Product & Startup Builder

Time to get started

Added on by Chris Saad.

In times of change, new opportunity is always created. Always. Many have written on the opportunity created by this economic downturn. Here are some of the excerpts:

Mick from Pollenizer writes:

1. You don't need a boom to grow. 2. Better access to great people. 3. A slump doesn't stop spending, and it increases in some areas. 4. There is still money available if you look hard, and you deserve it. 5. The community is still here to support you. 6. The big guys cut back on R&D letting you do the innovating. 

Paul Graham writes:

The economic situation is apparently so grim that some experts fear we may be in for a stretch as bad as the mid seventies.

When Microsoft and Apple were founded. ... If we've learned one thing from funding so many startups, it's that they succeed or fail based on the qualities of the founders. The economy has some effect, certainly, but as a predictor of success it's rounding error compared to the founders. ... So maybe a recession is a good time to start a startup. It's hard to say whether advantages like lack of competition outweigh disadvantages like reluctant investors. But it doesn't matter much either way. It's the people that matter. And for a given set of people working on a given technology, the time to act is always now.

And Rajesh Jain writes:

For entrepreneurs, they need to forget about the craziness around and just focus on the business and market. The stuff that's happening has little or no impact on the business of most early stage companies — in most cases, their revenue base is too small to see any negative impact from "market conditions." So, any sales person giving market slowdown as a reason for not meeting targets needs to be given a talking to!

I also think this is a great time to get alternative / disruptive ideas to consumers and businesses. Everyone is much more receptive to  discussions about solutions which provide better ROI. (And without a simpler, cheaper solution, entrepreneurs don't really have much of a chance anyways.)

Getting started today with the right idea is indeed an attractive prospect. If, however, you are two years in to your company and looking for extra funding without real traction or poof points, times are going to get very tough.
 
For startups in this category, I would suggest taking a long hard look at the value you bring to the table, and finding a partner who can absorb and propel your assets through these tough times.
  
I was interviewed fo the NYT on Friday on this very subject. I suggested the same thing to the reporter.
 
More conversation over on Silicon Beach as well (I got many of my snippets from there).
 

Are you home sick?

Added on by Chris Saad.

In less than a week, I will be on a plane flying back to Australia for at least a month. It will be the end of my 6 month long US Trip. 6 Months away from 'home'. The first thing people ask me when they hear that is "are you home sick". The honest answer is I'm not really. I like the challenges and opportunities that come with being here in the Valley and traveling around the world meeting people to share ideas with.

There are things I miss though. I miss having a 'home'. I've been couch surfing and traveling so much that even a few days in one spot is a welcome respite. But in reality I have not really had a 'home' for 6 months.

I have missed spending time with my younger brother. He's at a time in his life where he has really needed me around and it has been hard to know that I can't be there like he needs.

I miss knowing exactly where I am. I can drive around my home town blind folded. That being said, though, I am finding myself getting very comfortable with the bay area. The little Pontiac Solstice that my good friend Bill lent me has been very fun to drive around.

Those are the sort of things I miss.

Hopefully my few month stint back 'home' will allow me to 'recover' and I will then head back here with a full work visa, a place to live and the next chapter of my life.

In the mean time. I am having a little dinner tonight with some close friends and I have a stack of meetings left to do. Then a 14 hour flight. I will need a sleeping tablet!

American Politics

Added on by Chris Saad.

As many of you know - I have been visiting in the US now since the end of January (with a short stint in Europe in the middle). I am loving it. Particularly here in San Francisco and the Bay Area specifically. It's an amazing place where amazing things are getting done every day. But I have made an observation in my travels that I thought I would write about today.

American Politics is a fascinating spectacle. And I don't just mean the politics of government, but the politics of business, community and culture as well. These patterns, trends and reactions are consistent in all sorts of other political interactions here.

The themes go something like this.

If you have been doing something for a long time and talk about very practical, operational things, then you must be good at whatever you do. You typically talk about being against something than for something else.

If you are new to the process and/or attract large crowds of new people, then you are interesting and inspirational but you surely can't have any substance to your message. You typically talk about being for something rather than against something else.

