Ah, we’re back already for Thanksgiving. Not sure where this year went, and it won’t be too long before I do my end-of-the-year post.
It’s cheesy to write a post giving thanks, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do anyways. Last year‘s post already covers many of the same things I would want to cover now, so I won’t list them again. 
Here are five fresh thankful things:
1.      Ever expanding connections from anywhere and everywhere. This year, I’ve picked up projects from meeting people at UK Consulate events, Starbucks, and the like. Doesn’t matter where I am, people have been happy to meet, talk shop, and stay connected.
2.      Adding odd experiences to my CV. This year, I’ve been pulled into FOUR different photoshoots ranging from school magazines to company collateral. Never done that before.
3.      Keep On Getting Up. Early part of this summer was brutal for me – I’m Tired of Faking It, But I Want This War. But after realizing I was at a soul-crushing place, I put in elements to catch myself and get back up.
4.      New experiences, and continual self-confidence and awareness. I’ve been pushing a lot of openness with others. It’s been a continuous practice in being self-confident. Meanwhile, sharing my journey has inspired others, too.

5.      Being in Atlanta. Atlanta is one of those places that has got ups and downs. I love that. It’s weather offers seasons. The transformation of the Beltline is invigorating. Meanwhile, you can get in touch with just about anyone you want to. The small community and cultural desire to help each other is vibrant. Forever, I love Atlanta.
What would your cheesy Thanksgiving giving thanks post say? What’re two things you’re thankful for?
I recently stumbled on an article on TechCrunch about empty state designs – “The Most Overlooked Aspect of UX Design Could Be The Most Important”. It’s pretty good, and I won’t rehash the whole thing.
In gist, empty state design refers to the design and experience (UI/ UX) of an application when a new user opens an app or new feature. For example, if you just downloaded a photo sharing app, what would the app say and do to motivate you to use it? Poor empty state designs can lead to confusion, diminished interest, and the like which ultimately yields high churn early on.
Benjamin Brandall, the author, writes empty state designs should tell the user three things:
  1. What is this page/ platform for?
  2. Why are you, the user, seeing this?
  3. How can you fill out this page?

Body Boss was built quite feature heavy without clear call-to-actions upon new registration. We noticed this more apparently when we were signing up coaches on the spot at a trade show early on.

When coaches entered, there was an empty dashboard because no players had done any workouts yet. It was just a great-looking black screen. That’s not useful or sexy.
Our first design was a beautiful black screen. Not helpful, and not actually sexy
Similar to what the article suggests and what is common in successful apps today, we added a Getting Started Wizard walking coaches through setting up their organization.
We added a Getting Started Wizard walking the user through a simple set-up process when a coach first registers

The Getting Started Wizard walked through many different building blocks of Body Boss including adding players individually, or importing en masse
The result was more coaches knowing exactly what they needed to do to get started. We saw engagement rise especially in areas like inviting coaches, setting up groups, etc. The wizard was a great tool to complement our drip onboarding emails, too, to additionally provide structure in the onboarding process.
Check out Brandall’s article, and let me know your thoughts!
I had lunch with the Founder of one of the startups I’m working with and the company’s CEO. The Founder is the visionary, and ran the business for the last several years. Early this year, the Founder tapped the CEO from the outside to take over the company’s day-to-day.
Normally, the CEO role encompasses strategic and visionary activities; however, in this case, the company Founder continues the strategic duties. The CEO is the “scaler”.
I sat down with the CEO privately to ask him what being a scaler meant to him:
  • Does not need to be the one with the original idea. Instead, he embraces ambiguity in the direction of the company, and is excited for the opportunity to grow (scale)
  • Instills processes to complement startup scrappiness with structure. The startup, in this case, has product-market fit, revenue, and a sense of the future direction – prime opportunity for a scaler. As an early-stage startup, processes are more machine gun spray. With maturity, the scaler focuses the company on a clearer target
  • Supports structure by promoting and hiring the right team members. The scaler identifies non-contributing links and removes them while filling gaps with trusted colonels from outside or promoting from within
  • Balances the values and ethos of the startup with structure and governance. As a company starts to scale, structures will develop to support growing lines of communication, product development, marketing and sales, etc. Delegation and accountability is shifted to provide effective lines of leadership and support

Some entrepreneurs thrive on building companies from scratch but are less interested at some level of maturity. For the benefit of the company and its stakeholders, it’s important to realize the gaps in the team via the management team or simple self-awareness. Then, augment the team with complementary leaders to grow efficiently.

