Monday, March 13, 2017

Dot.com to Dot.Bomb

The final post required for my class is about the journey of our proffessor, one Andrew Fry, as he navigated the turbulent waters of the Dot Com boom and bust.

What a time it must have been.  I was first in highschool and then a young man as we all approached the coming of a new millennium.  I witnessed the birth and rise of the technologies that constituted the birth of the digital age.  I cut my teeth on AOL, Google, Ebay and countless others.

Andrew was right there, right in the thick of it with his company Free Range Media.  The following quote from a cached news story about his company explains what they were in 1998:

About Free Range Media
     An expert in Return on Internet Investment (ROI2)(TM), Free Range Media
 creates comprehensive Internet solutions by combining business strategy,
 innovative design and technical expertise with professional client
 partnerships. With a client base including Swedish Medical Center, Dain
 Rauscher, Blue Shield of California, FreeZone, Raleigh Studios, Mag
 Instruments, Inc., Guest Informant and Van Waters & Rogers, Free Range Media
 has established itself as a leader in Internet solutions.

It's pretty amazing to think that if things hadn't gone south for Andrew, maybe today Free Range would be as synonymous as some of the other heavy hitters that spawned in the primordial soup of the birth of the web.

Andrew illustrated the craziness of those 8 years or so that lead up to the bursting of the Dotcom bubble using dinosaurs in a foot race. (quite fitting since most of the companies he discussed are no longer with us).  Just like the metaphor of the alley race that I shared earlier, companies like AOL, Yahoo, and Netscape were all chasing the amazing amount of money that the web spawned as more and more people adopted this new paradigm that our species had created, the reality of knowledge and information at your fingertips, available to anyone willing to pay the monthly subscription fee.

Andrew illustrated just how insane and unsustainable it was by just how many companies were getting money and going to market without being vetted.  It was so clear that a bubble was growing and was going to pop that authors were able to release best selling books warning of that very pop and still people were spending VC capital like it was water while lining up for signed copies from the prophets of their doom.

Ultimately, Andrew shared a stark and sobering view of just how mercurial the entrepreneurs life may be, but in so doing, failed to reduce its power to seduce.

Mission and Vision statement.

We are tasked with creating a vision statement and mission for our businesses.  This is a tough one as at this point we just have thought experiments, things that we think may work, but have no way of knowing.

The first thought in regard to this task I have is that I want my business to be a solution.  Now, we all know that a solution is what drives a business forward, people pay money to solve problems.  But I want any business I am part of to do more than convince people to give me money.  I want them to be happy a day, a month, a year down the road with the money that they spent.  I want their problems to be solved.  So with that said, I think the mission of my company is as simple as that:  "Be the Solution".  We need to be it for our customers, but also for ourselves.  Each and every employee needs to be the solution to whatever task they pit themselves against.

As to the vision, the initial app I plan to create will bring the audio entertainment industry firmly into the digital age.  We will enable and empower audio engineers with the tools we find in other industries, with automation and scalability.  So with that said, I think our vision should be: "The Evolution of Sound".

A visit from Shadrach White

We recently had a visit from our 4th in class speaker, Shadrach White.  I immediately thought of the Beastie Boys song Shadrach, Meshach,  and Abednego, which I was humming for the rest of the day.

The first thing that registered about Shad was his energy.  Even being several years older than me, I would have guessed he was in his twenties if it wasn't for his hair.  It was just as obvious that that energy was a massive asset for him.  As a leader, and a visionary, being able to project an aura of competency and stamina is a very effective way of convincing people that you have the right ideas before you even open your mouth.

Shad shared his story of entrepreneurship.  He is currently on his 4th company, a cloud based company called  cloudpwr.  He started in landscaping and has since had several successful businesses.  The message he wanted to share with us was how to be successful at business, which could be encapsulated in 4 points:

1. Be a revenue hawk and understand selling.

2. Smile, you will need to foster a culture that people will respond positively to.

3. Make a quiet space for refection, at least 15 minutes everyday to turn off and recharge.

4. Read.  Grow your curiosity and continue to learn.

All of these points are self evident, and yet it caries more weight to hear it from someone that has successfully applied them.

The final point he left us with is be careful in whom you develop partnerships with, both in business and in life.  Always chose people who are ethical, compassionate and honorable.  It is important that you recognize these qualities in people and foster them in yourself because business is built on trust and compromise and these are the qualities in people that are required to accommodate those needs.

I really appreciated Shad's visit and the fact that he took the time to share that message with us.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

How To Protect My IP?

This has to be the hardest question posed by my professor so far this quarter, mostly because the solution I hope to provide with my business is neither innovative or complex.   This app will be trivial to design and code, and as such, there is nothing to patent.  Trademark also offers little protection, as anyone could create a competing product with a different name with very little investment of resources.

What that leaves me then is a first to the market advantage, followed by brand recognition and customer relationships.  Essentially, my business will be engaged in an alley chase:  a bag of money is in an alley, and I am the first to find it.  However, as soon as I grab it, everyone else knows its there and so the chase begins.

I have one other option that could be an ace up my sleeve and that is once I have proven a market and that I control a share, I could attempt to develop exclusive relationships with the manufactures of the sound boards and other audio equipment in order to roll in functionality with my app.  Were my app, for example, to provide seamless third-party remote control of a sound board, and were it to work with all or most of the major manufactures of such equipment, this would provide a substantial head start to the alley chase.  Should I develop enough share and recognition, a trademark may indeed be warranted.

