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ISSUE 10 MARCH/APRIL 2016
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem continues to grow by leaps and bounds, which is reflected in the local government’s recent announcements that show their continued support for growing entrepreneurship in the city. In his budget speech, the financial secretary announced a three-year ‘Pilot Technology Voucher Program’ where the government will subsidize up to $200K HKD to SMEs in Hong Kong. This program encourages SMEs to adopt innovations from local universities, R&D centers, and startups housed at Science Park and Cyberport. Meanwhile, Cyberport announced a plan to double their incubation program quota and grow their Smart Space (co-working space) by 50% in addition to allocating $200 million HKD to support mature startups. In the private sector, Alibaba unveiled a new internship program for Hong Kong university students that will help train the next generation of writers, web designers, and developers. Nest.vc continues to support the ecosystem by opening a new members-only club for entrepreneurs. Additionally, several new coworking spaces continue to pop up every month. With all of these exciting developments, it’s easy to lose track of what will always remain the most important two ingredients in any startup hub – entrepreneurs and their ideas. In hopes of making the road to startup success smoother, we’ve dedicated this issue to the vast resources available to help entrepreneurs stay focused on what they do best – building companies. These resources are in the form of 50+ free tools found on the web or mobile, which we’ve compiled and analyzed to save you time. Enjoy! Yana Robbins Editor-in-Chief
Contributors: Iris Leung Sam Growden Kevin Bluer Michael O’Donnell Sam Growdon Cover Designer: Joyce Ngo Cover Photo: Ryan McGuire
NEWS BRIEFS..........................3 Startup happenings in Hong Kong
FREE SHIPPING........................4 How to optimize your free shipping message
DIRECTORY..............................5 A short directory of entrepreneurs in HK
STARTUP TOOLS.................6-12 FAVORITE TOOLS...............14-15 HK entrepreneurs share their favorite tools
Jumpstart is available at over 350
SO MANY TOOLS, WHY...........16
8 Reasons there are so many free tools
Airport Lounges: CNAC Lounge Dynasty Lounge Royal Orchid Lounge Emirates Lounge United Lounge Plaza Premium Lounge EAST Plaza Premium Lounge WEST Morning Calm (Korean Air) SQ Lounge
WIN FREE AD SPACE...............17 Win a half-page ad in the next issue!
SUPERCHARGER.............22-23 Learn about this FinTech accelerator
PAY WHAT YOU WANT.............24 Pay-what-you-want pricing model
Website Manager: Rosalyn Smith
General Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial: email@example.com
50+ FREE Startup Tools for Your Business
MEET OUR TEAM Editor-In-Chief: Yana Robbins
Learn how to validate your next idea facebook.com/jumpstartmag twitter.com/jumpstarthk
CONFLICTING ADVICE........... 28 How to navigate conflicting mentor advice
Advertising: firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright © 2016 Jumpstart. The contents of the magazine are fully protected by copyright and nothing may be reprinted without permission. The publisher and editors accept no responsibility in respect to any products, goods or services that may be advertised or referred to in this issue or for any errors, omissions, or mistakes in any such advertisements or references. The mention of any specific companies or products in articles or advertisements does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by this magazine or its publisher in preference to others of a similar nature which are not mentioned or advertised. Published articles do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Jumpstart Magazine. Printed by Magnum Print Company Limited. 11B E-Tat Factory Building, 4 Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang, Hong Kong.
Classified Ads We list 85+ coworking spaces across Hong Kong, Singapore, India and Cambodia. Compare & book the most suitable space. @ kowork.com
Get the new app for Hong Kong: Swapit. Sell your pre-loved stuff quickly and easily to people nearby. Itâ€™s Free! get.swapit.la
Beautiful designs, created just for you! Our Hong Kong-based studio specialises in personalised framed prints, invitations and announcement cards. lovemydesigns.org
Stuck, demotivated, frustrated? Whether you want to lose a few pounds, gain energy or just generally feel healthier, we have a solution for you. email@example.com
Create. Connect. Finalise - Find. Book. Open. Your Next PopUp Store in Singapore/Hong Kong. SpacesGenie.com Helps Brands, PopUp Space, Quickly! Hello@SpacesGenie.Com
HK Afro Braids offers the best hair braiding service in Hong Kong at reasonable prices. Contact us for a quote hkbraids@ gmail.com or hkafrobraids on instagram for pictures.
Marketing Consultant with 15+ years of experience can help with your small business - from idea generation to search engine optimization. 9amconsulting.com
Popscout can help brands and e-commerce websites open a pop-up shop in Hong Kong. popscout.co
Jumpstart Magazine Introduces...
NEXT DEADLINE: APRIL 15, 2016 For more info:
JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
Startup News Briefs
Send us your news for the next issue firstname.lastname@example.org
The recently announced Cyberport Macro Fund is allocating HK 200M to support mature startups that have gone through the accelerator program. They are also increasing the quota of the Cyberport Incubation Programme by two-fold and expanding the total area of Smart-Space by 50%. s their Hong Kong Alibaba’s HK$1 billion Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund unveil to work for Internship Program offering qualified college students the opportunity 6-12 months at Alibaba Group’s headquarters.
cept that’s poised to the HK startup ecosystem - a con nth mo this ttā Me d eile unv t Nes rate and connect across the world. reinvent how entrepreneurs collabo Kennedy Town sees the opening of two new coworking spaces: Smithfield Collective and Camp Fire joining the Hive Kennedy Town in the same building.
Last-minute hotel booking app HotelQuickly acquires Japan’s domestic booking app, Tonight.
The Wave opens its first location in the heart of Kwun Tong, boasting 11 floors of space for startups.
Hong Kong Moms, a popular Facebook group with 20K members, launches the site hongkongmoms.com.hk, enabling mompreneurs to place ads.
Mobile P2P marketplace Swapit.la secures investment from a private equity investor.
The defunct Women Business Owners Club re-launched as the Women Entrepreneurs Network to build a support network for ladies with business ideas.
Wearable IoT World, a San Francisco-based IoT Accelerator, is accepting online applications for its U.S.-Pan Asia IoT Superhighway Accelerator in Hong Kong. Deadline: 17 May 2016.
Nap Lounge launches three locations; Central, Wanchai and TST giving entrepreneurs a place to nap in 15-minute increments. A similar concept, Znozz, launched in Central two years ago.
