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Posts Tagged ‘tech’

Diary of a Start-Up: The Challenge to Keep Your Business Focused

Friday, January 8th, 2010

business man watching his business finances grow

As we at KikScore roll into 2010, we are proud of everything we were able to accomplish in 2009.  We launched KikScore. (See Diary of a Start-Up I)  Our blog went live. People actually visited our site!  Actually a lot more than we expected and from some interesting parts of the world.  And we really took the big plunge into social media.  Simultaneously, we are constantly working on gathering feedback from our customers and making changes and enhancements based on that feedback.

So what is the issue facing us in 2010? One word – FOCUS – or better yet the challenge to focus.

We have a lot going on at KikScore.  For example, we are in the process of developing an exciting extension to the KikScore product that we hope to launch in the next 30 days, we are fixing and enhancing the KikScore product based on customer feedback,  we are dealing with customer service issues, we are in partnership discussions and we are redesigning our marketing site at www.kikscore.com. We also have multiple tracks of product enhancements that are being prioritized and slotted in for development. And this list is not even near exhaustive of what we have going on.

So as we began 2010, we took our heads out of the weeds and said its time to climb to that proverbial mountain at 30,000 feet so we could take a broader view of KikScore, our product, all of the activity and the daily grind so we could figure out what do we need to focus on.  In all honestly, this was probably the first time in a while where we did the “focus” analysis.  The reason is as a start-up, especially an early stage one, you keep focusing on getting your product out to the market. Once the product goes live, then you are just overwhelmed to some degree with enhancements, customer and market feedback, service issues etc that can test your start-up’s ability to focus.

So this is what we have begun to do and I would recommend that if you are a start-up you may want to do something similar. Also the key is to periodically update, measure and track progress of your focus against each of these items below.

1. Goals. As a team, set your near-term and long term goals. Near term can be 30-90 days.  Long term is 1-3 years.  Keep them in a place where the entire team can review them.

2. Activities. Then create a list of the activities that flow up to the goals.  Make sure every activity can be tied to the goals otherwise that activity should be eliminated.

3. Turbo Activities. From the list of activities try to determine which activities do you get the most out of and that with all things being equal get you closer to that goal at a faster rate.  I call these Turbo Activities because they can really turbocharge you to achieve your goals faster. So for example, we at KikScore recently uncovered an approach that may really help us with customer acquisition.  Customer Acquisition is a very important near and long term goal of ours and we have various activities that help us with customer acquisition. But this method stood out and so just this week we thought lets really focus our efforts using this method and see where that gets us for acquiring more customers.

4. Regular Update. As a startup works through these turbo activities and regular activities, while also dealing with new issues that come up each day, it is critical that the team on a regular and periodic basis assess where the business is at in regards to the goals.  As the activities, objectives and goals change over time, your start-ups focus may have to adapt and be flexible.  But while I say that, you must also be careful to not have the red herrings pop up and that push you to focus on the wrong things or to lose your focus.  This is a delicate dance that each start up needs to be careful to balance so they maintain the right focus to meet their goals.

5. Team Accountability.  Each team member needs to also dedicate themselves to keeping themselves honest and other team members true to focusing the start-up.  Without team members acting as a check for themselves and other team members, a start-up runs the risk of losing that focus. One of the ways to help ensure that team members are keeping each other focused is asking a simple question during internal discussions: Do you think that activity will get us closer to accomplishing one or more of our goals?

In the end, so much of focus for a start-up can be boiled down to the 80/20 rule.  So often 20% of your activities and work, will end up getting your startup 80% of the results that you need.  Remember this when you try to keep your focus to growing your start-up!

How do you keep your business focused?

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Posts Tagged ‘tech’

Diary of a Tech Start-Up: Disagreement Over Product Features

Friday, November 13th, 2009
Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies

If you’re doing a start-up with other people, I guess it’s unavoidable to have disagreements with your team. If you’re lucky, the biggest disagreements center around where to go for happy hour. Personally, I like Chili’s. I know it’s not necessarily cool, but the chips and salsa is really good (very salty chips) and the margaritas are big (and unlike I’ve mentioned in previous postings, the glasses are very easy to hold onto). It’s also very unlikely that you’ll run into your competitors at Chili’s — as these weak-kneed companies can’t buck peer pressure and social convention and won’t be caught dead there.