What are the benefits of having two leaders at the helm of a startup in the early growth stage, each leading one of vision or day-to-day? What are the dangers? How could scaler entrepreneurs play roles in early-stage startups?
Screenshot from http://techcrunch.com/gallery/y-combinator-startup-playbook/slide/42/
Last week, TechCrunchpublished 62 Tips from Y Combinator’s Startup Instruction Manual. It was written by YC’s President Sam Altman with some good quotes to ponder when doing a startup. I wanted to share my favorite Altmanisms:
  • “Today’s successful companies all started with a product that their early users loved so much they told other people about it. If you fail to do this, you will fail.”
  • “The fast you can develop self-belief and not get dragged down by haters, the better off you’ll be. No matter how successful you are, the haters will never go away.”
  • “The best ideas sound bad but are in fact good. So you don’t need to be too secretive with your idea – if it’s actually a good idea, it likely won’t sound like it’s worth stealing.”
  • “Founder need both rigidity and flexibility. You want to have strong beliefs about the core of the company and its mission, but still be willing to learn new things when it comes to almost everything else.”
  • “If you have a pre-existing relationship with your cofounders, none of you will want to let the other down and you’ll keep going. Cofounder breakups are one of the leading causes of death for early startups.”
  • “You want to start with something very simple – as little surface area as possible – and launch it sooner than you’d think.”
  • “You should not put anyone between the founders and the users for as long as possible – that means the founders need to do sales, customer support, etc.”
  • “Don’t fool yourself with vanity metrics. The common mistake here is to focus on signups and ignore retention. But retention is as important to growth as new user acquisition.”
  • “Find ways to get 90% of the value with 10% of the effort. The market doesn’t care how hard you work.”
  • “No first-time founder knows what he or she is doing. Ask for help and you’ll be better off. Find a mentor.”
  • “A successful startup takes a very long time – much longer than most founders think. You cannot treat it as an all-nighter. You have to eat well, sleep well, exercise, and spend time with your family and friends.”
  • “Competitors are a startup ghost story. First-time founders think they are what kill 99% of startups. But 99% of startups die from suicide, not murder.”
  • “The first check is the hardest to get, so focus your energies on getting that, which usually means focusing your attention on whoever loves you the most.”
  • “The key to being good at pitching is to make your story as clear as possible: mission, problem, product/ service, business model, team, market and market growth rate, and financials.”

What are some of your favorite tips from Sam or others? Any particular reasons?

Jim Rohn, inspirational author and speaker, shared the “Parable of the Sower” from the Bible to illustrate the law of averages – ~7’ video below. He’s famous, too, for the notion you’re the average of the five people closest to you. Turns out the parable has many lessons for entrepreneurs and startups.

Jim shares how despite birds eating many seeds and complexities of shallow, rocky soil, the sower keeps sowing. Never once does the sower mind the birds or the soil knowing that if he were to chase the birds, he’d get off course.

“If you chase the birds, you’ve left the field. You’re not sowing anymore.”

The logic is that the sower sows more seeds than the birds can get and more seeds that would survive the hot days.
Some relevant points to this story, and indeed the law of averages, for entrepreneurs:

  • Not every prospect is a buyer, so sell (engage) with as many of the market and you’ll close many.
  • The birds of a startup can be many including requests for more features, chasing funding, meetings, etc. Seeds can be time, sales prospects, the product, etc. Be wary of chasing too much and chasing birds as you can quickly find yourself “off the field” and no longer adding value to the startup.
  • With more resources, the sower could address the birds and the soil. The sower was a one-man enterprise addressing a single plot of land. If there were multiple sowers, you can see how they could plant twice as fast, or an additional hand could chase away the birds or lay down fertile soil.
What are other lessons for entrepreneurs from the “Parable of the Sower”? How could additional resources address the challenges of the sower? For a startup?
An entrepreneur recently asked me how to monetize her app. She’s made great progress building and marketing her app. In fact, she’s been asked to do several interviews and has been invited to conferences all over. Next, she’s seeking investment to support growth, but has few ideas on monetization. Given specific challenges, she could consider monetizing based on third-parties.
Some background: the entrepreneur’s app empowers users to reach long-term safety and security. Since app launch, she’s ridden an impressive wave of press and publicity. Her app is cause-related, and given the most common user demographic, users are not financially stable. Meanwhile, as a for-profit company, asking for donations to support app development and her cause has been troublesome.
The app helps users navigate the long process getting from “low-point” to “high-point”. Because her target users have little disposable income, charging users will be a major deterrent and possibly dilute the power of her cause.
The entrepreneur could consider monetizing the steps along the user journey by considering what third-parties could benefit from reaching the user and by supporting the cause. Perhaps like…

