Ideas are worthless

I have a book.  This book contains all my ideas, each clearly laid out with pictures, a unique business plan, an implementation plan and marketing plan.  I’m not talking about ideas with no market value, rather those that have undergone hundreds of hours of analysis and tuning.  These ideas are a finely detailed set of instructions on how someone would create a company from these ideas.  And they lie dormant, worthless.  Without a champion these ideas will never become real and have no more value than the paper they are written on. 

I attend lots of meetup groups and meet many people with many good ideas.  Many of these people in the idea phase is hesitant to share their idea because they think it may get stolen.

Here’s the truth, your idea is not unique, and somebody else is probably already building it.  The only way you have to get your idea off the ground is to share it and hope someone with your opposite skill set likes it enough to join you in your venture.  We live in a time when yes it’s easier and cheaper than ever to get a business started but more important than ever to have a cross functional team extremely well versed in a number of different areas.  No longer can a guy with no design or marketing skills throw some hardware together and slap their last name on the box and sell millions of units.  No longer can we build a basic CRUD application and expect it to be so unique users will want to check it out.  We live in a world where only a blend of the most talented talents from a variety of backgrounds and personas can create anything interesting enough to become mainstream. 

Building a better mousetrap may have worked years ago but it’s just not good enough anymore. For an idea to become anything more than some scribbles on paper it needs technology, marketing, social connection, design, manufacturing, capital, customer service, legal advisement, etc.  Without people to help you with all of these items, which you cannot do all on your own, your idea is and always will be just a worthless piece of paper.

Small Pond

I love long island. I think it’s one of the most interesting places you could raise a family and I’m proud to have grown up there. There is always something to do, the city is an hour away and yet you have enough options to be whoever you want to be.

However, for a young adult looking to make a name for themselves, Long Island, or any suburb for that matter is a step is actually a hindrance to their success.

We can use a fish tank analogy. Lets say you live in a little tank, you are ambitious, resourceful, and smart. You will undoubtedly grow larger than the other fish. Congratulations, you are the biggest fish in your little tank.

Contrast this with a huge tank, the size of a football field. You start small and vulnerable but if you’re meant to, you quickly grow into a substantial size if you survive. The same fish in the small tank has grown three times larger in the big tank, as a result of nothing else except their environment.

Lesson: Recent grads, if you want to grow to your potential, start in a place where you have the most opportunity and the most to lose. If you start on Long Island your career options will be limited for the rest of your career. If you start in NYC you’re potential will be limited only by the size of the fish you want to become.

 

Accountability

In the first part of my resume I list accountability as one of my greatest strengths.  I also pride myself on my ability to listen to feedback and act on it.   Recently I encountered a situation that showed weakness in two of my greatest strengths.

As a project manager I often have to gather troops to meetings they don’t wish to attend to work on things they have no interest in working on so our client gets what they want.  It was a Sunday morning, my day off, and I had scheduled a meeting with our senior offshore team.  I checked their acceptance in outlook shortly before our 8am conference call and they had all confirmed so I dialed in and waited.  5 minutes into the call the cofounder of  the company joined and was visibly unhappy that I was the only one on the call. The other attendees had forgotten and we cancelled the call.

After the call, the cofounder IMd me “please prepare better for the next meeting”.

Are you serious? This really ticked me off. Here I was working on my day off taking extra effort to get things accomplished and still I needed to prepare better?!

It turns out, after some reflection and rewriting this post a few times, he was right. H is the cofounder, he has full accountability of the company’s success. If people don’t show to a meeting it’s his duty to lead them to show up. For me, as his second on command, it is my job as well. In a startup, “i did my job, I setup the meeting” just isn’t good enough.  You’ve done your job once the meeting has happened.  If I am to be a leader, scheduling a meeting is certainly not leading. Setting expectations, meeting expectations and following up when these expectations are not met are all parts of true leadership.

Lessons learned from a startup failure

When I tell people the story of ReQey I often get the type of response you’d expect if you told them you’d gone snowboarding and broke a leg. It’s kind of “I feel bad” mixed with “what were you thinking, I told you so”. The only way you can keep going as an entrepreneur is to tell yourself it was a learning experience and learn from your mistakes.

