The hitchhikers guide to part-time non-tech founders

Is it possible to launch a startup while working somewhere else? It’s a question that many new founders face. You have new business ideas – ones that are most likely related to your current job or interests. Unfortunately, most people with these thoughts do not take action and the contemplation of starting a business never amounts to more than a dream. While this is an unfortunate truth for the majority of potential entrepreneurs, a handful of them do actually take the plunge and become successful, full-time entrepreneurs. When I started my software development company, I had a full-time position at Motorola. It took me a few years of working on my own business part-time (and gathering enough courage) to leave my regular paycheck and commit to my own business full-time. Now my company is devoted to helping entrepreneurs execute dreams by creating online businesses from the technical side. During this process, I’ve realized that the majority of our customers are taking the same steps I did: starting a business while working regular hours somewhere else. After researching this topic, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the failure rate is higher for founders that are not working on developing their business full-time. Because of that most traditional startup ecosystems – Venture capital ,Angels, accelerators and incubators- will not take weekend warriors seriously. However, there are pros and cons to both scenarios and some have found success juggling both. • Marco Arment developed Instapaper while working full-time on Tumblr. He has since stopped working at Tumblr and works on Instapaper full-time. In April of 2013, Instapaper was acquired by Betaworks. • Joshua Schachter started Delicious while he was an analyst at Morgan Stanley. • Mass Relevance is a social engagement platform, which was started as a part-time venture called Tweet River. The hard work and determination of the founders, Eric Falcao and Brian Dainton, made it a thriving business. They recently raised a $5.5 million dollar Series A. In these cases, the founders were weekend warriors also equipped with a technical background. How can you realize your startup plan if you are not a technical person? There are a few options. You can always learn how to code, but if you already possess a decent skill set to launch a company, learning how to code is probably not high on your priority list. Instead, you can walk a path similar to Kevin Rose when he started Digg.com, way back in 2007. Try to find freelancers to program your idea and create a prototype. Before you go and find programmers though, you will need to create architecture for your application. Without this, things may not turn out as you had hoped. At this time, you may also consider looking for a technical cofounder. There are number of channels to take advantage of. Local meet-ups as well as a number of founder-matching websites are available. But before you start looking for a technical cofounder, you should decide if you really need one. Sometimes people assume they need a technical cofounder regardless of the type of startup business. In many cases though, a technical cofounder is not actually needed and a web developer or programmer will suffice. This is especially true if you are considering developing a lightweight application. Since it is much more economical to hire a freelancer, this should some as good news. There are also many organizations that would be willing to partner up with you to create your startup in return for equity. In the Chicago area, there are a few accelerators and incubators who can help founders from the technical side. Platform Venture, Wavetable and Ensemble can help with creating MVP in return of equity or discounted rates. The key to this option is that you need to convince your development partners that the idea is fundable. Many developers will look at this option as a seed investment in your startup. But before you approach a developer or accelerator, you must review questions surrounding one key point – what exactly you will contribute to the success of startup? Who will be acting as the product manager and defining progress as it is developed? Who will be calling initial customers to sell it? What can you bring to the table for marketing and PR? Do you have funds to use for initial marketing, ads and services initially? Also be prepared to answer a crucial question: At what point would you be comfortable quitting your main job and working on the startup full-time? If your contribution to the business is the idea alone, good luck. There are ways to create a tech startup while you are working somewhere else full-time, but you have to be creative about it. Creating a startup is hard; especially when you do it with minimal funding and work on it part-time. Others have tried and succeeded down this path, but many have failed. Examine your own personal skill set, current and future business needs, as well as your available options to develop the best plan that will see it through.

MobOffer – Social Demand Aggregation

Why are Groupon and Living Social loosing popularity? Customers sent to businesses via daily deal sites are price buyers and not loyal customers. Once the rush of customers wears off, many businesses never see these people again. Deals can be used to increase awareness, but retaining customers is a different story. Another problem is anticipating demand. In the process, some businesses find themselves falling short and running out of product or time in order to handle the sudden surge of business due to the deals. In turn, this can create a lot of unsatisfied customers that will not only never come back, but be more likely to complain and give bad reviews if the product or service was lacking during the rush. What is the business model was tweaked to cater to demand instead of supply? We have done just that with our latest venture – MobOffer. We created MobOffer as a platform to exhibit the power of group buying. Instead of determining daily deals like Groupon or Living Social, users decide which deals the site should offer. Using a convenient MobOffer button (like Pinterest), users can add products from any website to a MobOffer Wish List. Users can invite others to join a list and aggregate demand for requested items. Once the demand is large enough, MobOffer requests merchants to offer a deal as an opportunity to make greater short-term sales that they can prepare for. Moboffer was developed in a distributed server cluster using PHP and mySQL. The Facebook app, with its clever open graph integrations, improves the virality of the offers and the items. Know any products you would like a deal on? MobOffer was recently made live for you to install the button and try it now. Create your own wish list and get started. Be sure to let me know your thoughts!

