Startup Bullshit

There are several common reasons a startup fails. Oftentimes there’s no market for the product, the idea was poorly executed, the startup was poorly ran or founders just got bored and gave up.

These mistakes are common amongst newbie founders and, to a degree, they have to be learnt by first hand experience. That being said, it’s really frustrating to see/read about smart people falling to these traps and I read an article on Medium today which damn near made me pull my hair out.

The article in question is titled “How quitting my corporate job for my startup dream f*cked my life up”. It’s not too long and is pretty well written – go read it now. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Ok, you’re back. This article made me want to bang my head against a brick wall as it featured a lot of the bullshit that’s involved with startups right now. Let me be more specific.

1. The author sought an escape in a startup

Startups are freakin’ hard. I don’t mean long-hours hard. I mean every single part is difficult. Hiring the right people. Developing a product. Identifying a niche. Marketing. Selling. None of these tasks are easy (the one exception being the tech side if you’re already a developer but truly full-stackers are rare).

The author clearly hated his job and wanted out. But like the dude who leaves his wife for a younger, seemingly-more-attractive model – he found out that nothing is perfect.

If you think that working for a startup is suddenly going to undo problems you have at work, at home or whatever then trust me: you are wrong.

What the author should have done was changed jobs. Get a gig where he can spend more time with his girlfriend and friends. Start to enjoy life, basically.

2. The author searched for an idea, rather than letting it come naturally

I can guarantee if you take twenty minutes of your time you’ll come up with what seems like a good idea for a startup. Look back on it in 24 hours and I bet you think it sucks.

The best startups are formed to solve problems that the founder has experienced first-hand and repeatedly. The author just wanted the startup life but (it seems) didn’t have the need thats required to run one. By need I mean that you feel the world needs this product, or at the very least that you do.

Founding a startup for the hell of it is like adopting a puppy because you like the idea of having a dog but aren’t prepared to deal with the mess.

3. The author tried to mask the struggle

Your friends and family are, in general, going to be very supportive of the leap you’re taking. They probably think the world of you and you don’t want to feel like you’re letting them down. But a major, MAJOR pet peeve of mine is how damn near every founder feels like they need to tell people they’re killing it. When asked how their startup is doing, 99% of founders (not a scientific statistic) will shoot you smile and tell you about increased signups, engagement rates, rapid pivoting or whatever. You know what you never hear? Honest replies like: “You know, I’m having a kinda shitty week” or “I’m really unsure whether there’s a market for our product”.

I don’t know why but founders seem to feel like they need to project this constant image of whirlwind, starry-eyed success. Like everyday they work at their startup is a trip to Disney World.

Guess what? Startups suck sometimes. You work in a constantly insecure environment. You’re always over-allocated. You don’t know the next time you’re getting paid. Sometimes you launch and no-one shows up. Yep, you can paint these things up as positives (“an exciting environment to work in!”) but they’re truly not. It sucks. Now of course there are positives that, in my opinion, outweigh the negatives (hence why I do what I do) but to pretend on daily basis that everything is rosy in the garden is just plain madness.

And if you can’t express your thoughts, feelings and experiences to those closest to you then who can you express them to?

4. The author had a naive definition of success

“Successful entrepreneurs are not necessarily those who raise millions of investment rounds”

I seriously needed to take a beat when I read this. I truly can’t comprehend why, oh why, an entrepreneurs success would be defined by raising funding. I don’t want to pick on him here because he only suggests that some people may harbour this view. However, it is a hyper common view that raising investment is some kind of win when it’s not.

Raising investment means you managed to convince one or a handful of people that you could be majorly profitable/popular in a few short years. It says literally nothing about how good your product is and if anyone will buy it. Multiply that by a thousand if its a seed round.

Taking on investment is another headache you’ll have to deal with and if at all possible (and most of the time it IS possible) you should bootstrap your company.

Defining success as raising investment is like a rock band prioritising getting signed by a big label rather than making good music.

5. The author provides nonsense startup advice

Okay so this part is obviously quite relative but the tips he gives feed further into startup bullshit.

“Are you ready for the social pressure?”

The only social pressure that you’ll feel as founder is that which you create yourself. This relates back to point number three above. If you’re constantly telling people how great your startup is doing then you’re gonna feel the need to continue that lie (if it is one). Honesty with yourself and others is the cure for said pressure.

“Do you have enough cash to last at least a year?”

Bullshit. You need enough cash to do you until you can build a product and validate a market. That shouldn’t take a year – it should take at an absolute maximum 6 months. Three months for a basic MVP seems to be a good rule of thumb (again, highly scientific).

Referring back to point number two, if you feel you *need* to create something you’ll find a way – trust me.

“Are you ready to sleep only few hours a day?”

Another statement that forced me to take a few deep breaths. I’ve written about this a bit already so I won’t go on too much but the notion that working long hours and skipping out on sleep will help you achieve startup success is absolute FALLACY. Yes, sometimes there are grinds but they should be few and far between. I’m sitting in my office at 6:15pm and I would’ve been out of here an hour ago but I decided to write this blog post instead.

Hey founders, you’re probably the most important part of your startup so it’s pretty crucial that you look after yourself. That means getting the recommended amount of sleep, nutrition, social activity and exercise every single day – with few exceptions.

All that being said…

So I might have been a bit hard on the author of the mentioned piece. I also may have portrayed startups in a negative light but it doesnt hurt to show the other side of the experience.

As I said it’s frustrating to see the same mistakes performed repeatedly (and for poor advice to be peddled). Maybe that’s just the way it always has to be for newbies but I hope not.

If you’ve any thoughts on this piece then be sure to leave a comment or get in touch.

App Store Dollars Don’t Go Further

So Apple are going to start pulling apps that reward social sharing/other app promotion from the App Store.

