Starting up

What Ben Horowitz Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

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Ben Horowitz
 is no stranger in the startup world. He’s the co-founder and general partner of the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz. With $4.2 billion under it’s management, the firm has invested in pretty much all the who’s who in the tech startup scene – Airbnb, Facebook, Twitter, Box, and DigitalOcean.

I caught his talk during last year’s Lean Startup Conf at San Francisco where he shared his startup story, struggles all founders face, how putting constrains on resources increases creativity and workplace diversity. (You can watch his talk on the video below.)

But the biggest takeaway I had from the talk was this:

“Your success as a company really depends on how linear a path you walk to the right product.”

This is the advice Ben has for founders who are finding product-market fit. It’s about knowing where you are now, where you want to go, and walk the straightest line possible to reaching your goal.

That got me thinking, how do I know and find the straightest line to reaching my goals? I mean, there’s many ways to go about achieving success in entrepreneurship, how does one find his/her most efficient path and increases his/her odds of success?

I submitted that question to the Q&A app that the conference was using, but my question was not chosen. ?

So I decided that I was going to find Ben and ask him myself. And it wasn’t easy.

Firstly, I wasn’t seated at the main hall where I could grab him as soon as he got off the stage. Secondly, it’s not easy for me to spot a white man amongst all other white men. Thirdly, I had to walk against the crowd exiting the main hall while I was trying to spot Ben.

But as they say, fortune favours the bold.

After gently elbowing some folks away to get closer to him, I asked him, “Ben, how do you figure out what is the straightest path to success? What do you need for that?”

He replied,

“Knowledge. You need deep understanding of the problem and it takes about 5 – 10 years being in that domain to acquire that knowledge.*”

This ties in to what I’ve learned after being in Silicon Valley for 3 months – be in love with the problem, not the solution. Always start with the problem, be obsessed with the problem, not the solution.

It’s a lesson I will remember for my future ventures.

 

*Slightly paraphrased. I was walking and elbowing people so I couldn’t write it down immediately, haha.

Picture credits: Wired

 

Elisha Tan is the Founder of TechLadies. TechLadies is a community for women in Asia to connect, learn, and advance as programmers in the tech industry. Elisha is also the Developer Programs Regional Lead for Asia Pacific at Facebook.

 
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Personal, Starting up

The Ghost

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Many people know that entrepreneurship is hard and that founders all pay the psychological price of entrepreneurship. Rand Fishkin, Co-founder of MOZ, calls his mental cycle of train wreck The Loop. I have a Ghost.

I wrote this back in December 2013:

The Ghost

Instead of a loop, I have a ghost.

The ghost creeps up on me when I’m not watching – then it consumes me.

Instead of keeping my eye on the prize, focusing on that tiny glimmer of light I call hope, the ghost makes me focus on the 99.99% of darkness that surrounding it. Loudly echoing “you aren’t good enough”, “you aren’t good enough”, “YOU. AREN’T. GOOD. ENOUGH”.

I do not like the ghost, but I know it’s not leaving.

I guess most founders, including myself, have high internal locus of control. We believe that change is possible, and we are the ones to make it happen. So when things don’t go well, it’s incredibly hard for me to not take it personally, or take it as an reflection of my self-worth.

But for now, I’ll lay the Ghost to rest.

 

Elisha Tan is the Founder of TechLadies. TechLadies is a community for women in Asia to connect, learn, and advance as programmers in the tech industry. Elisha is also the Developer Programs Regional Lead for Asia Pacific at Facebook.

 
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Marketing, Starting up

4 Cheap and Quick Starting Up Tips for the Non-Tech Founder

Starting a tech startup without any technical skills is hard. Although it is getting easier to pick up programming skills via free platforms like Codecademy, Khan Academy and the likes, learning enough technical skills to be proficient for your product can still take a long time.

So what can you, the non-technical founder, do?

Demonstrate Value To Bring A Technical Person On Board

As a non-tech founder, you need a technical person (whether as a co-founder or a founding member) in a tech startup. And the best way to attract a smart technical person to join you is by demonstrating that

  1. Your business has value and
  2. You are the best person to run this.

Here are four ways that you can go about doing that.
 

1. Test Value Proposition

What is the biggest pain point that your startup is solving, and how do you communicate that to your target audience?

That may be one of the most important question a founder must answer. Fortunately, you can find the answer without having any technical skills. There are a couple of ways you can find out what message and value proposition resonates best with your target audience.

1. Facebook Ads or Google Adwords
Test value propositions by creating a different ad for each proposition. Run these ads on Facebook or Google Adwords (or even both, if your budget allows it) and track which value proposition gets the most clicked. This will be the proposition that best resonate with your target audience.

If you’re not sure who exactly is your target audience, which isn’t an uncommon problem when you just started out, you can also test that with ads. Just target different value propositions with different set of audience and track which audience/value-proposition set gave you the best returns.

