Think Bigger. Much Bigger.

Whatever you’re thinking, think bigger. – Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO

When thinking of or developing your startup idea, the overwhelming advice now is to “get out of the building” and do honest-to-goodness research with potential customers.

Intuitively, you’d think that what should happen is that your idea would narrow down, right? This was what I thought: that as the “big idea” comes into contact with research and reality, you’d have to scale your plans down and “get real.”

What I’m finding out though, is the reverse.

Think Facebook. When Zuckerberg originally thought of “TheFacebook”, he was targeting only universities and campuses. As he developed his startup, he began to realize something: this could be bigger. Much bigger.

So he then went for it.

When we started STORM in 2005, I thought:

This could be a nice sideline business for me. 

Then as we developed our startup, did more research, and talked to our customers, we realized one thing: this could be bigger. Much bigger.

There are SUCH great opportunities out there. Getting out of the building will make you say things like:

No one’s done this yet?

or

This is the only thing in the market right now?

or

I could do a MUCH better job than this!

The funny thing I’m realizing is that my mind was wired to think in a narrow fashion. Perhaps this is the mindset that corporate life gave me: silos, rules, limited scopes. Stepping out into the world, I brought with me the same frameworks and limitations. We all need to trash these and dream big. Dream bigger. 

Could your idea work for ANOTHER industry? Instead of competing, why not go for a blue ocean? (create a market) Instead of a “safe” sideline why not innovate? Instead of being a player, why not be the best? Instead of local, why not go global? Instead of introducing, why don’t you consider disrupting?

Reach for the stars. Who knows, you might get the moon in the process.

Electrifying JGL Mini-Meetup Last Night!

In the midst of the now-signature Juan Great Leap event rainshower, around 25 people from the Juan Great Leap Facebook Group met up for an evening of ideas, energy, and collaboration.
The format was simple. We started with 5-10 minutes of news (in the JGL Community and the larger local startup community). Then we did an Open Floor, where each person had a chance to pitch ANY question or ANY idea for 2 minutes to the whole group. The group would then chime in with their thoughts. At first, people were a bit shy, but after a few minutes the floodgates opened and people began fielding in questions like:
What do you guys think of this startup idea?
We’re thinking of having this price for this service, would you buy?
What do the tech people here think about this problem?
I need a co-founder who can do ________, would you or anyone you know be interested?
It was fun, engrossing, and energy-filled. It was crystal-clear that people wanted to help one another and listen – and this was a sight to behold.
After the Open Floor, there was free-for-all networking and pocket-meetings between people who had startups cooking from the JGL Facebook Group (there are 3-4 now).
Now that we have this one under our belts, we’re thinking of opening this up (announcing it in this blog) and doing it twice a month. It was a very good mix of people who want to take the leap, new startup owners, veteran startup founders, tech startups, non-tech startups, scalable startup businesses and lifestyle businesses – it might be good to check out the next one we’re having no matter where you are in the startup process and no matter what sort of “startup” you’re developing.
These “Mini-meets” would be different from the bigger, JGL Conferences (like the one we had last August in the Ayala Technohub). It would be more intimate, and geared towards direct sharing and collaborating.
Good start for these Mini-meetups! Excited to see where this goes!
Early birds! Estelle Osorio and Ulysses Cruz of Biz Whiz, Glenn Santos of Memokitchen, Ari Bancale of TAP, Ruffa San Pedro of PLDT, Noreen Bautista of EcoIngenuity, and (well, half of) Ryan Salvanera of Oracle
Someone’s sneaking out and going for the Cheetos
Noreen of EcoIngenuity talks about her advocacy, social enterprises, during the Open Floor
Gino Caparas of Stream Engine surrounded by bald guys
My head illuminating the proceedings
Allan Verzo of BITS
Ruffa G. shares her (super-awesome) startup idea with the rest of the folks
Randy Tan of LookingFour during the Open Floor
Angelica Lim of Gohunt.ph speaks during the Open Floor

“You want to be an astronaut kid? Go for it!”

You know, I’ve always said in this blog that if you are a single young person, you just have to go for it and take the leap, after all, you don’t have any large bills yet nor a family to support.

Wait, so does that mean that if you’re slightly older and have a family to support you have to push the “eject” button on your dreams?

I don’t think following our dreams has any time nor age limit. 

This year, I could easily single out 10 people whom I’ve talked to who more or less have told me:

“If I was only younger, I’d go for it.”

Or

“If I didn’t have kids yet, this would be an easy choice.”

I’ve posted this video before, but in this context, you just have to view it again, this TED talk by economist Larry Smith.

(Go ahead, view it first. It’s a great talk. I’ll be waiting here.)