I’m pretty disappointed to hear this since the social share for extra cash option in my app Hipster CEO was a pretty popular bit of functionality. In the game, if you levelled up you could earn extra cash by sharing your achievement on Twitter or Facebook.

However, the discussion over on Hacker News has been around the suggestion that Apple should ban consumable in-app purchases completely. This topic  seems to split the community into two camps:

  1. iOS Developers who would be unhappy to see a drop in revenue.
  2. Gamers who loath IAPs as its difficult to tell just how much a game will “really” cost them.

I have written about mobile apps’  pricing problem before but its practically impossible to make & maintain a worthwhile app where the customer lifetime value is $1.99. I’m not saying consumable IAPs are the answer – I hate games that offer me the chance to hurry actions up by paying, they just feel kinda hacky to me. I’m happy to say that Hipster CEO has no IAPs but I sure wish I put them in there. The app has made me back the money it cost to develop but it’s not paying enough for me to maintain it (note: I’m building a new version that I hope will change all that). If you paid just under two quid for a game then you really don’t deserve an experience that lasts longer than it takes to drink a beer.

If you bought a second-hand console game and never played it twice, you wouldn’t complain. If you sank five bucks into a game at the arcade in twenty minutes, you wouldn’t complain. And if you paid over a tenner for a movie that sucked then you probably wouldn’t complain. All of these things cost more than the average app but for some reason, a certain group of people feel their App Store dollars should go that bit further.

That being said, I understand the complaint. I don’t think gamers mind handing over cash – its the lack of transparency that bothers them. If an app is marketed as free/cheap but really costs $50+ to get value out of it then it feels like a bit of swindle. Games like Farmville are a perfect example. However, gamers only have themselves to blame. The only alternative I can thing of over IAPs is subscription based models – games like Ultima Online – and they’re all dying out with World of Warcraft being the exception to the rule.

Maybe there’s a better way to monetise – I don’t know. If you’ve any suggestions then leave a comment.

What’s your anchor?


After launching a product, you’ll likely be inundated with feature (and support) requests. There will be features that tons of people ask for, others not so much.

The big reactions come when you make an update to your product, though. I get contacted on a daily basis by people who say my latest game is too hard. Others say it’s too easy. Some say it has a good UI, others say its really unintuitive.

It’s super important to have an anchor when faced when all this feedback is trying to pull you in different directions. An anchor in this case is an ideal that gives the good ship Startup the ability to take on the storm of this (sometimes vitrolic!) feedback.

The anchoring ideals for my app, Hipster CEO, are (in priority):

  1. Does this change improve the player’s understanding of how a real startup works?
  2. Does this change improve the overall app experience?

Like most things in life, these two questions are subjective so some expertise needs to be applied.

I’d encourage you, before you even begin building an app, to consider your anchors. Some good ones:

  • Does this change add value that people would pay more money for?
  • Will this feature be used by 80% or more of our customers?
  • Does this change come at the expense of another key feature?
  • Does this affect our main goal or key message?

When your business has a core belief then decision making gets a whole lot easier.

Where Snapchat’s value truly lies

My buddy Ed (@ClearPreso) recently wondered on Twitter what the real draw was on Snapchat and believes it just a flash in a pan technology. I wouldn’t blame him for making this assertion but I think he (like most people) doesn’t see it’s true value.

Some “experts” believe it lies in the push and hold requirement: “If your thumb is pressed against the screen, it’s very likely that you’re staring at what’s in front of you.”. Well, duh. But guess what? Sites like Forbes and put an ad right in front of me at the start too and I just skip it.

If Snapchat users don’t want to see ads then they won’t open them.

I’d probably open the messages I’d get from the likes of Heineken – companies that produce great ads, basically, who have solved the attention-grabbing dilemma by being creative (who’d have thought that would work!?).

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Yahoo and the curated web

It’s been a hectic 18 months that Marissa Mayer has spent in charge at Yahoo. Dodgy workplace restrictions aside, the company seems to be looking towards the future in light of the acquisitions made. So much so, I’m betting that in five years time Yahoo will be an ever present in our online lives just like Twitter/Facebook. Here’s why:

Yahoo is positioning itself in the centre of the curated web.

Obviously, I think the internet is great – it’s changed our lives faster (and possibly more) than any other technology has. Trouble is: there is a ton of noise. De-cluttering your web experience is a skill in itself. I’m not just talking about your social streams; I’m talking about news sites, shopping recommendations, etc. As a geek I’m able to figure out how to lower the noise pretty well (or, in the worst case, cancel an account altogether – I’m looking at you, Google+) but your average Joe Soap ain’t no nerd.

The web is still a really young technology that we’re only beginning to figure out and up until about now it’s generally been geared towards quantity over quality. This is fine for teenagers or anyone with a lot of time on their hands but adults generally want to cut to the meat and bones of what’s happening or what they’re looking for. Enter: the curated web.

The difference between today’s web and the curated web is quality – and this is where I beliebe Yahoo is going to nail it.

Facebook is a great place to see friends’ photos but they’re mostly lousy pictures. Flickr is generally used by professionals or amateur photography enthusiasts which guarantees a higher quality. Since Mayer joined, Yahoo is turning Flickr around.

Twitter rules. It’s great for connecting with people and viewing shared articles but sometimes I prefer to read the traditional news. Unfortunately, the best news sites are generally geared to the long-form which means that it’s hard to absorb the gist of an article by reading five or ten lines. Basically, I want quality and brevity and recent Yahoo acquisition Summly does just that.

In addition to these, Yahoo has bought up a raft of social recommendation services which means their very keen to learn about what blows your hair back.

At a time where most web companies are trying to get you to spend as long on their site as possible, Yahoo’s USP is giving you just (and only just) what you need in a faster way.

Should be an interesting 48 months.