A gamification-like strategy, where company-sponsored rewards (i.e. discounts towards food, clothing, etc.) are earned when users complete specific educational tasks. This can motivate users to stay on track and supported throughout their journeys towards the high-point. 

The entrepreneur can monetize based on reward redemption or sponsorship careful not to dilute sponsorship dollars for the sake of revenue. Meanwhile, sponsoring companies will be able to market their products and services, while also supporting a positive cause.

There are many ways to monetize popular apps despite hurdles – low income users, fears of cause/ value dilution, user privacy, etc. In this entrepreneur’s case, consider not only the target users, but also what third-parties can benefit along a user’s journey.
Image Source: https://static.pexels.com/photos/7543/pexels-photo.jpeg
Last week, I attended the 3rd annual Mobility LIVE conference in Atlanta. This year’s event had a distinct Internet of Things (IoT) and Wearables flavor with the intersection of mobility.
I heard from over 15 speakers and panels ranging from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to early-stage entrepreneurs and to execs at ad agencies and investment firms. Topics spanned location-based marketing technology, wearables, the future of mobility and connectivity, to Atlanta’s budding entrepreneurial ecosystem and investors’ takes on the future.
Poring over my Day 1 and Day 2 notes from the conference, I’ve distilled the conference into 5 take-aways for your enjoyment. Here we go:

Security is the greatest concern. Every panel noted security as a concern as more devices become connected and wireless. However, I’m wondering if there’s a sense that the companies will figure out security. Instead, it’s about overcoming security concerns for the public who are incredibly skeptical of Big Brother, too. But even then, there’s a level of comfortability with execs in believing the value to be gained will outweigh concerns.

Power consumption is the second concern. You can see this every day in frantic searches for outlets to charge smartphones. In the IoT age, sensors will be affixed to devices that currently lack power sources. With upwards of 50B connected devices by 2020, cost and efficiency of powering devices will be a daunting challenge.

Carriers will be the big winners, and they’ll deserve it. In 2006, U.S. mobile data usage was 11PB (1 petabytes = 1E6 GB). In 2014, usage shot up to 4.1K PB (4.1E9GB, ~73K% growth). In 2020, mobile data is estimated to surge to 31EB per month (~3.72E11GB annually!). Those ludicrous data numbers will flow, largely, wirelessly. The cellular companies today will have the unenviable task of developing the infrastructure to support this throughput, and they’ll have access to all of it. Wow.

Jury’s out on the effectiveness of wearables today. There are no clear standards, guidelines, and the like for wearables. Step counters can be easily faked. Smart clothing isn’t where we need them to be. Meanwhile, there are no educational programs to help doctors understand wearable data. With 33% of wearers abandoning their devices within six months, users aren’t seeing value out of wearables today. The industry must establish guidelines on data collection and analyses. Opportunities for wearables will depend, also, on interoperability of devices – exercise devices connected to nutritional devices connected to emotion devices, etc. There will be security and privacy concerns. Will there be enough value from wearables to overcome these fears?
Atlanta still has so much potential for startups and entrepreneurship. The city is rich with large corporations and strengths in FinTech, MarTech, Payment Processing, Supply Chain, etc. Entrepreneurship is at an all-time high, and shows no signs of slowing down. With the cost for entrepreneurship nose-diving over the years, Georgia Tech’s presence, density of large companies, and the like, Atlanta is primed to grow through startups. But to continue growth in this trajectory, entrepreneurs must have better access to the larger corporations in Atlanta.
If you were at Mobility LIVE last week, what were the big trends you noticed? From the above, where do you see opportunities to build the Next Great Startup?
If you haven’t already seen, take a look at the Day 1 Notes from Mobility LIVE and then Day 2 to see the more detailed take-aways. Very interesting insights.