9 Sep 2015

Don’t Waste My Time!

Know Your Stuff

Due to MavenHut’s success, there are people that think I know stuff and they want to meet me to talk about their business. And, time permitting, since I travel a lot these days, I actually love to meet the entrepreneurs.

And why shouldn’t I? I love talking to smart people (who doesn’t?), I am interested in how they see what they do and it helps me broaden my horizons. And, of course, it sometimes helps me see solutions for my problems just because I am forced into looking at the issues from a different angle.

One thing I have a difficult time explaining, though, without sounding rude, is that before meeting with someone, that person needs to do something about their idea/project. I will never meet with someone just because they have an idea and want to pick my brain on it. If that were the case, I wouldn’t have time for MavenHut anymore from all the meetings with people “with ideas of an online project” (that usually will change the world). Investors might take these type of meetings sometimes, since they need to be in contact with entrepreneurs for the deal flow, but I am not an investor.

In order to trim the number of meetings and understand who exactly can use my help, I use 2 elements.

First one: I ask in an email for 2 paragraphs about the idea and the stage it’s in. If the person I am writing to is unable to express their idea in 2 paragraphs, I don’t really think they actually understand what they’re doing just yet. Their focus should be on understanding what they do before meeting me (if YOU don’t know what you want to do, how the hell should I know or be able to help you?)

The other thing I want to see is an MVP. If you don’t have any type of Minimum Viable Product (a site, an app, a distribution channel, some users/customers), any advice I would give would be so general that it would make no sense for a meeting.

If these two conditions come together then I am more than happy to meet people (of course, based on my schedule, as well). After all, a lot of people helped and still help us in building MavenHut. But I never went to them with “you know, I have an idea for a Solitaire game”. I went with something on the lines of “I am looking for an investment for my company that does a Solitaire multiplayer game. We already have 1000 users that spend about 35 minutes per day in the game, on Facebook, I don’t know, though, how to put these things in an investment pitch. I know you’ve gone through this process already, do you have one hour to meet and explain these to me?”

The line above explains what I’m doing, what I need and shows why I contacted this specific person.

So, how’s your MVP doing? :)

P.S.: I also don’t drink coffee, just so you know :D

Photo credit: Know Your Stuff

2 Jan 2015

Book Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

Amazon is one of the most interesting companies I’ve read about. Not especially Jeff Bezos, but Amazon. Obviously, you can’t really separate the two, but I’ve been always interested in how Amazon, a company that started on the internet by selling books, then became a retailer, then became again a technology company, single handedly starting the “cloud” revolution.


The latest book I’ve read about the company (I just finished it about 20 minutes ago) is The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone. I’ve heard about it some time ago, but only recently had the time to read it. More, I’ve become even more interested when I’ve heard about the review that MacKenzie Bezos (the wife of Jeff) wrote on Amazon (you can read it here), awarding one star to the book for the fact that it underlines the sensationalist aspects of Amazon’s evolution, while also having big factual errors.

The thing is, though, I found the book really interesting. Obviously, I do not know about the factual errors (especially strictly related to the founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos) and I don’t care about it, anyway, but it’s a good read if you want to follow and understand the evolution of Amazon starting almost 20 years ago. From what I know about the company and what I’ve read in the last 10 years about it, I think that those aspects are pretty accurate.

Amazon is, in my opinion, one of the companies that wasn’t afraid to test things, to go outside their default area of expertise, and try (and succeed) in reinventing itself. I mean, 10 years ago, the biggest issue they faced was the chaos in the deposits, now it’s the fact the their phone, the Fire phone, was a flop. How do you go from getting packages to customers in overnight delivery to starting the startup/cloud revolution?

You need to read the book to find out more, but I will add some quotes I found interesting.

“It is far better to cannibalise yourself than have someone else do it,”. I totally agree with this.

I didn’t know that Kodak actually had the digital cameras technology available since the ’70s and didn’t want to use it so that they do not lose on the profits from normal cameras. The quote above also was related to this: The reference was to the century-old photography giant whose engineers had invented digital cameras in the 1970s but whose profit margins were so healthy that its executives couldn’t bear to risk it all on an unproven venture in a less profitable frontier.

Another interesting quote about focus: “If you are running both businesses you will never go after the digital opportunity with tenacity,” he said. It regards the move of the person responsible with the books at Amazon (one of the most influential positions in the company) to Kindle only books. The reason Bezos didn’t want to let that guy handle both businesses was the aforementioned quote.