Recently, our team has been caught up in a larger kerfuffle.  It centers around how we promote and/or explain the shopper experience that can be expected on our customer sites — via a numeric score. Some of the customer feedback is the concern that shoppers may equate an 820 (which is a really high score) with a “low B” rating (which would get you valedictorian status at my high school).

A contingent of our team believes that, because we already spell out the guidance of the numerical rating (“great experience”, “good experience” and “poor experience” expected), to remove customer confusion, we could eliminate the actual score. Other team members argue that the numeric rating shows the precision and sophistication of our scoring model (see posting on our algorithm), and it is something that our customers need to accept.  Take a look at one of our customer’s sites, at www.17thandriggs.com to see the current version of the user experience.

We’re working through how to please all the team members, but this disagreement doesn’t seem to have a clear mid-point. I guess that’s the point of working with the right team. If everyone has an opportunity to express their views, whether the decision goes the way a particular team member wants really isn’t important. It’s that there’s an underlying level belief that ultimately, with enough deliberation, the group can reach the best decision for the business and the customer.

On the other hand, instead of thoughtful deliberation, we’re also thinking of implementing Mixed Martial Arts in our team meetings. I may have a bit of a paunch, but I have a pretty good reach.

Feel free to give us your opinion in the comments below on your feedback on this issue.

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Posts Tagged ‘tech’

A Few Good Blogs: Our Go To Small Business Blogs KikScore Likes Part 1

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

There are blogs now for nearly everything under the sun. That translates to a lot of noise out there.  So how do small businesses try to figure out which resources they should use online to stay up to date on trends and to get rock solid guidance from experts?  The best way is through word of mouth and also getting recommendations from other small businesses.  So here is our list of some really good blogs that we at KikScore read:

1) Startup Nation – If you have a startup or a small business, this blog not only has great tips and resources but it also has a great list of contributors that blog about marketing, customer service, financing and all sorts of other items.  The founders even host a great weekly podcast. The site is essentially a portal of all things small business.

2) SmallBizTrends – The owner of this site Anita Campbell is a small business expert and she also has an impressive line up of contributors to her blog.  Another reason I really like her (selfish, I know!)  is because her business and network of small business sites like BizSugar are based right outside of my hometown in beautiful Akron, Ohio. Anita also hosts an assortment of webinars on marketing, financing, social media and other small business focused topics. She plain knows small business!

3) SmallBizTechnology – So this site is a must review for the content but also for its owner Ramon Ray.  Before I had met Ramon, I had heard a lot of great things about him being a hugely energentic, small business evangalist. Unlike others, Ramon is one guy who lives up to the hype and much more!  Ramon’s energy, passion and knowledge of all things small business translates into this blog.  For a quick example of Ramon’s energy, here is a session he was a part of at the GrownSmartBiz Conference that occurred in Washington DC in late Septmeber this year.  His remarks start about half way in to this session.  Check it out (the whole session is worth a review!) and add this blog to your RSS feed.  Its worth it.

4) GetElastic – If you sell anything online, this blog is a must. When you are wondering about what is the latest tool or strategy you should use for your website, what you should do to optimize keyword terms or the latest trend for merchants during the holiday season check out GetElastic.  Merchants that sell online can really use this blog to help with day to day business issues.

5) WomenGrowBusiness – This is a unqiue blog that is run by recently named DC Tech Titan.   Jill Foster has assembled an all-start cast of small business female entrepreneurs that regularly contribute fabulous content on management, HR, financing, ecommerce, consulting, startups, communication and marketing, among many other items.  I also have met Jill and she is another huge small business evangalist.  She is also a fellow Dupont Circle neighbor! Jill literally has CEOs and other entrepreneurs beating down her door to contribute to the WomenGrowBusiness blog.

Do you have a go to blog?  Let us know which one it is.

