Predicting news: The top 25 headlines after the launch of the Apple watch #AppleWatchPossibleHeadlines

Predicting the news is rather hard.  There are many things you dont even know about or can anticipate, but not with all news related to Apple. Given the over 12,000 blog posts devoted to Apple over the last year from The Verge, Mac Rumors, 9to5 Mac, EnGadget, Business Insider and many others, it is easy to put together a list of potential headlines that you can anticipate with  some level of confidence.

For every angle of the news of the Apple watch there are 2 possible outcomes, the good outcome, the bad outcome. It is more likely that the average outcome is what happens, but with Apple fans it is not at all hard to be confident that every average outcome is re purposed as a feature and not a bug. Case in point: The iPhone 4 dropped calls and users were blamed for “holding it wrong“.

So lets do a thought experiment and put the various possible headlines.

  1. Apple confirms over 1 million watches sold as pre-orders exceed expectations (MacRumors)
  2. Here are the only 5 Apple stores still left where you can get appointments for your Apple Watch (Business Insider)
  3. Apple analyst says his checks indicate that demand for the Apple Watch is off the charts (VentureBeat)
  4. Hands on with 15 different Apple watches and straps (Video) – The Verge
  5. Which Apple watch should you buy (we have tried them all) – Mashable
  6. Apple watch tear down reveals 78% margins and $102 is the BOM cost – iFixit
  7. Apple watch reservations are being auctioned on eBay for $25 to $50 – Tech Crunch
  8. The genius move by Apple to force reservations and create artificial demand – Jon Gurber
  9. Apple has sold more watches in 1 week than Android Wear for the entire year – enGadget
  10. Apple has significant supply chain problems, which is creating artificial demand for reservations – ReCode
  11. Here is the list of top 100 celebrities who have bought the Apple Watch (with photos) – Business Insider
  12. What happens when I strapped my Apple watch on my cat and left it for a day – Apple insider
  13. Apple watch straps cause rashes on your wrist – Mac forums are full of people complaining about it – Mashable
  14. The 50 unintended uses of Apple watch that I never expected – Apple fanboy
  15. How we jailbroke the Apple watch to work with Android KitKat – Android Central
  16. The expected lift from Apple watch to Q3 revenues for the company- Benedict Evans
  17. Apple watch disrupts the iPad and Telecom carriers voice plans – Asymco
  18. Apple watch gets poor reviews from early users causing oversupply – Business Journals
  19. Apple watch oversold and the reviews pouring in are overwhelmingly positive – San Jose Mercury News
  20. New blog showing celebrities sporting their Apple Watch goes viral – Huffington post
  21. Watch demand in China over strips supply as Apple reroutes orders from Europe – ZdNet
  22. Notifications are overdone say users as many turn off apps on the watch – ComputerWorld
  23. How many people bought the $10K Apple watch on Wall Street – We have the answer – Business Insider
  24. 10 things you never knew you could do with your Apple watch – MacRumors
  25. Apple stock hits an all time high as watch users drive sales – CNBC

For each and every one of these headlines the opposite can also be true. Which means we don’t quite know if it will do well or not, but if you are a editor at one of these publications, I’d totally steal these headlines and start writing copy to beat the others.

#AppleWatchPossibleHeadline

Who should you raise money for your #startup from if you had a choice?

I got a question from a friend Abhinav Sahai, as a follow up to my post “Does who you raise money from limit or grow the size of your ambition?”

What are the parameters that one should look at when choosing ‘who’ to raise money from? 

I am going to give you the easy answer first to the question. This is based on my observation that most entrepreneurs find it extremely hard to raise money for any number of reasons – positioning, not being in the network, not having sufficient traction, etc.

The answer is “Whoever is willing to give it to you”.

For over 80% of entrepreneurs that answer should be sufficient, unfortunately.

Lets assume though that you are in a position to receive interest from multiple investors and you have to make a choice. Or you are going about your fund raise in a strategic fashion and are looking to target specific investors who you’d like to bring on board at your startup.

The overarching theme to address this question is to bring folks who provide “Smart Capital“.

Most investors will give you money. That’s why they are an investor.

What you need in addition to the capital is what you should be looking to get from investors if you have the choice.

1. In some cases that might be connections and networks - to other investors, to potential customers, partners or future employees.

2. In other cases it might be expertise and insights - how to address questions that you will face while you scale and grow your startup.

