Yes, it’s true. Entrepreneurs are not sane.
No sane human being would subject themselves to such a torturous ordeal of extreme highs (and lows) without much immediate rewards to show for it. And that’s why I am absolutely convinced that entrepreneurs are born, and not bred. It is the innate ability of an entrepreneur to absorb risks that set us apart.
Some people might think that coming up with good ideas should be the most important trait that defines an entrepreneur, but I beg to differ. Anyone can come up with a great idea, but it’s the ability to inspire others with this idea, to get them to buy into your vision, that is key. And not everyone can turn that inspiration into a business, let alone a sustainable one.
I’ve outlined three other traits (besides having a good idea, because you still need one) that I think are absolutely vital to starting your own business, and I believe that being a successful entrepreneur happens at the intersection of these traits.
It goes without saying that an entrepreneur needs to be able to stomach risk. There’s a lot of things that go wrong when starting your own business (and not much that goes right). So the ability to weather this storm, both physically and mentally, is a huge necessity for the individual. Some people have it, most people don’t and that’s okay. But don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can do it if you can’t. It will only hurt you in the long run.
This one is key, but is often overlooked. The reason being that out of the four traits I’ve described, this is probably the one you have the most control over. Sometimes an idea comes to you as an epiphany, you’re usually born with a specific limit of risk tolerance, and luck is something you can’t control and just happens. But persistence (or determination) is something that you have 100% control over. There will be many ups and downs with starting a business, but it’s an entrepreneur’s ability to power through these times, focus on the end goal and keep the faith that is of the utmost importance to the eventual success of your business.
Yes, luck does play a role in the success of an entrepreneur…unfortunately. But my view is this; luck is out there, buzzing around our paths, just waiting for us to be in a position to receive it. And that’s where persistence comes in. When you are persistent in what you’re doing, inevitably, you will put yourself in a position to receive some sort of luck that will help your business.
Let me give you an example. As an entrepreneur, the best places to meet future clients/partners/investors are at social networking events (not the online one, but the face-to-face kind). Most of the events are in London, but since we’re based in Manchester its sometimes a real pain to go down just for these events. A lot of times, I think to myself “not another one…I’ve already gone down there twice this week. Maybe I’ll just skip this one. What’s the harm? Plus, I didn’t have any luck at the other past events I’ve gone to and this one doesn’t seem all that interesting anyways”. However, after thinking this I’ll usually kick myself into gear and end up going, but I always wonder if it will actually be worth it.
But the ones I don’t usually want to go to and I least expect anything to happen from always turn out to be the best ones!
A lot of the time, I would meet someone that I otherwise would never have gotten a chance to talk to. I usually end the event thinking “wow, I’m really glad I went. That was awesome!”. So overcoming adversity, being persistent and staying the course ultimately yields rewards at the end, even though it might not be apparent from the outset.
Of course, there are other external factors to take into consideration when running a business (ie. who you work with, the environment you’re in, your support network, etc.). But from my own experience so far, I think the four traits that I’ve outlined are the most important to get your business from that initial conceptual idea to a sustainable, and eventually successful, business.
One of the biggest things that we’ve learned on this startup journey is that metrics matter. I know it’s pretty obvious but I think it’s more about when you should start measuring metrics as opposed to doing it for the sake of measuring something because the lean startup methodology told you to. I’ll give you an example.
My eldest son (he’s in Year 3) has to write a journal every day to practice his writing skills. To be honest, he doesn’t really like it as he likes math better so he gets careless sometimes. We always tell him to check his work before letting us check it but it seems to go in one ear and out the other. To try and get it into his head, we preach the standard parent line “when you practice every day you’ll get better…just you wait and see”. However, this whole concept of “getting better” without a means to verify it didn’t really help our cause and he was still making careless mistakes.
So I decided to implement a “mistake counter” for him. What this means is that he has to add up all the grammar, spelling and miscellaneous mistakes after every journal, and try to make less mistakes the next time he writes. This way, he has a concrete number to aim for and can see improvements himself, rather than us telling him to just “get better”. I didn’t really know how he’d receive it but I decided to give it a go.
