So a few weeks ago I attended the Scottish National Economic Forum in Edinburgh. The focus was on building Scotland as a digital nation – with the sub topic of cyber crime.
Now, I’ll hold my hand up and say that I wasn’t expecting much and with the 2.5 hour journey to get there expectations had dipped even lower!
The first thing that struck me was the sheer number of suits and ties! I understand that even making this observation sounds trite and, all in all, me a bit of a dick, but hey! The fact is that formality is not my thing, and indeed it does not chime with my experiences in the digital world. Maybe the atmosphere would have been more laid back, rather ungovernmental, without the formality. The fact is that most of the people attended were not in the tech sector or indeed under 40 years old. Maybe those points are related, maybe not.
Anyway the above is nitpicking so on to other matters.
One comment at the forum stood out on my radar. It was made by John Swinney who stated he thinks that they have the (early stage) startup scene and angel funding sorted in Scotland, he thinks the problem is now venture funding. Really! I don’t think this is true at all. There are nowhere near enough people starting companies. From what I can see people still have “the fear”, the completely-and-absolutely-no-risk-taking-I-must-have-a-mortgage-by-25-and-must-never-fail-or-be-seen-to-fail attitude. I attend or have attended quite a few startup/business meetups around Glasgow and quite frankly the scene is “quiet”. For me to feel this about Scotland’s largest city surely means it’s far from being “cracked”. It’s never going to be Silicon Valley so let’s not try to be. Onwards.
The workshop on digital marketing was good. Not exactly ground breaking but was nice to hear what some local marketers and government agencies were doing on the digital marketing front. What was quite poetic was the gentleman sitting next to me showing examples of new types of marketing material in the form of promotional gatefolds with embedded screens which is exactly what Neonburn (my business) can be used to create. Well I never!
What followed was the ominous networking time. I say ominous as quite frankly I suck at it, I just find it completely unnatural, and it probably comes across that way as well! I do try though, fear not. Strange thing is I enjoy talking about my business, who would have guessed.
And finally. I was asked “are you looking to raise money” to which my reply was “no just making some sales would do rather nicely”. Is it just he automatic assumption now that to start a business you need to get money and without that you can do nothing? Surely it wasn’t always this way???
If there is one thing that is likely to unsteady the ship as a sole founder is lack of enthusiasm. No one there to push you on. No one to confide in. No one to help when things are just not working. All these things can lead you down the dark path.
I was reminded just how bad this can get over the last week or so when I got myself into a rut while trying to solve a problem with my code.
To be specific: I use fabric.js to draw shapes on an HTML5 canvas, however, I have pretty much wrote my own way to scale objects up and down as I found that if you have an image as a shape background then you get unacceptable pixelization – I tried the static and dynamic resize filters but they appear too slow. All was working fine but things were going wrong when you have a group shape as resizing wasn’t working correctly – amongst other things.
What I thought should have been an easy task turned into a nightmare. I was hacking away – essentially like a headless horseman – grasping at any straw to solve my problem without ever really thinking about the problem. The real problem was just that I wanted to solve the big problem without really knowing what all the little problems were. You see this so much these days with code, folk expect to find the solution to their problem on StackOverflow, and if they do, they copy-paste in the solution without ever understanding the problem. The day always comes where you can’t do this or it doesn’t really solve your problem and you only realise too late. That’s another story for another day though!
So the more days that went past the more I got frustrated by this problem. As each day ticked by my daily schedule (as I talked about before) was just a worthless piece of paper that I filled out each morning trying to pretend that I was in control. Each day my enthusiasm was dropping exponentially. This is where is really hit home having no one to talk over the problem with – talking it over with friends is likely not much use as no one is likely to understand what you are doing deeply enough to make any technical contribution. I was honestly at the point where I thought it was easier to just abandon Neonburn before I’d ever given it a chance. It’s amazing how the mind works, you’re happy to give up something you’ve given months and months of your life over to just because of one little problem.
Thankfully I started making small wins by edging little by little to a working solution, at which point the enthusiasm gradually startsed increasing. I started to understand the problem (I abstracted it mathematically rather than trying to write code to solve my problem). All of a sudden things were looking better and it’s amazing how good it feels getting these little wins. It’s important to accept that just because you can describe the problem succinctly it means that the said thing is easy to accomplish technically – think hoverboard!