3. In still other cases it  might be credibility and advice - being associated with top folks in your industry gives you a leg up over others.

4. In still other cases you might just want someone you can trust and sound ideas off. Knowing that your startup journey is going to be long and lonely means you need folks to help keep your morale up or to help you gain perspective.

They may be more things you might need in addition to capital, but most will fall into these 3-4 buckets.

Typically most folks will tell you that they can bring their expertise and connections. 

If you can be strategic about your fund raising (meaning you have good runway, or have great traction), then I’d highly recommend you look at your fundraising as a project that the CEO undertakes herself.

It will take about 3-6 months (elapsed time) from start to finish, so you should be willing to be patient, and consistently follow up as with any strategic project.

So the question then becomes how do you gauge if someone has expertise or connections?

The simple test is to ask them questions you face daily and look for depth of the answers, the breadth of their knowledge and the ability for them to customize their learning to your needs. That will give you a sense for their expertise.

The depth and breadth of their network is also easy to test – ask them to introduce you to 2-3 people you have been trying to meet to help validate your plan.

Above all I’d highly recommend you reference check. Talk to others in their network who they have invested with or other entrepreneurs they have invested in to get a sense for the investor.

The most critical question you can ask is how they respond to tough situations. 

100% of all startups go to hell and back before they are a success or a failure. When you have supportive investors to help you along the hard journey, it will be a lot less stressful.

Facebook more than Google is the new Microsoft #fastfollower

I was catching up with all the F8 news over this weekend and something struck me as odd. Facebook is the new “fast follower“. They are pursuing the multiple app strategy, not the single app strategy.

It is almost as if they dont have new ideas, but keep picking up the best ideas from every other team and executing it better because of their inherent strengths.

They borrowed the hashtags from Twitter.

They stole stickers from folks like Line and Kakaotalk.

They picked up the send money via messenger from Google wallet.

They also picked up sending messages to small businesses directly from users from the Square app.

I can see their acquisition strategy being similar as well – buying the new age “consumer suite” instead of the Microsoft “office suite” – with WhatsApp for messaging, Instagram for Photos and likely buy Meerkat sometime soon, when they hit mainstream. I still believe they will buy SnapChat sometime in the near future.

The other part of the strategy that makes it interesting is how Microsoft and Facebook realize that they are both competing with Google (Android) and Apple (ioS) in terms of real estate on the mobile phone.

Android just recently announced Work and Home profiles which will allow the user to have 24 – 30 apps which occupy the “home screen”.

Microsoft with the acquisitions of Accompli, Sunrise and LiveLoop now owns email, calendar, productivity and is only missing work productivity – which it did own – via Skype and Skype for Business, by others.

Facebook, with Instagram, Whatsapp and its own apps dominates the “home” fun and communication screen. What it is missing is private sharing (Snapchat etc.) and possibly video (Meerkat).

I can also see Facebook partnering with someone or buying a Music app and a dating app as well.

That’s primarily because most Smartphone users (over 65%) dont download any apps and use the ones that are default on their phone.

The ones that Microsoft and Facebook are missing on iOS and Android are maps (most people use Apple or Google maps) and browser (most folks use Chrome or Safari).

I wont be surprised at all if Facebook partners with ESPN and Weather channel to create “Social Sports” and “Social Weather” apps as well.

Does who you raise money from limit or grow the size of your ambition?

I was speaking to a prominent angel investors in the Seattle ecosystem yesterday. He has been pretty prolific, doing over 20 deals in the last 5 years. He does mostly syndicates and has a band of investors he works with. Having been a successful technology executive before, he understands the market and the landscape fairly well.

We got talking about accelerators and their place in the startup food chain.

Most VC’s and angels will tell you that in the last 2-3 years, accelerator backed companies have gone from 0 to about 5-10% of their portfolio. Many seed (angel, individual) investors still believe that proprietary deal flow is critical to their success in building a strong portfolio.

The thing that struck me was how he mentioned that in the last year he has changed his position from “angel investor education” to “entrepreneur education”.

The reason was that he felt entrepreneurs were not clear on the market landscape for exits and how angel investors need to make money as well. I can understand and empathize. If angel investors don’t make money, they wont be able to convince other new investors to come along.

He was talking about the example where most of his companies (of the ones that exited) have been acquired for between $25 and $100 Million. He has 4 exits, so there’s clearly insufficient data to form a trend.

