Category Archives: Start-up

Richard Branson on How to Network. Hint: Early and Often

When I started networking on behalf of Virgin Music –- meeting with agents, persuading musicians to sign with us, finding distributors -– it often involved swapping phone numbers scrawled on napkins. It was the ’70s, after all!

These days it’s much easier to connect with people who can help you launch and grow your business. Just think: LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter all provide opportunities for you to meet and interact with fellow entrepreneurs, experts in the field and innovative newcomers. However you go about making connections, from the very first moment you begin to realize that your idea is worth pursuing, the first step on the road to success is building a network.

To get started, attend industry events and meet key players; join regional business associations and start learning about local market conditions. Also remember that you can meet potential mentors at schools, clubs and business groups. Someday, when you get stuck or when something goes wrong, these contacts will be the people you’ll turn to for help. (Finding investors is a step that follows: People buy from people, so if you’re limited in terms of who you can access, talk to and sell to, well, you probably won’t get very far.)

Launching a startup is tough and scary, so it is important that as you build your network, you look for smart, supportive partners and employees who understand and share your goals for the business. When I started Student magazine as a teenager, I worked with a small group of other students. Their tireless support and our camaraderie was invaluable as we got the magazine going. Some of us continued to work together for decades, and I count these people among my closest friends. My parents were also very important to that project (Yes, your family is part of your network too — don’t underestimate their ability to help you), and without their backing we probably would not have succeeded.

Finally, you’re also going to need a network of peers, so don’t be wary of making friends with your competition. When you see other people achieving similar goals, you will be reminded that your own plans and dreams are possible. And if you are feeling daunted by a task, there’s no better encouragement than learning that somebody else has already achieved something similar. In my experience, moments like those have been the tipping point for many a new business venture, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition!

Almost 50 years after the launch of Student, the team at Virgin Media started up the Pioneers program with the goal of helping young entrepreneurs to create their own networks. As operators of and investors in many businesses, our group also wanted to understand how the digital generation would go about it -– whether or not tech-savvy young entrepreneurs could use social networks to unlock valuable business connections. So Virgin Media decided to partner with them to create a fun social platform showcasing their ideas.

Virgin Media Pioneers started with 100 people in March 2010. We gave each of them a laptop, a flip camera, a broadband connection and some space on our website to use as they wished. Without our prompting, the Pioneers started connecting, sharing their ideas about their businesses and making them happen in ways they probably would have never considered before.

Jammin Designs started up when Pioneers Dowa Ojarikre and Nathaniel Peat met at one of our events and decided to combine their talents, working together on designing smartphone and iPad cases celebrating the Jamaican Olympic team. They managed to get their wares stocked in outlets near London’s Olympic Park and also in Jamaica House, the center of all activity for those cheering on the Jamaican team during this summer’s Olympic Games.

The Pioneers community has now grown to more than 3,000 people and it is attracting many more who want to connect and discover new ways of doing business. We are using the site to help entrepreneurs, no matter what stage they’re at. For those who are kicking around ideas or who dream about opening a business someday, we’re providing inspiration; for those trying to expand their businesses, we provide information and resources to help them get ahead. Last year, Virgin Media also invited some Pioneers to pitch their ideas as part of our Innovation Challenge, a number of which are now being considered for development.

Once you’re a successful business leader, it’s time to start championing undiscovered talent yourself. I get a real sense of pleasure from seeing talented people realize their ambitions and grow professionally and personally. As I’ve learned, in the process you can gain new insights and discover fresh approaches to doing business by simply discussing how things work. After all, continuing to network means continuing to grow.


Startup Must-Haves: Perseverance and Optimism (Infographic)

If you are thinking about starting your own business, you need to have the stamina of a marathon runner. And once you start your career as an entrepreneur, a glass-half-full attitude will serve you well as you face a continuous stream of problems to solve and questions to answer.

Check out this infographic (below) from the startup organization Funders and Founders, which depicts some of the conflicting thoughts an entrepreneur can struggle with. From coming up with an idea to cashing out, you may face dilemmas where you will be pulled in at least two directions. Successful entrepreneurs learn that to grow, you have to be able to make a decision one way or another, often with no absolute right or wrong answer. Just keep going.

While 40 percent of startup business owners expect the economy to weaken in the next year, a vast majority think their own business will succeed, according to a survey from entrepreneurship organization Kauffman Foundation and online document resource LegalZoom this week. Nearly four of five entrepreneurs that started businesses in the past year think that their business will be more profitable in the next year than they are today, the survey found.

via Startup Must-Haves: Perseverance and Optimism (Infographic) |

Should I Learn Web Development? |

Should I Learn Web Development?

I have an idea of a particular kind of micro-blogging website which I think will be both beneficial to the world and also make a good profit. But I have to decide which path to take: Should I learn web development — including front-end design, back-end coding — and create the website myself or hire someone else to make the website for me? What factors should I consider? What are the costs? Is there another way?

