Central Europe Accelerator

What Can StartupYard Do For You?

As I wrote earlier this week, I spent last week on the Startup circuit, at conferences like Slush in Helsinki, and HowtoWeb in Bucharest. What I found talking to startups from Finland, Sweden, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria was that, whether they know it or not, and whether they believe it or not, a lot of young companies need an accelerator. But a lot of people don’t even know what an accelerator really does, or why they need one.

Plus, a lot of companies I met with weren’t sure if now was the right time to join, or whether it might be too early or too late. So here we go: What StartupYard can do for you at any of these stages:

 

I have an idea, and a Co-Founder.

There are a lot of steps between hatching a brilliant product idea with a friend, and making that product a reality. StartupYard will first provide you with a concrete road map of the steps you need to take, and will take the most important ones with you. We will handle your incorporation as a company in the Czech Republic, the UK, and/or Delaware, we will prepare your legal agreements and advise you on copyright and trademark issues you may face, and we will provide you with accounting and tax preparation assistance.

Aside from technical issues, we and our mentors will prepare you for the realities of your market, following the principles of the lean methodology to help you find your product/market fit. We give you a very clear working idea of what a launch entails, and how you will be able to pursue a working growth strategy in the next half year. We will also show you how to satisfy investor questions, and seek investment from the right people; you’ll be talking to investors early, and you’ll learn what they’re looking for in you. In 3 months, you’ll go from an idea, to a working prototype, with a strong sense of where you’re going next, and what it takes to get there.

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I have an idea, and no Co-Founder.

If your idea is good and our technical selection committee thinks it makes sense, we can help you find a technical or business co-founder, or help you figure out how to externalise your development in the initial phase of your project, if you are not development focused yourself.

 

I have a prototype.

We expect that all our teams will have a working prototype as soon as possible in the accelerator. As you begin to prototype, we will work with you hands-on to make sure that you are building something with investor appeal, a great market fit, and potential for real growth. We do this by working you through a process of defining and formalizing your “position statement,” your roadmap to what the product will mean to customers, and by having our technical and business mentors react to your work early and often, giving you feedback that will be extremely valuable later on.

Here our technical mentors can be of enormous help in showing you how to polish and complete your project at the highest level possible. Included among our mentors are proven experts in UI design, copywriting, coding, machine learning, and design. They’ll keep you on track.

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I have a beta version.

With a product ready to be put into the wild for testing, you’ll be able to take advantage of the experience of our mentors, many of whom have been in this exact position before, more than once. Now you’ll have a real need for mentoring on best practices in PR, and product marketing, copywriting, UI design, and so-called “growth hacking” techniques. We have a stable of mentors who have a depth of experience in all those areas, and will be ready to show you how best to handle your product as it finds a test audience, and how best to use this opportunity to gather valuable data, and apply it to iterating your product, and preparing it for a full sail launch.

We work with you as much as we can outside your core competencies, stretching your comfort zone to include areas you will have to manage as a public company. If you’re good at something, we won’t interfere with that, but we will force you to work on areas of your business that you aren’t as comfortable with. Most important among these, we’ve found, is working your comfort level with PR, marketing, and sales. This stage, when you’re just beginning to look for customers, is vital in building your brand image, finding your product market fit, and fine-tuning your communication style. What kind of company are you? This is when you nail it down.

At this stage, you’ll also begin serious talk about raising capital, and we’ll prepare you to talk to investors about your ideas, hone your pitching skills, and connect you with the right investors, for the right type of investment. We don’t guarantee you’ll raise money, beyond what we invest in you. It is up to you and your team to get prepared as a company for an investment. But we’ll shape your expectations for that investment, realigning your hopes with reality, and putting you on the path to realistic, realizable goals.

Many angel investors these days don’t even talk to startups who haven’t been accelerated or incubated already. They don’t want to waste their time on unrealistic expectations. Our angels are used to working with startups like yours, and they’re confident that the accelerator has prepared you to seek investment.

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I have users.

You’re already climbing the mountain, and that’s fantastic. StartupYard will help you learn from your ongoing experiences with new customers, and show you how to apply those lessons, and leverage that userbase into organic growth. Our mentors have been there, and they’ve done this before. Their experience will be to your advantage, as you will work with mentors in your specific market, as well as other markets, who have experienced failures and successes at early stage growth, and will help you to understand what type of growth you want, and how to get it.

Experience at this stage cannot be bought. It is earned by experiencing harsh realities. But the experience our mentors can confer may save you a lot of time and agony, and can make the difference between your company finding an audience and a path to growth, and stagnation.

The media exposure you will gain from StartupYard is important. We’re not Y-Combinator, and we won’t get you in Forbes magazine ( not yet anyway), but journalists and tech evangelists know us, and pay attention to the teams that come through the accelerator. Our mentors and contacts extend to global press connections, and a global product from StartupYard would have access to that network. You’ll meet members of the press, and you’ll have the chance to impress them. The networking opportunities we provide are no small benefit. They are key to your early success, and they will play a vital role later on. Use them, and keep using them- the more you do, the better off you’ll be.

 

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I have paying customers

Startups sometimes assume that they’ve climbed the mountain already, if someone is willing to pay them for what they make. Not so. And we’ve found that companies that come to us with paying customers benefit just as much from the accelerator as those that don’t.

Now that you’ve got a few paying customers, you’re in a fantastic position for serious talks with investors, and capital injections that will feed this growth smartly and quickly. Our mentors can become your advisors, your valuable contacts, and perhaps even your clients, as you seek investment, think about expanding your team, and look for corporate and other potential partners.

Companies usually leave StartupYard with at least a few official advisors or advisory board members, from among our mentors, and these people are key to opening doors for you in all areas of your business. Aside from everything else we do, this is an opportunity that can’t be understated in importance. You’ll be forging those vital relationships with our help, and those relationships may just be your stepping stones to growth and success.

