Why Really Good Emails Matter

ReallyGoodEmails_ScreenshotBy now, the startup world is familiar with Ryan Hoover’s ProductHunt and it’s upvote style of surfacing interesting startups.  ProductHunt (like Reddit, Digg & LaunchTicker for news, and numerous other services for other verticals) uses the power of the crowd to filter out the best startups of the day.  But ProductHunt’s “surfacing” feature is ephemeral – a startup is on top one day, gone the next, replaced by tomorrow’s hot news.

The upvoting feature has proven itself useful across the internet as a human powered search algorithm, helping to sort through the noise in a more efficient and results-oriented manner than any automated system can achieve.  And now this feature is being implemented in other areas of the web to help internet entrepreneurs and marketers do their jobs better.

While browsing the products on Assembly.com, a “ProductHunt”-style webservice called “Really Good Emails” (“RGE”) came into view recently.  Really Good Emails is a collection of the best-in-class emails that various companies actually use to interact with their customers.  Right now, Really Good Emails is more like Pinterest than ProductHunt and started as the personal collection of favorite emails of “Whale” – the product guru behind RGE – but the RGE product roadmap is clearly lined up like ProductHunt to help marketers find examples of email content, graphics, layouts, and methods that sell better, convert better, engage better, or simply make users feel better about a service they just signed up for.  RGE even appeared on ProductHunt in March 2014 before ProductHunt was hugely popular, and RGE received (as of this blog post) 115 upvotes.  If you like RGE, you too can vote it up and try to increase its exposure.

Email is THE original social network, but email as a functional tool has remained largely the same since it’s inception (with the exception of certain improvements such as rich text & HTML formatting,  Gmail’s conversation threading, or the concept of add-on A/B testing tools like Campaign Monitor, Optimizely, or GetResponse, among many).  The interesting thing about Really Good Emails is that it helps the Internet’s most common social network identify better email styling, and it kickstarts a startup’s A/B email testing efforts so that post-email metrics tools work better – now, it’s like the whole product universe is your own personal A/B test account from which you can draw upon others’ lessons about improved opens, responses, conversions, engagement, alerts, etc. without needing to wade through your own design testing.  Find a design you like and implement it into your email campaigns. And like ProductHunt’s easy access to the startup founders whose products are upvoted every day, Really Good Emails offers (sometimes) direct access to the email marketers who tested and then released these winning emails.  Even better, the product roadmap for the premium version of RGE includes samples of the underlying code that built the various emails, and the ability to exchange insights on each sample with other premium users.

Creating really good emails matters because email is ubiquitous.  It is the most popular form of communication in the world right now after text messaging.  Getting emails right is important to both businesses and to individuals, and to both the sender and the receiver.  Really Good Emails improves the likelihood that businesses will use accessible and effective email communications, and I like that.

Really Good Emails is built on the Assembly platform, which means that not only can you submit your own favorite examples of Good Emails, but you can also contribute development effort to RGE and earn a royalty on RGE’s income.  The same is true of all products built on Assembly, so RGE is a crowd-voting email-surfacing platform, built on a crowd-building application platform (full disclosure – I am building a product on Assembly called SaaSquatch, which is a management tool for a startup’s SaaS stack). If you’re a developer or a startup looking to benefit from tools like Really Good Emails, Assembly offers the ability to jump in and perform coding tasks to help build the services, in exchange for a calculated royalty of the revenue pie generated by the products you contribute to.  Talk about power of the crowd!

Iteration Brings Success Too

A little more on Innovation versus Invention from Martin Zwilling at Entrepreneur.com:

starting a new business that builds on an existing technology or business model is usually less risky than introducing that ultimate new disruptive technology… The advantage of imitation, with innovation, is that it gives you a solid base for building experience. There is always time later for your next startup, using that disruptive technology of your dreams. Or you may decide that your dream was not really the great idea that you thought it was.

Zwilling goes on to list 5 reasons why Innovation/Iteration/Imitation is better for first-time projects and for lower-risk projects.  I’ll add 3 additional reasons to his list:

  1. Less grandiose projects are easier to build when the founder/startup is outside of the typical technology hubs (Silicon Valley, NYC, LA, Boston, Boulder, Seattle).  Innovation is an “outsider’s” best friend.
  2. Investors are investing in fewer Series A rounds (we are in the tail end of the Series Crunch mentioned elsewhere) so if going after seed or angel money, keep this in mind when choosing which idea to actually commit to – because the seed and angel investors will be looking at the potential for future rounds when deciding where to put their initial investment. If you can anticipate these concerns, you can still effectively position yourself for investors that are looking for more of a cash-flow return than a unicorn, albeit it at smaller raise amounts.
  3. Lifetime entrepreneurs (“Lifers”) are not investing their time and effort in the potential “walking dead” startups that can’t get through the A round crunch.  This includes startups and products that just don’t produce enough revenue to attract new investors.  If your sincere numbers produce an estimate that your idea is a $10-20 million product, then it’s not the typical “swing big” idea that Lifers and Series A VC’s typically look for.  Rather than a home run, these ideas are at best a double, and might have trouble attracting bigger rounds at higher valuations. So you probably will have less competition in this market size. Less competition means you can focus on just building a good product, without the distractions of strategic interference.