Finally, I am reminded that in business its not always the ingenuity of the idea that create's success, it is instead the capability of a the business behind that idea that ultimately swells the coffers.  Just because I don't see an initial way to protect my IP, doesn't mean it is not a viable service for a business to provide.

How Much Should My App Cost?

I have been tasked with deciding how much to charge for the service my business hopes to provide.  What a thorny question this is, as I have no idea how much value this app will provide to it's potential customer base.

My initial impulse is to create a tiered approach.  The first tier would be the 'try before you buy' tier.  In this offering, the customer could download a functional, but stark, version of the app that would function for 72 hours.  As the vast majority of potential users work the weekends, this would allow them to try the product for one or more deployments, over the course of 3 days.  

The next tier would be a one time buy in, $9.99.   This would include the app and a guarantee that it remains functional for 1-3 years, with limited support and bugfixes to ensure that it is functional on any future versions of android.

Final tier would be an enterprise model, with a monthly subscription.  This version of the app would have storage and tools to allow a larger business to formalize it's use and customize their experience. It would have a team available for on-demand troubleshooting and a market research team to conduct surveys around improving the customer experience.  The pricing model would reflect specific business goals of the customer.

 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Visit From John Dimmer

Last week we were visited by my professor's life long friend and sometime business partner, John Dimmer.  My initial take:  what information could a Duck have to share with Husky?  I kid, I kid.  It was actually a very informative visit on the financial life of an entrepreneur.

What really resonated with me about the information that John shared was his fundamental reason for becoming an entrepreneur in the first place:  to become wealthy.   Now, any of you who know me know that I am not someone who is overly motivated by wealth.   Afterall, very little of what I have had come my way has stuck around for any significant length of time.  BUT, if I was going to ever consider this lifestyle, one where every single guest has emphasized is very engrossing and stressing, it would be because of the promise of wealth and potential early retirement.

John stressed that before you ever embark on a journey of self employment, you must first consider the end goal of said journey and then plan backwards from there.  This is so antithetical to my personality that it's almost impossible for me to consider.  That said, I see my lack of ability to set long term goals as a flaw and I hope to improve.  So, while it may be hard to initially comprehend how a person goes about plotting a business venture from the end to the present, I am very interested to consider the intellectual challenge of doing so.

If one considers the reason for starting a business to be selling the business when it has been developed enough for it to be lucrative, John says that one must do one thing: retain maximum ownership of the business in order to maximize the return.  This is much harder than it sounds, as the only realistic collateral that a CEO has is equity in their business.  In order to raise money, most will have to relinquish their hold on that equity.  I was especially interested in how that equity is brokered and how important it is to ensure that when it is sold, the CEO never drops below the 50% control threshold.  If this rubicon is crossed, the owner will no longer be captain of the ship, and as such, mutiny is very real risk.

John's visit was packed with valuable information and as such, I am very grateful to him for sharing that with all of us.  I am especially grateful that he forced me to consider what exactly would be the reason that I would ever consider my own enterprise.

  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Visit From Brian Forth

Last Tuesday we were visited by a local entrepreneur, Brian Forth.  Brian is the CEO of SiteCrafting.com and has been an entrepreneur since the mid 90's, providing high quality online solutions to buisness in the northwest.

Brian had 3 key points of business that he wanted to share with us: Core, Company, and Community.
I will briefly review what I learned about each key.

For Core, Brian stressed that each entrepreneur needs to be true to themselves, and needs to run the business accordingly.  Brian exhibits this philosophy by committing to his employees and customers for the long run.  He believes that his business should be one where an employee can hope to work there as long as they want, even an entire career.  For his customers, he wants to ensure that they provide support and guidance for the entire life of the website they have created.  It is of utmost importance that sitecrafting.com builds real relationships with the people and companies it serves.

For Core, he shared a story of how a change in metrics for his company almost caused the company's culture to completely collapse. This came about from a mistaken focus on the minutia of individual tasks and not on being solution based.   This lead to employees losing focus on delivering a product and instead becoming to concerned with the individual tasks required to create the products.   This lead to his point that a company has to be true to its core, to it's employees and what makes those employees a team.  It is the philosophy of the team that makes it more than a group of individuals and it is up to the CEO to ensure that everyone understands the core mission of the team and buys into the mission so that all can continue to work towards the company's goal.

Finally Community.  Brian feels a very strong call to service to the community that supports his business.  This call is partly altruism and gratitude, but also practical:  no business can hope to survive in a vacuum.  It speaks to what Andrew has told us defines a successful business:  It is about building a mechanism that will solve people's problems in such a way that they will provide the capital to keep the mechanism running.  By being an active and supporting member of the community, SiteCrafting.com ensures that it's community is healthy and capable of supporting it, as well as creating the good will that convinces people to choose their service over their competitors.

Over all I really enjoyed Brian's visit.  I think it was important to hear about the pitfalls and challenges of being an entrepreneur, and that the negative aspects of this endeavour can be as educating at as the positives.  Ultimately, Brian has faced the challenges this lifestyle has presented him, and by continuing to grow and surmount these challenges, Brian has learned the skills to be successful at whatever challenges life throw's his way, in business or elsewhere.  That is a powerful example and I am grateful to him for sharing it.