Make User Projections That Mean Something

6 out of 7 of the startups with us at StartupYard 2014 are at least partially B2C businesses, and as they pitch their products to potential investors next week at our demo day, few metrics matter more than their projections of how many users they will gain within the next 6 months.

But therein lies the rub. How does a startup with essentially zero confirmed users make a reasonable claim to its future size, six months down the road? This is an area in which startups tend to get a bit fanciful and creative with their numbers, seeing trends and growth curves that aren’t justified by the numbers.

If my user numbers doubled last week from 10 to 20, then I should reasonably predict that by week 26, I will have just under 336 Million users! Depending on your sense of what’s reasonable. Or I could as easily predict that I will have just under 26 users. Regardless, I can be very sure that the real number will fall somewhere in the middle.

Startups need to be both ambitious, and realistic about their growth projections, setting a plan into place which will, if followed, and if based itself on reasonable and provable assumptions, will deliver the numbers they promise to investors, and which they need to survive.

 

Working Backwards

Noah Kagan of Mint.com, discusses this process in his informative blog. He points out that the only workable approach to gaining users is to work backwards from a clearly defined goal, breaking down the channels and methods of user acquisition, their costs and their timescales, into one simple to follow spreadsheet. And while his own projections of how Mint.com would reach 100,000 users in 6 months seem wildly optimistic (including a 25% conversion rate from sponsored adds on Digg.com, with a CTR of 10%), this type of planning actually brought Mint a million users in that same period.  Our director at StartupYard, Cedric Maloux, required the same projections from the teams here, so that they could begin thinking about how they could acquire users, and where they might come from.

All-Your-Base-Are-Belong-To-Us

World domination comes one user at a time.

 

The Assumption Spreadsheet

Before launching, it’s important to relate your marketing goals to your assumptions. If your goal is, say, 30,000 users within the first six months after launch, you’ll have to justify that growth with something more than faith. You’ll have to show how you assume it can be done. Catalogue and quantify your methods of getting this growth, in ways that can be tested quickly and definitively, including the costs of acquisition per user.

Your assumptions for marketing costs might look something like this:

 

Source Traffic CTR      % Conversion CPC Users
Organic Search 100000 10% 25% $1 2500
Native Ads 500000 10% 20% $2 20000
Google Ads 1000000 %2 20% $0.50 4000
Media 500000 %5 25% $2 5000
Direct Marketing 1000000 %1 25% $1 2500

Cost Total:  $56,000       User Total: 33,000

Your assumption spreadsheet is *more* than just a plan for user acquisition, or a marketing plan, so this is just a part of a much larger set of assumptions. Other factors include your churn rate, your pricing, your internal growth costs, and many other items. But everything should relate back to basic assumptions that can be challenged and adjusted before launch.

An interesting side of effect of this thinking process, is that you can start to immediately identify which of your assumptions are wrong, or which are questionable. Which of these above channels is really worth more to your immediate growth potential? While you may not have tested these assumptions, you can make conservative estimates of how much each of them will cost you, and find efficiencies that you may not have been aware of.

 

For example, my spreadsheet above has a few obvious problems. First, I’ve obviously fallen in love with the idea of “native advertising,” or the kinds of ads that fit in with the content of a given site. This makes sense, as I am personally a fan of this type of advertising. But by scrutinizing the spreadsheet, I can see that native advertising is predicted to cost me $40,000 out of a total marketing budget of $56,000, or 71% of my budget. Despite that, only 58% of my users will come from native ads. They will cost me a lot, and will not be as valuable as the users I gain from Google Ads, or even direct email marketing.

Have an Answer

It’s not necessarily wrong that I would spend 70% of my marketing budget on native ads, when they will only bring me 58% of my users. But these are the kinds of details that investors will pounce upon when they are shown your user projections. You need to have an answer for why you would pursue that avenue of user acquisition over another. For example, perhaps these users are of a higher value (they buy more expensive products), or perhaps they are likely to stay with your product for longer. Perhaps the market for your product in Google ads won’t give you that same CPC if you spend twice as much on them. The size of the market may not justify a bigger focus on Google ads over native ads.

 

The important point to remember is that you need to have these questions answered, and the relevant data to back up your assumptions, before you launch, and they should be included in your assumption spreadsheet.

The Dilemma of Honesty over Ambition

“How big is your mountain?” That’s the metaphor Cedric Maloux uses often to describe this process of reconciling ambition with the need for some realism, even in the growth phase of a startup. Ambitions to reach 1 billion users are great, if your product is the kind of thing 1 billion people can get some value from at the same time. Not many products are like that, which is why most don’t have the chance to grow that big. But perhaps your mountain isn’t made of a massive user community. Perhaps it’s made of a smaller, quality user base, that pays a reasonable but significant amount to use your product, and gets a disproportionately large value out of it. In either case, your first six months should represent the first “summit” of your mountain. Within that time, with the help of investors who understand and support your journey, you should reach a goal that is both ambitious and achievable, and you should gain valuable understanding of your potential users, the market pressures and demands, and the methods that work in acquiring your ideal users.

Also no explanation for this man's success.

No fairy dust.

 

Making Adjustments

This roadmap also serves as a reality check. The assumptions you make today about your revenue (your revenue should be a function of the number of users you have), will be affected by the results of each of these predictions. Suppose your media CTR is 3 times higher than you anticipated? Or your Google ads fail to gain traction? You will know that perhaps the media is a good source of revenue, and that your Google ads need more work. You may also more accurately know what is reasonably achievable, given a certain budget. Your revenue projections need to scale according to the success of these predictions.

 

Justify the Impossible : Control the Conversation

While the assumption spreadsheet functions as a roadmap for growth, it also works as a roadmap of your thinking for investors and potential partners. Blind ambition, particularly when you’re asking for money, is not an attractive quality. But qualified ambition, in which you set hard goals for yourself, but also show how achieving those goals can be possible, can be very enticing to investors.

