Category Archives: Business

Weekly Podcast – Week 03 – Advice on Startup Advice

Week 3 for my weekly podcast just uploaded and I’m talking this week about giving and taking startup advice. Some highlights:

  • Everyone is giving startup advice, sometimes in exchanges for money, equity, advice, etc
  • Often non-commercial exchanges of value happen with advice
  • Finding people’s incentives (control, equity, cash) will help you qualify whether the advice is quality or not

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You Have One Job – Eliminate my Fear

If there is one thing I’ve learned about business, it’s this. Getting someone to do something for you is all about eliminating their fears. Naturally we are risk averse animals. Which means we are constantly analyzing our situation to make sure we do not fail.

The reality is, a majority of the world is based on the crystal ball business – meaning you pay me in order to expect something to happen in the future. In some cases this is 1 hour, in others this is 10 years. The longer the time frame, the more fear is associated with it. 


Currently with my new startup – Compete Hub – I have the following stakeholders and associated fears:

My team – The three of us (myself, Philip, and Alexei) are all not being paid for our work. There is a lot of uncertainty around paying bills, eating, etc. So I’m constantly reminding them (and myself!) that the idea is good and the money will come eventually. More importantly I asked constantly what things are important to everyone in order to ensure that they are comfortable. It’s also why we launched in the interim and I’m spending countless hours trying win our team some business. (ps – guys if you’re reading this and I’m not doing a good job, let me know!)

My potential investors – I’m currently pitching the business to angel investors to get seed money to keep the team happy for the first year so they can focus on what’s best for the business. Investors are very fearful people, and they have a right to be. For angel investors, their fears can be a multitude of various things. For example, what will my wife think if I put $10k into a friend’s startup?  How will I pay for my mortgage? What if the startup fails in the first year?

My customers and users – The people who will use Compete Hub are also very fearful people. The biggest question when dealing with startups is knowing: Will you exist n years from now? Many startups will reduce these fears by putting up a page (like this) that explains that they do have funding to keep them alive for years. Which means if I’m going to invest my time to use your service as a client, I want to know you won’t disappear tomorrow. Also, it’s the reason the ideal landing page is set to reduce fears by showing what problem your solving and more importantly how it solved someone else’s problem (the testimonial!).

Fear is above and beyond the most motivating factor in business. So if you’re trying to move and motivate someone else – be it, an investor, a business partner, or a potential client – focus and understand what they value first and then eliminate the fears associated, second.


Weekly Podcast – Week 02 – Creating ‘Good Problems to Have’ – Stop trying to prevent so much

Week 2 for my weekly podcast just uploaded and I’m talking this week about creating good problems. Some highlights:

  • If you don’t have the resources or product, still sell it! Vaporware is a good problem to have
  • Solve problems you have today not tomorrow.
  • Don’t create new problems (usually costs) by trying to prevent other ones

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New Podcast Series

I took some inspiration from Joel Gascoigne and have decided to create a weekly podcast (he does it daily). I absolutely am obsessed with SoundCloud right now and they make it very easy to record and upload directly from your computer. So here it is…my first podcast.

Entrepreneurial fears – launching, humility and failing

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Dear Microsoft, Let Me Show You How to Sell Your Surface Tablet

Dear Microsoft,

I get it. Apple is winning. They know how to sell well. You are amazing at selling business products but rarely good at selling consumer products. I also understand that not only can you not just simply copy Apple’s design (both from a marketing perspective and product design perspective), but you need to do a better job at understanding when and where to pitch certain things. Let me explain….

First, you need to divise your pitch in such a way that it shows benefits to three different user sets:

  1. People who already own a tablet (iPad and Android users)
  2. People who don’t know what a tablet is or what it does
  3. Business people who want a reason to buy a tablet for work

Second, remind yourself that you’re in the hammer business, which means in order to sell your hammer you to create the illusion you’re selling a house. So, all of your pitches should not be able the problem the hammer solves, but rather what problem the house solves.

At the core of every good product/service pitch is a good website. So I’ll break down their website section by section.

Landing Page

First, what the hell is Windows RT and what is Windows 8 Pro? This makes zero sense to the average person. Most people still to this day do not understand what the difference between Windows Home and Windows Pro editions do. Unless of course your field of work is in the tech industry. Separate this the following way:

  • Surface for Fun
  • Surface for Business
  • Accessories
  • Support

Call to action

Good start with this. Clear call to action with an easy to click button with a video. However, the video button takes them to a site that opens another browser (big no-no) and uses silverlight. You’ve just lost 50%* of your video traffic because of those two things. This is one of those classic cases of how not to make something easy to use. *Obviously this is just an estimate, but just do some simple A/B tests and prove me wrong.

Timeless. Tough.