Hong Kong-based clothing retailer Grana has raised $3.5 million USD in seed funding.
In his budget speech, the financial secretary announced a three-year ‘Pilot Technology Voucher Program’ where the government will subsidize up to $200K HKD to SMEs in Hong Kong.
OPTIMIZE Your Free Shipping Messaging Free shipping is one of the most popular (and well-converting) promotions on the Internet. It can make the difference between a potential consumer proceeding to the checkout or leaving your website to purchase a similar product elsewhere. If you are a startup or a small business that offers free shipping, how can you optimize your messaging? Here are a few tips. DON’T HIDE IT We looked at dozens of small business websites that offer free shipping to or within Hong Kong and noticed that many shy away from highlighting this information on their homepage. In some cases, their free shipping offer does not appear anywhere on their website. If you offer free shipping, be sure that this is clearly conveyed on every page of your website, ideally ABOVE THE FOLD so that it’s not missed.
JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
ADD TO DIRECTORIES
ADD TO THREADS AND FORUMS
There are a number of media webstes (such as Little Steps, Sassy Mama, Jumpstart, etc.) that feature free shipping mini-directories online. You can contact them as well as other directories that can be easily found by Googling queries like “free shipping Hong Kong”.
Some popular Hong Kong Facebook pages, like Hong Kong Moms, occasionally has threads about companies that ship for free. Look through old lists and add yourself. Be on the lookout for new lists. But don’t spam the groups!
ADD TO SOCIAL MEDIA Be sure to add your free shipping offer to all of your social media channels. For instance, on Facebook it can be added to the long description and cover photo. You can also post about your policy on Twitter, Facebook and other channels from time to time.
BE COMPETITIVE Do businesses in your vertical have high free shipping minimums? Reduce your minimum to make your business more compelling to new customers. If you can’t afford to do it all the time, offer 100% free shipping on special occasions or cater to loyal customers only.
FIND MORE ONLINE For examples of good (and bad) free shipping implementation visit this article on jumpstartmag.com Do you offer free shipping? Let us know. Email: email@example.com
Jumpstart’s Directory of Entrepreneurs + YOUR PROFILE FOR FREE ON JUMPSTARTMAG.COM
Simon Fuller Creative director of Eight Five Two, a video production and post production company. eightfivetwo.net
Pushpendra Sharma Founder & CEO of Spaces Genie, an online marketplace of pop up spaces. spacesgenie.com
Pol Fàbrega Co-founder of Rooftop Republic, a social enterprise dedicated to promoting urban farming and sustainable living in Hong Kong. rooftoprepublic.com
Fion Leung Co-Founder of Time Auction, a volunteer-andmeet-VIP’s platform. timeauction.hk
Leanne Morris Creative Director of Love My Designs,a prints, invitations and announcements company. lovemydesigns.org
Anita Chan Co-Founder of Sam the Local, P2P platform for customized experiences in Hong Kong. samthelocal.com
Olivia Lee Co-founder of The Closeteur, an online destination for pre-loved fashion. thecloseteur.com
Katherine Pei CEO and Co-Founder of Latticespace, an instant social intranet. latticespace.com
Damien Ng Co-Founder of Backers, a store featuring crowdfunded projects. backerstores.com
Jenny Oan Co-founder of Echo Asia, a digital marketing agency focused on promoting a low-carbon lifestyle. echoasiacomm.com
FROM IDEa To LAUNCH
Validate Your Idea
Find a Business Idea
ideaswatch.com A good place to start is to think about what’s missing in the market. You can look at forums and Facebook pages to see what people are talking about. You can also peruse ideas on ideaswatch.com where 6,000+ entrepreneurs around the world share startup ideas. Most are flops, but you may be surprised at a few good ones that could become viable businesses.
work on ht the Flig
A Job board for just weekend jobs
Send Free Flowers
Find our growing list of free startup tools:
Find and register your domain name and social media accounts • namechk.com • iwantmyname.com
Idea to Plan
There are many things to consider when starting a business. Germo.io breakdowns your idea into an actionable project plan with their “startup ideation” template. The template will get you thinking about every aspect of your business from the competitive landscape to monetization - in bite-sized, manageable chunks.
JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
Business Model Canvas
businessmodelgeneration.com The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and lean startup template. It’s used to develop new business models and is also a visual chart with elements describing a firm’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances.
If you build it, they will come? Maybe. Before you jump into developing your business, it may be worth your time to validate it. On page 18, Kevin Bluer, an instructor at General Assembly, shares his validation tips. These tools can help you develop prototypes to get feedback from others.
Mobile App Prototype popapp.in POP turns hand-drawn wireframes into interactive prototypes. Sketch the app ideas on paper; take pictures and add links between the mockups; sync your app prototypes with Dropbox, simulate on iPhone, Android, or the web and share your prototype ideas online to get feedback.
Write a Business Plan
Business plans take too long to write, are seldom updated, and may not be read by others but documenting your hypotheses is key. Leanstack solves this problem using a single page business model that takes under 20 minutes to create. A single page business model is a breeze to share with others, which means it will be read by more people and can be updated with ease.
FREE STARTUP TOOLS
If you are outsourcing your website/mobile app or building it with a team, wireframes are critical. Balsamiq Mockups is a rapid wireframing tool that allows users to sketch and share their mobile app or website ideas with their team. It reproduces the experience of sketching on a whiteboard, but with a computer. You can get immediate feedback on your designs without investing the money to build the final project. Free for 30 days!
Design Your Logo
Ideally, free logos should only be used to brainstorm ideas or as a placeholder. Most tools use a combination of icons and text to generate a logo. Online versions are typically free and prints (high resolution ones) only cost a minimal amount.
This tool lets you create a free online logo or export a high resolution one for $10 USD. They have over 30,000 icons to choose from!
Build a Landing Page (in 3 minutes)
Build for End Users
instapage.com There are many free website builders such as Wix, Wordpress, Weebly (just to name W’s). But you may want to build something quick as a placeholder to show your friends and family. Instapage allows you to build a landing page in just three minutes. You can build complex layouts with their drag and drop interface without touching a single line of code. Their A/B testing tool lets you track visitor behavior, compare conversion rates, and pick the best performing landing pages.
Technology is yet to eradicate the business card and brochure - which will continue to be a mainstay in the foreseeable future.