Turns out, it’s working!
He’s actively making sure he minimizes his careless mistakes before we check it. Of course, he still makes mistakes (we all do) but at least it’s measurable and he’s really happy that he’s improving. So it’s making me a happy parent and he’s a happy kid, a win-win!
After seeing how important metrics are in this simple example, it has only reinforced to me how much more important metrics are in the live-or-die world of startups. So, if you haven’t implemented metrics in your startup yet….DO IT! But make sure you’re using it correctly.
Of course, it’s easier said than done so if you’re having trouble a good book to read would be Lean Analytics by Alistar Croll & Benjamin Yoskovitz (http://leananalyticsbook.com). I’m still in the process of reading it but I’ve found so far that it can apply to both B2C and B2B companies. Good luck and happy measuring!
I had a nice chat recently with one of our funders, Creative England. Here’s the interview in full:
It’s been a long time since we last wrote a post. This was due to several reasons: I had to finish my PhD (which I completed in September), we pivoted the direction of the business and had various personnel changes. We can talk at length about all the different reasons, but that’s for another blog post. In this one, I’d like to focus on our new business direction as we’re really excited about where the company is headed.
This post will be split into two parts. The first part describes what we did with our streaming music app and the lessons we learned. I feel compelled to tell this side of the story because it really helped shape how we got to our current position. The second part describes how we took what we learned and turned that into what we believe will be a sustainable and growing business.
Part 1. The Past
As you all know, the company started out with the big idea of revolutionizing the way advertising was experienced and consumed. This concept got us into the Collider12 B2Brand accelerator programme in London which jump started our road to the Billion Pound idea. We created our own free streaming music app (no ads, no subscription fee) in the hopes that we could gain traction rapidly and attract advertisers onto our platform.
Describing our music player in a nutshell, it showed other people’s “moments” with the song you were currently listening to so that you can experience what they experienced when they were listening to that song. This created a more social and connected music listening experience. It was a new way to discover new music socially, one that I hope someone in the future picks up on (Spotify / Rdio, I’m looking at you). The app was also beautiful, which was usually the first thing a new user would tell us. It was iOS 7 flat design before iOS 7 was released by Apple. So we thought we had everything tied down: the concept, the platform and the music licenses. Now all we needed was to convince brands to start putting their ads in there and we’d be in business because, I mean, how hard could it possibly be to attract a million+ users to our platform while giving away free full-length songs?
But what was that saying again? “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Yeah, that’s what happened to us. It wasn’t for lack of trying though, as our team did its very best to make it a success. But when we approached brands or advertisers, we ran into a few problems. The three most common were:
- They wouldn’t get on board without the user numbers
- They weren’t convinced of our vision as it was too hard to explain
- They wouldn’t pay for the music royalties
We essentially ran into the “chicken-and-egg” scenario in which we couldn’t get advertisers on board if we didn’t have enormous amounts of traction, but we wouldn’t be able to pay for the amount of music we were giving away unless we had revenue coming from the advertisers.
We also learned that giving away free music wouldn’t help sell the app (trying to buy word-of-mouth advertising) and that we actually needed money for marketing.
The numbers our app generated tell two different stories:
However, in terms of engagement numbers, it was through the roof.
Based on the feedback we received, we knew our concept of using music to connect people was solid but the way we delivered it was just too expensive for anyone to buy into. So now what?
We had to pivot fast as were were running out of time and money. So we took our special sauce (our knowledge in connecting music with people’s experiences), threw out the delivery mechanism (the streaming music app) and started over again.
Part 2. The Present
We knew that our strength was linking music to people’s behaviours, experiences and identities so we decided to start there.
One of the key elements that people liked about our app was using music to determine someone’s state of mind. But what if we could also use music to determine not just someone’s state of mind at a particular time, but also their personality overall. This was actually a part of my PhD research; how music can be used to figure out people’s identities or personalities. The reason being that there really is nothing more personal than the music we listen to.