People always feel the need to understand the context a CEO/manager takes decisions. But what do you do if the context is not that easy to understand? This is what Bezos told the designers of Kindle when he told them to include space for the cellular/wifi module in the first device so that anybody could download the books instantly, free of charge. The designers fought back saying that this wasn’t possible, that it would cost too much. The answer? “I’ll figure this out and it is not going to be a business model you understand. You are the designers, I want you to design this and I’ll think about the business model.”

One of the companies I enjoyed reading about and visiting while in Las Vegas was Zappos. The thing is I always thought of the company being a fast mover, achieving success and growing fast. Well. apparently it wasn’t like this and this is the reason they sold to Amazon. Here is what Mike Moritz, investor and board member at Zappos, had to say about it: “We just didn’t move quickly enough,” Moritz says. “You could sense it was going to be much harder to achieve, and we were squandering the opportunity. The hiring was too slow, the engineering department was not good enough, and the software was inferior to Amazon’s. It was very frustrating, and the Las Vegas location, plus an unwillingness to pay competitively, made it even harder to recruit talented people. We were starting to compete with the very best in the business and they had a lot of arrows in their quiver to make life painful. The last thing we wanted to do was to sell. It was mortifying.”. It’s interesting for me because we always thought MavenHut is moving really fast. Well, we might need to move a lot faster, or else Amazon might buy us :)

And, finally, I didn’t know, but Bezos may not get ferried to work in a black sedan, but Amazon still spends $1.6 million per year on personal security for him and his family, according to the company’s financial reports. It’s not that simple being a CEO of a multi-billion dollar company.

I’ve highlighted a lot more content, but I think you need to read the book to make sense of it :)

Finally, go buy it (or borrow it from a friend). By the way, all these links are affiliate links, just so you know.

Oh and, finally, if you are interested, you can see the interview Bezos gave to the Business Insider recently (or read the main ideas):

1 Jan 2015

Business Ideas: Heaven and Hell Lounge/Club

Business Ideas: Heave/Hell Lounge/Club

Ideas are a dime a dozen. We all have them, all the time. So I decided to share some of my business ideas (some that I had a while ago, some that I think would work now). Who knows, maybe someone can do something interesting about them. It’s gonna be a series of articles, so just one idea today, ok? Don’t get greedy!

First idea came to me about 15 years ago, while managing a night club (duh!): Heaven/Hell.

It was supposed to be a two levels location:

Below (in Hell) a night club that would only work after 9pm (or later). A lot of black & red, with waiters serving you in Devil suits (lots of latex involved, probably, as some designer said at some point). Of course, both men and women, to cater to all tastes :D

Above (in Heaven) should be a lounge with a lot of light colors (variations of white) and, obviously, waiters serving you would be dressed in… Angels, with the circle above the head and everything: wings, white clothes, feathers. This part of the business would be open during the day and serve lounge type of drinks (even light food, maybe?)

Obviously, I didn’t start it but, if you ever do, let me know about it so I can visit.

Later Update: I’ve found out (from the comments [in Romanian]) that there is a similar idea club in the game Hitman Blood Money (see it here, on YouTube). Since I had the idea before the game appeared, all I can think is that one of the level creators came to the club I managed then and heard me :D Or, the truth, everybody has ideas. It’s only natural that, at some point, someone has a similar idea with you. Thanks for the heads up!

Disclaimer: I am not interested in any financial returns, ownership or something similar regarding this idea :)) Ideas are not really relevant, execution is. So if you like something I thought of, run with it and do something cool. If you want to tell me about it, I’d love to know, but it’s not necessary. I also assume that my idea will just spark ideas in someone’s mind, so I would also like to know about these, if possible :)

Image: Woman must choose between the devil or angel from ShutterStock

1 Jan 2015

Book Review: The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is a well known movie based on a book. I have to say I didn’t see the movie, but I read the book during the winter holidays, after finding out it was the book Jeff Bezos from Amazon considered one of the best (and mistakenly considered the reason he started Amazon as a bookstore).

the-remains-of-the-dayThe thing is… I don’t have too much to say about it. The subject is quite simple: a 50-60 years old butler remembers his life while driving across UK to meet a co-worker from 20 years earlier. He reminisces the history (he was the butler of a British Lord that was involved in negotiations with Ribbentrop during the years before the start of the Second World War) and looks over the decisions he took in his personal life that lead to that particular moment.

