5 Critical Must Answer Questions For Start-ups

After interacting with 5 different start-ups in the past month or so at all different levels, from an idea and no pitch to well funded and right at the MPV stage (not most valuable player, but Minimum Viable Product), I have honed it down to 5 critical questions for start-ups that they MUST get right or at least have an answer that makes sense.  And, let me say that I have often been a passive person when it comes to pushing start-ups this way or that or anybody for any reason because I am also under the belief that I don’t know most things (like the mind of a 12 year old person’s market).  I would say, admitting you don’t really know the answer is the first step towards finding an answer to these questions.  My proclivity for passivity is starting to wane, because quite frankly if you can’t answer these 5 questions correctly, then either you need to go back and start all over again (even if you are in year 2).  So I am no know-it-all, I am just going to question your status quo on what you think will be a successful service, app or product implementation but asking directly the most important questions. You decide if you’re answer is acceptable.  I also, speaking with an old friend who is involved with a ton of start-ups as well said to him, “Remember to be tougher on the next start-up guy/gal, because we often let clients fail because we don’t have the inner strength to say, NO YOU ARE WRONG”, at the right time and place (which is usually right at the beginning).  Now we all want to get paid as consultants, developers, lawyers, doctors, etc, but come on just to get the business keeping our mouths shut helps nobody in the end.  In fact the start-up will just fail badly, and quite often we knew why in the back of our heads, we just kept our mouth shut and got the pay check.

So here are the questions to ask the next start-up you come across, as well as the retorts you need to have in certain cases, so they don’t end up on a highway with no exits where the highway just ends:

1.  What is your business model or how do you make money?

2.  Describe your customer (personally who they are, what they are like, where they hang out and something tangible about them)?

3.  How are you planning on getting to market or getting critical mass?

4.  Who are you competing with?

5.  Who is in charge, is there already a problem personality on the management team and who is going to run it and who is standing behind the desk answering the phone all day.

Notice I left out one really important question, what is your product or service?  Believe or not, I am now putting that below these 5 questions.  It is important, but not as important as these questions.   I am starting to think a product can evolve, pivot, and become something else if it has to.  And a great team with the right resources in place can probably overcome any product/service question.  A dumb product obviously is a problem, but once again I am not going to be able to tell you what is dumb, successful or not.  I was out pitched a few months ago for our start-up social app by a group of kids with a game which blows the head off characters (huh!).  They got funded and we didn’t.  So maybe blowing heads off your mobile app characters is a great product.  It sounds stupid, but I don’t know.  I am not 12.

I am going to follow this blog article up with my thoughts on each of these questions, and how/why I think you could answer them right or wrong.  There are definitely wrong answers, like Facebook and we are better and bigger (get the picture). My answer to that was Wrong, we need to collaborate not compete (especially with ginormace, my son’s new word he invented, entities), that you can not imaginably compete with directly.  Collaborate not compete that is a mantra I picked up from CEO Space, and it rings true, especially with Facebook, since you can build an app within Facebook to get started and they are happy about it…

 

 

 

How To Respond To New Ideas?

Recently I had to remind my long-term speed dating partner Vince (Pre-Dating.com), after covering a new concept that my team wants to try, that we are “old” guys and that we really may not know much of anything when it comes to deciding what is a good idea or bad idea.  Let me first preface the word “idea”.  When I refer to an “idea” in the Internet space we are mainly referring to a new business, a new website, a new mobile app, hardware, a new start-up company, or a new conceptual technology thingy that actually does something.  Actually the words he used were “But I know what I like”.  And those words to me don’t mean anything because what we like or think we like may only lead us to a big mistake.  Trust me, what we like will not exactly work for everybody, or even a small group of the mass market.

What WE Like May Not Mean Anything

To work with entrepreneurs with new ideas, you have to leave your ego at the door and be an open book.  So, when a few weeks earlier a young entrepreneur with a new concept wanted to sit with me and discuss his new Web & Mobile App, after hearing his pitch I  sat thinking to myself, “Wow, this is a dumb idea, this marketing plan won’t work, and this logo and business name does not work for me.”  So what did I do?  I sat there and just bit my tongue.  Just because I think it is bad or wrong, does not mean I am correct.  I may be right, but it may not matter.  The question is how to dish out the mentoring and get them to a point that you are helping and not being a jerk.

The Weekly Meetup & Mentoring

At least once a week an entrepreneur or a person I meet at Caffeine Spaces wants to sit with me and discuss their app.  It may be just a concept not yet on paper, or a full blown application especially if it is in the Dating space, Social Networking, Education Space or areas I have been exposed to.  I always take the meeting.  And I have to force myself to sit and listen.  This is not easy, because those who know me, know that I typically cut people off when they are talking and just start saying my own ideas.  I have to cut that out and buckle down to get the gist of what they are trying to get across.  Listening is really mentoring.  Giving some rational tactical advice on Next Steps is the answer.  Everybody is in a certain stage of development.  If they don’t have their one page Exec Summary or a Pitch Deck, that is where they need to go next, especially if they want to raise capital or just bring on partners or customers.

Small Steady Improvements

I also had to remind Vince that an idea is just an idea.  Conceptually any idea can be developed into a lasting entity or business, especially if the concept is tested.  Vince had this one business venture we talked about where he had failed to gain critical mass, and we discussed a little bit of why it failed.  He felt his “vision” had not been accepted by the market.  Basically it was a $400 bootcamp about how to start-up a company.  It was in fact a $20,000 value over 2 days, like getting an MBA shoved in your head.  He had lost a lot of time developing this concept creating the materials and felt people were not willing to pay for the whole shebang.  Well, the issue was simpler.  He did not have to spend 6 months on creating a monolith and start-up people don’t want to spend $400, they have a hard time parting with a $1.  So he should have tested the concept and broken it down into small pieces and gotten a web page up and running and just made small improvements finding his way towards success.  That is how you have to approach this business.

“Investing in the Internet is similar in a way to investing in a farm”

Read this great quote by Technology Pioneer Yossi Vardi.  Essentially you have to look at Internet related ventures like you do farming.  I have to remind all the people I meet with new ideas to think like this and to sell themselves this way.  90% of the results of our Internet ventures will take 3-5 years to show results.  And of that amount, many may fail, but many will start to come to their own if we continue to make those improvements and pivot and correct the mistakes we made at first.  It will always take time.  The start-ups that were overnight successes showed some progress, but event those are on a 3 to 10 year time frame till profitability and success.

South Florida Venture (Improbabilities)

There is a disconnect in South Florida between venture capital and new start-up ideas, that are not experienced in larger cities around the country with a great Start-up community.  And event he angel/venture guys around are not willing to wait.  They need to show results now, and always want results to be on the table.  Real dollars, real traffic and real databases are how we speak and work in South Florida, and that means there will never be a Tumblr, a Twitter or a Google produced out of South Florida.  You need the patience and the capital up front.  We are forced to make immediate decisions on how our businesses are built in order to bootstrap everything, and when you get some financing it is a dribble if you are lucky.  This is hopefully changing.  My answer to a lot of young guys are great idea, maybe you should move to New York or San Francisco.  Would love to change that, and things are changing, but not soon enough.