Canva’s drag-and-drop business card maker makes it easy to create stunning busines cards even without any graphic design experience. You can export them as PDF. CAFÉ
A lo ns o
Few startups put in the time to think about the end users of their business...but they should. Every decision you make, from product features to the tone of your taglines, needs to answer to your customers. This user (or buyer) persona creator helps you come up with your ideal user types.
Build an Elevator Pitch
The elevator pitch is a short and precise pitch form, ideal for situations where the time to convey your message is extremely short and the content has to be spot on (i.e. during an elevator ride with a potential investor or customer). Get inspired by famous pitch decks from Facebook and other companies.
RUN YOUR BUSINESS LIKE A PRO
Contact Decision Makers
Communicate with your team slack.com
As your team grows, you may use multiple modes of communication - for instance Skype, messaging apps, emails etc. What Slack does is sync up all these conversations so that they are searchable and available wherever you go.
If you’ve ever completed a “contact form,” never to hear back from the company, you may want to give LinkedIn a go. This widely used “Facebook for businesses” allows you to look up and add contacts, and you’ll have a better chance of hearing back from specific individuals.
Time Your E-mailS boomeranggmail.com
Working on a Sunday, but don’t want emails to go out until Tuesday? Boomerang For Gmail is a free browser extension that lets you schedule your emails. The free version comes with 10 “send laters” a month.
Building an email list is critical for any business. MailChimp is the go-to email tool for any startup (and larger businesses). It comes with all the tools needed to manage your email marketing campaigns and it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers.
Still scheduling your meetings by email? Save time by using Vyte, a free web-based app that lets you easily coordinate meetings and locations using your Google calendar.
lastpass.com Lastpass remembers your passwords so that you can focus on the more important things in life.
JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
This is a really simple tool that lets you create PDF invoices in any currency. There’s even a field for a discount.
Sign documents or request signatures from up to 20 people in any order, or all at once. And when the document is fully executed, everyone gets a copy delivered to their inbox.
smallpdf.com This handy tool lets you create and merge PDF files, convert PDF to PPT, Excel to PDF, compress PDFs, unlock PDFs and more.
Store and SEND FILES
Sending a large file or storing files for safekeeping? Dropbox and WeTransfer gives you 2GB of storage space for free.
FREE STARTUP TOOLS
WEB REPORTING & DIAGNOSIS
When was the last time you watched someone browse your website? Get insights on how a real user interacts with your website in a fiveminute annotated video.
freesurveycreator.com Add a simple widget to your website to ask visitors any question (open-ended or multiple choice). It’s a great way to quickly learn if there’s a tech issue or if there’s something they can’t locate on the website.
Track Your Time
How much time do you spend on Facebook? Rescuetime tracks how much time you spend on various applications, giving you an accurate picture of how you spend your time. You can then set up alerts or block distracting websites.
Speed up the website
Slow site speed can be a turn off to customers and can effect your Search Engine Optimization. Pingdom lets you identify what about a web page is fast, slow, or too big. A similar tool to check out is gtmetrix.com
google.com/analytics Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service. Once you verify your website you will gain insights into how visitors find and use your site, and how to keep them coming.
Get Stuff Done
Someone has to!
There are an endless amount of things to do when you’re an entrepreneur. How do you prioritize?
Trello is a visual app that helps you organize anything with anyone. You can fill it with to do lists, ideas, create check lists, upload documents, and share with your team.
Diagnose Site Issues
While many startups/larger businesses regularly use Google Analytics, few know the benefits of Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). GWT lets you know if there are any technical problems (like crawling issues or malware), which sites are linking to you, what keywords are driving traffic. One of the most useful tools within GWT is the ability to submit your new pages to be indexed by Google - you can find it under “Fetch as Google.”
startupequity.io An easy tool for figuring out how much equity to grant new hires with calculations based on popular equity equations.
signature-maker.net Signature Maker is a free web based tool that helps you create your handwritten digital signature instantly. Instead of printing, signing and faxing a document, you can place your digital signature, save as a PDF and send along - saving paper in the process.
FREE STARTUP TOOLS
Small Print: Before using photos from any site, check to see if they be sure to check if they are labeled ‘free for commercial use.’ This means you can modify, copy and distribute photos free of charge. Some websites require that you link to the source or credit the author, while others don’t need attribution of any kind. Be sure that you have a right to every photo you use on your blog, website, app etc to avoid copyright violation.
32 A good place to start your
33 People with laptops,
image search with over 500,000 photos, vectors and art illustrations.
startupstockphotos.com writing on whiteboard and engaging in startup activities.
34 High-res photos organized 37 unsplash.com
in collections like “shapes & patters”, “startup” and others.
10 JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
Over 5,000 hand-picked free images in various categories with 600 new images added a month.
1000+ free food pictures in high resolution.
170,000+ free vectors, photos and icons.
38 Icons / Clipart • • • • •
flaticon.com iconarchive.com iconfinder.com openclipart.org pdclipart.org
DIY GRAPHICS & VIDEO
DIY SOCIAL MEDIA GRAPHICS WITH YOUR PHONE
wordswag.co - almost free
Use your phone to create beautifully designed graphics with Word Swag. Even though there are similar apps we’ve tested, this one is the best and worth the small price of $3.99 USD. To use, type in your message and select from hundreds of free images. The best part are all the different text fonts and formats to play with.
FREE STARTUP TOOLS
Design for print or web
Anyone can be a designer with Canva.com. The tool offers templates to create a wide range of graphics including Facebook cover photos, email headers, photo collages, Twitter headers, ads, presentations and more. It also offers design tutorials to help you hone your artistic abilities. There are many free templates to choose from. DECEMBER 2016
THE BEST HEALTH APPS One rarely falls in love without being as much attracted to what is interestingly wrong with someone as what is objectively healthy, says philosopher Alain de Botton by Stephanie Potter
THERMOMETER APP A further sign of health is that we don't become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us, said Pema Chödrön.
HEART RATE MONITOR If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with, said Deepak Chopra.
The greatest miracle on Earth is the human body. It is stronger and wiser than you may realize, and improving its ability to self heal is within your control, said Dr Fabrizio Mancini.
The human body has been designed to resist an infinite number of changes and attacks brought about by its environment. The secret of good health lies in successful adjustment to changing stresses on the body, said Harry J. Johnson.
