Archive for October, 2006

Knowing your Product

Posted on October 29, 2006. Filed under: entrepreneurship |

Recently I’ve developed a new habit of taking an external look at boso by stripping away what it actually does (online trading) and looking at the raw functions it is composed of. The easiest way to do this is by stopping looking at boso as an Internet business and compare it to another type of business – my current favourite being a restaurant. This exercise has actually given me a different perspective on things and above all it has stressed the importance of actually knowing and understanding your product.

Kul and I have always been reliant upon other people to build our website for us. Since neither of us could code, our product development has been dependant upon getting people in to build the site and so when they leave or don’t build the product we we had in mind – things are pretty tough. This is when my new perspective kicked in – I though to myself that if we were a restaurant, it would be completely unworkable for neither Kul or I to have an appreciation of food or cooking. We might be able to get a head chef in but if he ever left we’d be back at square one. Quite simply, a restaurant won’t work if there are no chefs to cook the food. An Internet business is no different – always being reliant on other people to code is a risky strategy because you can never then assume full control of your business. If you have a limitless supply of great coders then this isn’t a problem but in reality, such a scenario doesn’t really exist (unless you’re Google, Microsoft or Yahoo of course).

That’s when we decided we had no other option – we had to learn how to code. So late one night I set up all the relevant server and database connections I needed, pulled out an online PHP tutorial and started typing away in TextEdit. Quite simply it was the best decision I’ve ever made and I honestly wish I’d made it two years earlier. If there was one benefit of a three year Oxford law degree (one which involved a huge amount of last minute preparation for tutorials) it was picking up the skill of cramming large amounts of information into my head in very short spaces of time. As a result I’ve picked up the concepts of programming very quickly and am moving onto some pretty interesting stuff. What it means is that for once I can actually do all those niggling little touch ups myself and as I learn more, I’ll actually be able to implement new functionality. While I’m not going to be attracting offers from Google anytime soon, what it does mean is that we can be less reliant on other people for the development of our own product.

The experience we’ve had is something I think is a problem with the Internet scene right now. It seems to generate such a buzz and a lot of people view it as a quick way to make a buck. A lot of business people think they can make an online business work and they always just assume that building the actual website is secondary to the idea itself. I think this skewed perspective will result in a lot of these companies failing – it’s no coincidence that the most successful web entrepreneurs could all code. Kul pointed this out to me and gave me a list of the greats – Max Levchin (PayPal), Evan Williams (Blogger.com), Sergey and Larry (You Know who they are), Pierre Omidyar (eBay) and so the list goes on. These guys could all code and this shouldn’t be a surprise – if you were opening a restaurant you wouldn’t think of hiring chefs as some secondary or minor problem that could be solved at a later point in time. So why do people think that actually building the website can be easily done? It’s not something that you get your mate who knows a bit of HTML to do in 20 minutes and it’s not something you can continually outsource to every Tom, Dick and Harry with a computer science degree. Ultimately unless you have someone at the founder level who can code, I think you’re going to end up in big trouble and product development will become your biggest bottleneck. Pretty annoying since it’s also the biggest factor in defining whether your idea will be a success or not.

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YCombinator!

Posted on October 24, 2006. Filed under: boso |

Just to drop some quick good news I’ve had recently – boso has been made it through to the YCominbator interview stage so we’re flying out to Boston next weekend!  For the non teccies – YCominbator is a very prestigious web incubator style organisation which funds and helps develop start-ups out in Silicon Valley.

I’m incredibly proud the fact that we made it through to the interviews as a London start up and whatever happens I’m sure it’s going to be an incredible experience in Boston!

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Recruitment, jobs and fostering a culture.

Posted on October 15, 2006. Filed under: entrepreneurship |

I’ve just finished reading <a href=”http://www.amazon.co.uk/Habits-Highly-Effective-People/dp/0743501535/sr=8-3/qid=1160930680/ref=pd_bbs_sr_3/026-6639538-1141204?ie=UTF8″>The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People </a>. I don’t want to go into a full on book review but I generally found it to be a very good read – the first three habits were the most powerful for me and have made me think a lot about working environments and cultures of all organisations.

Everyone knows about the efforts Google go to in ensuring their working environment is second to none but then again it’s not as though they are short of the cash needed to provide it. What I’m interested in is how to foster a productive environment, where people enjoy their work and are self-sufficient, within a start up where there is typically going to be a lack of structured organisation and funds. We’re bringing in a second developer tomorrow and this time I’m going to implement a few new things in an attempt to give him the clearest understanding possible of boso, which should hopefully maximise productivity and make boso a more enjoyable place to work.

  • Im going to write a short letter which will be given to all employees when they join. This letter sums up what boso means to me, why I believe in it, where I want it to go and how bringing in the right people will help us get there. The purpose of the letter is to give new recruits a better understand of how they fit into the company. It should also show that the key to a successful relationship is communication and the letter serves as a reminder of that.
  • Each employee should write a short mission statement which outlines their reasons for joining boso and what their overarching goals are (this shouldn’t be too specific). This will be displayed on a wall of the office and the purpose is both to ensure that we’re all clear on expectations and also to keep people going when things get tough (otherwise known as 9pm on a Fri evening and we’re all still in the office)
  • I’ll spend time with each employee going over their personal progress map. This sounds a lot like management garbarge but I do think it’s important to set targets for your staff and ensure that there is a built level of accountability (of which they should be aware) to map out the consequences of missing/achieving those goals. People should know what rewards there are for acheiving goals and what happens when they don’t, otherwise there is little incentive to ever achieve them

The cynic in me tells me that this is all a bit mumbo jumbo and something that sounds like a great idea but ultimately serves no purpose. And I completely agree with that when such things are implemented insincerely, if my only reason for investing more time in staff is to drive up productivity I’m sure it would be doomed to failure. However that’s not my only reason – I actually do want to foster an environment that is genuinely fun and dynamic to work in. I want people to share my vision for boso and I want them to feel part of the family. When you start seeing recruitment purely as a means to an end I think you’re opening yourself up to big problems. Especially as a start up – you just can’t afford to carry any deadwood and anyone who doesn’t feel energised or inspired by your organisation is deadwood, no matter how great their CV or experience is.

I’ll let you know how it goes! Apologies for the scarcity of recent posts, things have been a little hectic and I’ve been a bit lazy on the blog front but just putting down my thoughts on *virtual* paper has reminded me what a great expression blogging is.

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