The Story of a Bootstrapped Startup..

This is my talk about Minimum Noise at Sun, Sand and Startups in Barcelona 2011.

Some people have asked me about the restructuring we did of the landing page.
One of the articles that were inspirational in that regard was this one: http://www.conversion-rate-experts.com/seomoz-case-study/ — I highly recommend it.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Sun, Sand and Startups | 1 Comment

Shower Whiteboard

If there is one thing we’ve learned from stock photography, it’s that windows make good white boards — especially for flow charts.

picasa

..well that, and that thinking big means planting a tiny tree in a very big pot and while customer support might sound like some middle-aged Indian guy it is, in fact, a hot chick with a headset. But I digress..

I was rereading the Paul Graham essay The Top Idea in Your Mind the other day. PG asserts that the one thing that occupies you the most is the thing you are going to think of in the shower which I generally find to be true. This spawns all kinds of little ideas and I realized that I tend to forget these, like dreams. You know there was something, but it’s just not very clear what is was. As I just moved into a new flat where there is a large glass wall in the shower, I decided to buy whiteboard markers for it. It’s geeky, yes, but I am quite excited about it.

There is a risk, I guess, that this is too structured and can have a negative impact on the free flowing kind of thought but that doesn’t seem to be happening. You get one “file” per shower. You can erase something with the water but then the wall is wet and useless. This limitation seems perfect for keeping you in brainstorming mode.

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Portable Safe


I purchased a portable safe, the Pacsafe Travelsafe 12L.

It is a canvas bag with an integrated steel mesh. This makes it light while still protecting it from knives and simple tools. Yes, it can be broken into if someone really wants to but it provides good protection against the thief who is quickly scanning for something to pick up.

When traveling I mostly stay in hotels that have in-room deposit boxes but sometimes they don’t and sometimes they do but they are not big enough to contain my laptop. It’s really, really annoying to have to carry my laptop around with me all the time so I thought this might make a good solution. It seems very rugged and yet not too heavy. I am comfortable locking this thing up in a hotel room. It comes even more in handy as the I have the MacBook Air which doesn’t have a Kensington lock port. The 12 liter version has plenty of space for my laptop and other items such an SLR but it still fits into a backpack.
I am very happy with this gadget. I think it has just become a part of my permanent traveling kit – something very few products do.

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CherryTomato 0.5 Is Out

CherryTomato version 0.5 is now out.

In terms of features, this is a small release. But in terms of internal architecture, lots have changed. This is the first release after it was open sourced. Most of this release was contributed by Kore Sar – many thanks!
Some of the changes that you will notice are in the evaluation dialog – you can select the tasks that you consider productive and have a suggested rating from that (along with an indication of when during the 25 minutes this took place).
The reminders system has been developed quite a bit – you can now add an “after pomodoro reminder” that will always remind you after x minutes. Though there aren’t many other features yet, the system is quite extendable so you can expect more reminder types and features in the future.

Also, included in this version is a plugin for this USB lamp that will go red when you are in pomodoro. Works great if the person next to you doesn’t have you on Skype and doesn’t know if it’s safe to disturb you 🙂

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CherryTomato is Open Source

CherryTomato is open source. I put it on Google Code a while ago but I didn’t want to make too much fuzz about it because I hadn’t tried to build it on another machine and generally wasn’t too happy with the state of the code. That hasn’t changed 🙂
However, I decided to announce it now and let you try it out if you want. Many people have asked me to make it open source – it will be fun to see if anybody actually wants to contribute. I have a number of plans for it as I have stated here from time to time, but as it is not my highest priority I only put in a few batches of work every now and then.
So if you are interested, go to code.google.com/p/cherrytomato and get the source.
Posted in CherryTomato, Productivity | 6 Comments

Face Recognition and Privacy

I like Picasa’s face recognition feature. It does also scare me a bit when it correctly suggests that I am present in pictures that I just added.
Yesterday I was walking on Strøget and I passed a couple taking pictures. I must have ended up in one of them, and just then it hit me that this picture is likely to end up on Flickr, Facebook or some other online service. And even if it’s not visible where the picture was taken, it is probably geo-tagged, and it definitely has a time stamp. Which means that there is now proof of my whereabouts yesterday, available on the internet. This isn’t a big deal as long as we don’t have a search engine for this data, but with the face recognition technologies that already exist, it will only be a matter of time before I can ask about somebody’s location at a given date and receive an approximated answer. Oh yeah, and this service will work back in time.

picasa

It’s a drop in the ocean. But with Google we have all seen how easy it can become to find a drop in the ocean!

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An Idea-Evaluation Framework

In order to pick the best of our many ideas for our next project, we have sketched a process for evaluating ideas. This consists of market analysis and testing and should help us decide what to work on.

Sammy and I started Minimum Noise, a marketplace for music licensing similar to the various design contest sites, with the belief that we could turn it into something profitable. We made the site in two months and launched. Aside from talking to friends in the music business, we intentionally did not research the market very much. Our plan was to get it out, see what happened, and evolve from there. We believed in pivoting over analysis.

Musicians love the site and have given us lots of feedback and suggestions. But we have not been able to find people who are interested in paying for custom-made music. And, we have not yet seen any obvious direction to take it with a pivot.

