You might already know of my startup Gauss – The People Magnet. What some of you might not know is that I teach entrepreneurial students at universities, young hopeful startups at NEXT, keynoting events and F500* corporates that as a startup entrepreneur you need to:
Talk to everybody about everything all of the time
Expose yourself and your ideas to as many people (your potential users and customers) as soon as possible
Acknowledge and understand that no smart person or company will ever copy you before you have a validated and proven business model
I have come to realize that it is about embarrassingly high time that I start practice what I preach. It’s about time to start eating my own dog food. I’m spontaneously throwing everything out there to see what happens when you shine as much light from as many sources as possible on your ideas and assumptions instead of having them worshipped inside the cult of the stealth startup. I don’t expect much and I have nothing to lose but my vanity, so here we go.
I hereby declare death to the cult of stealth startups and pledge and acknowledge that I will:
Publish and solicit feedback as broadly as possible on any and all prototypes before writing a single line of code (e.g. as features described in text, click-dummies or paper wireframes)
Be ready to face any and all critique in public in any form or way, the more and more brutally honest the better
Risk the embarrassment of being ridiculed and failing spectacularly in public
Risk having my ideas stolen by competitors
Only exercise the option to stop sharing everything in public, if and only if, I have a validated product-market fit or when I have a validated business model
As of now, I’m going to publish all prototypes instead of following the cult of the stealth startup. I LOVE your feedback going forward and you can use this form (so you can remain anonymous) or feel free to leave comments on this post in public. Be brutally honest. I’m ready to take it! :)
Here’s a scrappy video walk-through (and in no way am I apologizing for the poor quality, because I also preach it is better to have something instead of nothing!):
And here are two click dummies for you to test on your iPhone for yourself (they should sort of work on Android too, though).
The main click-dummy with core concepts. (Try this first for basic concepts and tap Robert Scoble to test features as his profile is the only interactive one)
This next click dummy will show you what happens when you get a notification from Gauss. (BTW, profiles are inactive, not tap-able in this version)
Let me know what you think. Is this a great idea or worst ever? Should we all remain loyal followers of the dark cult of the stealth startup or is it about time to let the public sunshine in? I shared this post on HN so feel free to continue the discussion there too.
*Caveat: Obviously, if you’re inside a F500 corporation, sharing within your enterprise is assumed, not necessarily with the public. That would obviously open up a can of whoop-ass from your legal department. F500 enterprises are funny that way.
I have the greatest respect for Mark Suster as an entrepreneur and investor. I really treasure his insights. I also have great respect for the theories and methodologies of “competing against non-consumption and “jobs to be done” of Clayton M. Christensen. I teach them to startup founders and corporations.
Let me be crystal clear: When I talk about the benefits of crowd funding for bootstrapping and validation, I’m talking only about crowd funding without selling equity.
I argue selling your actual product or service is a great way to bootstrap and validate your business, in effect using crowd funding as a channel for taking pre-orders.
I make a clear distinction between trying to crowd fund an idea or a vision and crowd funding a real product or service. That is to say, I think there is a real difference between selling your product or service (asking in effect the market to pay for it and help you validate if they will buy it) as the reward or perk you offer instead of offering ephemeral perks and rewards not directly related to your product or service (which will not help you validate if people will buy it).
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” -Henry Ford
“Disruption happens when companies use technology to help customers “achieve what they already had been trying to do.”” -Clayton Christensen
The theory simply asks, “What job your product is hired to do?” And if you want your customers to switch products you need to ask, “Why would they ‘fire’ the other product and ‘hire’ yours?”
Competing Against Non-Consumption (disruptive innovation)
True disruption occurs when companies compete against non-consumption. “A new-market disruption is an innovation that enables a larger population of people, who previously lacked the money or skill, now to begin buying and using a product and doing the job for themselves,” – Clayton M. Christensen.
If you’re an upstart chasing after the non-consumer, the great news is that your audience is non-discriminating. They want something easy to use and they want it cheap. They’re not expecting that same level of quality and performance. “Because,” says Clayton M. Christensen, “something is so much better than nothing.” (Business Innovation Factory, 30.01.2006)
I think it’s obvious that Crowd Funding fits the properties of a disruptive innovation and I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise.
However, (or perhaps not that surprising as Suster is already vested in the world view of the incumbent as a VC) Suster and Christensen seem to ignore the disruptive power of crowd funding as seen from the side of the table of the entrepreneur.