So I’m not entirely sure of the moral of this story is. It’s probably along the lines of give yourself little wins all the time which of course means you need to set yourself smaller tasks. Walking away from something is actually the easy option, but then again so is battling away without really thinking about what you are fighting. However, I in no way believe that this won’t happen to me again. The only thing I remember thinking at the time that got me back on track was: this has happened before, and you always get it fixed even if it seems impossible at the time (this is assuming that you know it’s at least possible). I don’t want to trout out the whole “never give up” mantra as that sounds too much self-improvement-guy, it’s more a “never give up without having a proper logical converstation with yourself about it” – that’s not as snappy though!
Why is getting over the line so difficult? When developing software and someone asks you how are you getting on, you always inevitably hear “it’s nearly done, just this, this and this” to do. Next week “this, this and this” are the exact same things. Your first thought is then to say “do we really need these things done before we launch/release?” Surely if they’re not essentially then you just release? The problem is, this will boil down to how you define “essential”.
For example, I have a really hard time with the concept of a MVP (minimum viable product). Maybe I’m just not the customer for someone launching an MVP as I would abandon it in minutes if it was (A) difficult to do what I wanted it to do, and (B) bug ridden. The thing is, I can’t honestly understand why anyone would tolerate an app with these shortcomings. Is it just the case that a product has to be 10% better to convince some to buy/switch? That seems low to me. I’d say in my case it’d need to be at least 50% better to motivate me to switch. (Those we made up numbers!)
In reality, I think I’d be more encouraging of MVP+ – basically MVP that does something but I’m not expected to deal and workaround shitty bugs all day, and you wouldn’t be embarrassed if you asked someone to pay for it. I don’t see a meaningful B2B product as something that you can do throw together in 2 weeks.
Having said all this, I think it’s important as a founder to realise when you need to show what you have created – what is the point in doing it otherwise. I’m one of the guilty ones when it comes to holding off for an MVP++! There comes a day when you need to get off your arse and take a risk – but just minimise it and don’t turn customers off for good by releasing crap.
So in summary, if your product is good enough that you’d feel happy charging money for it (assuming you have a reasonable moral compass) then it’s definitely time to let the world see it, otherwise I’d think twice.
PS. 50% better than others and I’d happily take money for it www.neonburn.com. Haha.
One of the main concerns that you have as a single founder is forcing yourself to meet goals on a week to week (or daily) basis. Obviously the easiest way to achieve your goals (assuming you have taken the right step and set some) is to have customers pushing and pressing you for action. On the other hand, as a customer I wouldn’t be too happy having to micro-manage a startup on a daily basis. With co-founders this tasks becomes easier, as peer pressure kicks in and accountability becomes easier to manage.
One way to mitigate this problem is by using your blog to force a level of accountability. Given this, it’s with great pleasure (or more importantly as I said I would do in my last blog post!) I’d like to introduce my very-soon-to-be-live product Neonburn.
So what is Neonburn? Well it’s an online web app that allows you to easily create and design an interactive digital sign for display on an Android tablet or mobile device. The main benefits of using Neonburn:
- Easy to create and design without any specialist knowledge or design skills.
- The signs are interactive so you can control what happens when someone taps certain objects on the screen.
- Signs remotely update when changed via the online app – ideal if you have new promotions that you want to advertise and don’t want to have to manually change each individual tablet, or maybe you don’t even have physical access to the devices at all.
- No other apps on the device can be accessed once the app is deployed, and the device always boots to your sign, i.e. customers can’t interact with the device in ways that you don’t want them to.
The application is going to be of interest to you if you manage a retail store or public house and want to make your customers aware of your current promotions, while multi-site organisations will find the ability to remotely change signs in multiple locations simultaneously (without the need for a physical presence) invaluable. The interactive aspect of the signs are ideal for improving customer engagement in situations such as trade shows, or to create interactive displays at museums and galleries. It could also be used by retail stores looking to give customers an interactive tour of their products – without the need to directly involve sales staff. Finally it just makes for a very cool looking signs in your workplace – especially if you have
propaganda a set of values or metrics that you want to ensure everyone knows about.
If you would like to be one of the first to try this out (or you want this product right now!!) then please sign up for the pre-launch newsletter on the www.neonburn.com website.
By next week the plan is to have the web app open to those looking to create some great looking signs and then by the end of next week to have the app on the beta channel of the Google Play Store. Obviously, anyone who’s keen to be involved in the process at this early stage can count on getting a discount before we open to the big wide world! Go on.