ReQey was poised to become the next big disruption, possibly upending an entire billion dollar industry.   Capturing pictures of your keys using your mobile phone and being able to make a copy at any time could prevent 10′s of thousands of lockouts annually and after many other failed attempts, should have been my pathway to a startup success story.  Instead, a competitor beat me to market, out innovated, and out marketed me.  I wanted to write down some of my thoughts so I don’t make the same mistake next time and so other’s might learn from my experiences.

In 2001 I came up with the idea for ReQey when I got locked out of my car.  Before camera phones with only $5 to my name, my only option was to call my mom to scan me a copy via email.  I then printed it out, taped it to a blank key and cut a key with a file.

Fast forward until April 2012, after 8 years building software, when I finally figured out how to implement the solution.  I started building the technology and business plan.  By July I had enough in place to start pitching my idea at local business competitions.  Although I didn’t get accepted into an incubator program I was approached by an Angel Investor who graciously offerred to invest enough to get a prototype built.

Mistake #1 – I thought the prototype would be easy enough to build on my own and I had saved about 10k to finish the build and I thought giving up 5-20% was way too much so I didn’t take the investment.  I kept building it myself and added some outsourced expert labor  and got a prototype built finally by December, almost 6 months after I had been approached by the Angel.

Mistake #2 – from July – December I focused all my time on build.  I let my connection to the Angel dwindle and started thinking of other ways to get to the next step.

Mistake #3 -  My business plan projected $500,000 in annual revenues maximum so I was hesitant to raise venture money, becuase at such a low valuation I didn’t think they’d  be able to get their 10x returns without taking all my equity.  

Mistake #4 - In December I knew I’d have to raise money and was intrigued by Kickstarter and keeping all my equity.  So I began crafting a pitch.  A few friends were video experts so free is always better.   We began the video, spent about 6 weeks full time as none of us were really experts and sent it off to KickStarter.  2 weeks later we heard back – the verdict was they didn’t believe it could work based on the video so we needed to resubmit with more details.  At this point my video connection had donated many hours and I felt bad asking them to do more work, plus scheduling didn’t work out so well, additionally I didn’t really know how to show off the product in a better light.   Another 4 weeks went by, and another.  Months now in total since the start of the fundraising process and I had run out of money, run out of momentum.

I finally got the movie updated on my own using imovie and was ready to go live on Kickstarter.   I had been reading about some other people trying to do a similar approach and started reaching out to see why they never got it off the ground.  As I planned my prelaunch, I also inadventantly started getting more and more discouraged.  My market research started to show people were very hesitant about the idea.  I kept on track though for my kickstarter Launch in late June.  The weekend before the campaign was scheduled to go live I got an email from a friend, it was a competitor.  They had launched a Kiosk that performed the exact same functionality ReQey was scheduled to offer.  I was crushed.

Mistake #5 – I removed the kickstarter campaign and spent a week analyzing the situation.  I still had a differentiator in that I was a mobile app, they were a kiosk.  However seeing they had raised $2.3mil in venture capital made me nervous, angry, and hesitant.    This dollar amount took whatever ambition I had left.

My business model could never justify that kind of raise, how could I even compete if I couldn’t even convince myself I could be worth that much?  A years worth of time felt like it had gone down the drain.  I sat on it for a month or so and picked myself up, promised I would at least try to get what I could from my sweat equity and at least bring it to market.   Afterall I had a mobile app, they did not.

