StartupBus Europe’16 – Washup.

I had the privilege of being a mentor on the Belgium bus at this year’s Startupbus Europe that wrapped at the Pirate Summit in Cologne on 7th September 2016 and wanted to share some thoughts, learnings and recommendations.

For those who have no idea of what StartupBus is, please view this video:

 

This post is in two parts, the first section is more specific to tech & platform focus of the ideas at StartupBus Europe and the second part is advice for participants of open hackathons (an open hackathon is where participants are not limited to a building something for a specific industry or corporate interest).

Part 1: General observations on tech & platform focus at StartupBus Europe 2016

  • AR/VR: 4 months ago mass adoption of augmented reality seemed like it was years away..then Pokemon Go happened. The developer community in this space is growing rapidly and was apparent wit the 3 out of the 22 StartupBus Europe teams being being in AR/VR.
  • Chat Bots: are coming faster than we think. Two teams built functioning chat bots that were live on Facebook messenger by demo day (in 72 hours). User adoption of chat bots will be accelerated as the they become more intelligent with more use over time. Mary Meeker’s latest Internet Trend Report points out that most Gen Y would prefer customer service interactions with brands over chat versus phone – which does not surprise me given that they were the generation that grew up with MSN messenger & SMS.
  • Starting day one as a platform: instead of creating apps to serve direct users, creating platforms for other entities to use at scale certainly has its commercial & scale benefits. The winning team, Trustful Voting, which enables secure voting using blockchain & NFC technologies is perfect example of how the team demonstrated a use case for their tech (voting for political elections) but also showed how their tech and business was built for multiple applications across industries. Similarly, another team AudioBeacon, which enables users to place audio pins on Google Maps demonstrated a use case for their tech for the visually impaired, but also showed how commercial partners were extremely interested in licensing their tech for other uses (travel & entertainment industries specifically)

Part 2: Advice for Open Hackathon Participants (not limited to StartupBus participants)

Please do: 

  • Gain understanding of a P&L: We have a clear gap in startup ecosystem where very few founders (and hustlers) understand the elements of the P&L and the impacts it has on profitably & likeliness to scale.
  • Understanding cash flow: not understanding cash flow is the number one reason new businesses fail. If you’re serious about taking your hackathon idea to being a real startup, know your numbers. This will only impress future partners and give you confidence in understanding your business.
  • I would rather see a Startup bootstrapping and breaking even, rather than someone who is burning cash to acquire one off/short term customers. No denying this is very difficult to do from day one, but specifically if you’re a first time founder – get to know your numbers better than anyone else in your team.
  • Protip: if you ever get the chance: work in the commercial function of a hyper growth startup or large company where you own the numbers, right down to margin/operating profit.
  • Gain Dev Knowledge (non tech participants): learn the core platforms, what they do, why they do it etc. Protip: Always ask your hacker friends what they code in and what they do with it & like about it. Nod and pretend to understand. Then ask why they feel its important 😃
  • Learn to draw: communicating complexity through wireframes at hacks is 100x faster than explaining your idea to your hacker/wider team
  • Differentiate, specifically with marketplace startup ideas: creating a niche marketplace is frequent idea choice at the moment: but very few teams explain their acquisition & differentiation strategy.
  • Key question to answer is “What makes you 10x better than the incumbent market leader?”
  • “Build and they will come” mentality does not work in spaces that are already cluttered with competitors.

Please stop relying on: 

  • One partner’s API (or data source) for your USP: Most tech startups can be summarised in the following way:
    • Inputs – what data goes into your app/service
    • Processing – what does your app/service do with it
    • Outputs – what recommendations/suggestions/decisions does your app/service provides
  • If your startup relies solely on one entity’s API for your idea (specifically if that entity is a private one) you’re kinda at their mercy… try public APIs where possible and/or unlock value by mixing multiple points of data to come up with the solution to the problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Affiliate marketing programs for your only source of revenue. Warren Buffet advises “Never depend on a single source of income”. Always think about the value adds (the surprise and delight moments) you can provide your users & how you can monetise them.
  • “Selling the data” as a source of revenue from day one (unless you have people on the team who’ve commercialised data previously). Given the privacy laws in most western markets this is really hard to do in the beginning and you really only make money from this once your startup is acquired (think Dollar Shave Club & Unilever). Turning Data into information/insights isn’t as easy as extracting numbers onto an spreadsheet and giving it to a client to make decisions from it 😃

Need help commercialising your startup or just curious about corporate innovation? Feel free to connect via LinkedIn, TwitterFacebook.