These two positions are always seen as polar opposites. Many people seem to refuse the idea that someone who is new can also have substance. Or something that is experienced may actually need new blood and new ideas.

It's a politics that fights not the ideas on their merits, but the way those ideas are derived, or who proposes them.

There's also a tendency to focus on what 'has worked' rather than what 'could work' - or what has worked in other organizations or other structures outside the immediate scope of inquiry.

Universal Health care for example. Surely the government can't look after our health right? They couldn't even look after the victims of Katrina. Of course, if we look beyond the borders of the United States it's clear that every other 1st world country does have Healthcare backed by the federal government and it works well to create a safety net for their people. It's a simple observation that allows the conversation to move beyond 'could it work' to 'how could we make it work for us'.

There's often a lack of subtlety - a sense that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than taking the good and building on it. Making what is work for us.

As I said, I love this country and my experience here has been amazing - I hope it continues in fact. But as always, I will continue to look for patterns and see if they can be improved. At least in my little corner of the world.

Some of this also comes down to an idea I posted on Twitter the other day - I think it explains some of my thinking in this area.

"We need to extend the time frame inside which we evaluate what is in our best interest"

Everyone acts in their best interest. It's inevitable and irrefutable. But if you open the window from 1 month or 1 year to 5 or 10 years you realize that what's actually in our personal best interest is actually in the best interest of many other people too.

But that's a post for another day.

I'm on the Anthill 30 under 30 list.

Added on by Chris Saad.

Anthill is the leading entrepreneurial magazine in Australia. They have released a list of the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30. Somehow, someone hacked the list and added my name! From the magazine:

They collectively turnover hundreds of millions of dollars each year, yet some are barely out of university. They are proud to be Australian but see their home-grown success as little more than a stepping stone. They have never known serious recession, political instability or significant global conflict, yet they are better educated and better informed than new business owners of any generation preceding them. Meet the future of business in Australia.

...

Chris Saad Age: 26 Location: Queensland Company/Role: Faraday Media

At 26, Chris Saad is one of Australia’s most impressive young web entrepreneurs. His theory and practice around web standards – specifically “DataPortability” and “Attention Management” – have gained significant traction and are set to have a profound impact on the evolution of media in the digital age. Saad has co-founded several web-related companies and organisations, most prominently Faraday Media in 2006, of which he is CEO. Faraday Media is developing Particls, a technology that learns user habit and taste and delivers relevant information to them via news crawler, SMS, email, flash visualisations, etc. He also co-founded the Media 2.0 Workgroup with 14 industry “commentators, agitators and innovators”. There’s no shortage of ideas or energy in this digitally-minded entrepreneur. One to watch in the years to come.

Make sure you click through to the Article, subscribe to the mag and read the other 29 profiles!

Of course, singling out 30 'front men' does not really do justice to the real people who work tirelessly to make successful business happen. People like my business partner and co-founder who actually builds our Faraday Media products Ashley Angell. Like our investors, our team, our advisors and supporters who make everything possible.

To all of them and to our customers and partners - thank you for making this sort of thing possible.

I also look forward to clicking through to the other profiles and learning more about the other people listed - seems like a great group of Aussies!

Violent Opposition

Added on by Chris Saad.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about leadership and this quote keeps coming to mind.

"Great thinkers have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds" - Albert Einstein

Ever wondered why that's the case?

I think It's because genuinely new ideas usually disrupt old ideas - therefore new ideas appear at odds with an old way of thinking. When something is at odds with the way you think, your brain interprets it as 'wrong'. So therefore often what you percieve as 'wrong' is just something outside your experience.

Interestingly, though, I have found that many new ideas can actually be modeled on old patterns. Patterns that have been tried and proven.

For example in my recent discussions about distributed Twitter on the Gillmor Gang and Techcrunch posts, or with the DataPortability project I run, I am basically modeling my thoughts on Blogging (independant software, RSS as glue with aggregators doing most of the work) and the work done on WiFi/DVD (multiple standards combined together under a friendly brand).

Patterns are my thing.

Leadership includes saying no

Added on by Chris Saad.