Nail in the coffin – I spent a little time rebuilding my network, getting people interested again with the intention to relaunch the kickstarter campaign.  However,always a step ahead the competitor launched a mobile app.  Not only that, but my business model called for a $2/month subscription, the competitor gave it away for free.  With no competitive advantage, no money, no way kickstarter could take off, I gave up.

in summary, the following are the mistakes that lead to ReQey failing

  • Execute quicker
  • Don’t try to do it all on your own and lose momentum trying to fill a knowledge gap, instead partner with people with different skillsets
  • Don’t be afraid to raise seed money when creating a revolutionary product 80% of something is more than 100% of nothing
  • Don’t be afraid to raise venture money – your competitor probably already is
  • If a competitor raises money, don’t let it discourage you immediately – if nothing else it validates your business model

 

Unlock your business’s potential with an API

Having worked as a software developer for many years in the credit & banking industry, I came to realize how much of the day to day was spent on maintenance. Most of my days were spent maintaining legacy systems and occasionally writing minor enhancements for existing systems.  The biggest innovation we could hope for was a few year project to put a chat system in place.   I wrote about this many times during my MBA research, mostly out of frustration.  However, in my new role at Personetics where we integrate into many different Financial Institutions, I’ve come to find this ‘maintenance mindset’ is practiced in most organizations.

In many mid-size banks, especially those built upon a system of record like FIS, Fiserv, & Jack Henry, I offer you a challenge, one that many new successful tech companies have employed: Build a set of Web Services for your organization.

Like these new tech companies, if you offer webservices or an API – you can focus on your core business while other companies and services can easily augment your platform without large development costs.

Let me give an example. Personetics can provide personalized financial insights and an automated chat to almost any Financial Organization. However, we need the bank’s data to do this effectively.

We could use the Service provider’s APIs (e.g. FIS connectware) but we don’t want access to your PII and you’ll probably want to filter out other proprietary information. Direct

We could write our own hooks into your system, scrape data from your websites, interface into your databases, which will take a lot of time (months), increase costs, and increase project risks.

Scrape

We should connect to your API that you created and control, limiting our access to your data & your customer’s secure info.

API

If you have a set of webservices we can integrate them quickly in a matter of weeks, not months. That means in weeks you could have a virtual agent to augment your live chat and support your customers better than ever before, lower operational costs, and crossell directly to highly targeted customers.  Even better, once a set of Webservices is built you can scale it to many other products/services without having to do any additional work! Lower costs, increase product offerrings, increase time to market, lower risk – “Webservices = opportunity”

Intervention

My name is Scott and I’m an addict.  It started in Middle School, I got hooked on my first try, ‘slinging lolypops’.  Within a few hours I knew it was what I needed to survive.  Everyone around me thought it was so cool they started doing it too.   They however were able to walk away, to lead the normal life.

Time went by and I yearned for it, although I didn’t touch it again for a few years until I joined a rock band it hit me even harder.  As the leader of the band it was my duty to do it more and lead the rest of the band to do it too.  Some members couldn’t take it and they moved on, while I watched others travel down the same dark path I had.  10 years later they are still hooked and I blame myself.

After high school I got clean for a while.  At my first real job in college I started sneaking out back to just finish that last little bit I hadn’t finished the night before.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I’d come back from break late and obviously frazzled, but was still able to maintain my composure.

Then I met my girlfriend and sobered up.  She wanted to be the focus of my life and I clearly couldn’t manage both, so I chose her, for a while…   As time went by I started dabbling again.    Now with her as a support system I was able to get even deeper than ever before.  Several times I lost everything I had been working towards and had to start over from scratch, but my wife was always there to support me.   They say you’ll fail a lot before you succeed, but I still don’t know how to make that happen.  Last year I pushed so hard I ended up in the hospital with a heart arrhythmia   I was doing 2 at once and was even dipping into my friend’s stuff.

I’ve done what I thought were the right things, I worked my way up the corporate ladder, I went back to college to earn an MBA, I’ve attended numerous meetings and networking events to find a support, but I still haven’t found the right way.   I’ve spent every cent of savings I had and even borrowed money from friends and family.  I’ve spent countless nights away from my family in a dark little room, oblivious, mumbling things only I could understand, writing on walls, staring blindly at the computer.

I’m scared I’ll never find my way, I’m out of ideas and hoping you could help. Since I can’t quit, I’m looking for others to do it with me.  Please let me know what you’re into.

Sincerely,
Scott – Startup Owner/Entrepreneur