New Article at AskMen: Launching a Startup

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If you follow me on twitter, facebook, or this blog, you’re aware that I’ve been peppering the interwebs with news of my new startup, datesocial. This week at AskMen, I talked about some of the perceived roadblocks to starting a business, and hopefully motivated some people with ideas to get up off their asses and actually execute them. A snippet:

You don’t need (much) money

The biggest barrier to entry in the startup world is the perception of cost, and at one time that was a very real barrier. If you wanted to open a store, you needed retail space and product to sell. If you wanted to manufacture something, you needed materials and equipment. Thanks to the internet, that cost barrier has morphed into more of a cost speed bump, especially if you’re looking to provide a service rather than a good of some kind. Datesocial’s landing page is hosted by launchrock, a free service for startups. Customers will register and pay for events through eventbrite, which is free to use and allows you to pass on its (incredibly modest) service fees to your customers. Facebook and Twitter are where we’ve done most of our marketing, and those are, of course, free. I’ve paid for a domain name, a logo design, some business cards and a few traffic pushes on fiverr. Our gross investment at this point is right around $100. That’s a weekend’s worth of dinner and drinks. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you read about tech startups raising millions of dollars in funding, but if you’re willing to hack it at the start, you simply don’t need that.

I ended the article by saying I could go on for another 2,000 words, and that wasn’t an exaggeration. One thought that I did want to share, however, is the notion of technology and the role it plays in the startup world. Everyone, so it seems, wants to create a “tech startup”, a new app, a new website, etc. It’s all you read about at Valleywag, TechCrunch and whatnot, and it’s very easy to get caught up in the idea that a new business has to be cutting edge or rely on some kind of new technology. It doesn’t. The core concept of a business is finding a void with your consumers and then filling that void. You can do that by offering something that no one’s ever seen before, or you can take an existing model that’s broken and perfect it. It’s very rarely a tech problem.

When my wife and I were conceiving datesocial, our first thought was “Oh shit, we need a website and neither of us know how to design or build one.” We built a landing page at launchrock, but we were still focused on tech, tech, tech. We were building a startup, so we assumed it had to be a “tech startup.” It didn’t, and it isn’t. I had an epiphany when I was talking with my friend Ryan Melogy, co-founder of faithstreet. He said something to the effect of “Dude, you’re essentially trying to throw a party. Your first step is throwing that party and getting the word out.” That’s when it kind of clicked. Datesocial isn’t a tech company. In fact, it’s the opposite of a tech company. It’s real life, it’s on the ground, and it’s about interacting with real people and helping them interact with each other. Sure, we rely on tech to facilitate things, but it’s a vehicle, not the core concept. That’s why I don’t understand sites like Grouper, who purports to match people based on some kind of algorithm that examines their facebook data. It sounds like a cool science project, but I believe in people’s ability to do their own matchmaking. When you start a company that claims to connect people using something as detached as a computer program, you’re either way too deep in the weeds or unwilling to get out there and mix with your customers.

If you have an idea for a business, provided it’s not an actual tech product, tech should not be your first concern. Your first priority should be creating a prototype and testing it. There are so, so many free or cheap tech products out there that will get you where you need to be, or at least get you to where you can launch a beta product. You can (and should) hack it at the start. Why sink thousands of dollars into a web designer and developer when there are sites like facebook, twitter, and eventbrite that can serve essentially the same purpose (and make it easier to tap into social media to boot)? Unless you’re running a true “tech startup”, it’s not a tech problem. It’s an execution problem, or a motivation problem.

Read the full article at AskMen

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