Imagine two founders who have essentially identical products. Both will meet with investors. One does not prepare these predictions because, as he says, “you just can’t know what will happen.” The other makes predictions, each representing his ambitious plans to achieve benchmarks in user acquisition. One of these two has something real to talk about with the investors. The other doesn’t. To define the conversation and lead it, you have to make statements that you can back up. Instead of having investors question your ideas, have them question your predictions. They’ll be speaking in your terms, rather than theirs. If you’re comfortable with your numbers, and have thought them through, that confidence will translate to credibility.

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Lindsay Taylor: “It’s Not a Pitch. It’s Their Story.”

This Tuesday, StartupYard 2014’s founders experienced a grueling workshop from Prague’s own Lindsay Taylor, actress, producer, performance trainer, and Founder of Prague Film and Theater Center (PFTC). She came in to coach the founders on their Demo Day pitches, and to share tips on how to perform under pressure, how to breath and relax, and how to deliver a powerful address. I caught up with Lindsay after the workshop to ask her for a few public speaking pointers.

Lindsay Taylor of Prague Film and Theater Center

Lindsay Taylor of Prague Film and Theater Center

Now that you’ve met with the founders of StartupYard 2014, what do you think is the most important thing for them to work on before the Demo Day?

I think to remember that they really are the BEST people to speak on their company (and their own) behalf.  And on Demo Day the audience will come to see exactly that.   They are all such great, motivated young minds and entrepreneurs, that for me the most important thing they need to work on is believing this fact.

Additionally the founders need to find a way to access this belief within themselves (via any number of relaxation, focus, awareness,clarity, improvisatory exercises) that gets their entire energy in a natural and comfortable place.  It is in this state that we can access our natural breath and posture, but more importantly allow us to see and hear you and essentially see and hear your story.  Because really, its not a pitch presentation.  It’s their story.  And you have to be brave, vulnerable, and present to tell your story.  Yet, this type of communication always makes an impact.

What tips would you give an inexperienced speaker to handle jitters before a big presentation?

Josef of Senti2 gears up for his monologue exercise.

Josef of Senti2 gears up for his monologue exercise.

Focus on the breath. Breathe through the nose and expand the diaphragm as you inhale.  Exhale with a controlled and slow breath exhausting the diaphragm. Try to regulate your breathing while you wait.  Try to think about feeling the energy of the room and the people in it, and less about what you need to say.

Don’t get me wrong, nervous and excited are good feelings as well.   You can use it to your advantage as its already giving you an electrifying energy that can drive you forward – just don’t let it get the best of you.  Breathe and find a way to channel nerves to focused relaxation.

A trick (shake your hands loose from your wrists repeatedly close to your time of speaking- it is a natural and easy way to trick your body into loosing some tension and access natural and relaxed breathing)

Repeat controlled breathing.  Your voice and the audience will thank you for it.  You will have more resonance, volume, and tone and color just by simply focusing on your breathe.  This also physically makes your brain happy with oxygen.  Improving clarity of thought, and ability to improvise.

You focused a lot on warmups and mental focus during our workshop. What are your favorite mental and physical warmups, and why?

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“The Hang”

My all time favorite is the roll over “hang”.   After stretching and elongating your entire body, bend like you are going to touch your toes, but instead just let go and hang.  Neck loose, head facing the floor, knees bent, feet shoulder with apart, arms hanging down to the floor.  The actor/presenter stays in this position, letting go of tension, allowing breath to release their body further towards the ground, allowing gravity to take effect.

“The Roll Up”

When you are ready, roll yourself up.   I’ve seen actors and performers stay in this position for 30 minutes before rolling up to actor neutral.  When you do decide to roll up, think about stacking your vertebrae one on top of the other- balancing your entire body each time you do so .  Your neck and head are the very last thing to come up.

“Balance”

The saying should be “balance up straight” and not “stand up straight” –  When we force our backs into having “good posture” we are automatically inserting tension and painful energy into our physicality.  But if we’ve found center based on a reset of your body (which is essentially what the hang is) this allows us to be in the most natural, easy, and upright position for body.  This is the single best thing I know to do to be present physically, mentally, and emotionally.
You should do this once a day, public peaking or no public speaking.

All of our founders speak English as a second language. What are some really effective techniques for training oneself to speak clearly and understandably?

 

Each founder had to deliver a dramatic monologue.

Each founder had to deliver a dramatic monologue.

Native English speakers need to stretch their mouths,  warm-up their vocal range, and exercise the various sounds before speaking in public. So as a non-native speaker this is even more true as you are most likely already struggling to place the sounds correctly in your mouth anyway.
A few top exercises to improve diction and articulation:
• Lip Trills:  Inhale through nose, expand diaphragm, push out all the air from your belly throw your closed lips in a controlled release, repeat. Your lips should vibrate and your nose will itch if you are doing it right.  Add variations in your pitch and explore your range of pitch, volume, and pace while doing this activity

• Big Face/Tiny Face:  Make your as wide and open as possible (mouth, eyes, eyebrows, cheeks.  Then quickly make your face as tiny and tight as possible.  Repeat  If you fully commit to the stretch, your face will feel ready for anything after.

• Repeat sounds from the belly voice such as Ba, Ta, Ga, Ma,Pa,  Ka, La, Fa, Na, Sa, Wa, Da, Ra – make combiations  BATAGATA, KATAPATA (faster and repeated)

• Tongue Twisters- There are plenty. The internet is full of them.   They work.  And you will get better at them.
Diction and articulation are essential to hearing you and understanding you.  Don’t skip this step.

 

About Lindsay Taylor: 

Taylor

Originally trained in theatre, Lindsay earned a degree in Theater Arts from McDaniel College. 

Lindsay splits her time between work with Prague based film studios and theater companies. Co-founder of the Prague Film and Theater Center, a network to connect creative professionals, create projects, and grow a database, she also works in film as a producer, casting director, acting/dialect coach, and AD. 

