Forrest Blount

Bootstrapping in the Boston Metro

The Future of Work - Dan Pink @TED

If you’ve had questions about why I think the hiring process is broken, check this out. The future of hiring will be about aligning the intrinsic motivators of people and organizations. When aligned they’ll cause an explosion of knowledge, community, and productivity, for employees and employers both.

Dreaming the Team - Building Values Before Recruiting

I’ve been spending a good portion of the last few weeks networking on the local scene in an attempt to find a co-founder or technical lead to help me build out a prototype.  I’ve met a lot of great people, from really talented students already thinking about how to start companies to programmers fully entrenched in multiple startups, but I haven’t found anyone up to my challenge.  What am I looking for that’s so hard to find?

Originality.  If you’re going to launch a startup with only a few people on your team, you need to find people thirsty for something original.  It needs to be in their blood.  I don’t want to hear about how fast you can turn code out or how many projects you’ve worked on, I want to hear about what you’ve done that no one else has done before.

Integrity.  Anyone who comes on board as a co-founder (or, to be honest, up to employee fifty), needs to be above all scrutiny.  This is why so many first time entrepreneurs launch companies with their friends, spouses, or former business contacts, but in lieu of having one of these on board, I need you to be one of the most upstanding and honest people I’ve ever met.  I’m looking for the salt of the earth.

Passion.  The Founder Institute puts a lot of stake on passion during the application process, but until recently I didn’t understand why.  It doesn’t matter how detailed our project specs are, they will change.  As will our business plan, revenue model, customers and employees.  The difference between a good team and a great team is based on a shared passion.  I  don’t expect everyone to agree all the time, and I don’t expect anyone to back down easily or gracefully, even if proven wrong, but I do expect everyone to bring passion that will bring all of use back tomorrow and the day after with new ideas and a greater sense of purpose.

Skill.  In all my working experience, one attribute above all others has made me happy to work next to, break bread with, or celebrate accomplishments with a coworker: talent.  You might be self taught and full or enormous potential, or you could be a veteran with 20 years of industry experience, but you’re most definitely competent in all things you undertake, excited by the prospect of the unknown, and able, neigh, delighted, to explain your successes and failures to others.  In short, once you’ve set your mind on something, you know it is achievable.

 These attributes aren’t just what I want from a co-founder, they’re what I want from my friends.  The goal here isn’t to find a co-founder, or to hire a lead developer, it’s to build a company I’ll be proud to work for in ten years.  If you could look down the road, what values would you most want to see in your work place in ten years?  Would you work for a company built on the above values?  What others would you add?

State of the Internet (as a Job Board?)

The more innovative recruiters at growing companies like Zappos and Dell are now are using social media to engage prospective candidates in a genuine and inexpensive way: building candidate communities in their career site and blogs, search engine optimizing job listings, distributing jobs through social networks to dramatically drive referrals, and tracking web analytics by job to determine their best sources of talent.

To me, the more interesting acquisition was Monster’s purchase 18 months ago of Trovix, a Bay Area startup that built a behavioral algorithm for matching jobs and resumes to help recruiters sift through applicants and jobseekers through jobs. But, the irony is that they will be “unveiling” this new technology, dubbed 6Sense, on this weekend’s (expensive) Super Bowl, the annual marketing battleground of the big, horizontal job boards.

Many of you probably heard earlier this week that Monster purchased Yahoo’s HotJobs. The timing of this is fascinating, especially as Monster prepares to launch their new “6Sense” job matching system (word is today, during the big game).

I don’t want to get into my thoughts on how to position my company amidst this landscape (yet), but the point made in this article about the current downturn dramatically speeding up forces at play in the hiring market is well made. If Monster is shelling out big money for candidates (HotJobs, to try to take the #1 position again) and matching algorithms (Trovix, to power their new 6Sense system) there’s clearly a lot happening that the big dogs are trying to keep up with.

What Is the Minimum Viable Product? - @venturehacks

I found myself on venturehacks.com today after following their just launched StatupList writeup on TechCrunch. But once I was on their site I started digging through their archives and their writeup on Minimum Viable Products leaped out at me.