The Crisis of Mid-Career Entrepreneurs

We started iScripts.com in 2005 offering just a few software scripts to build online businesses. Early on, we weren’t exactly sure who would need our products but concluded that target customers would be webmasters managing a number of websites. Our software made the process easier for them by cutting down on time and effort needed to build elaborate platforms. After some time, we began getting inquiries from entrepreneurs looking to create online businesses. In response to this, we created web software with customizable business models already built into the software. We attempted to produce internet scripts including optimal business models for each type of business and industry. Once again, we were surprised by the ingenuity and variety of the ideas and plans presented by our customers. The small offering of products that were designed to help experienced programmers had instead evolved into an established line of web apps developed for entrepreneurs from various backgrounds diligently working towards individual business plans. Derived from experience in working with thousands of entrepreneurs and startups, I can say that many are created by mid career entrepreneurs. These folks choose the path by chance or choice after spending many years in the business world. In the media, we see many examples of very successful startups created by young entrepreneurs. Most of these prodigies drop out of school or start things just after graduation. Founding teams usually include classmates or college friends working out of a dorm room or parents’ garage. These teams have created world-changing ideas and companies. We have seen this with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Steve Jobs – just to name a few. They tout, the young age and time somehow contributed to the monumental success they ultimately achieved. But I contest, it is the law of averages working in their favor. Unfortunately, the ecosystem is somewhat stacked against the mid career entrepreneurs. Currently, most startup accelerators, incubators and startup ecosystems found in the West Coast, Midwest and East Coast of the United States are set up to target and enable a young crowd that can live on a Ramen noodle budget every day. Those who already have mortgages to pay or kids in high school usually cannot pound out a 100 hour week like their diligent Ramen noodle counterparts. Mid-career entrepreneurs require different types of assistance to create businesses. They call for a shorter timeline to launch as well as assistance with a range of business matters. Despite being equipped with massive domain expertise within a chosen field, they still may lack certain skills such as the technical proficiency, fundraising knowledge, or legal familiarity required to start a successful startup. The mid-career entrepreneur will most likely have a massive number of connections, but comprised mostly of those within their specific area of expertise. Unfortunately, these connections are usually very limited in the scope of the startup world. Mid-career entrepreneurs require vehicles enabling them to establish and sustain important connections vital to success. At some point, even young entrepreneurs learn that they cannot carry out every task themselves and uphold a long-term business merely on personal eye of the tiger mentality and personal skills alone. While it is initially imperative to have the drive, determination and time to start a valuable venture, it is just as important to grow out and up out by seeking connections. After a certain point, business potential can instead be limited to the capabilities of one individual or a select few. Since mid-career entrepreneurs can create startups with a higher chance of success based on experience, there is a need for accelerators and incubators focusing on this entrepreneurial sector. These experienced entrepreneurs can hit it big when acquiring a cofounder with complementary skills or discovering teams that can fill the gaps. When offered more opportunity to connect, mid-career entrepreneurs have a huge chance of excelling simply by joining forces to push ahead. While we should continue to guide young entrepreneurs, we also need to realize the importance of fostering connections among existing entrepreneurs. Those with established experience and specialized skills to make big ideas a reality should be given more opportunity to do so. By overlooking the needs of mid-career entrepreneurs, we are allowing a great deal of potential success to fall through the cracks.

SocialDefender – Social Reputation Management Platform

Social media can be hard to control. From small and medium-sized businesses lacking additional manpower, to large companies requiring a method for scheduling numerous team members, we decided to create a tool that will add additional value to social media efforts. Social Defender provides real-time social media monitoring, insights and gives the ability to accurately moderate social media efforts and understand customer sentiment. By using the tool, businesses can manage multiple social media networks including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, G+, blogs and forums using just one login. This social media management tool gives businesses the ability to analyze what is being said online about a brand, service, industry, and competitors. Analytics provided by Social Defender may be incorporated with future goals or business plans. Social Defender has a Facebook page app, Twitter app, LinkedIn app, G+ app and more. Users receive real-time info for each channel. Each of these messages were fed to an NLP algorithm for sentiment analysis. We used a proprietary Bayesian algorithm for the sentiment analysis is developed by the team at Armia. This algorithm takes feedback from manual changes to the sentiment making self learning of the accuracy and effectiveness. Right now we achieved an accuracy level of 90% and fine tuning to make it better. The brand manager can decide if they want the platform to auto moderate based on time, sentiment, brand etc.. Or if they want to be notified. It has a decent workflow manager to drive notifications to different users in the team. Also same workflow manager can schedule publishing of different contents to different platforms. The user and admin area analytics were created using Flash. Know any businesses that need help with social media? Do them a favor and tell them about Social Defender (a free plan is also currently available).

Ravox.com Facebook Commerce Business Platform

Over the past few years, social media has gained quite a bit of attention. From social networks, to job searching and sharing products, social channels and their uses have been steadily increasing. What about Facebook as a shopping medium? Marketing products on a platform full of existing users is the next phase for businesses. To take advantage of this new space, we have developed a solution called Ravox.com. Ravox is a distributed social ecommerce platform allowing sellers, business owners and vendors to create standalone ecommerce stores or link existing online stores to Facebook. In the past we created another social commerce platform. Also developed a number of distributed ecommerce platforms with different storefronts, merchants and resellers and all. We took the same concept to social space to improve product discovery through social graph. The Ravox platform was developed in PHP and utilizes social graph. The concept can be described as a combination of Amway, Shopster and Payvment. A number of features from the Facebook platform and open graph integration are included. Ravox receives a percentage of total sales generated within the distributed marketplace. Without using a large amount of time, money or effort, business owners can utilize the benefits of social commerce on Facebook. Companies can begin to use social shopping and increase viral promotions through these Facebook stores. In addition to their facebook stores items are promoted through Ravox marketplace, distributed personal marketplace for thousands of users and their friends. question is do you want to reach your fans or you want to reach friends of your fans? Ravox enables you as brand to reach your fans and heir friends. In addition your brand reaches our friends and their friends and followers. Right now we are in the final development stage. Keep an eye out for further news and our beta launch! I’ll keep you updated.