2. Landing Pages
If an ad (usually limited to 70 – 90 characters) cannot fully encapsulate the value you are creating, test it with landing pages instead. There are plenty of tools out there to help you create landing pages without needing you to know how to code. Here are some of them:

 

2. Start Making Money

Nothing validates your idea better than people putting their money on it. You can do that on your landing page, or you can leverage on existing platforms for that.

If you’re starting a hardware company, you can test it out by running crowdfunding campaigns on sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

If you’re starting a software company, you can test it out on Fiverr. Fiverr is a marketplace where you can find people to do tasks (or called ‘gigs’ on the site) online for $5. Since an algorithm is just automated human intelligence, you can start testing your idea by providing a service manually.

Here are some examples of different kinds of software businesses, and how it can be converted into gigs on Fiverr.

  • Homejoy (Marketplace) – “I will find and validate qualified home cleaners in your vicinity who fit your schedule.”
  • Moz (Saas) – “I will analyze your website and give you ideas on how to improve your site’s SEO.”
  • Groupon (E-commerce) – “I will bring you hundreds of new customers to your offline store.”

 

3. Gather Your Community

If for some reason (say, your idea is much more complicated) making money isn’t possible without a product, at least start by building your community. Start a blog, start getting email addresses of your potential users, bring on some possible partners, mentors and potential investors.

Doing this does two things:

  1. Prove that there is possible demand for your product and
  2. Prove that you can gather the right resources for your product.

There are plenty of free blogging services such as Blogger and Medium, but I strongly recommend WordPress simply because of the comprehensive range of free plugins that the WordPress community has created.

On my other blog, I used WordPress, SumoMe (for a pop-out to collect email addresses, in exchange for an ebook), and Mailchimp (an email marketing campaign tool I use to send out the said ebook automatically).
 

4. Design And Test Your Product

As the visionary of your product, you can start designing how your product should look like. The most basic way of creating a prototype is to draw it on paper. Otherwise, there are free or cheap tools that can help you create a clickable prototype:

Once you have a prototype or mock-up of your product, talk to your users to find out what they want and what they like and don’t like about your product. The best way to do that is to meet your users and watch them ‘use’ your prototype.

If meeting your users isn’t possible, another alternative is to install a live chat tool, such as Olark or Zopim (both have free plans), on your landing page or existing website. Otherwise, you can create short usability tests on UsabilityHub.
 

Make something people want

“Make something people want” is the startup mantra of many accelerators, founders and mentors. I agree with it, but somehow I feel that the part, “people want” is so much underrated and overshadowed by the former “make something”.

(If you have noticed, the 4 tips above all seek to help you address what people want.)

There are simply too many products out there without a clear understanding what problem they are solving, much less having a clear view of who their target audience is. And no, “everyone” is not a target audience.

As a non-tech founder, knowing what people want presents a very compelling reason for a technical person to join in, which is just what you need to kick-start your product!

 

Elisha Tan is the Founder of TechLadies. TechLadies is a community for women in Asia to connect, learn, and advance as programmers in the tech industry. Elisha is also the Developer Programs Regional Lead for Asia Pacific at Facebook.

 
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Starting up, Thoughts

I’m not a woman in tech

Some weeks ago my picture was included in a FB photo album on women in tech. I was very, very uncomfortable with that idea and had it’s owner to take my picture down.

Recently the topic of women in tech came up again, so I wanted to address this – I’m not a woman in tech.

I’ve played that “women in tech” card before, getting into press and taking advantage of the affirmative action made available to me simply because my biological sex makes me a minority in the community. I mean, the benefits are out there and I didn’t want to shortchange myself by not grabbing it.

But I’ve since grown to hate it – I know I’m more than the makeup of my chromosome.
I want to be recognised, to be respected for my work, for the results I bring, and for the impact I’ve made in people’s lives… not for my boobs (ok, figurative, not literal boobs).

So don’t call me a woman in tech.

 

Elisha Tan is the Founder of TechLadies. TechLadies is a community for women in Asia to connect, learn, and advance as programmers in the tech industry. Elisha is also the Developer Programs Regional Lead for Asia Pacific at Facebook.

 
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Starting up, Thoughts

Why I’m not afraid of being a young entrepreneur

Have you met an older person who’s a total dick – no manners, inconsiderate, rude?

That person has more years of experience in being an adult but that doesn’t mean anything.

This is why I’m not afraid of being young (both in terms of age and startup experience) and I’ve stopped respecting people more just because they have done something for a longer period of time. And sometimes, I snigger when people go “you should listen to me because I’ve done it for X years….”

No. I’ll listen to you if you have skills.

Number of years doesn’t mean shit. Skills and results will show themselves, there’s no need for any verbalization.

 

Elisha Tan is the Founder of TechLadies. TechLadies is a community for women in Asia to connect, learn, and advance as programmers in the tech industry. Elisha is also the Developer Programs Regional Lead for Asia Pacific at Facebook.

 
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