You Don’t Need Disruptive Technology to Be a Success, Iteration Works Too | Entrepreneur.com.

Ideas: NDA or No NDA?

As a former attorney to entrepreneurs (tech & entertainment), I was asked about NDA’s and sharing ideas probably more than any other topic.  If you’re trying to start a business, should you share your idea with other people, or should you try to get an NDA to protect it?

INVENTION VS. INNOVATION

If your idea is patentable, then get NDA’s up until the time you finish your patent application.  Patentability means you have 17 years to monetize your market for your idea so time is somewhat on your side.

However, if you’re innovating on an idea and it’s not actually patentable (which is 1000% more likely the case in a business setting) – then STOP WORRYING ABOUT NDA’s because time IS NOT on your side, and asking for an NDA means:

  • by default, you’re moving too slow, and
  • you’re not ready to actually share your idea with anyone.

A valuable business idea is one that you put into practice now – not later – and start carving out value for yourself.  Start building your audience or customer base.  Start determining your pricing strategy.  Start finalizing an attractive design for your solution.  If you can’t share an idea without fear of someone stealing it – then you haven’t done enough with the idea to actually move it into “build” phase with the help of other people.

So, if you’re Innovating and not Inventing:

  • move quickly
  • share wisely, but openly
  • validate the idea with potential customers
  • build a team around the product, and
  • get it to market before the market shifts away from your solution or people find a better workaround.

You can get better details of this analysis on this blog post.

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Ideas: When To Share & When Not To

As a former attorney to entrepreneurs (tech & entertainment), I get asked about NDA’s and sharing ideas probably more than any other topic. When it comes to story ideas, it’s better not to share with “just anybody” because stories can be told very easily in more than one way. A story about a meteor crashing into Earth? Has been told numerous times in various ways to various degrees of success. But when it comes to business ideas, the same doesn’t hold true.  Business ideas can’t be simply retold – there’s true function to a business that needs to be built, to be coaxed out of a market.

In my law practice (and to my wife’s chagrin), I have never advised a client about a certain legal strategy just because it made more paid work for my firm. So if a client asked about the necessity for an NDA, I could have said “Sure, that’s a really smart move, and I can draft one for you in a little less than an hour at the standard hourly rate.” But that was rarely the case because clients rarely actually needed an NDA for legal reasons – really all it served was to make themselves feel better about a conversation with someone they didn’t know. (If a client asked about an NDA for a discussion with someone they knew, then I’d tell them they were being a jerk and charge them for the phone time.)

So when is an NDA appropriate and when is it unnecessary? A connection of mine on LinkedIn posted a helpful image of “Invention vs. Innovation” (see insert below) that I think sums up the distinction very well. All you Interweb readers out there must understand that Invention is different than Innovation. If you have an Invention, then get an NDA from anyone you share it with in the period before you get a patent (emphasis on Getting a Patent).  If your idea is not patentable, then you’re actually Innovating and don’t worry about an NDA.  I’ll explain below.

WHEN TO NDA – INVENTION

Ideas that are patentable are granted a controlled monopoly over the idea for 17 years.  That’s what a “patent” is at its essence – a government sanctioned monopoly.  If you’re developing a new drug, or a new kind of power generation, or a new kind of radio, then you need a serious amount of time to get it right and bring it to market.  Get an NDA in this kind of circumstance until you get your patent because 1) public disclosure of your invention starts the clock on your patent – you have 12 months from public disclosure to finish your patent application or lose it forever! and 2) you have 17 years if granted a patent, so take your time and build it right – an NDA (theoretically) gives you more time.  Inventions take time.

Conversely, if you’re an established business with significant value at stake in a negotiation, you’re not inventing, but you ARE innovating.  Get an NDA from the other party so that you can complete your deal in the best possible manner without worrying about conflicts of intention or interest.  But this only applies to existing businesses with revenue to protect – this does not apply to startups.