I was told recently that a big part of leadership is listening. That's true of course. I actually think a bigger part of leadership, however, means learning how to say no. No to distractions, no to the nay sayers and no to feature creep.

Being able to say no is a very empowering and important leadership quality I have only just begun to learn. It is a super hard skill to master. Particularly saying no to the right things in the right way. Saying yes is far easier.

The problem with saying yes to feature creep is that you end up a big blob trying to do everything while actually achieving nothing.

The problem with saying yes to any and all criticism and changing your behavior is that you often end up being put into a corner by other people's expectations. You end up trying to please everyone and you actually achieve nothing. You never break through expectations, passive and active resistance and the 'old way of doing things'. It's said if you have a genuinely good or original idea you will often have to drag people kicking and screaming to your way of thinking before they will get it. You can't do that if you give way to any and all criticism.

Like with all things a balance needs to be struck. Each of us, as leaders of something in our lives, need to be clear about our end goals; our vision. We need to continue to execute on our daily tasks with true north in our sights.

Balance is particularly important in today's political climate. There is far too much extremism going on from all sides of the political spectrum. For example 'staying the course' is not a call for balance, it's a call for stubbornness.

The course may (and must), of course, involve all sorts of corrections to account for criticism, new scope and other changes 'on the ground', but being able to say no to major deviations when you still believe in the final destination is a mark of true leadership.

The Audacity of Hope

Added on by Chris Saad.

In the past few months I have been reminded by many that hoping for a thing does not make it true. Watching the US Presidential Election I have heard the same theme emerge as Hilliary Clinton attempts to question Barack Obama's ability to convert lofty and eloquent speeches into real change. I even posted a Seesmic video about it recently. The question I have, though, is if hope does not make something happen, then what does?

Doesn't all action involve hope? Is not hope a key ingredient for change?

Before one can achieve a thing, they must first imagine it. Before they act on their imagining they must first dare to hope that they could actually have some impact on the outcome.

Even decisions made based on fear involve a hope to avoid that which we fear.

Hope is a powerful driving force. It enables us to act. Without hope, we are often paralyzed.

Most people I talk to who 'wish' they could do something better, or more ambitious, have a common refrain. They dare not hope that their more lofty goals are attainable. They therefore do not act.

Imagine if you could gather a large enough group of people to hope for the same outcome. If you had the right mix of participants and the right critical mass, is there anything that hope, followed by action, can not achieve?

Criticizing hope is actually a thinly veiled claim of naivety or unjustified idealism. If one's hopes are too big, too ambitious or too lofty, then surely they must be too naive to understand the complexity of the issue and the magnitude of the challenge ahead.

Maybe that's true. Maybe those who start with hope and push for change have not yet been sufficiently jaded by a broken system or violent resistance to their ideas.

Maybe, though, if those idealistic and naive people (if in fact they are those things) can somehow encourage others to hope, and then still others; maybe, just maybe, hope will turn into action, and action will turn into real change.

To paraphrase the West Wing... "Do you think a small group of dedicated people can change the world" "Of course, it's the only thing that ever has".

Hope is not empty. It can never be false. Hope, well expressed and shared, is the beginning of something new.

Dare to hope. Then act.

I'm nominated for the 30under30

Added on by Chris Saad.

I just got this email from Antihill Magazine:

Dear Young Entrepreneur,

A friend, colleague or fan of your work recently nominated you for Anthill Magazine's 30under30 Awards, a national awards program designed to recognise and encourage young Australian entrepreneurs.

Details of your nomination are below, including th name of the generous person who nominated you for this awards program.

Cool!

If you'd like to nominate me you can do so on the Antihill website!

Do you have a resume?

Added on by Chris Saad.

Happy new year to everyone! Random thoughts for 1.1.08.

I got asked for my resume the other day and it occurred to me that I've never actually ever made one for myself. People usually just know who I am or come to me through word-of-mouth. More recently, I figured my LinkedIn profile provided plenty of resume style information for anyone who was interested.

So my question is, do you have a resume? What are your thoughts on resumes in a Media 2.0 world? Are our digital footprints and LinkedIn profile pages enough information for Resume 2.0?

