Read beyond 2015
2015 has now come and gone, and, in our reflection, we’re all probably a little bit older, and a little bit chubbier, at least, that’s what I tell myself at night, or maybe it’s just me. I’ve also lost a bit of hair and found out that I’m not as healthy as I appear. I have been a first time founder for over a year now and it has turned into one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Here’s how I read it.
Last time when you read about us being in a Bootcamp you read that it was like all of the emotions you could experience as an entrepreneur, but on speed. However, I was wrong. Once you’re pushing for launch, that’s pretty much how it is always. Your emotions aren’t on speed, or any other kind of drug (at least I hope not), it’s just always a roller-coaster.
Strengths Finder 2.0 told me my top strength is Intellection (why is it not just “Intellect”?). I can read into oblivion, so I’m told, and so I came across an EU study that told me failed founders were less likely to succeed than even first time founders. Considering the odds and my loathing of failure, I don’t subscribe to the fail fast, fail often mantra, at least not at an organizational level (when seeking product-market fit, sure, experiments can fail and when they do they should fail fast). Perhaps that mantra should be to pivot quickly and pivot often.
There’s been a lot of bad press from startup founder’s perspectives, of the Samwers (those of the German behemoth, Rocket Internet). You read things like, they’re sharks, Rocket Internet companies are pump and dump companies with no or loss making business models behind them, they copy others, they play unfair in international markets, their MDs can be douches, and the work life balance is non-existent. I don’t know if any of these are true, but there’s no denying the fact that they have created a multi-billion dollar company. They may not be the “innovation entrepreneurs” that we all aspire to be (everyone who’s young and dumb at one point wanted to be Mark Zuckerberg), but you have to respect their will and drive as “execution entrepreneurs” (this is how Oliver Samwer puts it) even if you don’t like it. What is it everyone says? That ideas are a dime a dozen and it’s all about the execution. They’re the best in the world at it, like Darth Vader was the best Sith Lord (and arguably Jedi) at one point. You have to respect that.
That leads me to something else I read, and it’s been the reason why I spent so much time tinkering with our business model to make sure we have something that scales profitably. We always read about 90–95% of all startups failing (at least in VC terms, 10x-20x returns and all), and post mortems are all the rage these days, but not so much has been written about what goes into that failure rate, why it seems to be so extreme. I read that of the 90–95% of startups that fail, 74% of them failed because they scaled before they got their business model sorted out. To me that kind of sounds like trying to run faster by shooting yourself in the foot. If your product only provides a customer lifetime value of $10 and it costs you $30 to acquire that customer, doing that millions more times is probably not going to yield an amazing outcome, especially if there isn’t much OpEx left to trim. I see this playing out in foodtech startups in India right now.
It begs the question why so much VC money was pumped into those ventures so quickly. Was it just flashy pitches? Maybe. I thought to myself, I want to do that.
So my reading list for 2016 starts like this, then:
Get Backed by Evan Baehr and Evan Loomis.
Great concrete examples of successful pitches and emphasis on the human side of fund-raising. I notice I tend to get too caught up in the details, when it’s really an emotional connection. 3rd revision of our pitch deck here I come.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
The granddaddy of Lean Startup methodology. Don’t mistake this for Lean Manufacturing Methodology a la Toyota. Basically a pre-requisite read for startup founders who don’t want to make something that sucks.
Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, & Alan Smith
Honestly, I just got this because the back cover was such pure genius.
SCRUM The Art of Doing twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland
Written by one of the makers of SCRUM, our CTO basically said, hey, this is how I work, so… Who am I to judge what I don’t know? So, hopefully this changes that.
Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur
Notice how I am a fan of the strategyzer series? This is basically a big book of tools to help you develop in a fast and iterative way the part of the startup that a lot of people forget… It’s business.
The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen
MVP. Say it with me again MVP. That is what your first release should be. What is it Reid Hoffman that said? If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. At RET.asia we have been striving to release something we were going to be happy for too long and I thought that was something that needed to change. Here’s to being uncomfortable.
Traction by Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares
If we think of a startup as a car, traction is it’s fuel. It makes everything go. I was introduced to Traction at the 1337 Ventures bootcamp I attended, and, having since read it, I can appreciate how clearly defined it makes each marketing channel and finding a way to exploit the one that suits your business (which might not be the one you think).
Full Disclosure: I was not, in any way, paid or encouraged to say any of the above things. I literally picked these books up from the local book store from my own volition, although some of them are pretty obvious choices.
And just because I can, #AlDub