Most of the founders I’ve been talking to have a clear mental picture of what their product is, the need it addresses and where they see it growing in the future, but the vast majority haven’t done the simple and easy steps outlined above. I’m just as guilty of this; the prototype I was building before getting in to the Founder Institute is all but useless now, in part because I hadn’t properly spec’d my MVP or tested basic hypotheses in the market (and maybe, a little, because I hadn’t researched the market sufficiently before diving in). I’m not making the same mistake this time around, and I highly recommend you take some time and truly find the Minimum you can put together to prove you’re moving in the right direction before getting any farther along in your development cycle.

Don’t get me wrong, It isn’t that I hadn’t heard about MVP before, or that it hadn’t come up in conversation recently, it’s that in the course of developing a product and a company it’s so easy to get swept up in the scope of What Could Be. As founders, we owe it to ourselves to reduce the risk of our ventures whenever possible; if we can prove that a feature will add value before we develop it, how can we pass that up? Or, if that didn’t pop your cork, if we can prove that a feature won’t add value, how can we afford to waste our time building it?

I’ll put my money where my mouth is. Here’s my minimum viable product spec:
- AdWords Campaign
- Three splash pages: one for candidates, one for hiring managers, one for home
- Splash pages have links for different features (so we can track what people most want to do)
- Links lead to form for users to add themselves to our mailing list

What do you think? That seems like too little to me, but I think that’s just my “pride”, as it were, “fucking with me.” Personally, I’d rather start a dialogue with my customers than let a little pride get between me and some good, old-fashioned, actionable metrics.

Post your plans for MVP below or tell me how I can further reduce mine!

Time Well Spent @dartboston

http://vimeo.com/9073875

Had a great time on Thursday night attending the Dart Boston Pokin’ Holes event. If you’re a Boston based startup, or interested in working at one, you should definitely come out for the next event.

For folks at the Founders Institute, the video resources here are great, especially the episodes of Capitalize, which feature real startups pitching VCs.

I know this isn’t my first time plugging these guys, and it certainly won’t be the last. Thanks to Dart Boston for being such great hosts!

What Happens in NY (Used to Stay in NY)

I’ve just gotten home from New Exhibition Room’s Stone Soup fundraiser and ran into enough people who knew I was doing something in the startup space but weren’t sure what exactly that I think I should take a little bit of time to clarify some details.

I’ve been enrolled in the Founder Institute since December which has meant an almost weekly commute to NYC (it’s 3 weeks on, one week off, to be specific).  Luckily for me, I know a bunch of great people in the NYC area, so finding places to stay hasn’t been an issue.  I’m still employed by ITA Software and on a typical week I either take 1/2 day on Wednesday and work remotely for a 1/2 day on Thursday or take all day Thursday off and go down in the morning and come back at night.  On (nearly) any given thursday at 11pm I will be on a bus just leaving NYC scheduled to arrive in boston around 3am.

So that’s what I’ve been occupying myself with, but why?

When I started thinking about launching a startup last spring I thought I’d bootstrap the whole thing myself, at least until revenue started coming in.  Which would have been great, but I focused on the wrong things.  I incorporated before flushing out a business plan.  I began building a prototype before extensively researching my competition.  I had a name that was meaningful to me, but that I had to explain to anyone I shared it with.  It was taking forever to get off the ground because anytime I had a new idea I had to start most of the process over again.

So during this process I had begun looking at the various startup incubators that are out there.  The advantages of these programs were clear to me, and I stacked them up in roughly this order:
1) Mentorship - In theater, the mentors I was lucky enough to know had a hand in everything from how your idea is flushed out to how you overcome major obstacles.  How could I say no to the same thing for my business?
2) Peers - Rather than figure it out on your own and build an entrepreneur network over time you can inherit one just from being in a program?  Sign me up!
3) Roadmap - As much I was confident I would figure out the path to a successful launch, I’d made a number of wrong starts that a solid roadmap would have helped me to avoid.

The trouble was, when I looked at the startups that were out there, I saw a number of things I didn’t like:
1) Most require founding teams - There are great reasons for doing so, chiefly that your odds of success go up dramatically as more founders get involved.  I’d love to find a cofounder, but I won’t let my standards slip to meet the application deadline for a program.
2) Equity - Most incubators offer between $5-20k for 2-10% of your company.  While the mentoring experience, peer groups and structure seem worthwhile to me, I don’t have a need for the $20k (I’ve been saving aggressively during my time at ITA), and certainly not at that kind of valuation.