I found the whole talk SO compelling (the type of video which makes your heart beat faster if you’re thinking about the leap), but what I remember time and time again occurs when Smith depicts an imaginary conversation where a father talks to his son about the practicality of pursuing a dream. The kid asks the father for advice about pursuing a dream. Smith then muses the different responses the father would have. Including…

I had a dream once, kid…but you were born.

Smith goes on to expound…

Do you really want to use your family, do really want to look at your spouse and kid, and see your jailers?

You could have said, you could have looked at the kid and said, “Go for it kid, like I did.”

Will you be giving your children an excuse or an example? 

I think all of us parents want the latter, right? We want our children to pursue their passions. So why don’t we give them the best example right at home?

I know, I know, it’s difficult. It’s not practical. It’s a steep, difficult climb.

But this is JUST like any other dream, right? No worthy dream is easy. Instead of the ball-and-chain we temptingly can ascribe our family to, they can just as easily be our biggest supporters and enablers. When I took the full-time startup leap, my wife just gave birth to my firstborn in the middle of the recession. You can bet I had sleepless nights thinking of practicality and risk. Knowing my wife was totally in my corner though, made it easier. Having a newborn kid made me work harder. Along with God, they were my inspiration.

I have three small children now, and I am psyched at the thought of having future “career talks” with them. One day, when I do talk to them, I want to be able to tell them that there is no need to follow the status quo. One day, when I do tell them, I want to be able to look straight into their eyes, I want them to be able to see I mean it, that I’ve lived it.

You want to be an astronaut, kid? Go for it.

(Know anyone whom you think would resonate with this post? Don’t hesitate, make a difference and share!)

Emulate Tony Stark: Intuit The Future

When Pao and I started STORM, we thought of a product which people WILL be buying – an online flexible benefits service for companies. There was nothing like it in the market yet. We decided to pursue a FUTURE need, as opposed to coming up with something we knew people were ALREADY buying.

In 2005, we launched our product with a hotel seminar which exhausted the little capital we had. It was a fully-booked (free) event, which made us think, “We’re going to kill it!”

Uhm. Not really.

When we talked to everyone after, NO ONE wanted to buy our product – largely because people didn’t understand it, and no one was using it. Wet behind the ears, we concluded that we still needed to educate the market sufficiently before we could sell.

(where were you and your book in 2005, Eric Ries?)

Actually, that could have been it for our fledgling company, but we really believed in our idea. Stubbornly, we said we’d still develop our flexible benefits idea and sell the concept. (this sounds a bit heroic when I write it – don’t get that idea, we actually just didn’t know what we were doing half the time)

We had a big problem though: monthly overhead. We only had enough cash for one more month of overhead.

So we got creative.

I feverishly called around 20-30 HR people I knew at that time and asked them repeatedly, “What do you need? What do you need now? What would you buy now?”

(It was the type of market research I SHOULD have done in the first place)

From the data, one trend I saw was a need for an employee satisfaction survey.

Problem was, we didn’t have any manpower to do this. Pao and I then wracked our brains in a small cafe in the Renaissance parking lot along Meralco Avenue. We decided that Pao needed to come up with an online survey system which we can use to scale processes for a new service. We called the system Websurv.

Astonishingly, Pao, finished the system in a month.

Our Websurv-powered Satisfaction Survey service kept us afloat from 2005 up to 2008. Around 80% of our revenue would come from that business line, with the other 20% from our very few clients in flexible benefits.

Starting 2008 however, the trend would begin reversing itself. We would encounter more and more competition in the survey industry, and it was getting tiring and a drain on resources to sell. Meanwhile, we were getting more and more clients for our flexible benefits line – without doing any marketing to speak of. We were relying (up to now) almost purely on word-of-mouth.

As I type this, we have altogether DROPPED the survey service (and all our other business lines), opting instead to go all-in with our initial bet for the future, which was flexible benefits. We are now the current local market leader in flexible benefits, and we’re really really excited with how everything has been developing for us.

Lessons Learned: 

1) Targeting a known market means going to war

If you KNOW people will buy your product, it means YOU ARE SEEING that they are currently buying from someone else. This “safer” choice is difficult, because it will necessitate going into immediate war with current competition. This might not be so palatable for startups – which often have a limited budget.

It’s like deciding to dive into a densely populated pond as a fingerling. You’ll have a very small chance of getting to be the big fish, plus you’ll always be in danger of getting commoditized.

2) To make it big, you have to be a FUTURIST

You have to have the Tony-Stark ability to intuit the future if you want to make it big as a startup.

If we decided in 2005 to be an Employee Survey company, then chances are, we’d now be one of the many players doing this. (and with Survey Monkey and Mail Chimp being offered free, we’d be deathly afraid now) We’d be a small, or at best, a mid-sized fish in the pond. Betting on something we thought people WOULD buy made it easier for us to be a bigger fish in the pond.