I sense the classic argument we always hear from the incumbents in the talk between Suster and Christensen: It always seem to revert to the argument of quality – as if that is all there would be too it.
We’ve heard this before.
Remember the records industry? “Who would like mp3 files when you can have quality audio on CDs?” Turns out the story was rather people want the freedom of choice to select just the good songs without the 10 other crap fillers on a CD, and would quite eagerly sacrifice audio quality for the ability – hence Napster was wildly successful, hence they sued Napster out of the world BUT without taking over the space of Napster, still not recognizing what people want, what the new opportunity offered them.
And we’ve seen how this turned out before.
Instead of seizing the opportunity for themselves, iTunes, Last FM, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora et al came in and screwed the records industry out of the opportunity – and no one was sorry for their loss but themselves.
And it’s the same old story, same old arguments which are today being bandied about in the discourse about with Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but that’s a different albeit highly related discussion. Check out Clay Shirky’s post on MOOCs for more on that topic.
Christensen teaches us about the concepts of “jobs to be done” and “competing against non-consumption”. As far as I can tell, Crowd Funding without selling equity is doing both for the entrepreneur very well.
To the best of my knowledge, crowd funding without selling equity is:
Getting the job done for entrepreneurs of getting early stage funding, or perhaps more precisely validating their product in the marketplace (explicitly or implicitly) without substantial financial risks and without taking a lot of time producing something first that perhaps the market doesn’t want (negating risk and time to market or failure for the entrepreneurs).
Enabling entrepreneurs that otherwise would not get the attention – let alone the funding – of a VC, bank or angel, effectively competing against non-consumption (lower barrier to entry for entrepreneurs).
A highly valid MVP (Minimal Viable Product) when used correctly.
As an entrepreneur, you no longer have to ask the incumbent private equity gatekeepers for permission to play. You now have the option to walk it alone.
If you fail, there’s little to no downside. It’s a learning experience. You’ve only lost face. Get used to it! Now pick yourself up and play again. And again.
If you’re successful, maybe you won’t even need an investor at all for scaling or at least you’ll have revenue from sales as a bargaining chip to get the term sheet you want.
Am I saying that the VCs will go the way of the Dodo? No. The way of the record companies? Most likely.
VCs will have their place and will still be a highly valid or even the only right play for some types of ventures, just like the elite schools of Stanford and Harvard will not go out of business because of MOOCs.
I am saying that crowd funding without selling equity is a powerful disruptive tool for entrepreneurs.
It is enabling many more entrepreneurs to succeed that wouldn’t otherwise be able to play.
And it will enable many more entrepreneurs to FAIL – and fast, before they have spent all their savings, bet the barn, lost their spouse and spent a good part of their life building something that no one wants.
And that’s all good:
For the VCs that will be able to fund more validated businesses and proven entrepreneurs instead of throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks (perhaps at the cost of less proprietary deal-flow).
For the entrepreneurs that get to play without asking for permission and again and again ad infinitum with little or no cost and risk to learn, learn, learn.
And for the world that will hopefully see more value generated, more new jobs as a result of the lower barriers to entry for more people.
Do listen to anybody that tries to tell you otherwise – just don’t take their advice. You no longer need their permission. JFDI.
It seems to me that he doesn’t know how crowd funding without selling equity (e.g. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo) works – or deliberately wants to discredit the incredibly powerful new tool available to entrepreneurs for validating ideas and product – or perhaps more likely he just lost track of the evolution of entrepreneurial methodologies since graduating.
(Kudos to him on the polemic page impressions link bait material, though.)
These are my highly opinionated thoughts on his three outrageous claims in the Inc. article.
Claim 1. “It [Crowd Funding] makes it too easy to kid yourself”
- In which he argues for the writing of a business plan (!) instead.
1. Crowd Funding without selling equity is bootstrapping.
There’s nothing more sobering and honest feedback than direct contact with the market. Crowd funding WITHOUT selling equity can be used as a valid MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that will help you validate your thesis that if you build it, they will indeed come – AND buy.
Just don’t build and produce anything until you’ve received pre-orders that will cover the production at cost or better. Obviously. Crowd Funding without equity IS a valid bootstrapping strategy. Make no mistake about it.
Who cares about business plans? No business plan ever survives first contact with a customer anyways. Business plans can only work if you are executing a known and validated business model. That’s the polar opposite of a startup which sole purpose it is to search for a scalable and repeatable business model. No magical business plan is ever going to help you find it. Validating your product in the market will.
