Ian's blog


*Filtering posts tagged startups

  • Helping people on their business and career journeys.

    I like helping people on their business and career journeys. For those that can’t make it to London for my Fuel Safaris, I offer coaching and mentoring via Skype and Facetime (packages start at £125/ $150 an hour).

    Recently I’ve been working with Nana, an early stage entrepreneur behind an edtech business in California. I’ve been helping her improve her storytelling skills and also acting as a sounding board as she develops her business idea. I recently met up with Nana in Dublin, and she shared some feedback about working with me.



  • What's the point? Figure out the value by playing around first.

    Finding a sandwich bar in a foreign city that offers gluten-free bread is rarely easy. But last week in Barcelona I found one.  And there was only one reason I’d found Conesa: foursquare.

    I have to admit - even as a user - I’d often questioned the value of the location-based app foursquare. When I went to SXSW in 2009, people were using it to find out where the parties were (alas I didn’t have a smartphone then, so I was out of the loop). In those early days of the app, it seemed like many of us were using it as bragging-tool, letting our Twitter followers know we'd just arrived at a trendy NYC bar or an upper class airline lounge (fortunately most of us disabled auto-sharing on Twitter long ago). Founder Dennis Crowley describes it as a service that ‘combines social networks, location awareness and game mechanics to encourage people to explore the world around them’. Which rings true, but still doesn’t nail the value for the user.

    So whilst there were many fellow foursquare users in my network, few of us could have nailed its value back in 2009/10. Some were hooked by the gamification element, delighting in unlocking the badges that came with more check-ins, checking their weekly score. Sometimes the obsession became antisocial: I remember several meetings where the other person spent the first 60 seconds fumbling in their laps to check in to their venue on their phones.

    I’m still on foursquare today, although I’m inconsistent in how I use it. I may check in at venues in London, but not at ones in my own neighbourhood. Sometimes I don’t want everyone to know where I am so I won’t check in at all. And if I’m working with a new client, I don’t think it’s my prerogative to announce that I’m at their offices unless I’ve cleared it with them first. So my foursquare data is not a full reflection of my movements.

    My experience has reminded me that the value of a product or service is not always instantaneous, you need to play around with it before you 'get it'. So all these years later, here’s my ROI from being on foursquare:

    1. A special restaurant finder. As I’m gluten-intolerant, it’s hard finding restaurants and cafes that cater for me in a city I don’t know. Traditional search engines throw up too much noise - search on ‘gluten free restaurant Barcelona’ in Google and there’s a lot of irrelevance . But try searching ‘gluten free’ (or better, ‘sin gluten’ in Spanish) on foursquare and the results are specific to user tips at actual venues.
    2. A recommendation engine. When you’re in a new city and check in at different types of places (cafes, bars, art galleries), foursquare connects the dots with other user’s behaviour. Recently on a trip to Amsterdam foursquare told me that others who liked the cafe I’d been to and the gallery I’d visited also liked a suggested bar, which I then tried. Unsurprisingly it was my kind of place. It knows my habits.
    3. A location-based connector. Sometimes others in my foursquare network have found themselves near me with time to spare, and got in touch saying they happen to be on the same street. I’ve had several unplanned meet-ups with people that way.

    So sometimes it takes time - and time to play - before you figure out the value of a digital product. Of course founders need to define the value of a service at launch, but once the product is out in the wild they also need to be brave enough to listen to their users about where the real value lies.

  • What have you shipped?

    When I first met Guy Kawasaki back in 2011 (when I was writing my third book ‘Zoom! The Faster Way To Make Your Business Idea Happen’), he spoke about the importance of shipping. As he explains in this short video, “you’ll know more about your product after the first week shipping than 52 weeks thinking about it (in) focus groups”. Seth Godin echoed this, saying: “Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.” 

    I love this. The act of shipping is where we should all be heading, and it’s not just a lesson for startups with tangible products. What use is a blog post still sitting in draft, a product not launched or an idea never delivered? If you don’t ship your ideas you don’t stand a chance of making an impact, getting noticed or building your reputation. 

    So I liked Todd Sattersten’s #YearInReview list (inspired by Seth) that captures all that Todd shipped in 2012. This exercise is more than just bragging; it’s a benchmark for what we actually commit to executing, versus what we talk about doing. Sure, you might have had a stack of ideas last year but how many did you have the courage to convert, to stick your head above the parapet and deliver? 

    They might not all be physical products in jiffy envelopes (like my my most recent book), but everything I shipped last year is just as important: these are my own products, the stuff I make, what I get paid by. So with thanks to Todd (and Seth) for the idea, here’s my own list of what I shipped in 2012:

    1. an assignment for a marketing agency, helping them tell their story & capture their thinking
    2. 12 articles for the Financial Times
    3. a bunch of audio reports for Monocle magazine
    4. my fourth book 'Mash-Up! How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier'
    5. two assignments helping businesses tell their story online
    6. an assignment helping a tech business position a new product for market
    7. an assignment identifying fresh commercial opportunities for a client’s product
    8. guest columns for Virgin.com, TomPeters.com, Fast Company, The FT and Elite Business magazine
    9. a video for a client, from concept to production 
    10. Skype coaching/mentoring 
    11. 24 blog posts and a bunch of video posts/ interviews

    So whatever you do this year, whatever your dreams, goals or aspirations make sure you focus on shipping it. Press ‘go’...!