 

You can Connect with Lindsay and PFTC via:

 

Her Profile On LinkedIn

The PFTC Facebook Page

Facebook Group for PFTC

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Irena Zatloukalova: Keep It Simple (For The Media)

StartupYard Mentor Irena Zatloukalova

StartupYard Mentor Irena Zatloukalova

Wednesday, startup teams from StartupYard spent the morning and most of the afternoon in PR training. PR and internal communications manager Irena Zatloukova,  of Seznam, grilled each of the teams for several hours, walking them through the experience of having to pitch their companies, answering uncomfortable or difficult media questions, and crafting and selling a narrative to the media. Here were some of the takeaways from the session:

Journalists are People Too

Irena Zatloukalova should know something about journalists. As head of PR for Seznam, she deals with all of kinds. The most important highlight of all of her experiences was this: journalists are people too. People know when they’re being treated fairly. They generally know when you’re lying, or when you’re not being completely honest. They know when they’re being used, and they resent it the same as anyone would. They also respond to positive inputs in all of the same ways that other people would: praise, trust, caring, and interest inspire journalists just as they inspire others.

Understanding Conflicting Motivations

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Irena and Cedric kicking off the workshop

Zatloukalova pegged the sometimes tense relations with journalists, especially among entrepreneurs, on the conflicting motivations that publications and their editors, and entrepreneurs have. As an entrepreneur or as a company, there’s a tendency to want to carefully craft a journalist’s take on your activities, and push a specific, self-serving narrative. At the same time, reporters have to justify, to their bosses and their readers, writing about a given company, or a given product. Often the interests of a journalist and a business are not perfectly aligned, and tension arises when a PR manager or a CEO is not able to accept those differences amicably- when the representatives of a company can’t respect the position a reporter is in. PR reps can form the destructive habit of “blacklisting” or cutting off disfavored reporters and publications for not toeing the company line, and they may also be tempted to distort the truth, or to lead journalists on with misleading intimations or false facts. This is a symptom of expectations that would be impossible to meet: that reporters be an apparatus of marketing, rather than a medium and means of communication.

Building a Story

 

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Team Evolso gives a mini press-conference

And to avoid these traps of poorly managed expectations and conflict, Zatloukalova talked about “building a story.” Story building is a way of approaching communication with media, that keeps in mind that media will always form its own conclusions based on the information provided, and the impressions of the journalists themselves. Thus, 3 elements are key to getting media to do what you need it to do, and Zatloukalova suggested that startupers ask themselves these three questions:

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Team Girafa in particular wants some of Seznam’s secret sauce

Is it News?

Is the story actually of interest? Is it something unique? Does it have import for the readers? Just because you want the media to talk about you, doesn’t mean they will. Many young companies can be tempted to see any information they give to the media as an enticing gift, when in fact they offer little of real substance or interest. It has to be news.

What are the Details?

This part is about curiosity. Facts make the story real, and they are the juiciest part of the story. Providing the media with facts makes the story real for them, and gives them something to present to their readers. Without statistics, exact figures, dates or percentages, your story’s context can be unclear. How important is this news to you? To your market? To the reader? To competitors? What do the numbers actually mean? The details lend credibility, and offer the media something they can use to justify their story as important, and meaningful. Without facts, there is no story.

Is This a Trend?

Finally, what does this piece of news say about something bigger than your company? Reporters love to find and tell stories that demonstrate a pattern or an emerging condition in the market, or in society in general, that has not been fully described before. If your product is beating a competitor that was thought unbeatable, this could be part of a new trend. If your users are interested in your product for a novel reason, that too could form the basis of a new and noteworthy change in the way things work. Trends can be small, restricted just to your market, or even to your own company, or they can be big; saying things about society, about your country, about the future, and about technology, art, and the economy.

Not Making Journalists Think

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Zatloukalova also stressed the “Art of the Soundbite,” or the unique framing of a particular narrative your company is pushing, which expresses itself well in just a few words. The object when addressing the media is to speak in terms that are *evocative* without being too specific or conditional. The more a journalist evaluates what you say based on its internal logic, rather than on his or her own biases and experiences, the better of you are. So make these arguments and viewpoints interesting and memorable.

She gave examples like Apple’s “The World’s Thinnest Notebook,” soundbite for the introduction of the Macbook Air, and Cedric Maloux, our director at StartupYard, added his favorite, also from Apple: “1000 Songs in Your Pocket.”

Don’t Describe, Evoke

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All the teams had an opportunity to grill and be grilled. No one was spared in this workshop.

Evocative soundbites are those that make a strong statement, which forms a clear image in the mind of the journalist, which he or she can pass on to a reader. This process is one of positioning, as well as promotion; Zatloukalova gave the example of Seznam itself: pointing out that Seznam doesn’t speak in terms of itself alone, but evokes the images that reporters are familiar with, to contextualize the company: “Seznam: the only company in Europe competing on a level with Google,” or simply “Seznam is the Google of the Czech Republic.” These sorts of statements are strong, can be backed up with facts, and are easily understood and repeated. The simpler a statement is, the greater a chance it has of finding itself repeated and used again. As an editor, Zatloukalova will often take the writing of a marketing copywriter or a fellow PR rep, and remove, to their great frustration, all of the adjectives from the piece. The point in this should be clear enough: what is important is not your opinion by itself, nor how you wish people to see things, but rather statements of fact that can be argued convincingly. You can tell someone that your app is wonderful and innovative, but why should they listen? People listen to surprising and unexpected statements- even statements they don’t necessarily agree with.

One of the CEOs at the workshop voiced a doubt about this strategy. “The Macbook Air wasn’t the thinnest notebook in the world. What happens when your claim is only arguable?” But Zatloukalova pointed out that arguments of that kind aren’t particularly bad, for an established company or for a new one. If the media is arguing over or critiquing your claims, you’re in control of the conversation at a basic level: they are already talking in terms of how you see yourself.

