Monday: The Day of Lectures
Monday kicked off with Professor Tom Kosnik’s talk about Steve Blank’s model and Eric Ries’ Lean Startup methodology. To top it, he said that delight was an important part of doing business. It was a model I have not heard of so far. I wish I took a photo of it, and will share it if I see it.
Next, Harry George Harris, President of HealthCare California who has worked for numerous companies including the White House gave us his 12 tips of entrepreneurial success. His 12 tips are:
- Know the marketplace
- Know the competition
- Know the company finances
- Know the importance of cash flow
- Have firm control
- Have inner confidence and take charge of your thoughts
- Plan and execute plans, planning is keynote to success
- Inject reality into plans for action
- Hire smart
- Hit the ground hard
- Make it fun
- Keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive
My motto is always about hiring smart and never giving up in the idea. The shortened summary above does not look great on paper, but it’s great when he related it to real life experiences.
Tuesday: Interesting People
We are listening to a talk by Evan from Circle-App. He’s attracted 2 top engineers from India to work with him. He’s backed by angel investors and VCs. The app does a very simple premise: find friends or mutual friends via Facebook who are in your location. But this app is stellar in a few ways:
- Great design
- Solve one problem – niche and well
- Listen to feedback
- Showcases what IOS does best
Circle has more than 200,000 users and got featured on Apple Store. He wants to grow the user base and ignore the money strategy first. He figured out why is Circle good for “now”. Why he is a hot star: He started raising angel funding from 15 angels in the first round ($10 million valuation) and got a valuation of $36 million from Horowitz 3 months later.
During the evening, we had 3 stunning ladies to talk about social entrepreneurship. One was from Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation, another was Eve Blossom who created beautiful textile with women entrepreneurs from developing countries and Danae, CEO of IndieGogo.
These 3 ladies are hugely inspiring for their courage to step into a world to tackle really difficult problems: how do we select the best projects to give money to (Bill gates fund), how do we empower Cambodians to have a living and say NO to sex slavery (if they were poor, they will be sold off as sex slaves) and how can people find money to fund their passion/ideas? Most successful in their own individual way, they have all been very fortunate to find their calling and have the courage to pursue it. By the way, I believe that apart from Bill Gate’s foundation, the other two are FOR PROFIT (and raised a good amount of money) and yet still really change the world for a better place.
Wednesday: Raising Money and What Mentors Mean
We had Alex Haislip, a prominent author and someone who has done a lot of research on VC and how things work within the VC industry talk about how to raise funding from these institutions. Among the things that he said that stood out the most to me were:
- Pitch well – be very clear
- Go read all about the partners, where they are from, what is their background, how much is their typical investment, what sort of companies do they invest in, what sort of interests they have… and that would provide you the easiest way in
- He also cautioned a lot against VC because while they grow the company with money and connections, things sometimes get messy (CEOs have been displaced in favour of someone else with more “managerial experience”)
I also met my awesome mentor, Tiffany K from Klout today. She is the most aggressive networker and business development person that I know. She has been overly helpful to me, introducing me to some investors and even inviting me to a private yoga session so that I could network with the people in SV there.
What was impressive about Tiffany:
- She can talk to anyone
- She is REALLY willing to help
- She really took the mentoring seriously and did her best to provide value
- She was also seriously connected with VCs (shall not mention names here)
We also did a Startup Crawl where we went to 2 co-working spaces (there are plenty of cool ones around town which charge about $10-20 per day to work there and brainstorm/get some work juices flowing with other people in a supportive environment) and then headed to Twilio. Argh I so have to upload a video.
Twilio is the SMARTEST application out there. One company that I really admire although I do not know much about it. In my own words, I believe what Twilio does is to humanize interactions. E.g. when a customer signs up, instead of sending a thank you email, you SMS them. You can have pre-recorded voice calls out to them. The use cases of Twilio is endless and freaking cool.
Thursday: Learnings from New Tech and Slideshare
In the morning, we had a couple of people come over to speak about new tech and the one that stood out most to me was a 3D printer. I really believe that 3D printers will one day come to your house. I guess that does not sound amazing, but imagine this, from plastic, wood, metal etc, you can print your own CUP. You can print your own Screwdriver. You can print your own TABLE. You can print a HOUSE from a printer!!
That technology already exists although it is obviously a very expensive technology. It is expected that this is to be made available. So go on, guys, Google 3D printer and figure out what’s the future you can create.
At the end of the day, I got introduced to Sylvain, a back end systems ops guy from Slideshare, one of the companies I admire and recently got acquired by LinkedIn for more than $140 million. This company established itself as the YOUTUBE for presentations and it was so great to learn from Sylvain. I understood from him that although some startups are super profitable and rich, e.g. $30 million per year, they are content having a small office. They are very thrifty, they do not spend a lot on apps on management (analytics etc). It might not be a coincidence that Rashmi Sinha is female and an Indian and is therefore very smart about her finances! I have also long admired Rashmi for the work that she encourages within the female entrepreneurship cycle.
Friday: Mind Blowing Analytics
We met 3 important companies today (arranged our own meetups except for Udemy) and all 3 coincidentally had to do with either data or analytics but they were all 3 mind blowing people to meet.
First up was Jeremy Howard from Kaggle. Then Archie from Udemy. Third guys were almost the entire Kissmetrics team in SF (btw, the story is that I went on Quora and looked for Kissmetrics’ office address and self-invited myself to go to their office, which they accepted! Since they just moved in). Some highlights although I really do not know where to begin because this was the single MOST important talk/lecture I have ever heard about analytics:
- Builds their own analytics infrastructure to track everything. They can track from the first button that the visitor clicks on, from where they come from, how many days later do they pay, how many friends they refer, technically Everything. Because of that, Udemy really rocks. It is a HUGE competitive advantage because they know how to spend their marketing budget to bring users in
- They test and test and test, and use data to the max. They track what are the sign up rates for free courses, paid courses, how many clicks, how many stay back etc from each vertical. In other words, it’s almost as if they know which keywords on Google bring them the most paying customers, they can even track them long enough to find out what is their average lifetime value (how much a typical customer spends with the company until the day they drop out)
- Archie was so amazing- he even showed us the back end architecture which is usually super top secret and was so genuine about how they made things work.
- His tip for small startups – Find the email list with the biggest number of subscribers (e.g. AppSumo, Amazon) and get some new users in so that you can see how things work, what attracts them to stay etc. Even if it may not be profitable.
- One of the most awesome inbound marketing companies ever. (The other to me is Hubspot, Slideshare and Visual.ly – our competitor)
- What Kissmetrics does to get over 100,000 paying customers (maybe) and become a super profitable company:
- Hire smart. Everyone in the company is super smart, super data driven and is very passionate. They all came in via referrals. Their latest new hire, Nemo came in as a customer then got converted into employee. Nice!
- Write blogs. I mean this. If you have not subscribed to Kissmetrics blog and you are a marketer, you are missing out on the best articles that are sent out on a 2-3x per week basis. Because they have attracted such a huge following and they write such good quality materials, people believe in the product and it’s only a matter of time before they convert (Piktochart is so likely to sign up by the way)
- Listen to your customers. Kissmetrics when I checked out their demo version was about 5-6 months ago and I cannot believe how much it has changed since then! They have completely revamped the platform adding more new features, now it is like an analytics tool you cannot live without.
- Track, find a pattern, get customers to convert. Basically, they probably found out that users that do not come back in x number of days will never buy Kissmetrics so they keep hammering them with emails until these users keep coming back to check out new features or promotions (and are much more likely to sign up!)
These are super cool events that happened for this week, it was seriously packed with awesome stuff.
Signing off now!