Oh please god no… Ok, I get it. Apple does this and this in their marketing. Their design is a work of art. So why not replicate it? It’s simple, don’t copy what they do here….just yet. Apple marketing wasn’t originally successfully because they told people in their adverts that their engineering was superior. They just engineered superior products, people figured it out and then they marketed it. So don’t talk about this until the creatives of the world actually have minted you first. This type of marketing move is a marketing re-enforcer, not a marketing introducer. Rather, focus on what problems this type of design does solve. This is where I see the massive opportunity for Microsoft. iPads aren’t fully replacing laptops just yet, but Surface tablets potentially do. So in your “design pitch”, I would focus on the following:

The size – I have no way of knowing how thin this thing really is. Put a picture of it next to something that has a consistent volume to it (currency such as a penny usually works here). Otherwise I simply cannot fathom any sense of the size.

The clarity of the display – You did this correct here but this needs to be on the front page. It’s important. So important, in fact, that Apple dedicates some major real estate (and HTML/JS functionality) to showcasing it’s retina display. Not only that but they clearly demonstrate it’s sexiness but it’s extremely easy to understand what problem is being solved – I can’t see anything properly without super clear, or so-called “retina”, graphics.

Kick. Start.

Alright, this is a cool feature, but show me visually why it’s cool to have this. Again, what problem are you solving? If this allows me to be hands free to watch videos, look at pictures, etc, then show pictures of people doing just that. This is the reason people hate Powerpoint presentations; because they people that create powerpoint presentations spend way more time writing garbled text than showing imagery. Make the person you’re pitching to expend as little energy as possible. This would be a also be a good time to very subtly show how viewing a tablet at this angle is ergonomically 10x better for your back/neck than trying to watch something on an iPad (that doesn’t have a specific case for it). See how Steve Jobs has to prop the iPad up on his leg in order to get comfortable.

This is fundamentally one of the problems that exists with long term use of the iPad, and dually why the snapable keyboard is such a good key differentiator for solving the potential issue of Gorilla arm with the iPad. The difference is also that the iPad is great for when you’re sitting on a couch but terrible for desk use. The Surface can do both. That’s pretty cool, but sell it better. Your better off with this image, but take a step further and show visually what it’s doing for the ergonomics of the human and make the imagery slightly more life like (showing a really cool picture of the grand canyon outside the window doesnt hurt either)

Click. Type.

Demonstrate this visually with a typical example. One of the painful parts of an iPad is when you try to switch into “hardcore mode”, i.e. when I need to write a long winded e-mail or write a document in Word. The iPad is a pain to type on. Attack this pain and attack it hard. Show a use case where two people are viewing the screen and then the context of that conversation switches to writing a long document/email; so unsnapped and snapped back in less than 2 seconds. Perhaps the specific context could be someone watching a YouTube clip and then writing a comment. So you show 3 images. First one shows the YouTube player UI with the video almost ending. Second image, shows the interace with the cursor ready to type, as the keyboard snaps slowly in. The third image shows the keyboard in and the comment submitted with 200+ “thumbs-up” or “likes”. The “house” you sell here is “make comments on youtube FASTER and on the go”. People will inherently get how this can be applied in other areas of life. Also, if you want to show it being spill resistant, SHOW IT, don’t say it. Perhaps an image like this.

Connect. Share.

Ugh. I don’t get this at all. These ports mean nothing to me. Show me a HDTV (with a super crisp image) connect to it, like this. Show me a digital camera with it’s slot open to the SD card, like this. Show me a typical example of why I need USB. What’s supported? Keyboards? Mouse? Show me an example and then throw the USB logo on there. I don’t care where the slots are physically on the device. Don’t waste your time.

Serious. Fun.

Uggggghhhhhhh. Stop. Please. Now. This is really simple. You need 5-10 showcase apps that people are dying to get their hands on. Show them in a left-right slider (like the slider used for the Siri section on Apple’s website). Preferably these are apps that don’t exist on any other device, or are enhanced by some of the features of your device. This will solve your developer/consumer, chicken and egg problem.

Surface for Business

Now, let me touch briefly on the business section.

This should be a dead simple sell. There should be one sentence here that says:

“You can do everything you did on your business laptop, but in a slicker, easier to use device”. Then show me Excel, Word, Outlook and Powerpoint. Then in the fine print, go in the legacy around security, control, governance, etc. Done and done.

Final Thoughts

I really would like Microsoft to do better in this market. Although I haven’t used the product yet, in theory, it plays much nicer to someone like myself (a power user) than the iPad does. If I’ve exposed the fact that either (1) they don’t have good enough gaming apps or (2) the office suite is painful to use on the tablet, than clearly the R&D development effort needs to be spent there. The best way to do this is to create 5-10 “experiences” that are native to the Surface Tablet and not allow them to be ported over to other devices (iPad, Android, etc). Make your garden gorgeous and build a nice wall around it.