Starting from scratch and learning how to code a website probably isn’t the best way to get started if you’re serious about building a profitable business at a scale large enough to be “beneficial to the world.” Even if you could learn how to program a website in a short amount of time, your business needs more than a good programmer to be competitive in the technology marketplace.

If you have funding or if you’re looking for funding, it’s a common model to begin with a partnership between a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to handle the product management and a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to handle the rest of the business. Of course, funding affords you the opportunity to pay others to help you build your business.

Whether or not you have money to accelerate your progress, one or more people will need to own the following additional efforts to help make your business viable:

• Legal: You’ll need a legal advisor to help you create the right business entity, navigate existing software patents, trademarks and intellectual property laws. You’ll also need legal counsel to deal with issues of personal privacy and protecting personal information if you plan to have members who log in to your site.

• Marketing: You’ll need to study your customers and their buying behaviors to make sure your technology fulfills a need and attracts a reachable audience. You’ll also need to promote your business to acquire users.

• Sales and Business Development: You’ll need to monetize your business and get people to buy whatever it is you’re selling, such as advertising space or memberships.

• Finance: Someone will need to build and maintain your business financial model and see to it that your company pays all its taxes, complies with government regulations and maintains consistent cash flow for operations.

• Strategy: Know your market and your competition, and position your company to be a good choice among the other choices consumers have when considering your offering.

• Human Resources: Even if you’re planning to be a one-owner company or solo-preneur for the long term, you’re likely to need partners, contractors or employees at some point to have a business of any scale. Someone will need to manage your relationships, screen and interview potential partners or employees, and train people in your company culture and ideals.

• Customer Service: If you’re planning to attract members or users, they will have questions, challenges and difficulties you’ll need to manage.

• Advice: It’s a good idea to form a board of directors to give you advice, keep you accountable to your goals and to help you make connections with the people and companies you need to be successful.

via Should I Learn Web Development? |

How Do I Partner with Another Startup Company? |

You can associate or create a joint venture, where you retain control of your own part of the business.

Discuss with an advisor or tax attorney the best fits for what you are doing and the industry. But beware of any type of partnership arrangement or limited partnership agreement. You don’t want to give up pieces of your company before you’ve even started – and there are many other ways to share and leverage resources, skills, contacts and knowledge.

Most people team up based on a personal friendship or co-worker relationship. But a good partnership should be grounded in business and treated as a business relationship.

Also beware of bringing in another person and giving them a title, or control over your product, services or resources when you’re really not sure about his or her skills, competence, aptitude and, more importantly, attitude.

Do some additional questioning of yourself and others before making anything official. Once you have a clear vision of what your company is and what you want it to be, you’ll be better equipped to make a useful partnership agreement.

via How Do I Partner with Another Startup Company? |

Removing Potential Points of Failure in Your Startup Idea –

The rise of startup communities all over the world is a great thing. It’s a beautiful sight to see startups blossoming the world over in exotic cities like Santiago Chile, our lovely neighbors Singapore, Taiwan and not forgetting our lovely home Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This means that the next economic wave of the internet is upon us and you guys, my friends are the front runners to ride this wave.

However, there are still a couple of barriers we need to overcome for the startup communities in these areas to be bustling with awesome startups and potential investors. And in my super duper humble opinion, one of the most crucial is the ability of entrepreneurs, and potential entrepreneurs to identify, understand and REMOVE “potential points of failure” in their startups.

So, what are “Potential Points of Failure” (PPoF)?

PPoFs represent to TOP HURDLES that your particular startup idea needs to overcome for it to have a chance of success. And it’s the job of the CEO/Founder of the company to channel ALL his startup’s resources to solve these hurdles in the fastest possible way.

Let’s have a look at the types of Consumer Internet ideas and the PPoF for each of them. I learnt this the hard way with AtticTV and I will share my story at a later point in this article…

For most consumer internet ideas, the top PPoF is customer acquisition and adoption. The challenge here is that competition for customer attention is so high, that it takes an awesome product and unique marketing ideas coupled with excellent execution of these ideas for it to have a chance to succeed. AtticTV, which aims to be your personal MTV, falls within this category. Where all product and marketing effort is channeled towards 2 main metrics — Customer Acquisition and Customer Retention. So it is pretty clear cut and those represent the core PPoFs of the idea. The initial target market has to be global from the get-go with these startups.

For marketplace related startups, the PPoF is represented by the challenge of fulfilling 2 sides of the equation, i.e. the Supply Side, (for example the apartments up for rent in AirBnB’s case) and Demand Side, (the people who are finding for short-term vacation rentals). The challenge here is to solve the problem of the chicken and egg issue. AirBNB found a great way to do by hacking Craigslist. The bad news for these startups is that it might take longer to be able to reach critical mass for their business to be valuable to users. However, the good news is that if you’re able to achieve it, it would represent a huge barrier to entry to potential competitors. With this model, you have a choice of either going global immediately (possible as seen in the case of AirBnB) or do a city by city roll-out like eBay.