I do personally recommend writing a very basic business plan as an educational exercise to arrive at an back of the envelope estimate of how much money is going to come in and go out and where – and then burn it! It’s not an operational guide nor a road map. It’s a work of fiction, a fantasy, a guess.
Isn’t it a no-brainer that as long as you can sell your shizzle, you should try to make as many pre-orders as you can before production and shipping, at least enough to make it cover your cost and perhaps contain some profit to channel into marketing of the second batch? Isn’t crowd funding a perfect viable channel for facilitating such pre-orders?
If you can’t sell enough to just break even, isn’t that a clear sign that maybe you’re not solving a problem that the market cares enough about to pay you? Or that you are doing a crappy job at describing the problem you’re solving and the solution you’re offering? That you should probably be doing something differently?
Isn’t crowd funding an awesome low-risk, low-cost channel to test the viability of your business idea, to help the market find you and fail or succeed faster?
And so frigging what if you don’t make your funding goals? At least you failed before you committed significant amounts of your or other friends, fools or family’s money – let alone an investor’s – bet the barn and lost your life partner.
And hopefully you learned more about what you should be selling instead by getting invaluable feedback directly from the market. Consider your time spent raising crowd funding a considerable investment in your personal entrepreneurial education.
And consider this: Every time you fail at crowd funding, you get to play again and again and again ad nauseam, ad infinitum – without going bankrupt or having to beg private equity funds for the privilege to play.
Claim 2: “It [Crowd Funding] isolates you from people who can actually help you”
- In wich he argues you need feedback, permission and validation from investors, not the actual market and your actual potential customers.
2. An investor is a commodity, an outstanding entrepreneur is the prize.
If you as an entrepreneur can show a VC or an angel how you already validated your business and how you’re already making money, you can pretty much shop around for the investor you want to a price advantageous to you.
Basically, you’ll have the best bargaining chip available to any entrepreneur in your pocket. In fact, you might even find out that you don’t need an investor at all to scale your business, that you can build on actual pre-orders and sales yourself.
I call hot steaming bullshit on the ridiculous assumption that savvy VCs and Angels would be less interested in you if you crowd fund (read: bootstrap) your startup at an early stage.
In fact I’ll claim the polar opposite: Crowd funding provides you with a new channel to get found. If you’re able to show traction and sales – they’ll come knocking, or at least it will help get you through most doors.
As an anecdotal proof, I myself have been approached by tier one Silicon Valley investors as a direct consequence of crowd funding projects.
As I’m off to moderate a day of discussing if entrepreneurship is something you need to be born with or something you can nurture, something you can teach everybody, at the Maastricht Week of Entrepreneurship I thought I’d do a highly unscientific poll here to find out what you think.
And I thought who better to ask than you which questions to put on the agenda. One of the panel participants will be Steve Blank (@sgblank) – So let me know your questions to Steve on twitter or in the comments below!
The Maastricht Week of Entrepreneurship is Maastricht’s largest entrepreneurship event. Happening yearly, the ME Week brings together over 200 students and entrepreneurs for an exciting 5 day program highlighted by workshops, presentations and lectures. Participants get inspired, network, share practices, and ask for advice.
As you probably know, I’m passionate about pitching – because we SUCK at pitching here in Europe! So when the new Cologne-based incubator STARTPLATZ asked me if I would be interested in getting involved in a new program to help our regional startup entrepreneurs becoming better at pitching, I wasn’t hard to convince.
The Rhineland-Pitch is a pitch competition event held at STARTPLATZ every last Monday of each month that aims to heighten the quality of our regional startup pitches by providing intensive training to the applicant entrepreneurs and letting the winners pitch to a select and exclusive audience of entrepreneurs, press and investors.
A week in advance, all applicants get a one hour intensive crash course on pitching and after a rapid-fire elevator pitching session, the winners get an additional and immediate four hours of individual pitch training from yours truly.
At the end of the individual training sessions there’s immediately another selection process where the entrepreneurs present the pitch they’ve prepared and the best get invited to the Rheinland-Pitch event the following Monday.
So what do you win except for the glory? Well, a chance to pitch in front of and meet with investors, get critical feedback – AND a video of your final pitch to boot! (So you better make your performance count!)
And it’s all for free! So apply now for the next Rheinland-Pitch May 27th!