INSULIN MONITOR It's a pretty amazing to wake up every morning, knowing that every decision I make is to cause as little harm as possible. It's a pretty fantastic way to live, said Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
Research on this article is done with the help of Heath Thomas, a health technology expert teaching at University of Louisiana.
SLEEP ANALYSIS Learn to follow the inner self,Healing is simply attempting to do more of those things that bring joy and fewer of those things that bring pain, said O. Carl Simonton .
HEART RATE MONITOR
Take time to define what health means to you and what you are willing to do or willing to give up doing to bring better health into your life, said Lao Tsu.
Investing in your health now can pay dividends for the rest of your life.What is one easy thing you can do today to live healthier? Lao Tsu asks.
Want to make a video for your startup without hefty price tag or the hassle of learning new software? There are a number of new companies offering free DIY video tools, here are a few:
A self-dubbed “shockingly easy to use video-maker,” use this tool to make animated infographics Specializes in “explainer videos” so you can easily share what your startup is all about.
Has lots of pre-designed video templates for various uses from company introduction to “year in review” videos.
43 Record A Screencast
45 Edit Your Photos picmonkey.com
Picmonkey is a simple photo editor. The free version lets you add text, try on different photo frames (like rounded edges), add overlays (like party hats or balloons) and other cool effects. You can also crop, fix blemishes, whiten teeth and change the photo to sepia or black and white. The tool is intuitive and perfect to use when you have to make a quick graphic and don’t have access to or knowledge of Photoshop. Before After
A screencast can be used for explainer videos or for sharing instructions on how to use something. After you download the free app, locate the record button at the top of your browser, and select the area of your screen to record. You can download the svideo as a .gif file. 11
FREE STARTUP TOOLS
Dunnnk lets you create stockphotography-like photos showing what your app or website looks like when used on various screens by people.
Jumpstart’s directory of 150+ entrepreneurs gives a quick snapshow of who’s who in Hong Kong. To add your profile, send your photo, name, title and one-line description of your startup to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Press release submission
The recently introduced DIY press release submission form is an easy way to get your press release online.
meet other entrepreneurs
Hong Kong-based Smartcasual has created a free mobile app that lets you meet interesting people available for a one-onone in-person meetings.
find WIFI CAFES
Finding a cafe with good Wifi is a challenge for entrepreneurs on the go. This free app helps you find one wherever you are.
12 JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
barter business services
Trade goods and services with other HK Entrepreneurs on “Business Barter Hong Kong” Facebook page. Past trades included photography in exchange for copywriting; design services in exchange for baby clothes. It’s a great way to get things done for free and make a new friends in the community.
Create and edit videos right on your phone. Trim, crop, add effects, text, vary the speed, add transitions, music, sound effects, and more.
WIN A HALF PAGE AD Use one or more tools featured in this issue and tag Jumpstart on Facebook with your creation (or a review of a tool) for a chance to win one of two half page ads in the next issue. Deadline: April 1, 2016
“It’s a very powerful app to scan name cards and add them to your phone contact. The character recognition is very accurate and smart such that the name, telephone number, email, fax and address, no matter English or Chinese, are handled well. It helps me especially managing numerous name cards from our merchants from day to day.”
“We love this tool as it is makes connecting and interacting with our customers so easy when they have a question...it’s easy to integrate into our platform and it’s free for our early startup needs! We don’t have to worry about a customer email getting buried in our inbox, since we can see very clearly in Zendesk any open enquiry and who is working on it. And our customers love it because they have an easy, hassle-free way to get in touch!”
Scan your business cards
Support ticket software
Andre Hui, Co-founder, pokeguide.com
we asked our readers
The retro way of keeping notes
Elaine Tsung, Co-Founder & CEO, Garage Society
“My beloved Moleskin diary. Apparently we use a lot of digital productivity tools but I still find my diary indispensable. I love it when I can physically cross out tasks that I schedule for myself so that I can religiously make sure that i don’t delay tasks.”
What happens to email after you hit “send”
“It’s a great tool to track opens and clicks of the (cold) emails you send!”
Online Project Management
“It allows us to keep all our projects and development plans organized.”
Bob Bunger, CEO, pelago.events
Suet Yi, Co-Founder Time Auction
Philip G Chiu, Founder, bmgww.com
FAVORITE PRODUCTIVITY TOOL?
Stayfocusd.com Manage time-sucking websites.
“My favourite productivity tool is StayFocusd...it’s a Chrome extension. Sometimes I find it hard to concentrate 100% on the Internet with Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest just one click away, and this is why I find StayFocused helpful. The extension is flexible, allowing me to set the amount of time I can waste each day, determine which websites are time wasters, and decide if I’d like to block certain sites altogether.”
Michelle Sun, Founder & CEO, First Code Academy
“As a sales guy, my favourite productivity tool is Pipedrive. The interface is laid out in a visually-intuitive left to right manner, making it easy to track progress for different leads. It’s also very easy to coordinate tasks and client data with teammates”
“We use it for Kanban board of programming, business tasks, idea generation, blog recruitment and workflow management.”
150+ happy users in Hong Kong
Organize things visually.
Ben Cheng, Co-founder, Oursky.com
Malcolm Loudon, Sales Director & Co-Founder venuehub.hk
Cyrus Hui, Founder Chairman, www.aoku3D.com
Foxitsoftware.com, For all your PDF needs
“Foxit - as it is free, and it lets me create PDF from docs, add signature and company chop.”
Ben Chien, Founder, acquamedia.com.hk
For all your note-taking needs.
“I have been a fan of Evernote for a long time. And at my ripe old age, I needed a goto quick note taking and document capture tool that I could use on multiple devices.”
For non-stop commucations
“Our whole team communicates through the Slack app. It’s a really excellent messaging platform for desktop and mobile where you can centralize discussions as well as break out into more niche groups.”
Adele Wong, Publisher and Co-Founder, theloophk.com
Spend time tracking your time
[It’s a] “free time-tracking software which you can use to track any task. If you are working in the digital like me, you can use it to track: the development, the different steps of your design, the updates you are doing for your clients...”
Fanny Moritz, Founder, Netpom Web Agency
Visual project management
“[It’s] a very clean tool to ensure that work gets done, provides a user-friendly way to get better at project management and therefore execution. Might be useful for entrepreneurs that need a better operational side.”