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The Positioning Statement: Finding a Window Into the Mind

After accepting our incoming teams to the StartupYard 2014 accelerator, we sent all of them the same assignment. We asked them to fill in a “positioning statement.” It looks a lot like this.

Product Positioning Statement:

Our Product is

For (target customers):

Who (have the following problem):

Our product is a (describe the product or solution):

That provides (cite the breakthrough capability):

Unlike (reference competition):

Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation):

Why A Positioning Statement Is Important

The positioning statement contains the core elements not only of a product, but also of its marketing and sales strategy. And while most of our teams have worked primarily on ways of describing their ideas, a positioning statement does more than this: it also justifies the notion of that idea becoming a business. As I’ve written here in the past, it’s important for a startup to have the concepts of saleability and market differentiation baked into the essence of the product. Writing a positioning statement, like writing a SWOT analysis, can reveal basic strengths and weaknesses in a product while it is still in the “idea” phase.

Even more importantly, a positioning statement is the basis for a lot of the work that will eventually go into making and marketing a product. By identifying the target market *before* developing the product, if possible, startups can save energy and time by focusing more on fulfilling the needs of the market being targeted, and not applying their energies to areas that are of little interest to that market.

And a positioning statement, well-executed, can be transformed virtually complete into the core marketing message for a product, once it is developed. Take this copy from Nest’s webpage. Nest was acquired by Google recently for $3.2 Billion.

“Our mission is to keep people comfortable in their homes while helping them save energy, and with the next-generation Nest Learning Thermostat, we’re able to spread that comfort and savings to even more homes – and to help higher-efficiency systems perform the way they were meant to.”

Here are all the elements of a positioning statement. If the Nest founders filled in our form, it would look something like this:

Our Product is

For: Upper-middle class and wealthy people

Who: Own homes and spend a lot of money on energy costs and heating/cooling systems

Our product is a: Smart Thermostat and related products

That provides: Savings and increased comfort by improving efficiency of existing systems. Unlike: manufacturer provided systems

Our product/solution: Learns and intelligently adapts to the inhabitants to increase comfort at all times, while saving money

Young lovers on the beach looking to buy seagulls? There's an app for that.

Young lovers on the beach looking to buy seagulls? There’s an app for that.

A Positioning Statement Tells the Truth

The above “translation” of the Nest positioning statement doesn’t say exactly what their marketing copy says of course. They don’t mention wealthy clientele for one thing. But at $130 for a smoke detector, and $250 for a thermostat, that is surely the market they are targeting. Their products are priced high enough to be clearly exclusive, but low enough not to seem extravagant or make a money-wise customer feel foolish for purchasing. And anyway, that messaging is not only found in the price, but in mention of homeowners, and of “higher-efficiency systems.” These subtle cues indicate to customers that the product is made for people who value performance, and are willing to pay to get it.

These are all elements of Nest’s marketing that are informed by the market segment they have chosen to address, from the quality of the products, to the design, to the sales language and the pricing. And so the marketing message that says: “this product is for you,” when speaking to its target client, is backed up by a product that is built with that person in mind. The mission is clear: this is not a product for anyone, but for someone very specific, so that when the customer comes across the product and thinks about buying it, he or she can immediately see that it is made for them. 

Also, while the statement doesn’t appear to mention the competition at all, it does backhandedly reference the existing market by calling itself “next-generation,” and referring to “helping higher efficiency systems,” indicating that the current competition, while hardly worth mentioning, is manufacturer installed equipment- equipment that is, again, not good enough for the demands of the target market; the market served by Nest.

The main difference between a positioning statement and a full blown pitch is that the positioning statement says in plain words, what is really true about who your product is for, and what you believe its market fit to be. This will help you to stay away from visions of (and talk about) your product changing the world, even if it doesn’t really have the capacity or the capability to be a real world changing idea. Not all products have to be for everyone, and many of the best products aren’t. It will also keep you honest and focused; force you to focus on the needs of the clientele you have identified and are targeting. In short, a positioning statement is more likely to change the nature of a product, than changes to the product are likely to change the positioning statement.

Position Statement as Framework

Positioning of a product has often been described as “the organized system for finding a window in the mind.” That’s what Al Ries and Jack Trout described it in their book Positioning, a Battle for Your Mind, a groundbreaking work from 1981. The positioning statement supports these efforts: it targets the product toward a window, an opening, that the founders believe exists in the minds of consumers, and it attempts to fit the product through that window.

What our teams will discover about their windows: where they are, how big or small they may be, will be subject to change for the StartupYard 2014 teams, and so their positioning statements must also change with these new realizations. But keeping and referring back to the statements will provide an excellent guidepost for applying these changes rationally, and purposefully.

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StartupYard Mentor Bogomil Shopov Talks “Growth Hacking” and Open Source

Bogomil Shopov is a well known open-source developer and renowned growth hacker. He is an active speaker in open-source circles, and a contributor to various projects, including Firefox.
 
Follow him on Twitter @bogomep for valuable updates on the world of Bogo.

WIll you tell us a little bit about your career?

I started my career a long time ago. My first job was, behold … a sheppard! I was at school and I needed money. Believe it or not I have learned a lot from my first job 🙂

After that I used to sell small goods, and when I finished high school I joined the Bulgarian Army.  I spent 5 years in intelligence doing some secret military stuff. After 5 years I realized I needed a change and in order to escape the army’s stupidity, I decided to pursue my dream – to work in IT. If you go through my resume you will find a lot of things – I used to work as a programmer, web architect, IT manager, Product and Project Manager, Open Source consultant, community manager, marketeer. I’ve spend the last 6 years working on startups.  Now I am a “growth hacker” – the only definition that combines all skills I’ve gathered in my entire career … and I am happy! Also I am a Pirate! My signature is on the establishment act of Pirate Parties International.

Bogomil Shopov: Avowed Pirate.

Bogomil Shopov: Avowed Pirate.

You’re interested in open source, and you work part time on Mozilla’s Firefox. What drew you to that project, and open source work in general?