The Founder Institute got around both of those problems by allowing individual founders to apply, taking only a 3.5% warrant priced at your first round (and if you bootstrap, nothing).  On top of all that, they don’t encourage you to quit your job when you’re accepted.  At least, not according to the brochure…

The program has been very different from what I expected.  For starters, they started encouraging us to quit our day jobs on the first night.  And the mentors haven’t been the most rewarding part of the program, the peer group has.  It makes sense if you think about it.  There’s only been a dozen or so mentors at this point and the Institute class size started north of 40, so a lot of people are clamoring for their attention and they’re already busy people.  But your working group, by contrast, is 4-6 founders with experiences you’ve never had, willing to go to bat for you whether that means pushing you to refine your idea, helping you shape your pitch, or suggesting you investigate a potential competitor or market opportunity they heard about.  I don’t when I’ll get my company beyond 10 employees, but I know that I already have more than 10 people at FI who will let me know the minute they see a threat or opportunity I should know about.

Would I do it again?  Absolutely.  But I might have timed my application differently.  I didn’t account for the program impacting my idea so drastically (my nearly complete prototype is now almost useless).  And there’s a project I’m working on for ITA (my current employer) that I need to finish before I can leave the company happily.  And given the pace of FI, I think I’ll need to bring on some coding talent to get the new prototype underway.  That is, unless somewhere in all of this I find the right cofounder.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last two months that’s impacted everything I do, it’s that finding the right people is priceless.

Achieving Flow in a Lean Startup

Eliminating waste is the fundamental principle of lean thinking.

As defined by Womak/Jones in their book “Lean Thinking” (a must-read):

Waste is any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value.

Of all resources, there is no resource more valuable than time. Time is more valuable than money. While money can fluctuate up or down, time only moves in one direction – down.

Another way in which the value of time shows up for lean startups is through Boyd’s Law which states that:

Speed of iterations beats quality of iteration.

Colonel John Boyd, a military strategist and Air Force fighter, found this by studying an anomaly in dogfights where an inferior aircraft (F-86) consistently beat a superior aircraft (MiG-15) because it was able to iterate faster thanks to a hydraulic versus manual flight stick. Eric Ries applies Boyd’s Law to lean startups by highlighting the importance of maximizing cycle time through the build/measure/learn loop.

buildmeasurelearn

Startups that succeed are those that manage to iterate enough times before running out of resources. Time between these iterations is fundamental.

This article isn’t 100% original, but gives credit where credit is due. I’ve read “Flow” which I found to be eye-opening, but this articles takes the wonderful leap into constructing a meaningful founder’s schedule around the same concepts. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety and following Ash Maurya’s future posts.

I found this post from Eric Ries blog, which has a lot of other great resources for startups http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2010/01/amazing-lean-startup-resources.html

Wireframing Made So Easy = Balsamiq

Media_httpwwwbalsamiq_aiwbk

I don’t know how I feel about reviewing software– maybe it will be an occasional occurrence on this blog, maybe it won’t – but I do know that using Balsamiq is one of the easiest, most natural experiences I’ve had online. I was up and running in seconds building mockups of my latest application.

In truth, I haven’t used wireframes in the past. As a single developer with no team, I’ve only occasionally sketched out designs before leaping into implementation. I’ve always preferred fast iterations to a long and drawn out design process, but Balsamiq is easy enough for non-technical users to pull up, tweak and send on its way, not using it really would be a detriment to the final product.

It’s free to check out, so if you’re a developer interested in a better way to communicate ideas with designers, or just an entrepreneur looking for an easy way to explain your idea to others, Balsamiq is a great place to start.

Reflection + Introspection in a New Year

I’m aboard the MegaBus back to Boston from another Thursday night in NYC as we speak. Before trying to get some sleep I thought I’d share this wonderful slideshow. I truly think there’s something that will speak to everyone here, so do yourself a favor and take a minute to read, reflect and introspect.

Let the Surveys Begin


As mentioned previously, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching business ideas for the Founder Institute.  Tonight I’m entering a new stage of this research, as I’m posting surveys through SurveyGizmo and launching an adwords campaign to help vet my ideas.  If you’re interested, you can certainly help.

If you complete ANY of the below, you’ll be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card!
If you’ve used job boards to look for work and think they could be improved:

If you’re a hiring manager interested in tools to help assess culture fit before bringing employees in to interview:

If you’re a hiring manager and you’ve worked with temporary staffing agencies:

If you’re a temporary staffing employee, please provide feedback on how staffing agencies could better serve you: