Over the last few years I have been living in a bunch of different places and countries, usually for 3 to 9 months in each place. Yet I felt that I didn’t get to see enough of the world moving at this pace. For some reason I thought that visiting every country in the world before I turned 30 sounded like a good idea.
Call it a quarter life mini-crisis or whatever. Luckily I have embraced the principles of lean startup and I apply them to many aspects of my life, not only to the business of startups. I figured I’d travel around Asia for 6 months, traveling at a pace close to what I would have to keep up if I wanted to visit the 200 and something countries on this planet by mid 2019. That was my MVP. My hypothesis was that I would like it enough to dedicate the next five years of my life to similar travels. But now I’m pivoting.
Tomorrow morning I will be flying back home to Copenhagen. I will stay in Europe for a few months. And I am psyched. Not because I didn’t enjoy my trip. In fact, I loved it. I have met so many amazing people, and experienced so many different cultures and places.
But I am tired. Tired of constantly being on the move. Of searching for places to sleep — whether it’s a couch of a friend of a friend, a guest house, a beach or a nice hotel. Tired of hunting for the local SIM with the best 3G coverage so I can put out that week’s edition of Startup Letters without being dependent on flaky restaurant and hotel WiFis. Tired of booking endless tickets for flights, busses, ferries and trains.
It wasn’t until I read The Happiness Hypothesis earlier this year that I realized that chasing a country count was just as meaningless as chasing money or fame. It’s a happiness trap. Just like earning a lot of money it will not give any lasting pleasure, but will raise the bar for future success.
I consider myself a digital nomad. But even nomads aren’t constantly on the move. It’s liberating that I can pick up my 12 kg backpack and my passport and hop on a plane to pretty much anywhere and be productive within minutes of touching down. But it doesn’t mean I have to or that I even should. At least not on a daily or weekly basis. I don’t have any immediate plans to stop exploring, but I will go about it in a different way.
Going forward I will aim at moving somewhere interesting for a minimum of a couple months. Rent an apartment there, with a reliable high speed internet connection. Find a few reliable coffee shops nearby, or even get a membership at a coworking space. Bonus points if the city has an established or up-and-coming startup scene and a well connected airport (for weekend getaways).
Next up will be San Francisco for about three months from the end of August. After that, who knows?
Let me start out by giving you a little piece of context. I have been following Nir’s work for the past two years, and for the better part of that time I have been helping him managing his now massively popular blog. I have also attended multiple of his talks, and have even given a talk on the topic myself this previous summer.
It is safe to say I have a better understanding of the topic than most, yet Hooked managed to provide me with even more insights and was a really enjoyable read from beginning to end.
In short, Hooked is a handbook for designing habit forming products, and Nir explains his four step framework (consisting of trigger, action, variable reward and investment) patiently and thoroughly. At the same time he backs up all his claims using a plethora of solid academic research, leaving you confident that he really knows what he is talking about.
After explaining the framework, he also discuss how product designers can use this newfound super power for good (yes, it really is a super power), rather than callously exploiting their users. He also provides the reader with practical steps to implement his teachings in his/her own work throughout the book, and ties it all together neatly in the last chapter.
Overall an excellent book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in user psychology, engagement or product design. Even if you’re just curious to learn more about how products create habits and shape our modern lives you will find Hooked highly valuable.
PS! Until Dec 31st you can download a free Kindle version of the book, so get it now!
Over the years I’ve heard and read a lot of advice on how to get a technical co-founder. Having a mostly non-technical background myself, I’ve been facing the issues of having a “great” startup idea without having the technical chops to build it myself (although I have more programming experience than most business students).
In the last year or two a lot of the advice have centered around learning to code yourself. The logic is that with some coding skills of your own you’ll be able to hack together an early version of your product and start getting some traction, making it easier to attract someone with enough technical experience to help you scale your product. The key here is traction. In a recent guest post over at Andrew Chen’s blog, Elizabeth Yin shares the results of a not-so-scientific survey of more than a 100 developers, clearly showing that the most important thing developers are looking for when considering joining a startup as a technical founder is traction. Traction, traction, traction.
