecutive days where I was in a streak of not successful days and not feeling too great about things.

A day can be successful if I complete what I wanted to. In most cases it is work, but obviously I have rest days, where it’s successful if I rest.

I’ve found this exercise really quite beneficial, especially as I’m often looking at the X’s. It’s in my work environment and I see it when I wake up and sleep. I want to keep the streak going, and it also reminds me to stay on track.

I highly suggest you try something like it!

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The Five Whys

I got this tactic from Rich Schefren through his newsletter which you can subscribe to below.

http://www.strategicprofits.com/one-step-ahead-newsletter/

Rich pointed out this great little tactic. To come up with why you’re not meeting your business goals yet, come up with five to eight reasons. E.g. You’re disorganised or you don’t like selling. Write them down.

Even if you don’t have a business, this could be used for any personal goals.

Then for each of these reasons, ask why that is a problem for you. Ask Why 5 times and write down your answers.

E.G.

1) I’m disorganised

- I feel like it’s a waste of time
- I prefer to do other things
- I don’t have an organising system
- I know how things are in my mind
- My disorganisation doesn’t make anyone else feel bad

Rich says that once you make a list of 4-5 “Whys”, you’ll often see a common pattern between the 4th and 5th answer. I believe this is because we often get to the deeper level answers (and not just surface) once we dig deeper.

The other whys are also relevant and should help you identify what you can work on.

Hope this helps you! =)

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Ticking All The Boxes

I’ve found that effectiveness comes from being able to drive two distinct states of mind at the right time.

1) Creativity, Innovation, Tweaking, Thinking.
2) Executing tasks. Ticking all the boxes.

The problem is when you get stuck in one state for too long. You need a healthy balance of both to be effective.

Usually, I have a specific environment for each one (e.g. a coffee shop for creativity or thinking), (a desk, computer and good chair for executing tasks). If you’re struggling to switch from one to the other, consider switching your environment and delegating an environment to a specific type of activity whenever possible!

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LinkedIn Endorsements

LinkedIn Endorsements

Just a quick comment today on LinkedIn endorsements. I’ve been checking my LinkedIn profile more recently, so I’ve come across the endorsements. The picture above describes the endorsements others have given me.

I find it interesting, because even though I don’t consider myself to be an expert in Social Media, it is the highest rated Endorsement. It would be interesting to know why people rate me in certain things, and why they don’t in others. I know LinkedIn comes up with categories, extracting keywords from your profile.

As an overall comment, I’ve read some articles which say that these “endorsements” are rather meaningless. I tend to agree. There is probably a bridge between this and taking the time to write a formal endorsement that LinkedIn can implement. For now though, it certain makes things “seem” more active.

What do you think?

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Optimising Work Environment

Working Environment

Some Planning In My Workspace

A quick post today, and I’ve taken a picture to illustrate my point. What you see in the picture is 3 things.

1) A Whiteboard with the current things I want my mind to ponder on. Usually a concept will remain up there for a week or more.
2) 3 months with X on dates.
3) A MindMap I want to think more about.

1) This is a fairly standard thing. Usually when I have something complex that I want my brain to ponder on, I put it somewhere I’ll see it often for a while. Once I’ve solved the problem/worked it out, I’ll change what’s there. A Whiteboard works great, the setup here cost me $40 with the markers, eraser, wall mounting e.t.c.

2) 3 Months with X on dates. This is something I recently picked up that I’m trialling right now. Basically, you get a calendar template like I have and print it out and put it somewhere prominent. At the end of each day, you put a X if you’ve successfully completed your goals set for the day. You don’t put anything if you’ve missed your goals or just had an unproductive day. On rest days, if I rest, I put an X of course.

The purpose is that the momentum of X’s won’t want you to break it. So if you’ve got 5-6 X in a row, you don’t want to miss a day and have a gap (like I have on the 25th of March, which was just a crappy day). Try it if you have issues with keeping momentum.

3) A Mindmap or anything here is useful to pondering on the points. Often I will change this section often, depending on the needs right now.

What you put in your working environment tends to make a big difference to how effective you are. Try it out for yourself!

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Full Throttle!

It’s amazing what a short break can do for the mind. After a few days away from the computer at Easter, work is flowing much better.

The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about over Easter is the business as a system. By thinking about how to optimise the system, the mind very much thinks about how to work on the business.

Of course, having the mind clear and free to roam for a few days has allowed it to innovate and be more focused on the system right now.

Full throttle ahead! =)

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Why Inbox Zero Is Such A Great Habit

For the past 5 years I’ve been practicing Inbox Zero. Unless I’m on holidays, I make sure that my inbox is at zero by the end of the day. This has saved me immense time and resulted in productivity gains, not getting lost in email and staying organised.

Inbox Zero is the concept of making sure there are no emails in your inbox at the end of the day. It also states that you should only check email a few times a day, and make a decision on email right away.

Most people don’t get started because the 1000s of emails sitting in their inbox that might become important one day. I don’t delete, I just Archive, so to get started several years ago, I just archived anything that I received more than 5 days ago and made a decision on the rest.

Gmail has a great feature called “Send & Archive” that automatically clears an email out of your inbox after you’ve replied to it.

The original presentation from Merlin Mann is below, I hope you enjoy it and it compels you to also move to Inbox Zero.

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