Lastly, the worst possible idea in terms of the number of PPoF will be consumer internet ideas with a huge Business Development element to it (BD). The key will be to assess (honestly) the ability of the team to overcome these hurdles. And if you’re able to, you will build a huge, huge barrier to entry to potential competitors. Examples of these kinds of businesses include Square – where they had to deal with merchants and credit card companies (which is a huge pain), Uber – which had to have all the cabs in NYC have an iPhone for it to work + the customer acquisition problem which they solved rather nicely. My humble opinion would be, unless you are a seasoned veteran with strong existing connections to reduce the PPoF of the business development deals, it would be best to tweak your idea to be able to utilize existing public APIs to be able to get to traction first, then expand into Business Development deals as it goes further along.

Now, back to the story I promised..

Now, before AtticTV, we were working on a startup called Tickade. It aims to be premier non-cash prize casual gaming tournament site on the net. The idea is that people can go on the site, play casual games competitively and create So let us dissect the idea into PPoFs.

1. it needed the best casual games to be on the platform (which we grossly underestimated) to ensure user retention

2. we needed a worldwide physical prize distribution platform

3. we needed a killer customer acquisition strategy as we were competing in a highly competitive space

So, we solved PPoF number 2 pretty quickly by hacking the eBay API to be our global prize distribution platform (which took us a good number of months in itself), but we stumbled on 1 almost immediately when we couldn’t get any of the big boys like Popcap or Wooga to come on board with their games as the BD process was just too huge. So, basically we wasted a good 6 months of our lives chugging away to nothing.

That was when we took a step back to evaluate the opportunity and we decided that as content was the problem, we made the decision to choose a different content medium — videos. And that was how AtticTV was born.

Being in Malaysia or any of the other new startup communities in the world is a challenge in itself. So, we have to do all we can to reduce chances of failure in other parts of our startups that are not within our control. I know that these advice will very well fall on deaf ears for the most of you, but hopefully, it could increase the chances of success for the few that would take it in their stride.

via Removing Potential Points of Failure in Your Startup Idea –

Start-up Step 1: A Culture Plan |

The formula for a great company is not a business model, or financial projection.

I used to think that company culture happened naturally. After starting and building five companies, I’ve learned that great culture doesn’t just happen—you need to make it happen. In general, a company’s most expensive asset is its people. So it surprises me that so many companies fail to develop a culture or “people plan” to invest in and grow that asset.

When I started my most recent venture, the Rubicon Project, an online marketplace for buying and selling ads, the first thing I did was create a blueprint for our culture. I talked with the founding team about the kind of organization we wanted to build and the values that we’d instill to guide our employees.

We didn’t start with a business plan, product roadmap, or marketing budget. Why? Well, what I have learned is that as you’re growing a business, everything around you is constantly changing. The market, the product, competitive landscape, and economy all change. Your business plan and product are far easier to evolve than your people. I firmly believe that the difference between a good company and a great one is the strength, passion, and loyalty of its people.

Here’s how to design your “people plan”:

1. Write a mission statement. People are driven by causes more than anything else.

2. Define company values. These are the guiding principles for how you expect your team to behave internally and externally. Put it on the wall or on your mouse pads.

3. Build a culture roadmap. Take the same approach as business or product planning. What tangible things will you put in place to promote and grow your culture? Think communication tools, team building exercises, team bonding events, for instance.

4. Measure and adapt. Take a survey every quarter and ask for feedback and ideas. SurveyMonkey is a great online tool for this.

5. Make culture a priority. Sounds simple, but I haven’t met an employee at a growing company who doesn’t have more work to do than time to do it. Remind everyone to live by your cultural values, and prioritize them in communication, hiring, and everyday work. Give employees ownership of culture, and ask them for their help.

6. Form an interviewing committee. Create a cross-departmental team that represents your culture well. Set an intangible standard for hiring (communication or personality, for example) and make it a policy that a member of the culture committee must interview every prospective employee. Larger companies can scale this by limiting it to management positions.

7. Establish a development committee. Select a diverse group of people from every department (and office) in the company and challenge them to come up—every week—with a new culture idea that can also be implemented in a week. This creates momentum and constant improvement. Change one-third of the members each quarter to keep it fresh.

8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Constantly remind people at every team meeting, in every operating plan, on email and in person that culture is a priority to you and that they are all part of it.

Companies like Google, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines are famous for their cultures and attribute much of their success to it. Great culture doesn’t have to be about hiring chefs or riding around the office on scooters. Here are some more ideas to help get you started: randomly assign lunch tables to get different people to interact with each other, organize a community service event, put your cultural values on your website, ask everyone about what they like about working at your company, record it on video, and then show it to everyone.

Your most important and most expensive asset walks out the door every day. Give your people an authentic reason to come back.

via Start-up Step 1: A Culture Plan |