It was also a bit easier for us to market: there was less competition, and we could concentrate on building our product and customer base.

The caveat is clear though: you have to build something people will buy. Much easier said than done.

3) You might need your own Websurv first though

Yes, you can bet on the future, but you also would need to account for present concerns, like you know, food and stuff.   One way you can do this is to diversify your product portfolio with products which YOU KNOW people will buy now, while working on the killer FUTURE NEED idea in the background.

This is one advantage of funding versus bootstrapping. If sufficiently funded, you CAN pour all onto your future bet.

While we have closed our Websurv line, I am mightily grateful towards it because that was what kept us afloat during a crucial time.

 

INFOGRAPHIC: Top Online Tools for Entrepreneurs and Freelancers

These guys are a HUGE reason why putting up a startup has become cheaper and much more efficient.

I actually currently use ALL the tools from 1-10.

Wow, Google has been helping us a lot eh? So many Google tools here.

I’ll be checking out the trending tools as well – some look quite useful.

Got some online tools you’re finding awesome? Do share it below!

Delivering Happiness Delivers Big-time! (A book review)

After finishing a good book, I typically lie back, savor the moment, and say to myself, “that was a good book.” Then I try to think of ways of applying what I learned in different aspects of my life.

In the middle of finishing Tony Hsieh’s (pronounced “shay”) super cool book, Delivering Happiness, I HAD to talk about it to my team immediately. This book makes you want to jump out and change the way you do things. This is a great book.

Structurally, the book talks about 2 main things in sequence:

a) Tony Hsieh’s personal entrepreneurial journey (he started out wanting to be the King of the Worms)

b) The rise of Zappos (an amazing story)

But the neat thing is, he makes the book into something of a reference/how-to by providing quick lists and ordered suggestions.

The result is something unique: the book tells an engrossing story while providing practical tips in a very informal, accesible manner.

Culture Matters

This was the overwhelming lesson which was tatooed in my mind as I was reading. Zappos made customer service their number one, put-our-money-where-our-mouths-are priority. The Zappos brand is now synonymous with customer service – which is the main reason for their success. The internet is riddled with people telling stories on how Zappos made their day with jaw-dropping customer service. (just google)  After all, the goal of their every employee is to wow every customer and to “deliver happiness.”

The result? One billion dollar sales on just their 10th year of operations.

Every company would love to have this sort of customer service quality right? (well, maybe not)

Hsieh talks very transparently on how they achieved this: by focusing relentlessly on something a lot of firms ignore – culture.

“We may have 1200 to 1500 brand relationships and a good head start against the competition, but that can be copied. Our websites, policies – all can be copied, but not our special culture.”

Zappos’s competitive advantage is clearly their culture. Pause and consider this for just a minute, to help you realize how awesome it is.

Zappos has ten values which they passionately build their culture around:

Zappos 10 core values (p154)

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationship with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less (see more in further reading)
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

They are extremely passionate about these 10 things, and make key decisions and structures around them.  Hsieh talks about rejecting highly talented individuals whom they knew would help the company out immediately, but rejected them because they didn’t fit the culture pillars above. That’s thinking long-term. That’s making sure the culture is protected.

Another amazing thing about recruitment? At the end of the recruitment process, once you pass everything, you’ll be offered $2000 if you decline the job. Yep, you read that right. To filter people who are only in it for the money, they offer a you $2000 to reject their offer. That’s literally putting money where your mouth is.

Throughout the book, Hsieh wows with dry wit, humility, honestly, and self-awareness.

Paradigm Shift

Part of the reason why this book resonated with me is my Human Resources background. Back in the day, I was the flag bearer for “Vision,” “Mission,” and “company values.”

Jumping into startups, I slowly felt that it mostly a crock of BS. Here’s the evidence. I felt it was how corporations “herded” their employees into docile sheep.

This book has singlehandedly shifted my paradigm, marrying my HR sensibilities with my entrepreneurial ones.

Vision and Values can be more than a plaque on the wall. Done right, it’s downright transformative.

Read this book now! (startup founders, HR people, customer service people – I can’t say enough how important this book is)

Culture. Matters.

A Different Startup Saturday, Inner Before Outer, and Startup Spirituality

Last Saturday in Starbucks Masinag, I had a slightly different Startup Saturday meeting with Nico Policarpio, a promising young entrepreneur (whose team won the second Startup Weekend).

I was originally going to meet 2 other people, but they each had sudden emergencies, so I met with Nico one-on-one.

Partly as a result of the decreased number of people, the conversation went into deeper ground. Instead of the usual “let’s come up with an idea” or “let’s develop an idea” or “let’s map out current opportunities,” we instead delved into   the philosophical – what drives us as entrepreneurs, taking a hold of who we are, and startup philosophy.