Janos Barberis, Founder, FinTech.hk
Why is are there so many
FREE DIGITAL TOOLS? It’s incredible how many free digital goodies you can find nowadays. In fact, you can build many aspects of your business using free tools -- from idea generation to invoicing, website design to customer validation. You can find stock photography, fonts, mobile app makers, video makers, file storage and photo editors all for the price of free. Why is anyone taking the time to create and maintain free stuff? Here are eight reasons.
1. Attract online traffic. Let’s say you’re a marketing agency and you want more site traffic. One of the ways is to create free (ideally relevant) tools on your website. In the case of a marketing agency, the free tools could be banner ad makers, SEO tools, stock photography, etc. Since there are already so many free tools on the market, they have to develop something unique in order to succeed. The cool thing about the tools is if it’s of good quality, directories and media sites will link to them and that’s how you get free traffic.
2. Capture relevant contact information. If the free tool requires registration, the aforementioned marketing agency can capture the user’s information and get in touch with them about other services. This is a great lead generation tool. If you’ve ever downloaded a free white paper, chances are that company got
in touch with you at a later time. To be on the safe side of marketing laws, the agency will (or should) make it clear how they will use your email address in their policies.
3. Capture and sell your contact information. Chances are that at some point you signed up for something and your email address and contact information was sold to third-party companies. This is a common industry practice and the reason we have so much spam in our inboxes. MailChimp, likely the most-used email marketing software, enforces spam laws and requires all of their campaign creators to include an ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of all newsletters.
4. Learn from users. A company can create a free simple tool and observe how users interact with it before spending money on developing more complex software. This is known as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) which works well on a variety of software. Eric Ries, pioneer of the lean startup movement, says that an MVP “is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”
By Yana Robbins
5. Advertising revenue. If you’ve ever downloaded a free app with lots of ad pop-ups, then you understand how this works. The banner ads embedded on the tops of websites or the pop-ups that annoy you all fit under the ‘display advertising’ umbrella. In this case, there’s definitely a tradeoff between generating ad revenue and ruining the user experience.
6. In-app purchase revenue. Most app makers will price their products at $0, also known as the ‘freemium’ model, to encourage downloads en masse. Companies are then able to monetize their product via in-app purchases, a strategy which works particularly well in mobile games. For example, there might be in-app payments for each additional item the game is introducing (i.e. a specific weapon or level) which are usually presented to players in a bundle.
7. Capture the user long term after the trial expires. Many companies will offer their product in a free trial, which essentially lets you go on a 30-day test drive. After the trial is over, the company then prompts the user to purchase one of their packaged options. What usually happens, especially at the enterprise level, is the user’s day-to-day operations are already fairly intertwined with the product so they’ll be happy to buy. On the consumer end, there’s some room for abuse -- as anyone who has taken advantage of a monthly Netflix trial subscription would know.
8. Users will love the tool and purchase an expanded version. Luminosity, a mobile brain game app that improves cognitive abilities, is a prime example of a company that delivers great value -- to the point where users will gladly pay for an expanded version. How it works is users play a few games every day as a part of a ‘daily workout’ but only have access to a limited number. To fully stimulate the brain, users will have to unlock the premium version of the app. 16 JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
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By Kevin Bluer
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The IMPORTANCE (and joy) of IDEA VALIDATION
As a software development instructor, I come into contact with a lot of people that are keen to learn programming with the admirable intention of building their own product or service. While I wholeheartedly encourage this, I often find that people are ready to begin building, without having spent much time on a relatively simple, yet fundamental, step. That step being a round of validation of the underlying idea.
dox. How can you really know that someone will pay you for your product or service until it actually exists and they subsequently open their wallets? The answer is, of course, that you can’t. You can, however, still strive for it, and even if you only reach a handful of verbal commitments (or a number of “Letters of Intent” if you’re building a B2B-based product) this will be infinitely better than just going with your gut.
To put it mildly, this is madness.
Just to stress, even if you have what you perceive as niche domain expertise or “unique” insights into a particular market, the goal still applies. In fact, the only exception is if you happen to be Elon Musk.
You’re essentially considering investing a significant amount of time, money, and effort on something you don’t even know that people (really) want. It’s like building a house without first knowing that the underlying foundation is strong enough to hold the proposed structure’s weight.
If you build it, they ‘might’ come… In this article we explore the importance of idea validation. We’ll look at the types of questions you should be asking the prospective users of your product or service, the tools and techniques to make the process incredibly simple (and even fun), and ultimately what you should be aiming for before a single line of code is written. An impossible goal (although one still worth striving for). Let’s start with the goal of the validation exercise itself. It’s quite simple: “You should aim to know that people will pay you1 (directly or indirectly) for the product or service that you are intending to build.” This is obviously a para-
18 JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
But won’t someone steal my idea? The worry that someone will steal your idea if it’s circulated beyond just your best friend (or mum) is almost always completely unfounded. If it’s a concern, you can perhaps alleviate it by considering the following: the risk that someone will steal your idea is significantly less than value gained from validating it with said people. Ultimately, ideas are cheap and everyone  This statement is making the assumption that making money is a goal. There are of course plenty of valid exceptions to this.
