October 2, 2012
Sydney Morning Herald
October 2, 2012
Matt Bryne is a mentor of Incubate.
Everything is just a little more acute at a start-up. Decisions need to be fast, reactions to events, both good and bad, even faster, and the ability to keep slow business processes from getting in your way can be a constant battle.
We received such a positive response from the last article, including contact from several other start-ups asking for tips and advice, we thought we would do our best to pass on some of the things we have learned along the way.
Before I share these tips, here is an update on what we’re doing at Curicon (the online home of the “collector, geek and pop-culture fanatic”).
Our latest efforts have seen us launch a two-way marketplace for collectors. It allows collectors to list products, fee-free, and connect with buyers from all over the world.
As the first of its kind of marketplace in this category, it provides many features for free that were previously considered “premium”, and at the same time provides a superior experience for a collector when compared to a generic marketplace.
This hasn’t come without its challenges, both from a developmental and a business perspective, and what we learned could easily be the basis for a whole series of articles.
Learning lessons, start-up style
Business development at Curicon will always be ongoing. Over the years, between Australia and the States, a couple of themes have consistently cropped up. I think they form a good set of basic rules to keep you on track in what is a fast-moving, agile and always-changing business environment.
Nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting
Whether with partners, investors or Curicon users, our biggest wins have been from just meeting with people in person and engaging them. Try your best to meet as many people as you can in person. Nothing can replace the enthusiasm and passion in your voice and that twinkle in your eye. People respond best to people and real relationships are always deepest, forged by personal contact.
Follow through on commitments
Under-promise and over-deliver. Seems obvious, right? This is probably the most important thing you can build into your business’ culture. If you announce to the world that you are releasing an amazing new product next month and then, because of some delay, it comes out three months late with half the features, you and your business look stupid and you lose credibility.
Don’t forget you’re judged by partners, investors and customers – that is a lot of people to let down.
Take advice, but make your own decisions
Seek and take as much advice as you can, especially from people who have been through the process before. It will help you make informed decisions.
That said, the most important thing is what you do with the advice. You must process it for relevance, find the underlying lesson and then apply what matters to your business. Remember that your business is different, so it is how you apply the advice that counts.
Criticism is probably the easiest advice to give, but don’t let that stop you from appreciating it is also the most useful to receive. The last thing you want is everyone telling you everything you do is the most amazing thing ever — that doesn’t help you!
Take criticism constructively and pick out the important themes across a range of comments. If someone has experience in your space and gives you some constructive criticism, listen to them. Go away, think about how it best applies to your business, learn from it and then act appropriately.
Staffing: it can be a real challenge
In my experience, finding excellent staff is always a challenge, and as it is one of the top three things that will define the success of your start-up, it is very important you get it right. Two of the main reasons it is hard to attract staff is you generally can’t pay them as much as they deserve in the short-term, and the other is that they might not believe you have what it takes to pull it off.
All your value is in building confidence; what you can offer in long-term value through share options; gaining the experience only an early stage start-up can provide; opportunities as you grow; and the lure of having their name at the top of the team tree.
We tried hard to grow our development team in Sydney recently and I would pass on the following as some important factors in achieving your recruiting goals:
– Show them the business is real and is following a real plan.
– Don’t hire someone just because they are “good enough”.
– Build confidence by displaying to the candidate the discipline around how you work with partners, investors and customers.
– Find a way to instil confidence in a decision to join your team.
– Use your networks – university, friends, colleagues and associates.
– Don’t hire when you’re desperate.
– Make sure their personal situation (family/commitments) are compatible.
– Make sure they fit your businesses culture.
If you work hard to add the right people to your team, the rewards are immeasurable and it will make the tough times seem a little bit easier as everyone works together to make good things happen.
Sometimes we find out about young Aussies doing amazing things. Recently, we were introduced to The Sydney University IT Society (SUITS) and all the amazing things they are doing. These are some seriously smart kids with their hearts and minds firmly set on trying what others say is too hard and challenging themselves to constantly do better.
I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the Sydney University Entrepreneurs Week recently and this is where I learnt of the new tech incubator, aptly named “Incubate”, a first of its kind in Australia, that was launched by the IT Society this month.
The leaders of SUITS should hold their heads high and the university should be very proud, as they have set a benchmark that many universities will be desperate to match. They are starting to build the underlying support systems that enable a place like Silicon Valley to exist; and if Australia can transform itself into a forward IT thinker, SUITS and Sydney University will always be remembered as having a part in what started it all.
Going back to the US
We were always going to head back to the US, it was just a matter of when.
When the invitation arrived for a meeting with a firm in Silicon Valley earlier than expected, we could hardly say no. Our next trip has been booked for October and will span the continent.
The trip will be important for two reasons; solidifying contacts that we made on our last trip and building new connections. We’ll also be taking the opportunity to attend New York Comic Con as an exhibitor. NYCC, as it’s known, will be important for a variety of reasons, not least because it’s the second-biggest pop culture convention in the US.
We have been running a competition for the past five weeks to send a Curicon user on a trip to New York Comic Con. Having been to San Diego Comic Con, we figured that attending a convention of that size would be the best possible prize for any collector of pop culture.
The competition has generated fantastic interest and new users on the site. The activity levels spiked within hours of the competition’s launch and we have hit a new level of user engagement, with some users spending hours a day on the site.
Now that the most challenging build of the Curicon website is complete – the marketplace – the next step is to focus on leveraging what we have learned thus far and channelling that into an ever greater user experience.
Matt Byrne is the chief executive at Curicon. This is part of a series by Curicon.