Nonetheless, he felt it was important to ensure that entrepreneurs understand that the series A VC round was getting bigger and getting harder, so he was pushing for his entrepreneurs to be capital efficient and raise as little as possible, expecting to raise < $3 million ($500K – $1Mill, first seed, followed by a < $2M post seed). That way he felt, that a < $10 Million valuation in your post seed will still get you a 2 – 5X multiple return.

Normally I would have filed this under “investor that cares about returns only so don’t bother”, but this investor is really smart and has been helping his entrepreneurs successfully raise their follow-on’s. Of the 20+ companies, he has helped 80% of them raise follow on funding within 18 months. Pretty impressive.

Then it struck me as I was speaking to a valley VC later in the evening, who mentioned there was “frothiness” in the valley and that companies were raising money because everything is just so much more expensive. He was advocating the “Go big or Go home” strategy.

Turns out there are multiple options indeed for entrepreneurs – if you can get to the valley, and plug into the network, you tend to raise a lot more money, grow big and scale fast.

If you are not in the valley, you grow slower.

I have a few questions though:

1. Do you know what drives you – making good money or making a difference? – Saying both is an easy cop out. What would you prioritize?

2. Does the size of your ambition affect who you raise money from and where?

3. Does who you raise money from (not the amount) affect the size of your outcome as well?

I suspect the answer to all these questions is a qualified yes. I’d love your 1-2 sentence answer (or 140 character tweet) to these questions.

The analogies and words people use in your startup meetings define your culture

As a founder, it is important to define and constantly manage / prune your company culture. Why? It defines your growth, who you hire and how you respond to situations.

Most founders don’t understand, though, what the company’s culture really is. When you have more than a few dozen people, things change dramatically if you are not constantly pruning and hiring the right folks. Even the best leaders have a little more than 50% batting average when it comes to hiring stars, so it is no surprise that culture changes at a startup quickly if it is not nurtured.

What is then the best way to understand what your company’s culture is and how it manifests itself in your interactions?

The best way I have found you can understand your company’s culture is attend a critical kickoff meeting for a key project for every team, every so often.

Not as a contributor or a participant, but as an observer.

Sometimes folks in the room will be cautious about having the founder attend their meetings and be likely guarded in that meeting, so I’d recommend you ask to be on the conference call, not in person. Most people tend to forget folks on the conference call, and tend to be their natural self.

Then look for key words that people use to describe actions, situations, responses and milestones.

For example, at Microsoft teams use the words rhythm, cadence, muscle memory and “landing things” a lot on the sales side of the house. On the engineering side it tends to be “shipping bits”, agile, “landing things” and cadence a lot.

It is very useful to understand where those words come from and what people believe in when they are confronted with situations. They also though, define the culture of the organization.

As instrumental as these words are in understanding what people value, it is also indicative of what gets ignored.

The best way to have an understanding of the culture is to ask questions about quality, deadlines and budget.

These items will give you the best response into the psyche of the organization.

Another thing to look for is the analogies that people use to describe situations.

Most sales teams will use sports analogies (for example you will hear at Microsoft about “hail Mary” effort to secure a difficult customer effort by end of the quarter). Engineering teams tend to (at Microsoft at least) use science analogies – (for example you will hear frequency and amplitude of releases, and the signal to noise ratio of feature requests).

Some of these analogies are truly regional and defined by background, but once in a while, when you have a new leader who wants to redefine the culture they start to use different and new analogies, which stay for much longer than their tenure.

As a founder the best way to have these “grapevine” stories stick is to use analogies that folks will adopt because it creates a sense of “insider knowledge” or “tribal power”. It is also the best way to ensure that your culture has a cult following.

What to do the day after the launch of your company or announcing new features

There is always a sense of euphoria after a “launch” of any sort. Especially if you have been working on your product / service for many months and are not particularly sure how it will be received. Then you get a chance to go “public” with your features / product or company. It tends to be exhilarating, but brings its own set of things to do after the launch.

There are 3 major buckets of items that you will encounter the day after the launch.

They fall into the “do now”, “do later” and “do never” bucket.

First the “Do Now” bucket. I would put thanking people that supported you on the top of the list. Send personal emails to the reporter, initial users, advisors and mentors with a list of links (combine all coverage instead of sending multiple messages) that indicate the coverage your received for the launch. Even if all you did was launch it on HN, it helps to take a screen shot, or even provide a link to the comments. If you have a team, I’d highly recommend you collate all the links, and put them into a document to share and discuss when you meet. It helps to set context to something you have all been working on. Even if the feedback on the launch is negative or “meh”, I’d still recommend you put it together.