I won’t go into any of the details of our conversation, but let me highlight one very important theme:

Inner Before Outer

More than any other job in the planet, being an entrepreneur requires a tremendous amount of self-introspection and awareness.

Why?

A startup is basically an individual’s unique offering and contribution to the world. He’s basically saying, “Hey world, here’s what I can do, buy me!”

To be able to offer your best to the universe, you first have to figure out what it is, right?

A mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make is just going after the money. This produces a passionless startup which inevitably makes passionless products. Slow death.

Another is going after something “sexy,” – like perhaps forcing yourself to go into “mobile” or “social” even if it just isn’t you and it bores you to death. Destination Zombieland.

Another mistake is to go after everything you feel remotely interests you, ending up with 2-3 startups at the same time WHILE having a day job in some cases. Recipe for failure as what a startup needs MOST from you is time.

These mistakes are usually the product of a lack of proper introspection as to who you really are, what your gifts are, what you really want to do, what you consider to be your calling in this world. These mistakes are the product of choosing outer (ideas, opportunity, money) before choosing inner (who you are, introspection, Faith).

This is why I find the startup exercise such a Faith-walk.

I know most people don’t associate business with Faith, or business with God.

If you believe in God though, and you believe you have a specific Calling, it’s pretty difficult NOT to consider Faith when undergoing the entrepreneurial process.

Figuring out who you are in the world? Sounds like something God can help us out with, eh?

Align your life. Nothing will make you happier.

Join the Super-Engaged JGL FB Group!

 After the first Juan Great Leap (JGL) get-together last March, I decided to create a Facebook group (separate from the JGL page) for the growing community to get to know one another better, have a venue to exchange ideas and concepts, and simply to better help one another.

There were around 30 initial people in the group. I asked the group if they wanted to open up membership to everyone. It was collectively decided that the criteria for accepting members would be either: a) registration to a Juan Great Leap event, or b) subscription to the blog.

After the second Ayala-sponsored event a month ago, membership swelled to around 130.

Its become a pretty engaged group, with people tossing and sharing ideas very freely.

Since the Ayala event, there have been around 4-5 meetings between people who were passionate with the same startup concept. Some startups are being conceptualized/built as we speak.

It’s really awesomely exciting!

Be part of the discussion (and don’t be just a lurker)! There are some really helpful people in the group who can give you great insight about your startup (for free).

And no, again, I won’t spam you with a thousand emails or sell your address if you subscribe. I would never do that. What you’ll receive is the weekly newsletter from me talking about the posts here and some updates. That’s it. 

Join the group here! (and subscribe first)

Perhaps You are the Bottleneck

I’ve recently been talking to some of the incubators that have sprouted in Manila.

Let me tell you, we’ve come a long way from the “I want 80% of your startup since I’m shouldering all the risk!” we’ve always heard from angels and investors when we tried to raise money before.

If your team is top-notch and your idea is sound, you CAN get funding now for much less equity. Investors are getting to be more sophisticated. Plus I think there are more investors now who were startup founders themselves, so they know they’ll never partner with real entrepreneurs if they insist on majority shares.

I will always, always advocate bootstrapping as much as possible (at least to start), but if your idea direly needs funding, you will find it just a bit easier to raise money now.

So okay, let’s recap:

Funding = easier.

Ideas = a dime a dozen.

Startup support infrastructure = getting better.

So why haven’t we seen an AVALANCHE of startups? What’s the bottleneck?

If I take into account the number of people who are looking for co-founders, the number of people I know who are fence-sitting in corporate waiting for the “right opportunity,” and the same (great) people I see in startup circles and meetups – then the answer is pretty obvious: it’s the lack of people who are willing to take the leap.

C’mon people. You know who you are.

Don’t be like the proverbial torpe who lived the rest of his life wishing he asked the girl out.

World, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!

It’s been close to a year now that I wrote this post.

In it, I lamented at how poor the startup support was in our country. I compared our startup scene to that of our neighboring countries and complained.

Then, almost on cue, all the activity started.

The first Startup Weekend was launched and was followed by another in a few months. Major startup incubators sprouted: Ideaspace, Kickstart, and Wireless Wings. Startup meetups were being organized here and there. Social media became the megaphone fledgling startups used to broadcast their stories. Various startup-centric web magazines have been founded, just in the last couple of months.

Almost overnight, the amount of support available to startups and its owners increased exponentially.

There was NONE of this when I started. This is wonderful! We’re still a long way from where we want to be, but it’s a fantastic start. The energy is palpable! I’m SEEING more and more startups being formed as we speak.

After just 10 months, I’ve gone from complaining to commending. Go Pinoy startups!

Look out world, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!

PS: though I STILL think our schools could do a better job supporting potential entrepreneurs