 

StartupBus Europe’16 – Washup.

Do you even [bench]? My new favourite online meeting platform.

Move over Hangouts, Skype for Business, join.me, Webex… there’s a new player in town and boy does it rock. I’ve been using it for the past few days with 5 different remotely located teams and have found it to be the best online meeting platform I’ve used to date.

Collaborating online or via teleconference is always a painful process. So much time is wasted in:

  • dailling in… who ever saves those numbers into contacts anyways?
  • entering the *correct* pin code,  which I always seem to stuff up (especially under pressure.. coz I’m usually the last one onto the call)
    • iPhones aren’t easy to navigate during a call, specifically for muting/unmuting as you have to switch screens
  • finding out that the software isn’t installed/compatible with your browser/laptop
  • lagging/freezing frames during screen sharing / presentations – even when you have excellent wifi.

Enter [bench]. The UI (user interface) is so simple that even the oldies get it, faster than they got Slack.

Think of a [bench] as a shared work space, like a physical meeting table. You put all the things you want to discuss on the [bench], and during the meeting you all see together, point/click together, type/work together, draw together, and most importantly: effectively collaborate together. The best thing is, the [bench] is saved when you conclude your meeting, meaning that all parties  have access to everything you discussed when you next catch up.

On each [bench] you can collaborate via:

  • Notes – example use case: typing up the meeting agenda prior to the meeting & actions whilst you’re all discussing them (and everyone sees them in REAL TIME!)
  • Whiteboard – example use case: giving feedback on a piece of creative, highlighting and drawing over it
  • Screenshare
    • A single Screenshot
    • Your whole desktop or a single Chrome tab
  • Folder – you can store the files you want to discuss straight onto here.

You sign up (you can try it without signing up), create a [bench], get the secret meeting link and share it with your meeting attendees. That simple!
Using it for the first time:

  • your attendees will feel a little weird seeing multiple cursors flying around the screen, but then… the ‘aha’ moment will come!
  • you need to install the [bench] chrome extension to enable desktop screen sharing, which is very light and takes a few seconds
  • get everyone part of the meeting to connect individually, that way their name and inputs are seen and included
  • can be used on tablet via Chrome
  • you’ll be blown away at the audio quality, the speed andresponsiveness in which the cursors and elements within the [bench] move. It’s like they’ve implemented lossless compression! (couldn’t resist the PiedPiper/Silicon Valley reference).

Limitations:

  • Doesn’t work on mobile as yet, but surely this would be on the road map
  • Big meetings: the biggest meeting I used it for had 4 people – so not sure how effective it would be for a meeting with more than 5 people. That said, too many people on a conference call/online meeting is ineffective anyway (with the exception being if the communication is meant to be going one way)
  • Office integration: you can’t open .docxs or .pptxs within the [bench], the file downloads onto your machine to open it up. I assume this is difficult to build in at launch, specifically if the people aren’t working in the same cloud environment (Microsoft vs. Google)
  • This isn’t technically a limitation but… [bench] works only on Chrome or Firefox; anyone still having to use Internet Explorer for work, tell your IT department to get out of the nineties…

Cost:

  • Free individual account for up to 3 benches
  • $9.95/month per team member for up to 25 benches


Overall:

The team at [bench] has solved a real problem that many professionals and freelancers face on a daily basis and definitely worth immediately switching over to from existing services. There are still elements the team needs to add in and continue to work on, but the audio and visual quality is far superior to anything I’ve witnessed to date.

Thank you for reading my post. I regularly write about productivity hacks, people management, digital & data. If you would like to read my regular posts, please click ‘Follow’ and feel free to also connect via Twitter & Facebook. Here are some other recent articles I have written:

About: Imteaz Ahamed works in the digital space for RB. At the tender age of 6, in the early 90’s his father bought him a 386 PC for $3000, the best investment he could’ve ever made for his son. Imteaz also mentors early stage startups & entrepreneurs from all over the world and is avid fan of hackathons. He is also aStartupBus Conductor and Alumni – the most intense 72 hour startup hackathon in the world.