WHEN NOT TO NDA – INNOVATION

If your idea is not patentable (you don’t have an invention) and you’re actually innovating in a field, by necessity you must move quickly because the market tends to move faster than you do.  People are creative – if there’s a problem with an existing application, often they’ll find alternatives or iterations that get them around the roadblock.  So to capitalize on your innovation, you need to move faster than the market in order to capture that value.  If you have a business idea and think to yourself “I need an NDA to protect my secret sauce” then BY DEFAULT YOU’RE NOT MOVING FAST ENOUGH AND YOU’RE NOT READY TO SHARE THE IDEA.  Move quickly, share wisely (not indiscriminately – i.e. don’t share it with an incubator team looking for a pivot), make sure people want the idea, build a team, build the solution, & get it to market quickly.  You have a limited time frame in which to monetize your solution.  There are a couple reasons why NDA’s don’t actually help you here:

  1. There’s a difference between Legal Risks and Business Risks
    Lawyers -under professional obligation to clients- must err on the side of caution. Therefore, to lawyers, no risk is a good risk because their bar license and income are potentially on the line if a client takes a bad turn from the lawyer’s advice. However, in business, there is no such thing as “zero risk” so at some point, as a leader, you must make a business decision that certain risks are acceptable risks. Sometimes even against your lawyer’s advice. This is the nature of the business world. If you can’t stomach even a small amount of risk, get out of the tech or entertainment business and go into the insurance business – trust me, you’ll be happier overall (but a more miserable person to be around).
  2. The complexity of the recipe for a business means no one will execute an idea the way you would.
    Presumably, you have some insights that extend beyond simply the idea at stake. You know the audience or the customer better. You know the strategic partnerships better. You know ways to connect the dots technologically that would take others months or years to discover. You know what the look and feel should be. You know the right pricing strategy. These are all moving targets that even you – the idea expert – will have to adjust as you go along. How likely is it that someone you mention the idea to will a) drop their own ideas in favor of yours, and then b) execute the idea the same as you or better? Get real. If they can do it better, then guess what – that was the wrong idea for you to bet your career on. Go back to the drawing board. No NDA will protect you from your own inability to execute the idea.
  3. Industry norms are for No NDA’s.
    Don’t be that guy that thinks their idea is more important than the person’s integrity you’re sitting across from. Again, if you’re at the “can’t share because it’s too fragile” stage, then you’re not ready to start building it.

Being a good entrepreneur means taking risks as a leader, innovating faster than the market can move away from your ideas, rallying support for your idea – from an internal team and from an external customer base, and executing well.  Don’t let paperwork stand in your way of a winning business.

UCLA School of Law Establishes Student Entrepreneurship Competition

Law School Entrepreneurs… That’s a new twist on the lawyer theme – but a welcome one!

310Tech.Com

The competition, which includes a $100,000 prize, is the first of its kind sponsored by a top American law school.

From UCLA:

UCLA School of Law has established the Lowell Milken Institute-Sandler Prize for New Entrepreneurs (“LMI-Sandler Prize”), an entrepreneurship competition designed to recognize student innovation and leadership and support the real-world launch of promising new business ventures. The competition, which includes a $100,000 prize, is the first of its kind sponsored by a top American law school. It was established through gifts totaling more than $500,000 from the Lowell Milken Family Foundation and the Richard and Ellen Sandler Family Foundation.

“The LMI-Sandler Prize is a completely new way to reward law student achievement and promote the entrepreneurial ambitions of UCLA Law students and recent graduates,” UCLA School of Law Dean Rachel F. Moran said. “The competition will provide students with an opportunity to put the principles of entrepreneurship into…

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The only monthly goals that matter for pre-product B2B startups

Business Concept – then Customers – then Marketing Base – THEN Business Model

Keep in mind that the Customer always resides at the center of the pyramid.

Venture Capital Newsletter and VC Jobs

Before your B2B startup has a product available you’ll want a few – but not too many – metrics to help you steer the ship in the right direction.

Based on my experience at a couple of startups that I joined pre-product or founded here are the handful of metrics that I suggest you measure/goal.

Customer Development conversations

It doesn’t matter what your startup is building if customers don’t want it. 

Get out of the building and make sure you are talking to potential customers often. This is the only way you’ll get a deep understanding of your potential customers’ needs.

When you’re getting started a good pace is somewhere on the order of 1-2 conversations (new potential customers) per business day. Once you reach 25-50 conversations you should have a good sense of whether or not your product idea has legs.

Don’t cheat on this metric by counting conversations with potential partners or investors as…

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4 Suggested Steps to finding your Business Model

INITIATION

  • Who is your target customer?
  • What do you offer them?
  • How do you create the value proposition?
  • How do you earn revenue?

IDEATION   –   How does your model created during INITIATION stand up to 55 different business model innovations? (55 Models White Paper)

INTEGRATION   –   Check the consistency of the new business model discovered in IDEATION to ensure that it answers customers’ needs, has a compelling offering with unique value, and that earns enough money.

IMPLEMENTATION   –   Go check your hypotheses with actual potential customers.