Not only are potential technical co-founders judging you primarily based on traction - the same goes for investors (particularly Angels and VCs). So by achieving traction you can either choose to get a technical co-founder (and perhaps continue bootstrapping) or you can raise a seed round and hire a technical lead. Or both take an investment and get a technical co-founder and use the money on other things that can help you scale quickly. In short, traction opens up a sea of opportunities.
But how to get traction without money, coding skills or a technical co-founder in the first place? An MVP (Minimum Viable Product, in short a the most basic product you can build to to help you validate assumptions and achieving product/market fit) is an important part of the Lean Startup methodology. However, it’s a common misconception that you need to program to build an MVP, and to actually build a fully functional prototype of the product you have in mind to start validating your assumptions.
That is not the case.
Actually, after validating your earliest assumptions by talking to potential customers (usually assumptions related to the problem you’re trying to solve), you can move on to building your first MVP. And by building I don’t mean coding.
The main goal of your MVP is still learning and validation. It should demonstrate your UVP (Unique Value Proposition), nothing else. And in most cases you can set up some sort of semi-automatic system that at least simulates the functionality needed. Using a combination of Wufoo forms, Google Forms & Docs, Themeforest, Launchrock, Squarespace, Striking.ly, Wordpress, Tumblr, Mailchimp, IFTTT, Zapier, Kimono, Gmail/Google Apps and your phone you can set up a semi automatic prototype that will enable you to both accelerate your learning and eventually reach product/market fit without writing a single line of code.
There are plenty of examples of successful email-first startups and startups that did everything manually in the beginning and then gradually automated the process when they started to get traction (including AngelList, iDoneThis and Groupon).
Remember, you should be so ashamed of your MVP that you will throw it away eventually anyway. Making a “disposable MVP” is a good thing.
Prove that you can be more than the idea guy. It doesn’t require programming.
PS: I am not saying it’s a bad idea to learn some basic coding skills if you are aspiring to be a founder or a team member in a tech startup. It will help communication with the team and a little technical skills will make the strategy outlined above a little bit easier.
PPS: If you need a little guidance on how you can build a semi-automatic MVP for your startup or side-project specifically, reach out via twitter or e-mail and I’ll be happy to help out.
PPPS: To get a weekly digest of the best startup advice from around the web directly in your inbox, check out StartupLetters.com.
Earlier this month I returned from a 9 day trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I attended Global Startup Youth (GSY) and Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). In short, GSY is a Startup Weekend-esque event (on steroids) with 500 participants aged 18-25 from more than a hundred different countries. GES is the brainchild of the Obama Administration, aiming to promote entrepreneurship across the globe and building ties between the US and muslim countries. GES in Kuala Lumpur 2013 was the 4th installment.
(Team photo, GSY)
After three high energy days at GSY, making tons of friends, building a negotiation training app, lack of sleep and battling both a massive jet lag and crappy hotel wifi, GES started.
After two days of intense networking, listening to a number of talks and panels, these are my three main takeaways.
1. Culture vs Startups in Asia
In a lot of Asian cultures, failure is seen as a very shameful thing. As an entrepreneur you are of course not trying to fail, but being overly afraid of failure will be inhibiting.
Myteksi co-founder and tech lead, Aaron Gill, mentioned this as one of the obstacles they had faced when trying to expand to other South-East Asian countries.
2. Hardware revolution
This shouldn’t really come as a shock for anyone - “the hardware revolution is coming” has been a mantra for a while now. But hearing Chris Anderson, founder and CEO of 3D Robotics, explain how open source drones has been able to really disrupt the defense industry actually opened my eyes even more to the importance of this “revolution”. It made me realize that it’s not only about Quantitative Self gadgets and wearables, but that it probably has a bigger potential to fundamentally change society than even the internet revolution.
One of the posts I linked to in the last edition of Startup Letters was actually a very good primer on this topic if you’re interested in reading up on it.
3. Lack of “backend” in many Asian countries and regions
When building businesses that rely on distribution, such as e-commerce, you will face a lack of “web 1.0 infrastructure”. This is how CEO of LAZADA Group (part of Rocket Internet), Maximilian Bittner, put it. The problem is that all the logistics companies are set up for handling B2B bulk shipments efficiently and cheaply, not personal deliveries or returns. This renders Amazon Prime-like shipping speeds nearly impossible. Fixing this is a great opportunity for companies or entrepreneurs with the right resources.