Do you even [bench]? My new favourite online meeting platform.

StartupBus: the most intense Startup hackathon in the world.

We all know the best innovations come from startups because they are free to approach solving the same problems differently. Startups are valued for being nimble and free of process, and because they are founded by people who are passionate about one thing – turning ideas into reality. StartupBus, founded in 2010, is an engine for startup innovation and I would like to provide you an opportunity to be part of our next crop of entrepreneurs while giving you the experience to take your passion and drive to the next level.

The StartupBus program is proven; Instacart, currently valued at over $2 billion, is the creation of two StartupBus alumni. Branch, the link-sharing service Facebook bought for $15 Million, also started by StartupBus alum. Lisnr, started on the 2012 MidWest StartupBus raised $3.5 Million and still has the team from the bus employed.

StartupBus is engineered to accelerate the entrepreneurial process by placing 30 strangers on a 72-hour bus ride where they collaborate  and compete to create a VC worthy startup by the end of the journey.

Most people board the bus with an idea they want to pursue; but in order to succeed; they’ll need to convince their fellow “Buspreneurs” that their idea is the best. Only the best ideas succeed, then the teams work together to create a working concept that includes demos, a business plan and profit model. Every team from the buses pitch, and at least one team from the entire “class” will receive funding. Only the best ideas rise to the top.

Would you like to be in on the team of the next Instacart? In October, our Sydney bus will travel to SydStart where they’ll pitch startups that they’ve incepted, built and launched on the bus. We have a limited number of seats available and only the best will be chosen to participate. If you know you are the best coder (Hacker), best layout designer (Hipster) or even the best social networker (Hustler) – I want YOU on the bus!

StartupBus: the most intense Startup hackathon in the world.

5 ways to stop email killing you & your company

Why do we find it so hard to make decisions? The inability to make quick, timely decisions when all necessary information is at hand has ruined many a great company and many a (almost great) career. Sometimes I feel its better to make the wrong decision sooner, learn from mistakes made and pivot, rather than wait 3 months to explore what other hypothetical scenarios could possibly span out. I see so many people and organisations suffering from the inability to make decisions that they eventually miss opportunities that their competitors or small time startups pursue at pace.

One particular problem I see everyone suffering from is being email overload.

So how do we reduce email fatigue and help speed up decision-making processes?

My 5 Golden Rules for Email Emancipation.

1. Be disciplined: Religiously unsubscribe from anything not utterly essential ( ie. crap). As soon as you buy something from a new site, or sign up for a whitepaper and you get that initial “welcome email” – ask yourself this question: do I really have the time to read all the  content (or marketing BS at worst) these people are going to send me every day/week/month? In some cases the answer will be yes, but in most the answer will be no.

For my personal email address I use a free service called unroll.me which has drastically cut the time I spend trawling through my inbox. My rule of thumb is: have I opened that recurring email more than 3 times in the last month? If the answer is no, then I unsubscribe. The first I used this service, I unsubscribed from over 200 email subscriptions in less than 10 minutes.

Time saved: 30 subscriptions X 30 secs (attention)/email: 15 minutes a day.

2. Learn how to auto archive emails that don’t require you to read them on a daily basis. 

For those of us in the corporate world who receive FYI emails on a daily basis but have to keep these emails for specific reports/presentations, this tip will save you upwards of 10-15minutes of time/week.

We overload ourselves with useless information which hampers our ability to make effective decisions. Ask yourself “what information do I really need to do my day to day job effectively” as well as “what are the metrics my boss looks at religiously?”.

Focus on these and only these.

3. Hold company wide internal “email etiquette” training.
Oldies and newbies alike don’t know how to use email properly. Teach them what the email culture of your organisation is. Tell them when it is appropriate to CC people. Tell them when it is appropriate to use formal vs. informal email signatures. Tell them which emails need to archived/deleted.
Then hold a team meeting (as most emails chains are within teams) to discuss when its appropriate to email, use chat or just have a face to face conversation. I think this is really important when you have teams of people from different generations.