Armed with this new idea, we set off to verify that we could build such an engine. Drawing on academic research (which I’ll touch upon in another post), we set out to turn raw quantitative music listening data into rich, insightful qualitative data about personalities. This is actually a part of our secret sauce as we’ve figured out an innovative way on how to do it. However, since music is so subjective, we need to continue collecting, testing and verifying this data in order to provide as accurate a view about people’s personalities as possible.
And that’s what we’re doing right now. Once we figure this out, there are a whole range of applications that could benefit from the results of our experiment (we have a few in mind and are already engaged in talks). We’ve had a great response so far, trialling the technology with a few companies and getting useful feedback to refine our system. But we’re not done yet. All of this work is required for our journey towards the holy grail of startups: product-market fit. It’s taken us quite a while to get to this point, but it’s definitely been worth it.
Understanding how and when to deliver the right content for great web and mobile experiences is essential if you really want your brand to be part of people’s life. So we’re constantly searching for ideas and solutions that make the digital journey feel relevant and less intrusive. There are simple tricks though, like the ad filters, that make the browsing experience feel a bit better with a no great effort.
So I’ve decided to feature as our first choice in the #ideaofthemonth series an add-on that we find useful and simple enough to be successful: AdPlus. We’d also like to support the startup’s initiative to launch AdGive, a mechanism to donate revenue money to charities.
AdPlus is a desktop Chrome browser extension, that doesn’t just block the ads, but filters the ones the user chooses not to see. The service is free and there’s no registration required, so it’s easy to just jump into testing. Right now, the extension looks for ads in the most common ad banner formats (468×60), skyscraper and the MPU (300×250) and blocks ads on Facebook and Google.
We went straight to the team who’s behind it, made up of Adam Freeman – Founder and Chynna Webley – Community Coordinator – to tell us more about themselves, the current interests and future plans of the startup. Here is what we found out:
Could you share a powerful insight from your users’ experience after installing AdPlus?
We recently conducted a survey amongst our users and found a small percentage of them had swapped to AdPlus because their adblocker had stopped working.
We took this information as people who want to see more relevant advertising and not block it all out – meaning there is definitely a market out there for our product. We want our users to be aware that they have complete control over their browsing and there are options other than completely eradicating adverts.
What motivation did you have for starting AdPlus?
Adam Freeman, Founder: “Previously, there was no in-between – you either put up with the adverts or eradicate them completely. Content owners are now being forced to put out more and more content, just so users can see more ads. However, they are not focusing on what their users actually want to see.
As a parent myself, it is worrying that children are increasingly becoming more tech savvy in this day and age. They have access to a variety of websites, but we don’t know what they could potentially be exposed to. Inappropriate ads may pop up that you wouldn’t want to your child to see. This leads to another question: do people actually care about ads, privacy or control? Looking at it, more and more users are starting to use ad blockers, which completely erase all trace of ads on the Internet. Meaning, that maybe they do actually care about what they see when they’re on the Internet. If they see ads that don’t necessarily appeal to them, it could disrupt their online experience, making them consider them as annoying. The key is to actually use adverts that are relevant to the user – which is where AdPlus comes in allowing users to control which adverts they do or don’t want to see.”
What is the USP that differentiate you from the competition?
There are quite a few. Firstly, our app is completely free. You don’t need an account to sign in making it very easy to use. There is no whitelisting of brands, meaning no brand gets preferential treatment. The use is given total control of their online experience.Most importantly, however, is that AdPlus is not an ad blocker – it filters ads you choose not to see and learns from your behaviours to give you the best possible online experience.
What information could we find on your blog?
We currently have three blog posts coming out every week covering a variety of topics. You can find posts on parenting, technology and general fun stuff. Although our product is central upon advertising, we aim to reach a wider audience with our posts.
What are your expectations and growth plans for AdPlus?
Our next plan is to launch AdGive, which is a way for people to donate money to charities just by being exposed to online advertising. We will give a percentage of our revenue to support various causes. Also, we plan to launch AdPlus on other browsers/devices within the next 6 – 12 months.
What was the last ad each member of the team blocked?
Adam: iPhone case ads from John Lewis
Chynna: Bodyshop ad