I also deal with some of these questions in my book outline.

Here's another post on the subject also.

Announcing Spouse 2.0 Day!

Added on by Chris Saad.

My best friend and business partner Ashley Angell has invented a new holiday in honour of all the neglected people out there who love Web 2.0 Start-up Founders. Ashley says "I love my wife, but she gets no attention from me because I am too busy building Attention technologies - so I thought we should dedicate a day to her, and everyone like her"

Brilliant idea Ash! Check it out at www.spouse2.com and join in the fun by tagging your photos and posts 'Spouse 2.0'.

Oh and I designed the site.

OT - Take your blinkers off!

Added on by Chris Saad.
Lately I've had the opportunity to look at things from a very different perspective. Rather than looking up all the time, I have been looking down more often than not. I don't mean this as a statement of arrogance - I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities for me to look both up and down in the coming months and years.

I only bring it up as part of a larger point. I have found a lot of people fail to see opportunities. They look down when they should be looking across. What do I mean? I mean most people fail to think laterally. They head in a given direction with blinkers on (the type horses wear, not the type cars have) and they fail to understand that people - community, relationships, like minded friends - are what really matter.

As an example, I have seen VCs ignore opportunities due to the most ridiculous of reasons and criteria - criteria like geography or how polished a 'pitch' is. You know what? If you have such a failure of imagination that you think geography is a limiting factor then you really shouldn't be making decisions about betting on companies. I'm so glad we are not looking for money.

I have seen start-ups ignore a helping hand from other start-ups who are further along than they. They fail to listen to the marketplace, to trends or opportunities and instead decide that they can do everything on their own. They think their product or vision lives in a vacuum. They forget that 100 other companies are trying to do the same thing.

Companies are not about a feature, or a product, or a business - they are about an ecosystem. Suppliers, staff, partners, customers, evangelists, advisers, friends, advocates and passionate users. And most of all, they are about a culture of change - of finding opportunities.

I have also seen sharks - people who approach with the hand of friendship but are really just sucking you for information. They have a 'not invented here' attitude - if they didn't think of it, or they don't control it, then they think it isn't worth supporting or adopting. You can only leach off people for so long before your name looses all credibility.

They also make a lot of claims. They claim that they can make things happen, but first they want to take over your company or charge you a bunch of money. If you can make things happen, then go ahead and start. If you actually deliver something then we can talk about formalizing your involvement. If you really believe in my work then put in some work of your own.

And finally I have seen talkers. People who constantly talk but fail to act in any meaningful way. Not even on their own projects. They throw their weight around, bluster around loudly, argue the academics and semantics of a subject endlessly but never quite deliver their own version of the perfect reality they claim to uniquely see.

To all these people - and the others I have failed to describe - take your blinkers off. Wake up. Reach out. Make friends. Understand that, in the end, we are all just part of a living, breathing ecosystem. Someone you underestimate today may, in fact, control the conversation tomorrow. A company you dismiss because they are missing a slide in their presentation may become the next Facebook.

How do I know? Because I have seen those things happen - and they are still happening.

I have recently had the pleasure of getting to know people, companies and investors who understand that people are the most important resource of all. That co-operation is more important than capital. That giving people a chance, and contributing real substance over bluster is more valuable than track record or geographic location.

To those people - and you know who you are - thank you for showing me what can really be achieved when people put aside ego and politics to just get things done.

If you would like to join such a group - drop me a line at me@chrissaad.com

End of rant

Me against the world

Added on by Chris Saad.

Just came across this great post on the Kiva Blog. I know the feeling of both isolation, connectedness and lack of sleep!

 To quote:

"Entrepreneurialism can be incredibly isolating. On my worst days, it is me against the world. It's Matt versus the naysayers. It's Kiva versus the competitors. It's me against anyone who doesn't see the world as I see it. It's the biggest trap."

"Your challenge as an Entrepreneur comes in tapping into that which is transcendent, that which is infinite about a particular enterprise you might be undertaking. At the end of a day, at the end of a particular lifetime, what can you take with you?"