has them so don’t be afraid to tell people yours. Also, while your “precious snowflake” (as Charlie O’Donnell at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures once eloquently put it) seems like the next big thing to you, everyone you ask is going to be focused on their own personal ideas and passions. Validate, Validate, Validate So now that you’re, hopefully, convinced of the value of validation, let’s turn our attention to how to actually do it effectively. The Granddaddy of the validation world is arguably Alexander Osterwalder’s “Business Model Canvas.” It goes beyond just pure validation and can be used to develop entirely new business models (or thoroughly document existing ones). As an approach, it’s very powerful and highly warrants further exploration, especially if you’re aiming big and looking to disrupt existing ways of doing things. The work done by Alexander in this space has manifested itself in a company called Strategyzer, (strategyzer.com) which offers books, training, and apps (as well as the aforementioned “canvas” as a free download). That said, if you’re “idea-rich and time-poor” and considering a web or mobile application as a core facet of your offering, you might want to explore a more streamlined approach. The approach focuses on 3 deliverables, each of which is designed to aid in the vali-
dation process itself, as well as adding value beyond the process should your validation result in a positive outcome. The deliverables are as follows: • Concept Overview Document • Interactive Prototype • Validation Questions We’ll now explore each of these in turn. 1. Concept Overview Firstly, the concept overview is as it sounds. It should be a short document (capped at around 2 pages) wherein you document the genesis of the idea, the problem your solving, and a short list of the features. In regards to the latter, emphasis should be placed on things that can’t be communicated visually (as these will be covered in the next deliverable), such as workflows, roles, assumptions, etc. Note that this document is designed to help you succinctly crystalize your thoughts. It’s also recommended that you share it (either in its entirety or key elements of it) with the individuals with whom you intend to validate the idea. 2. Interactive Prototype The interactive prototype is likely going to be the most time-consuming deliverable, particularly if you’ve not built one before. The good news, however, is that the learning curve is reasonably shallow. Also, once you get over the initial hump, it can be a very enjoyable process. The three tools that I recommend fall into the low-to-mid fidelity spectrum. In other words, the output is not designed to look like the finished product, and nor should it. • Balsamic Mockups (balsamiq.com/ products/mockups) • UXPin (uxpin.com) • Proto.io (proto.io) The goal here is make a clickable prototype that conveys the core functionality of the proposed product or service. By “clickable,” we
mean that the screens can be joined together, making the experience feel somewhat like the real application. Also, because they are browser-based, they all provide the ability to easily share the generated prototypes via a link. This feature is important as it makes the validation step, as we’ll see next, incredibly easy. Just to note this is by no means a definitive list of the available prototyping tools. Also, experienced designers will typically gravitate to “high-fidelity” tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or Sketch, and while these offer the ultimate power, without plugins they don’t provide as easy a path to sharing. 3. Validation Questions At this stage you’re ready to begin validating your idea with a small “inner circle” of friends, colleagues, etc. Ultimately, this list should be comprised of individuals that you feel will provide constructive feedback in the process of validating your idea (and not just tell you what you want to hear). As such, try to ensure that they fall into the demographic that you’re targeting. Providing detailed or heavily targeted questions (along with the concept overview and link to the prototype) is discretionary. That said, I’d typically recommended a few succinct questions, something along the lines of the following: • Would you use this product? If so, how much would you be willing to pay? • Are there any features that you don’t need? Is there anything missing?
of sentiment as to whether they’d use the product or not). Also, when sending out the messages to your initial inner circle, resist using a mail-merge or a bulk mailing tool such as Mailchimp. In addition, try if possible to provide a personal message to increase the likelihood of a response. Lastly, in terms of the number of recipients, while there’s obviously no fixed number I’d aim for at least 10 people (with a cap around 30). Awesome! So What’s Next? First and foremost, you wait for the responses to come in. You’ll probably find that you get a complete spectrum of types; everything from the completely minimal “yes” or “no”, through to huge essay-style answers (as well as a percentage of no-shows). If, of course, at this stage you’re finding yourself more bullish than ever on the idea then that’s a sign that the responses were positive. And of course the same goes for the opposite. Ultimately though, what you’re looking for is signal from the noise that indicates whether the idea has potential. Try to overlook the “nice” responses wherein people are unduly positive, perhaps because they’re your friend or family member. Also look out for additional feature suggestions or things that you hadn’t considered. Assuming you are moving to the next stage, your goal will be to build an initial MVP (Minimum Viable Product). More on that in the next post :).
If you do add more than these, try not to keep them too verbose or open-ended. Remember the goal at this early stage is to elicit as many responses as possible (along with a degree 19
STANDARD CHARTERED’S SUPERCHARGER
By Iris Leung
IS HONG KONG’S FIRST HOMEGROWN FINTECH ACCELERATOR Asia’s financial technology startup space continues to heat up every year. A recent Accenture report shows that investments in FinTech across the Asia-Pacific region leapt from US$880 million in 2014 to almost US$3.5 billion in 2015. 40 per cent of those deals were in the payments space with lending making up 25 per cent. The timing couldn’t be better for Hong Kong, home to Asia’s largest financial center, to continue growing as a promising FinTech hub by nurturing startups with an innovative take on financial products and services. The recently launched Standard Chartered-backed SuperCharger is the new accelerator to watch, having announced their first batch of eight startups for an intense 12-week program. With Baidu and Tsinghua University also pitching in as sponsors, SuperCharger may be the ideal program for companies looking to tap into the Mainland Chinese market. Jon-Tzen Ng, Head of Digital & Innovation at Standard Chartered Bank thinks that Hong Kong’s unique role as an entry point to China can be leveraged by FinTech companies. “Hong Kong’s proximity to China, not just geographically, but culturally and 22 JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
economically makes it an ideal gateway,” he said. “SuperCharger is positioned as the first ‘Made in Hong Kong’ accelerator that is focused on both late stage and early stage FinTech companies that want to leverage Hong Kong as a gateway in and out of China and Asia.” The program, which was launched in the beginning of January, drew 160 applications from 20 countries. “The judging panel as a whole, which I was involved in, looked for startups that had the right mix of ambition, ideation, market opportunity and execution that could really benefit from being a part of the program to grow and accelerate their business,” said Ng. Although they’re not first to arrive on the scene, with Accenture and DBS already running FinTech accelerators, SuperCharger stands out from the others as it is backed by a local-headquartered bank and developed specifically for the Hong Kong market. “SuperCharger is Hong Kong’s first homegrown accelerator and is built on the narrative of the city as a superconnector. The program and its structure works for Hong Kong and cannot be replicated one-to-one elsewhere,” said Janos Barberis, Founder of SuperCharger. “Finance is a highly geographically-
specific industry in terms of regulation and behaviour, so FinTech accelerators need to also be local and leverage on a city’s natural competitive advantage.” He also believes that in a time where FinTech hubs are beginning to converge, Hong Kong is a “natural platform to bridge the east and the west, the developed and developing [world].” Also a researcher who has published an academic journal on ‘the Evolution of FinTech,’ Barberis said that Hong Kong is “more likely to attract global late-stage companies that are selling their solutions to some of the 70 top world banks that have a headquarter there.” This in turn creates a tough environment for young startups in the B2C space as they’ll need to develop their local and regional products quickly. “Let’s be reminded that Hong Kong already has a relatively efficient retail space on the lending and payment side, so any B2C solutions will have to be a leapfrog improvement in terms of cost and user experience,” he said. SuperCharger aims to solve this problem by facilitating knowledge transfer between later stage startups and those in earlier stages. They’ve done this by
accepting four companies that are early stage and four that are later stage. “Obviously for the early stage companies, there’s a lot of value to see the journey that the later stage companies have been on. They’ve actually been in the trenches so there’s a lot that they’ll be able to teach these younger companies,” said SuperCharger’s Managing Director Renu Bhatia. “For later stage companies, there’s an element of giving back to the younger companies but they might be able to partner with those startups which already understand the local culture and have a product going in markets they want to enter. So there’s a lot of crosspollination there,” she said. Besides the mutual learning between startups, which Bhatia said is unique to the program, SuperCharger also brings a diverse and heavyweight partnership network to the table. The likes of Standard Chartered, Baidu and Tsinghua University will offer coaching, mentorship and co-working space housed at the TusparkHK Innovation Lab. “We’ve been able to bring many stakeholders from the FinTech space in so we can attract a greater degree of companies in the B2B and B2C space.