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Diary of a Tech Start-Up: Funding…Dance with the Devil or Not

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

One of the ongoing debates going on with our tech start-up is whether to seek outside investment or not.  The first point that is often made by one of us is that it is too early to be thinking about it.  Heck, we just launched the beta version of this site and are now getting our first customers…isn’t it a bit presumptive to think about asking for $$ from a stranger? 

This scenario reminds me of a scene in the greatest movie of all time — Waiting for Guffman.  Corky St. Clair is charged with directing a play about Blaine, Missourri’s history.  Corky approaches the City Council and states that the ONLY thing he needs to throw the play is “one hundred thousand dollars”.  When informed that the City’s annual budget is $100k and that includes swimming, Corky responds “there won’t be swimming in my play.”  How does this tie into our discussion for asking for outside investment?  Well, maybe it doesn’t but it’s a great movie.  No, my point is that we before we seek out investment, we need to clearly establish a need for our services and that we have a competent management team that will know what to do with the money if/when we do get it.  We can’t go in all Corky St. Clair, not having a clue as to what is a reasonable amount of investment and establish what we are going to do with the money will have a strong likelihood of showing a return on investment.  See Corky asking for money

Now comes a more pressing question.  Assuming the time is right (and we don’t ask for the entire City Council’s budget), do we seek out investment at all?  As Raj pointed out in an earlier post, there are now a lot of tools that exist that make starting and running a business very inexpensive.  To date, we’ve been self-funding KikScore and we’re pretty good at stretching a dollar.  While it would be great to have a swank office and have the ability to throw an awesome holiday party with a DJ, it may not be worth the equity and control we’d have to give up (it really depends on how good the DJ is).  We’re not alone in our thinking.  According to a recent posting on www.rockyradar.com84% of Inc’s Fastest Growing 500 companies never received venture capital (though many did likely get angel financing). 

Several of us on the KikScore team have been part of venture-backed companies previously.  Some of us had good experiences, some of us did not.  So, as we continue to grow our customer base and improve upon our core product, the debate within KikScore will rage — do we continue to self-fund or do we seek professional investment.  We’ll keep you updated (and we’d love to hear your thoughts about it).

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Posts Tagged ‘tech’

Diary of a Tech Start-Up: Idea to Soft Launch

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

One of our ideas that we have here at KikScore is to provide a running blog on how we started business, what challenges we face, and what we’re doing to make our concept a viable (and hopefully profitable) concern.  There won’t be one voice in this diary, as each of us have a different view of events.  Hopefully this spectrum of views and running history will help our readers with similar challenges (and if you have some advice on approaching a similar problem, we’d love to hear it as well).  We’ll try to be useful and interesting, but most of all, honest (and hopefully humorous).  Ok, let’s get to it.

About 3 years ago, a thought comes across my mind.  I recall this moment well, as I usually don’t have a lot of thoughts.  The concept was to come up with a way to provide some transparency to shoppers — allow an ecommerce site to provide verifiable information on who they are and why they should be trusted (so they can compete with established brands and brick-and-mortar stores).  And if we can supplement this transparency with third party data on these businesses and score the likely shopping experience — well, that’s a home run.  Shoppers benefit from more competition and an excellent shopping experience, Sellers use their good name to sell more online, and we have a nice business.

In an effort to save readers from lighting themselves on fire out of boredom, ala Airplane: The Movie, I can summarize what we did between coming up with this idea and now having our soft launch of KikScore.  We hired a patent lawyer; filed a patent; hired outside developers to supplement our efforts; we futzed around with these developers far too long; 12 months later we fired those developers; we spend 6-8 months working and re-working on our scoring model and securing third-party data sources; we developed a look-and-feel of the site (twice); and came up with a name and trademark (twice).  We all did this while each of us were working full time (and often overtime) with day jobs!  Alot of late, late nights and plenty of weekend work got us to where we are at. 

We’re now live and have several beta customers out there.  While the past couple of years have been busy, we know that the next two will be even busier.  Though it will be a lot more exciting actually being in business, instead of talking about it.

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