While we are not taking the site down, we are not going to be focusing on it, which means we’re looking to start a new project. We have a long, long list of ideas but despite the entrepreneur mantra that ideas are worthless, we now feel that there is at least some variation in value. And we want to pick the best of our ideas for the next venture.
We decided to create a framework for evaluating ideas. We are going to be a bit more strategic this time, without turning to too much academia. PEST and SWOT analyses are fine, but we are pragmatists and it has to be very hands-on.

As with everything, we will start using a rough sketch and refine it as we get smarter. The first version we’ve come up with is a funnel of five steps.

funnel

Phase One: Initial Assessment/Intuition

Here we think through the details of the idea. We like having an explicit step for this because it allows us to stuff every thought into our ideas-spreadsheet without initial cynicism. This makes free brainstorming easier.
There are a number of criteria that an idea must match in order to pass this phase. These include:
– Can we make a minimum viable product quickly (max. 2 months)?
– Does it have a well defined business model?
– Will it potentially be able to make enough money to pay both of our salaries and company expenses?

There are a couple of nice-to-have’s as well:
– Does it scratch our own itch?
– Is it suitable for blogging etc. (is it sexy?)
– Does it have the potential to grow really big?

If the idea appears to match these criteria, it goes into

Phase Two: Market Analysis

We will now try to get a feel of the potential market. Who would be our customers, do we understand their needs? What is the competition like?
There are a number of tools that you can use for this. We have a bit of experience with MarketSamurai which is very nice. It queries Google for various data about keywords which gives you some indication of the market as it appears on the web and is an excellent tool for quick understanding of a market.

If there seems to be a market with buyers and the competition is not too strong (or we can find a suited niche), the idea has passed phase two.

Phase Three: Testing

In order to convince ourselves that the market actually exists, we will now test it. That is, ask people if they will pay money for the product or service.
Steve Blank talks about this under the term Customer Development. You simply go out and talk to potential customers. The customer should say “I will buy that” – not “I would buy that” (big difference!)

That is mostly for B2B ideas. If the idea is more of a B2C or the unit price is very low, we will replace or complement the talking with fake landing pages. A fake landing page is a page that looks like you can buy a product. It may even have a big “buy” button that leads to a page saying that the product is not currently shipping but you can enter your email to be informed when it does. In a sense, this is the only real way to test a market. Nobody is as honest as an anonymous person deciding whether to spend money or not.

Now, we haven’t yet decided exactly what the actual criteria for phase three is yet. An obvious choice would be that we should have indication that we could reach our financial goal, so if a fake landing page runs for two weeks, it should make 1/26th of a years salary for both of us. However, that implies that the idea should fully evolved in its first version which it won’t be and that would be setting the bar too high. However, we require that we have actually made some imaginary money and not just had encouraging pats on the back.

Phase Four: Further Analysis

If an idea has made it this far, we likely have a number of new questions about the market and the product. This phase is for final thoughts and analyses before we launch.

Phasse Five: Go!

If the idea made it this far, it should be worth turning into something real.

Now, as a friend pointed out, these criteria more or less rule out real innovation. Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t even make it past phase one because there are no inherent bunsiness models (ads don’t count). Also, this is based on the notion that we should solve a problem, which rules out any kind of entertainment product (video games, for instance). Entertainment products can make very sound businesses and on top of that, they are sexy. But that will have to wait. We feel that even if the framework might rule out some ideas with a lot of potential, an idea that does pass through is very likely to have potential.

The point here is that we want to get to profitable as quickly as possible, and then take it from there. We might develop products that don’t make it through this funnel later on, but that will be when the wheels are turning.

These are quick thoughts and I would love feedback – are we missing something obvious?

Posted in Entrepreneurship | 3 Comments

What’s a Sonic Boom?

You know about the Doppler effect. It’s what happens when an ambulance passes you at great speed: the pitch of the siren changes. This is because the ambulance itself is moving along with the sound waves, resulting in a higher frequency reaching your ear when it approaches you than when it is moving away from you. This can be expressed with the following formula:

Doppler Formula
f0 is the observed frequency, f is the frequency emitted by the source, vt is the velocity of the source and v is the velocity of sound.

Right.

You also know that when a plane travels at mach speed i.e. the speed of sound, there is a large burst when it “breaks the sound barrier”. Why is that?
Simple: Given the formula, when the speed of the plane equals the speed of sound, v = vt, the divisor becomes zero and BANG! Natures throws a Divide By Zero exception. I suspect God thought he didn’t need to handle this one exception because at the time, none of his creations were able to move at such speeds anyway so there was no way the situation would ever occur..

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Small CherryTomato Update

CherryTomato v0.4 is out. It now shows the remaining pomodoro time in the system tray. I realized that I really wanted that feature and a number of people have requested it so here it is.

CherryTomato tray screenshot

There are also a number of minor bug fixes and performance improvements. There is more to do but I thought I would just get this one out.

Get it here: http://www.beatpoints.com/cherrytomato

Posted in CherryTomato, Productivity | 14 Comments

Sun, Sand and Startups in NYC

Kimmo and I have been arranging Sun, Sand and Startups in Barcelona for about a year and it has always been great fun.

Sun, Sand and Startups

We decided to do one in New York and for a first event I must say that it is looking promising. At this time, 75 people have signed up and more keep ticking in, including some people with very interesting companies and projects. I am really looking forward to it. We will be at Water Taxi Beach, on July 22nd at 7pm. If you are in town, you should join us, it’s free and it will be both inspiring and fun! Sign up on EventBrite.

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