We have a bank, an Internet search giant and a university -- all of these partners bring a different perspective of what they see as potential strategy in the FinTech space,” said Bhatia. Looking at the Hong Kong FinTech scene as a whole, Bhatia notes that what’s transpired in the past 18 months has been encouraging. Three FinTech accelerators have launched, the number of startups in the space have grown close to 60 and an innovation fund was announced recently. On top of that, a steering committee was formed to address the local regulatory environment. These are all elements Bhatia feels will build Hong Kong into a premier financial hub. In the way forward, she’s optimistic in Hong Kong’s role as a key cog in the development of the Asia-Pacific FinTech scene. “Hong Kong has always been a great connector between China and the world, given its corporate governance, credibility and huge experience in the financial markets and services as a whole,” she said. “We’re going to see Hong Kong play a large role in the development of the Asian FinTech segment and be a hub where companies can come and leverage its unique position.”
A look at some of the startups participating in the Supercharger program: Gatecoin: A three-year-old Hong Kong Bitcoin exchange that offers payment infrastructure as a service leveraging the blockchain. What’s interesting to note is that Gatecoin has the first-mover advantage in the African market and already has presence in five countries there, with three others on the way. Besides their digital currency exchange, Gatecoin also works with financial institutions, payment service providers and international remitters to transfer money around the world quicker and cheaper. Since their July 2013 launch, Gatecoin already has 4,500 individual customers, are working with over 30 companies and have a 10 person team. Neat: A mobile-only banking solution for Asia’s Millennial generation. How it works it gives users live updates via their smartphone every time money is spent using their ‘Neat’ card. Each expense is automatically categorised so users can keep track on how much they’re spending in areas such as clothing, transport and food. Still in the early stages of development, the Hong Kong-based Neat has an eight person team and is currently running a pilot and will be launching in private beta for 1,000 Hong Kong users by the end of March. Amereos: A content platform that provides financial data for wealth managers and financial advisors. How it works is Amereos combs through two million finance articles (as well as social media content) a day and curates useful and easily-digestible content for users which essentially saves them a lot of reading time. The Hong Kong-based startup’s future plans include adding data on 8,000 single stocks.
Can a Pay-What-You-Want pricing model work in Hong Kong? How many times have you begrudgingly paid for a service you felt was unworthy of its price tag? Chances are, pretty often. There’s no use in complaining because set prices, with no option to haggle, often give out the ‘take it or leave it’ vibe. After all, price determines value of a product, right? Perhaps, but businesses of all stripes are trying on an alternative pricing model for size: ‘Pay What You Want’ (PWYW), one that lets customers pay what they think is fair for a service. In 2014, American financial startup Aspiration launched a “pay-whatyou-will” money management service, an approach that differentiated themselves from other asset managers. Within two months of operations, the startup picked up 700 customers and also received US$2 million to manage for its clients. At last look, TIME covered the company four months ago and they seem to be doing well under their fee structure (or lack thereof). In a commonly-cited PWYW restaurant trial, American fast-casual cafe chain Panera Bread launched a non-profit restaurant in 2009 to much success that they subsequently opened four more locations. While the concept, which offered up turkey chili for whatever customers felt was fair, did very well in the early days -- interest and donations waned as the years went on. In Hong Kong, yoga practitioners are also taking a leaf from Panera’s book. Instead of chili, they’re peddling fitness classes and students are encouraged to pay what they think is fair for each session. Sports medicine doctor and organiser of ‘Pay What You Wish Yoga HK’ Dr. Bryan Lau teaches community yoga classes that run the gamut of restorative to purely cardio. He rents out fitness rooms at government gyms in Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai on a weekly basis and claims his roving studio was the first to start with the PWYW pricing model. 24 JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
By Iris Leung
“Yoga teaching is a highly competitive field in Hong Kong. There are a lot of graduates from teacher training but not enough vacancy for them in the Hong Kong market. So using the [PWYW] model will help attract more students for new teachers, but the challenge will be whether this pricing model still works well after the honeymoon period,” he said. While Panera’s not-for-profit cafes suffered after an initial surge of success, Lau describes payments for his weekly sessions to be “stable” -- although he admitted that there’s a chance he’d run into issues if he ever went fulltime. Payments for Lau’s classes are collected semi-privately in a small covered bin just outside the venue, but recommended donation amounts are not set. Lau believes that his students should pay whatever they feel is fair, based on what they’ve gained from the class. Donations for Lau’s classes are far from uniform: “I receive [donations] from one dollar coins to thousand dollar bills (roughly $128 USD). Obviously the average payment will be largely influenced by several factors: How much is in the student’s pocket, (we usually get less at the end of the month); how many students are in the class (we get paid less when there are more students in the venue). New students also tend to pay more at first but once they become regular students, they’ll pay less,” he said. What’s interesting is that there’s a ‘safety in numbers’ effect in these PWYW yoga classes, and Lau said that he pulls in lower donations in larger classes. This is keeping in mind that Lau runs large classes ranging from 40 to 60 students at one time. Based on his observation, he thinks that a larger class means a lower chance of judgement from peers -which sometimes results in a smaller donation.
To get to the bottom of the psychology behind the PWYW model, we reached out to Z. John Zhang -- an expert on targeted pricing strategy. He also co-wrote “Four Key Qualities of Any ‘Pay As You Wish’ Pricing Strategy,” a book that dissects whether the PWYW pricing model is a good fit with your business. “When you use ‘Pay As You Want’ pricing, you are telling a customer to pay what they feel comfortable with, not ‘pay this or go somewhere else.’ In other words, you appeal to the good, gentle side of the customer. In that case, when the customer does not know how much to pay, they tend to err on the high side rather than on the low side, especially after a good emotional experience,” he said.
