Posted by: T.D. Inoue | November 13, 2011

Don’t Outsource Your Soul

One of the first rules of entrepreneurship is “don’t outsource your soul.” And yet, it’s so damned difficult not to. I’ve recently come to grips with this myself and its a painful lesson.

As an entrepreneur, from the day you conceive of your idea, you’re going to be overwhelmed with things to do. This was more than true for my wife and I when we started OurKudos. We were trying to get all the legal aspects handled, deal with trademarks, hire and manage employees, create ambitious marketing plans, deal with social networking, design products – the list is never-ending.

And so we had to decide upon a distribution of labor. Since we weren’t really familiar with the most effective ways of utilizing Twitter and Facebook to market ourselves, we hired consultants to guide us through the process. That in itself was good. They helped educate us so that we had a much better understanding of these platforms for getting our message out. But then we made a fatal flaw – since our hands were so busy, we hired someone to manage our social presence, and this has been a disaster. We outsourced our soul.

I’m especially pissed because I know better. I knew that it was OUR job to do these things because only we know our message and tone well enough to engage others and share our passion. And as CEO, it is my job as the public face of the business to do this. Personally.

I could go on and on about all the missteps we made. About the wasted time and frustration. About the wasted money. Ugh.

Instead, I’ll just add to the chorus of voices reminding you not to outsource your soul so that hopefully, you can avoid making the same stupid mistake I did.

Posted by: T.D. Inoue | August 19, 2011

Interviewing

No original content in this post, just a reference to Jeff Hoffer’s blog post about hiring/interviewing. He says it much better than I!

 

This is likely to be somewhat controversial, but I want to share it with you regardless…

I spent most of my teen and early college years depressed. Seriously depressed. It was a horrible time of my life that made it difficult to get things done. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t feel like anybody cared if I lived or died. I felt totally alone and worthless. I almost got thrown out of college because I slept through most of the the second semester of my freshman year.

But I got lucky, really lucky. The summer after my freshman year, my father gave me a challenge that pushed my problem solving skills to their limits, giving me the opportunity to discover what I was really good at while gaining public acclaim for doing ground-breaking work. That summer changed my life and set me on the positive path, showing me that I was worthy. It proved that if I set my mind to something, I could do great things.

That summer when I was 19 reprogrammed my brain. I learned first hand that my self-doubts were false. This wasn’t anything that someone could have told me, I had to hit bottom personally. I had to prove to myself that my fears were unfounded. It was incredibly hard, but it was liberating. To this day, my personal mission is to help others realize their true potential as my father did for me.

What does this have to do with “It’s All GOOD!”, entrepreneurs and depression? Everything!

If you’ve ever experienced depression, you know that when you’re in that state, it’s difficult or impossible to be productive. You’re lost in a morass of self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-pity. The last thing you can do is attack an audacious task while people are telling you that what you’re trying to do is worthless or impossible. But that’s what entrepreneurs face every day. In order to be an entrepreneur, you have to be able to say “It’s All GOOD!” when others see your ship sinking. The way to do that is to follow your passion and to throw yourself 100% into something you love.

Being an entrepreneur requires a certain amount of irrational optimism. You have to be able to plow ahead without support from anybody. You have to be able to take rejection, time after time. You have to work while people around you tell you all the reasons why you’re going to fail. So, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you simply cannot afford to get depressed.

(I have add a disclaimer because I know people read things the way they want to. I am not judging people with clinical depression. Far from it.)

Posted by: OurKudos | June 18, 2011

What do you do when you’ve been ‘scooped’?

Photo Credit: Steve Hodgson

Twice this past month, I’ve found sites that are very similar to what we’re currently developing – eerily so. It’s like we were all working from the same play-book. Each time, my heart dropped, but we’re continuing on. Why?

The first thing we did, once I got over the disappointment of discovering that our ideas aren’t unique, was to look more closely at what they had done. Whether they failed or are succeeding, I ask “why?” I look at them like free market research experiments. It’s much easier to look at someone else’s product and critique it honestly than it is to do so with your own creation. So we turn them inside and out, looking at user feedback and comments. What do people like or dislike? How could it be better? Do we like the product? Would we use it ourselves?

At the same time, I have to ask: “is this like another pizza shop in the same spot as the last one that failed?” Let me explain. I live in an area filled with pizza joints. A good number of them fail, only to be replaced by a basically identical restaurant. Don’t the new owners realize that if you do the same thing, you’re going to get the same results? So we look at our product and compare it to the others. Are we doing anything significantly better? Are we just travelling down the same, worn, dead-end road?

What did they do wrong? Why hasn’t their product caught on? Was it an execution problem or is it just an idea that doesn’t resonate with people?

So far, we think our product will have better execution, marketing and certain “secret sauce” features that will allow it to succeed where others have failed. However, in the meantime, we’re going to keep learning from these free experiments that others are running for us.

Posted by: OurKudos | June 14, 2011

Juggling

Being an entrepreneur often feels like being a juggler, except instead of batons, you’re juggling people’s lives. The stress is palpable yet so is the excitement of bringing together a group of people to accomplish something great. So you push through the fear, the self-doubts, the failures, knowing that they are what separates you from your eventual success.

I’m lucky, because Evy, my partner and wife, works together with me like these two fellows. All day long, and sometimes all night, we juggle our respective responsibilities, tossing them back and forth while trying not to drop any. But it’s not at all easy.

Read More…

Posted by: OurKudos | May 31, 2011

Keep your eyes on the ball and learn from the experts

One of the hardest things I’m finding during the startup process is keeping my eyes on the ball – that is, guiding the company consistently towards our launch goals while at the same time, continuing to follow what’s happening in the “real world”. Combining that with continual learning so that I don’t get stale and trying to get everything else done, well, it’s exhausting!