That’s an easy one. I like freedom and I like sharing. At first I started to share my code with other people and then I started to show others how and why to do it. The open source and free software movements are “guilty” of some of the most successful software projects, including the Internet. I contribute also to the Open Data initiative for  opening all government data to the public. Talking about freedom, I even ran for European parliament with the idea to fight for our digital rights and I am proud that I helped the stopping of Sarkozy’s “three strikes” (the EU version of the law). Also I am mentioned in Wikileaks for that. As I said before I like freedom and sharing.

Why did you campaign for MP fall short?

People in Bulgaria were not ready to think deeper about digital rights and green way of living. Those concepts were new to them and that’s why we got so low results.

Ever think of running again?

No, because I think there is a way to do useful work outside of the parliament and to achieve my goals.

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You describe yourself as a “growth hacker.” What does growth hacking mean to you in today’s terms?

It seems there are a lot definitions of the term. I personally prefer this one: A growth hacker is a rare combination: someone with the right marketing and technical skills who can come up with clever marketing hacks and also track their results.

[This is the main topic of Bogomil’s upcoming StartupYard workshop for members of the accelerator]

You’ve been working for a couple of years in education technology. What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities in that field?

The Internet is an open book – you can take whatever you want, but you can also write and contribute. Using the internet for teaching and studying – it’s more than required now. There is huge knowledge collected and if you are a smart teacher you will know how to use it. The challenge is, well, to convince the rest of the teachers that using modern educational technologies is a must.

We worked together as a marketing team for a year, and one of your strengths is email marketing. Is email marketing more or less relevant today than before the rise of social media?

Email marketing never dies. This is the most used channel and it will remain like that for years to come for sure. If you are using it wisely you can get a lot from it. I know a company that used to send millions of e-mails almost every week, without any effect and after changing the strategy with more precise segmentation, A/B/C/D testing and adopting some anti-spam techniques the miracle happened – it works.

Email marketing is not just pushing the “Send” button. I’d love to write a blog post to share more thoughts on that, because is one of my favourite things to talk about.

What about social media? What are some of the common mistakes that people tend to make when trying to leverage social media channels into growth?

I love social media. I love creating experiments on social media as well (do not google me!).

The biggest mistake that most of the companies do is to do everything they can to get more followers. What? Yes! I know a lot of companies, even here in the Czech Republic, whose goal for their social media effort is to have new followers every day and to have more than others.

Well this is not so bad, but this is just step 0 – the work begins after that. You have to talk with your followers, you have to keep them entertained and engaged and you have to give them something they need, not just boring sales messages.

The social media channel is like every other channel – if you use it the smart way – you will get a lot from it.

What can StartupYard teams expect to learn from your input, and what do you hope to gain from mentoring  StartupYard startups?

I will hold a workshop in April about, well, growth hacking. I will show the startups how they can use tools and ideas to find their first clients, how to nurture them, so they can buy again. How to do testing for their ideas and concepts, how to track everything and how to use the data to take business decisions.

Also I will show some growth hacking examples, that they can start using on the next day. Also I will spend some time talking about Behavioral Economics from the Marketing Point of View.

But most of the time there will be discussion, because I don’t believe in workshops where one man does all the talking and the rest of the audience is thinking about something else. We will talk together and grow together.

You can catch Bogo at the Bulgaria Web Summit 2014, and at his upcoming Growth Hacking workshop

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Startup Killer – CAC, LTV & Other Metrics that will make (or break) you

David Skok, General Partner at Matrix Partners, presented some great data about Costs of Customer Acquisition and how to create trust to better sell to your audience. A highly recommended read!

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8 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Code Reviewer

While you’ve probably made a few New Year’s resolutions this year, if you’re anything like me, you’ve intentionally put too much on your plate, just to have a good excuse not to have completed any of them by the end of the year- when you can conveniently forget you made them before, and make them all over again.

Will I lose 20 Kilos this year? It’s possible I guess. There are parasites I could be exposed to. Will I call my mother every week this year? 5 fruits and vegetables a day? Now we’re just being silly.

So let’s not make this a resolution. Let’s just make this a kind of reminder. If you write code, and you aren’t a total cowboy about it, you do some version of code review. So why not do it right? We surveyed a few of our mentors and friends on good Code Review practices, and here are some resulting tips from a Startupyard Mentor Mathew Gertner, Founder and CEO of Salsita Software and Martin Čechura, Senior Developer at Wikidi.

 

"Code Review is for city folks son. Let's go straight to release and see what happens"

“Code Review is for city folks son. Let’s go straight to release and see what happens”

_____________________________________________________________________

Why is Code Review such an important process?

Lesson: “I’ll Fix it Later”

Mathew Gertner

The most obvious benefit is to get an extra pair of eyes on the code to find (potentially subtle) errors and suggest better ways of doing things. This is particularly useful when a senior developer reviews code from a less experienced colleague, but we’ve found the inverse to be true as well. A junior developer or one who is unfamiliar with a specific language or technology can learn a lot by reading and understanding the code of someone with more experience.
A particularly valuable consequence of our policy of manual code reviews is that developers write their code more carefully in the first place. Knowing that it is going to be reviewed, they are less likely to write a quick hack while telling themselves “I’ll fix this later.”
 
_____________________________________________________________________
 

Do you like a more formal, or less formal approach to Code Review, and why?

Lesson: Save your time, do it over coffee.

Martin Čechura

 In my opinion, the correct way is a combination of formal and informal approaches. A purely formal look feels more forced, while an informal approach does not impose such an emphasis on good habits.

Mathew Gerner

Formal code review is very time -and resource- intensive. In my opinion it doesn’t make sense unless defect-free code is critical (e.g. aircraft control software). In other cases, good code review software and practices provide much of the benefit at much lower cost.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

What are a few things developers are consistently under-prepared for in Code Review, and how can they be helped to prepare better?

Lesson: Take your time, and use your noggin.