My pet peeves:

  • Emails without subject lines
  • Contents of email has nothing to do with the subject line
  • Multiple non-related issues/projects being discussed in the same chain- CC’ing people who have nothing to do with the subject line
  • Forwards with “FYI”, followed with a chain of 600 emails. If you are forwarding something to your boss (or someone for advice), ask specifically what input you want from them, whether it be a confirmation, a decision, or if there is a specific piece where you need their input.

4. If your company uses Outlook, use Conversation View in your inbox. This will sort your email chains into threads (like gmail) and source the emails from different folder locations that have the same subject title (e.g. emails in your inbox, sent items, deleted items etc. will appear in one thread of emails organised in time sequence)

This will drastically reduce the time you spend looking for specific email.

5. Email is old. Get with the times and move your team onto Slack.

You may have internal messaging platforms, but none are as functionally useful as Slack. Heck, NASA collaborated the Mars project on the platform… so how complicated can your projects possibly be?

Using Slack will drastically reduce the number of emails in your organisation and more importantly, you’ll have a historical chain of development of projects over time. So when someone leaves the company, you can see the logical progression of what they collaborated on with other team members.

And as a final, parting note, be sure to develop good email habits.

Indecision wastes an incredible amount of time. Don’t open your emails when you know you don’t have time to respond.

Open the email when you can take that next step- make the call, delete/archive and move on. Develop a habit of 100 emails or less in your inbox. 100 is my number, for other people is 30, 50 or something else. The point is, when the number of emails in your inbox goes over this number, you know you are losing control.

Thank you for reading my post. I regularly write about productivity hacks, people management, digital & data. If you would like to read my regular posts, please click ‘Follow’ and feel free to also connect via Twitter & Facebook. Here are some other recent articles I have written:

About: Imteaz Ahamed works in the eCommerce space for RB. At the tender age of 6, in the early 90’s his father bought him a 386 PC for $3000, the best investment he could’ve ever made for his son. Imteaz also mentors early stage startups & entrepreneurs from all over the world and is avid fan of hackathons. He is also a StartupBus Conductor and Alumni – the most intense 72 hour startup hackathon in the world.

5 ways to stop email killing you & your company

The 3 Benefits of Infectious Curiosity

I am obsessed with knowing why and how things come to be. Knowing how something works isn’t good enough; I need to understand the relationship between things and how it makes everything else in the bigger picture tick.

Looking to differentiate yourself from your colleagues? Be curious. Tell people what you’ve just read out of HBR, Wired, TechCrunch or a LinkedIn post. Always inspire people to learn more by showing them what’s out there.

Instead of checking your email 30 times more than you should – set some time in your daily schedule to read something new and make a habit of telling someone about it within 24 hours. Making a habit of actively revising your newfound knowledge will actually help you remember it for a lot longer than if you just skim over an article.

The benefits of infectious curiosity:

1. You learn.
Learning is a lifelong endeavour. It nurtures your mind and builds you as a person. If you want to have a growth mindset for the rest of your life and avoid stagnating, you must invest in your personal development. The only time you should stop learning is when your heart stops beating.

2. You become interesting to talk to.
The most interesting people are those with stories to tell. The ability to captivate an audience with your knowledge of fascinating tidbits is one that will pay dividends if you leverage it properly. People pay you a lot of attention when you talk about stuff that most people don’t bother to, specifically people of influence.

3. You inspire people of influence to think optimistically about the future.
There are so many problems to solve in the world and there are so many wonderful people working in these fields – take their insights and passion and spread the love by telling other people about it. By doing so, you become that positive person people want to relate to.

So where do you find all this interesting content? Simple. Let other people find it for you.

If used properly, your social media feed will give you all the best articles & readings you could ever hope for. The trick is to delete (or hide) the people who only post stuff about themselves (you know who I mean) and curate your feed with inspirational people who post a lot on social media. Some great sources include:

  • Mark Zuckerberg: he regularly shares what he’s reading with the entire world
  • Richard Branson: a regular blogger with keen insights about entrepreneurship and innovation
  • Bill Gates: a keen social advocate, Gates is the epitome of entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist and his insights into both areas are incredibly interesting
  • HBR Blogs: the go-to place for business content
  • Quora: Yahoo-answers much more sophisticated, intellectual cousin, Quora is one of those places you could literally lose yourself in. Very popular amongst Silicon-Valley-ers, Quora is a goldfield of fascinating content.