One thing I do is take regular bicycle rides where I listen to podcasts and audio books. It’s the only time I have to myself where I can actually listen to things that require thought! Right now I’m “reading” the amazing history of Google by Steven Levy called  “In the Plex” and I just finished Jane McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken” – a wonderful book that talks about how gameification can be used to better the world. If it weren’t for my bicycle rides, I would miss out on all this quality learning time, something no entrepreneur can afford to do!

Even so, it’s challenging to juggle so many balls because it’s not just my own work that I have to ensure is on track, it’s that of the entire organization.

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Posted by: OurKudos | May 26, 2011

Face-to-face meetings are really important!

When you’re in the early days of a startup, you tend to be on an emotional roller-coaster. Great successes one day, abject failure the next. If you don’t have extreme resiliency and passion for what you’re doing, you’ll just say ‘screw it’ and give up.

This past week was the roughest ride of the OurKudos startup. I had been getting pressure from a number of people inside and outside the company, as well as the little voice in my head because we still didn’t have anything visible to show after quite a few months of development. Sure, I had made prototypes in the first few weeks after the initial idea, but we didn’t have any REAL working prototypes or website. So when the PR company, once again asked “when are you going to launch? Don’t you have a site up yet?” followed by my most trusted technical cohort suggesting that we might want to go back to the drawing board, I really snapped!

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Posted by: OurKudos | May 19, 2011

Gaming the system

Every generation, there is an idea so powerful that it changes the world. In our generation, I believe that comes from “gaming the system.”
By “gaming the system,” I don’t mean cheating, I mean literally adding gaming to our system of life – incorporating the aspects of gaming that make it so compelling into our daily life.

Jane McGonigal is doing just that. She’s dedicated her life to helping create systems that encourage people to better the world by solving the toughest problems. Already, thousands of people are participating in her “games” and she’s gaining national press coverage including an appearance on The Colbert Report” as well as appearing as a speaker at the prestigious TED conference.

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Posted by: T.D. Inoue | May 18, 2011

Enough is Enough

As an entrepreneur with limited resources, I’m constantly forced to evaluate whether we’re doing the right things as opposed to just doing things right.  Mark Suster wrote about this in his blog, in this article. He reminds us about how so many people get stuck in a rut trying to do things right without proper consideration for whether they’re solving the right problem. He finishes his post with:

As management your job is to make sure that everybody understands how their initiatives tie into the overall company strategy.  Do the hard work and try to define your companies objectives and get them on paper.

It’s some of the best advice I’ve read, and I force myself to go back and do this on a regular basis. Even so, I find it difficult to carry out.

We’re currently working towards our main site’s first release. Without this, we have nothing to show – we’re just a concept. Plus, we’re not getting any user feedback, so we have no idea if we’re doing the right thing. Getting the website out the door is the company’s top priority.

I’m getting impatient. It seems like forever since we started and we get bogged down trying to perfect things – tweaking graphics, getting every word just right, making sure our code is just right. But are we working on the right things?

Our company is cursed with experience – most of us our older and have had been through multiple businesses We’ve seen the mistakes made by rushing products out the door. We’ve suffered with the consequences of bad architecture and poor implementation. So we’re trying to do a really good job. Too good a job.

What should we be doing? The problem is, until we get something out the door and gett user feedback, we don’t have much more than a hunch. We think we’ve got a great product but we simply won’t know until it’s launched. This is why I think young, inexperienced entrepreneurs do better in the internet era. They’re impatient – they throw ideas into the wild and get valuable business insights. They might iterate 20 times before we get our first version out the door. Sure, they’re first version probably sucks, but they’re learning from it. Meanwhile, we’re drinking our own Cool-aid, trying to craft the perfect product when we really should be focused on launching and learning if anybody wants what we’re spending so much time crafting.

How do you tell experienced professionals to do a crappy job? “Guys – put a shitty product out, ok? I need to get a read on our market response” Forget it! It’s not happening.

But there is a point where you have to say “enough is enough” – no matter what you do, it’s not going to be perfect and you might have just wasted 6 months perfecting the wrong thing.

So my difficult task now is leading the team through this. Our goal is not perfection. Our goal is getting a decent product out the door so we can get feedback and improve it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Enough is enough.

Posted by: T.D. Inoue | May 10, 2011

What’s The Point?

This post is not what you think it is.

What’s The Point? Glad you Asked!

The point is the single person who’s mission is to ensure the success of a given project. They are the focus of activity around a project. The Point is like the product evangelist and product manager rolled into one.

This doesn’t mean that The Point is responsible for every part of the project, just that it is their focus. When somebody wants to learn about the status of a project or suggest ideas, they go to The Point.

In these early stages, Evy and I are taking a very active role with the various project Points. We’re setting the direction for the company and ensuring that each Point is producing work that is consistent with the overall goals of the company. However, as we grow, it is our goal for the Points to become increasingly independent.

Why Have Points?

Look at the history of failed projects of all sorts and you’ll find that many lacked a clear point. They started as an idea and then maybe they were passed off to somebody to do. At that time, the project becomes someone’s ‘task’ or worse, a ‘chore.’ These types of projects often languish and die because nobody really cares about them. They have no Point.

Other projects fall into a limbo between points. They might be diffuse and lack focus. Lines of responsibility become blurred. When problems occur, fingers get pointed and nobody takes ownership. A successful project must have a single Point.

With a Point, everybody knows where the buck stops. They know who to go to to request features. Management knows who to talk to for status reports and to whom they should give direction. A point is THE focus of the project.

Perhaps more importantly, a Point is the person who loves the project. They nurture it and care for it. It is their baby. It is their role to ensure that the project grows up to reach its true potential.

THAT is The Point!

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