Martin Čechura

Imagine a problem in the real world, think abstractly (to some degree), split bigger problems into smaller parts, and don’t not be afraid to ask someone else. Use your head.

Mathew Gertner

Developers are generally unprepared to spend the necessary time to do effective code reviews. They claim they don’t have time due to their other workload, and they rush through reviews just checking the high-level structure and cosmetic details like code formatting. It’s not possible to do a proper review unless you understand the other person’s code at a deep level. The best remedy for this is to provide explicit time for code reviews. Another technique might be to do meta-code reviews (reviewing the reviews) to make sure that people are taking the necessary time, although we haven’t tried this yet.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

What are some mistakes you’ve made in your approach to reviewing otherpeople’s code? How did you recognize and correct those mistakes?

Lesson: Trust the process.

 

Martin Čechura

Code review is not a way to criticize other developers, or to prove that one is better. It is a tool for checking and preventing errors, and getting perspective on the problem, which is written in code.
 

_____________________________________________________________________

What are some things you do to stop Code Review from becoming stressful for a coder?

Lesson: Take it easy. Give praise.

Martin Čechura

Making it too large a formality is a problem. Penalties for errors (if still not reproduced) instead of using that to generate new knowldge. It’s also stressful if a coder isn’t praised for a job well done.

Mathew Gertner

I solicit feedback frequently from our developers, and I’ve never heard the comment that someone felt stressed out by code reviews. Maybe this is because our reviews are done by peers, not bosses.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

What are the worst habits for a person in charge of Code Review?

Lesson: Be consistent, be open.

Martin Čechura

Thinking only one view is the correct one, an inability to adopt a different way of solving the problem than the one already verified, and an inability to appreciate a good idea, or solution.

Mathew Gertner

The biggest danger is inconsistency. It’s tempting to forego reviews when work is urgent, which sends the message that they are a luxury we indulge in when we have time, rather than an important and integral part of the development process.

 

_____________________________________________________________________

How about some better habits for a person leading Code Review?

Lesson: Don’t be a teacher or a cop, just do your homework.

Martin Čechura

An ability to explain what is wrong and why and to show a better solution, and patience. I have to be a co-worker, not a teacher or a cop. 🙂
 
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Mathew Gertner

This involves going through their code before they post it and, essentially, reviewing it themselves. This is particularly important when the reviewer is not intimately familiar with the relevant code base. Not only does it make the review faster and more valuable, it often leads to developers finding errors in their own code before it even gets to the reviewer.
 
It is also vital to avoid having code reviews become a bottleneck. A development process where code reviews block the developer leads constantly to situations where a developer is hectoring the reviewer to unblock them. The result is generally a fast and sloppy review. Of course, the review has to happen eventually, but we have structured our process so that the developer can continue to more forward, with the review required only in order to release the next version of the software to the client.
 
What I’ve found to help reviewers most is to urge developers to heavily annotate their reviews.

_____________________________________________________________________

Can you list 3 to 5 bad coding habits for developers that come up often in Code Review?

Lesson: Don’t be a cowboy, leave comments.

Martin Čechura

Unused or incorrect use of design patterns, algorithms that are too long and complex, retaining bigger problems in smaller parts, repeating of code,  and absence of basic documentation.

Mathew Gertner

Inconsistent naming and code formatting, code duplication, insufficient code comments.
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The Good and the Bad of 4 Wireframing Tools

We’ve been focusing lately on how you can make a pitch more real. But a focus on “story,” and making your products more accessible to your potential partners, your investors, and your future customers means more than defining what your product does. A wire-frame can help you to understand how your own software products will work, and how people will relate to them, use them, and react to them.

Do More Wireframing

It’s genuinely shocking to me how many products don’t seem to have been tested at all during the design process. I bought my wife an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas (actually my mother bought it for my wife, I just picked it up at the store), and was dumbfounded by the stupidity of the UI design- especially considering the enormity of the technological potential in every other facet of the device. And it’s not like this is a new problem for Amazon. It’s like they read the first rule of usability, but stopped before reading any of the other associated rules.

If you’re Amazon, maybe you can afford to advertise products that don’t really work. But for a startup, UX has to be much higher on the list of priorities. Lean methodology is more than a way of working on code, after all. It’s about marketing, branding, and product design as well. Everything you do at the beginning of your process will have an affect on what comes next. You have to emphasize the benefits of your products from the earliest possible opportunity- even before you complete them. Making your products a better reality for people -something they will wait for and invest in- means showing them what that reality will look like. 

Constructing Reality

IBM made a brilliant commercial in 2000 for a product that looks suspiciously like Google Glass. It is a product IBM never actually made. While it may appear to be nothing but an exercise in brand promotion (which it was), it presented a flawlessly rendered future reality to a customer base of mostly business users, showing them what the world would look like, for them, if they stayed with IBM the next time they made purchasing decisions. This is what you have to do: make it clear that the choice of the future, no matter the area your product is in, is your company. Wireframes and working prototypes build confidence in your ability to realize your ideas, and build expectation for you to deliver on your highest potential.

This commercial was made in 2000, by IBM.

This commercial was made in 2000, by IBM.

Below we’ll split 4 popular wireframing/mockup tools into two camps: “picture perfect” design tools for creating a prototype that looks and feels like a real working product in an existing operating system, and “rapid prototyping” tools that you can use to lay out your product designs quickly, and with a minimum of fuss over design. So whether you want a prototype that looks like the real thing, or something that you can slam together and build on quickly and with a minimum of fuss, you’ll find something here.

Picture Perfect Mockup Tools

 

Keynotopia

“Use Tools You Know”

Key Features

Keynotopia leverages Keynote, Powerpoint, or OpenOffice presentation tools to allow the user to construct a working prototype using native presentation tools found in software they already have installed (or available free from OpenOffice). This basically boils down to a long list of well-designed and thoroughly catalogued UI elements, available as template sets. These elements are close facsimiles of the real developer elements used in a given OS, but can be used easily in presentation software. It’s then up to the prototyper to leverage existing tools in Keynote to make the App UI work the way they want it to. This can be scaled to whole webpages, or restricted to a mobile app space.