I’d also immediately put together a spreadsheet with the major items of feedback and perspectives, and put them into feature requests, comments, questions and general feedback. Some of them you can action and others likely not. Either ways, it is quicker and more helpful to capture all the feedback just after the launch rather than go back and revisit it later.

Finally I’d spend quite a bit of time providing customer support - helping answer user questions, addressing their issues (without coding new features immediately) and also documenting the bugs they encounter – maybe you might want to even fix the blockers or P zeros (priority zeros).

Second, for your “Do later” bucket. I’d write a blog post to collect your thoughts, and write about your experience overall – what were the highlights when you got your start, what the low lights were, what your journey was and how you made critical decisions. In that blog post I’d also add the links to the launch coverage.

I would also spend some time after day 1 on your traffic analytics - where did you users come from, where they spent time and finally what they did. These will help you prioritize the key elements of your go forward plan and help you target the right press or channels going forward.

This is also a good time (do later, not immediately) to check all your social channels – Quora, FB, Twitter etc. to capture your feedback. I dont put these in the do now bucket, because while you might get some feedback that needs immediate attention, they tend to be a big drain and time sink. You will end up responding to some of the feedback, but most of the response from your side will be emotional – either happy, because your launch was well received, or sad because you were panned.

Finally the “Do never” bucket. You will get a lot of email from potential recruiters – who have “a rock star ninja” who wants to join your team and mentioned your company by name, or potential partners who “want to set up time over coffee to talk about potential ways to partner” or other principals and associates at investment firms who “followed” your launch or were tracking you on angel list or tried your product and would like to setup some time to learn more.

These waste the most amount of your time. I’d highly recommend you push them all out by a few weeks and use it as a technique to buy some time and gauge their interest after 3-4 weeks. While I have learned that there’s some truth to the “strike when the iron’s hot”, these are rarely hot irons, but more “flat coal”.

I’d love your feedback. What’s been on your do now, do later and do never bucket after launch?

How “Clustering Illusion” stalls more #startups than any other bias

When you are doing your initial customer development, by talking to many potential users, there are many cognitive biases you need to be aware of.

Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment.

Usually most founders tend to solve problems they have exposure to or those they are aware of, or those they believe to be one that’s a large market. This stems from the “scratch your own itch” phenomenon.

I had a conversation with a founder who is building a consumer internet company, where viral effects of her product determine the growth trajectory more than any other metric. Or so, she had learned from many other founders experiences – both by talking to them and investors in the space.

After 3 months of building her mobile eCommerce product, she and her cofounder launched it in the marketplace. Initial traction was good and trending ahead of their expectations. Many of the early users were impressed with their product selection and merchandise.

Growth after the 4th month though, stalled as they were on the road trying to raise their initial funding. Most every entrepreneur knows that fund raising can be a full time job. In fact I have mentioned several times that fundraising is a poker game more than chess.

When they were trying to show their initial user growth, many investors had the same problem – was their product a trendy, 3-month-uptick or a sustainable-fast-growth business?

After hearing this from the 5th seed investor, they determined that they need to look closer at their numbers, their repeat purchase behavior and address the issue before they were going to raise any funding.

Looking at the initial numbers suggested their they had many buyers who got to know about them through word-of-mouth, and the repeat purchase was high.

She and her cofounder determined that they had to improve their virality coefficient.

This is the bias I see most often: clustering illusion.

The clustering illusion is the tendency to erroneously consider the inevitable “streaks” or “clusters” arising in small samples from random distributions to be statistically significant.

When you have very little data, you have very little data. That’s it.

Don’t make assumptions about the overall market based on very little data.

There are times when you have 60% of the data and you have to make a decision. There are times when you have 30% data and you have to make a decision.

The difference between 30% and 60% is a lot. In fact, most entrepreneurs I deal with confuse having 3% of data with 30% of data.

To reduce clustering illusion the only remedy is to get more data. You will have to run more, smaller, experiments, over smaller periods of time and do it consistently. Make your assumptions, document your hypothesis, but continue to work on getting more data.

Turns out the real problem for our entrepreneur was that the overall market was much smaller, and they found it after 1 year of trying to increase their virality coefficient. They did raise their initial funding, but have since pivoted to expand their merchandise offerings to cater to a larger market.