Thank you for reading my post. Here at LinkedIn & on my personal blog, I regularly write about people management, digital & data. If you would like to read my regular posts, please click ‘Follow’ and feel free to also connect via Twitter, Facebook andimteazahamed.com.
Here are some other recent articles I have written:

About: Imteaz Ahamed works in the eCommerce space for RB. At the tender age of 6, in the early 90’s his father bought him a 386 PC for $3000, the best investment he could’ve ever made for his son. Imteaz also mentors early stage startups & entrepreneurs from all over the world and is avid fan of hackathons. He is also StartupBus Alumni – the most intense 72 hour startup hackathon in the world.

The 3 Benefits of Infectious Curiosity

Connectors win in the long run

Envy isn’t a part of my makeup.

At school, I was subject to a highly competitive environment. I had a 12-year old super genius in my Year 12, Extension 2 math class (the highest level of high school mathematics offered in Australia – not bad for tween). I also sat next to a guy who scored 100 in the university admission index. I was surrounded by what you’d call nerds, so I was nowhere near being the smartest kid at school and I knew it . My strengths were never in the traditional subjects – I did well in things like public speaking, debating, art, design tech, talking smack & being a showman. Not exactly examinable content.

But if school taught me one thing it was this: how to value & respect everyone. I’ve always had an ability to connect with the super geniuses – being able to discuss abstract concepts like whether zero is a positive or negative number and make them feel comfortable being themselves. And yet I was also cool with the super cool kids. My ability to transcend social constructs allowed me to move freely between diverse circles and learn from them all.

Now that I’m a grown up (though my wife would disagree), I apply this in a work context – I work in the tech space, but have no formal tech background. I’m the connector between the tech people and the key stakeholders that have the authority to make decisions. I can communicate effectively with both because I can speak their respective “language”. This comes from being appropriate to the situation you are in & selecting your words carefully to have maximal impact. This is a skill that can be easily developed over time – specifically if you mentally prepare how to you want to approach things.

Just like most learned behaviours, once you get the hang of it – it becomes second nature.

Be the connector at work, in relationships and in life. Be the guy/gal that bridges the gap between seemingly incompatible units. Not only will you be valued for your incredible ability to communicate but you will be in a prime position to create cross functional opportunities that will put you years ahead of the game.

Connectors win in the long run

EQ Insights from the Happiest Person in the World

Growing up was tough. Not in the way people usually mean it when they say that though. I had a roof over my head, a hot dinner on the table every night and everything I needed or wanted. My parents worked full-time, I went to a selective high school and did pretty well academically and socially.

It was tough because I had a sister. A sister that happened to have an intellectual disability.

What does that mean? Well basically, it means she will never grow up (Peter-Pan style). Her mental capacity is that of a 2 year old and will remain so for the rest of her life. She can feed herself, walk by herself and follow simple instructions but that’s as far as her autonomy goes. Everything else (including her toileting, showering & day to day activities) must be tended to by someone else. When she’s not in care during the day, she’s being looked after by my tireless parents who come home from their full-time jobs each and every day to look after her every need.

And yet, she is the glue that keeps our family together. As her only sibling, I was made aware from a very young age that she would one day be my full responsibility. To have that on your shoulders from such a tender age forces you to grow up and be determined to achieve a lot in life. My sister has been my inspiration to succeed and has helped me gain insights into the world and people that I could not have gleaned otherwise.

Her EQ is incredible – she can gauge how personable a person is from the moment she meets them for the first time. She either likes them or doesn’t and in almost all cases, as I’ve ended up discovering, her assessments have been spot on. How does she display this? With warm, happy and hospitable people – she will instantly connect with them and sit & converse with them in her own way. With cold people, she’ll either refuse to enter their house or stay as far away as possible from them. How she gained this ability we will never know.

What amazes me most about her is that she’s always happy. Always. As someone with Angelman syndrome, her happy disposition is a prominent feature of the condition and one which endears her to everyone she meets. This has taught me an invaluable lesson in life about human connection – it’s fostered through hearts not words.

To experience what this is like – help out a person with a disability. Hang out and do an activity together (painting, walking, reading a book). You don’t appreciate what you have until you lose it – just observe the perseverance of a person with a disability and see how little effort you actually put into your life.

EQ Insights from the Happiest Person in the World