I enjoyed parts of the book, but I didn’t really enjoy the entire book. I probably don’t have the feeling of something big missing in my life – I’m not 60, you know – to be able to make a connection with the character, I really don’t know. Also, the rhythm of the book is quite slow and deliberately paced.

Another thing I found weird initially is the way the book is written. The language used is very protocolar, which is the exact way I would think a butler like Stevens would use, but it was really difficult to read for the initial 20 pages or so.

Finally, would I recommend the book? I enjoyed the 4-5 hours it took me reading it, but it took me a conscious effort, from time to time, to continue reading it and not choose something else in my Kindle library. I actually enjoyed the understanding of the management skills necessary for a butler (it felt like a COO combined with the HR person), but I don’t think it makes the book more enjoyable if you don’t really like the style.

Some quotes:

Indeed, I can say I am in agreement with those who say that the ability to draw up a good staff plan is the cornerstone of any decent butler’s skills. – as I was saying :)

Indeed, the more one considers it, the more obvious it seems: association with a truly distinguished household is a prerequisite of ‘greatness’. – I was thinking of ways to grow as a startup (partnerships with better known companies and similar things)

An interesting thing: the book is written by a Japanese born person (Kazuo Ishiguro), which was really confusing initially. After that I found out that he moved early in life to UK, so it made more sense.

3 Nov 2014

Open Finder in Other Folder than All My Files

For the Mac OSX users out there: It’s not that complicated, you can find it in Preferences for the app, but I just want to be sure I will not forget, so here :))

Found the solution on this page, after becoming frustrated by the “speed” of this action.

2 Nov 2014

Facebook’s Mobile Apps


Top 3 most downloaded apps on iOS, in US, are from Facebook. So, it should not come as a surprise when their mobile revenues grow at a high pace.

And this without even thinking about What’s App.

Screenshot from AppAnnie

23 Oct 2014

Investor-Startup Relationship

Bill Liao, the partner that we work with at SOSventures, just published an interesting blog post about the relationship between an investor and the companies they invest/want to invest in. It’s called Road to Investment.

The interesting thing is that part of this article is the opinion of MavenHut’s lawyer, David Ryan, the guy that helped us raising investment and advices us around a lot of issues (along with our Romanian lawyers, obviously). David actually evaluates SOSventurs’ documents from the point of view of “the other side’s” lawyer. And it’s good.

As an established Series A investor it was clear that the deal we were doing with SOSv was the same consistent approach they had adopted with others.

Our advice is to have the tricky conversations at the heads of terms/LOI stage and beyond that it should be streamlined otherwise it’s not a great start.

Once the start-up is properly advised and understands that certain things are a fact of life with Series A investors (Liquidation Preference, Vetoes, Anti-Dilution, Limited Warranties and Reverse Vesting of Founder Equity) then the process will run smoothly.

There is no real need to waste money negotiating for the sake of doing so and at FOD we avoid getting into this trap. Get good commercial legal advice and get the investment in so that you can start to shift the needle and this is exactly what has happened with Mavenhut.”

Read the article here, it really is worth reading it.

Photo: that’s me and Bill Liao (photo taken from ComputerBlog.ro)

19 Oct 2014

The Power of Not Specialising (sort of)

“I suppose I can justify the variety of my readings and entertainment this way. Every week I read The Economist and New Scientist cover to cover, which I complement with Forbes, Time, Fortune, Business Week, but also Entertainment Weekly and Premiere. I love movies of all genres, be they artsy foreign movies or the latest blockbuster, books of all genres from Ron Chernow biographies to the latest Dan Brown thriller and love playing video games.”

Exactly my thoughts :)) Especially the love for video games, be it Solitaire or Max Payne

From here

5 Sep 2014

[ToRead] This is why you never end up hiring good developers

This is why you never end up hiring good developers – Quartz (via Pocket) – http://pocket.co/sAFv3

Read more on this: This is why you never end up hiring good developers

I add a lot of links on this blog’s Facebook page, so Like it and share the articles: I Am A Startup Founder

4 Sep 2014

Terminal tricks

I use Terminal from time to time on my Mac (obviously, it’s not needed as often as on Linux, but still). Anyway, I’ve found this list of tricks for Terminal, so I will add it here, just for reference.

via Marco Arment