Key Drawbacks

While Keynotopia will be great for getting a near-final visualization of a product or process in an existing UI, it doesn’t have any options for element customization. This means that any app or page you design will be strictly by the book: no custom banners, or other nifty design elements to make your page stand out. The web-page design in particular is limited to a close approximation of Twitter Bootstrap, so any web pages you design are apt to look like Twitter clones, more than unique apps. And because it is all based on presentation technology, don’t expect to model more complicated processes than simple navigation in an app or web page. Plus, you’ll be stuck when it comes to how your app might look on a horizontal screen if you only mockup the vertical version. You’ll have to design every version from scratch to make it work.

Optimal For

Creating a slick proof of concept, based on popular UI elements, with limited interactivity.

Pricing: A Little Much?

$45 Per Template (Eg: IOS7, Surface, Web), with free upgrades. 

$149 for 18 Templates, and a 10% discount for volume orders (10 people or more)

JustinMind

“Build the Right Apps From the Start”

Key Features 

An apparently powerful “simulator,” for mobile and web apps that allows you to mimic the behavior of a mobile device on your desktop. This program comes with built in operating system UI that allows the user to contextualize an app or webpage in a mobile device operating system, and allows a huge range of simulated functionalities, without any coding. The big advantage here is that the program comes loaded with a lot of functionalities you will probably want to use when constructing an app, so you don’t need to code every single one- they have done this for you.

Key Drawbacks

While their promotional videos make it look like you’re going to get a picture-perfect app, expect not to be able to carry this one off without the help of a designer. The program includes the ability to import elements (for instance, from Keynotopia), and it comes with sets of UI elements from different operating systems. But don’t expect to have an easy time creating customized elements for your own app. Because it’s more focused on mimicking the behavior of real mobile devices, it doesn’t have a strong set of tools for designing UI elements. While you can design elements here, you may find it rough going if you’re not a design person.

Optimal For

Creating a deeper sense of how an app or page will function, especially on mobile devices. Also optimal for a UX designer in cooperation with a graphic designer.

Pricing: Not Cheap

$30 Per Month, or $228 Per year for Individual User. Slight discounts for multi-licenses. 

 

Rapid Prototyping and Flow Design Tools

Balsamiq

“Life’s Too Short for Bad Software”

Key Features

A hosted Web app makes Balsamiq more of a community driven space than many wireframing tools. You can find inspiration or advice on their active community pages. Another huge advantage of Balsamiq is their iteration and versioning tools, which allows users to save a wireframe in versions, and track changes to the UI easily, allowing you to quickly, and non-destructively, update and change your designs without worrying that you’ll get off-page with your co-workers who may be coding the designs. Unlike the picture perfect options above, collaboration on designs is a key part of what Balsamiq is for: it sacrifices visual appeal in favor of streamlined, sharable sketch versions, that can be easily worked on by multiple members of a team.

This can be a big plus for a team that may focus too much on details instead of the big picture, and it allows everyone to get their say on app functionality long before a single element is ever designed or coded. Plus, Balsamiq has lots of versions, including web-based, Jira-compatible, desktop, and Google Drive based.

Key Drawbacks

Balsamiq doesn’t include photo-realistic UI elements, but instead requires a little imagination. This can be fine for a team of developers, but it may not be right when modeling a product idea to an investor or a major partner. Also, Balsamiq is a little weak on elements many web-designers may be looking for, with its heavy focus on desktop applications and mobile apps. While its versioning system is great, it doesn’t really suite web design, with kludgy mastering tools, and a set of elements that can make a page hard to visualize. Importing elements like images and media is not the priority here- more sketch than functional prototype.

Optimal For

Rapid prototyping of a desktop or mobile app with collaborators. Side-by-side continuous design changes with easy version tracking.

Pricing: Not So Bad

Desktop App: $80

Hosted Service: $12/M for 3 projects, $24/M for 10 Projects, $49/M for 20 Projects, $99/M for 50 Projects

Plugins: Google Drive/Jira/Confluence: $5/M or $50/Y 

Moqups

“Online Mockups Made Simple”

Key Features

I always loved this program, because it’s exactly what it says it is on the tin. Unlike most such programs, logging into Moqups gets to a start page that actually uses the design tools its selling. You can play around with it easily, and for free.

The coolest feature Moqups has is the mastering system, which allows you to easily proliferate and version a web page or an app based on a master, which you can also change at any time. Interaction is limited to buttons and tables that scroll, so don’t expect an app that does more than allowing simple navigation. But that’s the beauty of Moqups: it doesn’t distract from the conceptual process much at all: it’s a sketchbook, pure and simple. Plus, Balsamiq is a great value considering the quality.

Key Drawbacks

There are, as noted above, a lot of things missing from moqups. While you can ostensibly import media, there’s not much you can then do with it. You’ll never get close to a finished product using Moqups, but it’s a great way to map out of a web-page or an app might work in terms of navigation and overall design basics. There are also no good notation tools, meaning collaboration with developers will have to go on using Moqups and some other software for tracking versioning, or commenting the design.

Optimal For

Rapid sketching of the flow of web-pages, especially for figuring out product page functionalities, designing landing pages, and preparing concepts for a graphic designer or an HTML/PHP developer.

Pricing: Bargain Basement

9€ For the basic plan: 10 active projects and unlimited archived projects, 1GB of Data. 

19€-39€ for more active projects and data up to 10GB

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100 to Follow on Twitter in 2014

Who should you follow on Twitter if you want to stay informed about the Internet industry?

Thanks to here’s 100 of them. It’s a useful list of Business, Leadership and Tech Twitter accounts to add to your existing list for 2014. Thanks to Dane from Bizopy.com for extracting it.

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