Jumpstart testing PWYW pricing.
Yoga studios, which are in the business of selling positive meditation and fitness experiences to customers, are likely to be a good fit for the PWYW model. Besides yoga instruction, Zhang said that education and charities are also areas that are harnessing the pricing model well. “These are industries where the customer experience and personal touch matter a great deal. You surely do not want to be selling gasoline with this pricing mechanism,” he said.
Besides not wanting to “lose face by looking cheap” in front of strangers at the restaurant, Zhang notes in his book that they also want to preserve their image in front of their friends and family seated at the table. This need to “save face” in front of others at a restaurant is very similar to what students at Lau’s yoga classes experience when determining what is appropriate to pay.
As for Zhang, he believes that, despite the thriftiness of the locals, Hong Kong businesses could employ the PWYW model using a couple targeted strategies. “I don’t see why the pricing mechanism cannot be used successfully in Hong Kong if you carefully select the product or service as well as customers… besides, one can always suggest a price or take real name reservations,” he said. If startups in Hong Kong are interested in giving the PWYW pricing model a whirl, Zhang suggests using it in a novelty marketing campaign which would attract media attention. Case in point, American restaurant chain Just Salad launched last year in
English alternative band Radiohead also tried out this model to much media fanfare. In conjunction with the 2007 release of their Grammywinning album ‘In Rainbows,’ the band allowed fans to set their own price points in a ‘pay-what-you-want download option.’ Although their album release provoked more piracy than actual downloads through the legal channel, the band’s choice to try an unconventional pricing model was heavily pressed by mainstream publications -- TIME, NPR, Rolling Stone and the New York Times all weighed in. The verdict is in. Whether you plan on running a marketing campaign to generate media buzz or leverage behavioural psychology to make more money, the ‘Pay What You Want’ pricing model might work for your business.
As instructors around the world adapt to the PWYW pricing model, is it one that works with Hong Kong culture where the locals have perfected the art of penny pinching? Lau said his classes, which are largely attended by locals (80 per cent local and 20 per cent expat), rely on the support of both sides which bring something complementary to the table. “Expats pay more usually but locals tend to be much more loyal to the teachers. So to make it work, you
The Hive / Wan Chai
In Hong Kong specifically, there are other factors at play and Zhang uses Ten Thousand Buddha House, a successful PWYW restaurant, as an example. By ensuring all customers reserve a table ahead of time, the restaurant eliminates the sense of anonymity that comes with drop-in dining.
need both of them. And if instructors can cut off luxury expenses involved in teaching, like renting a cheaper venue with minimal facilities, it will allow room for this pricing model to work in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong and invited diners to pay (for one day only) whatever they felt was fair for a salad or wrap -- with proceeds of a dollar per meal going to a New York City food bank.
NAVIGATING CONFLICTING ADVICE
By Michael O’Donnell
from Startup Mentors and Business Advisors I recently had coffee with an aspiring entrepreneur who has a novel product and some advice on his launch strategy. He wasn’t the type of guy who simply wanted me to tell him what he would like to hear, which is usually the case with many first-time entrepreneurs. He was in an accelerator program and getting conflicting advice from well-healed mentors whom he liked and respected. He wanted yet another “expert” opinion from yours truly. After hearing about his product and the market opportunity, we talked about his budget and goals for the launch. He detailed the current plan, which I thought was sketchy at best. I immediately started poking holes in it. He conceded the plan had flaws and asked me what I would do differently. Being the seasoned and ever-confident startup mentor that he expected me to be, I made a convincing case for a very different launch strategy than the one he was considering…confusing him even further, no doubt. So who is right? Which mentor should he listen to? All of us….or maybe none of us. One of the biggest challenges (and opportunities) facing today’s entrepreneurs is an overabundance of “expert” advice. Throw a stone in any direction and you will likely hit a startup mentor or business advisor. They are everywhere – as thick as locusts. They mentor at public-private accelerators…descend upon pitch events…
26 JUMPSTART MARCH/APRIL 2016
trade on their past experiences as members of present-day angel groups or VC funds…volunteer at university incubators….and hangout at meet-ups organized by would-be entrepreneurs. Some of them ply their wisdom online and hang their shingles at economic development organizations and professional services firms from coast-tocoast. Mentoring and advising a new generation of entrepreneurs is a growth industry all its own. This is a very different environment than the one I came to age in as an entrepreneur. Very few people were entrepreneurs when I was starting out and almost no one knew anything about technology, which is where most of the startup action was. In hindsight, I was probably blessed by a dearth of good mentors and advisors. I had to figure it out on my own and, occasionally, with the help of like-minded entrepreneurs who were also trying to create new products and markets. There were few credible inputs, less options to debate, and no one to blame except myself if the strategy failed. How times have changed. But I digress. How should today’s entrepreneurs navigate an ecosystem full of well-intentioned people who are put in a position to mentor or advise them, especially when they give conflicting advice? To answer this question, we need to first address the nuances between mentors and advisors.
Traditionally, mentors advised for free and advisors for compensation. A mentor was someone who knew the space and took a personal interest in you, or was assigned to you by the organization to show you the ropes. An advisor was someone with technical training, such as a lawyer, accountant or IT consultant. These days the terms are often used interchangeably. To confuse things even further, some people who mentor or advise for free or a fee call themselves coaches. For the purposes of this post, let’s draw the distinction this way: Many advisors are also mentors, but few mentors are also advisors. Mentors breeze in-and-out, they don’t usually have defined roles or responsibilities in the relationship. They seldom have any skin in the game. Advisors usually have fiduciary duties or other obligations to the entrepreneur or startup. Their professional credentials and reputations are on the line. They are often investors and serve on boards of directors and/or advisory boards. With that distinction, here are some guidelines for navigating conflicting advice from these people, regardless of what they call themselves: First, don’t underestimate the value of free advice. When I was starting out people would say, “Advice is generally worth what you pay for it.” The implication being that I should heavily discount free advice and rely more heavily on professional advisors who charged an arm and a leg. They were generally right about that notion for the most part.
The Internet and the evolution of entrepreneurial ecosystems have changed that notion for evermore. Today, there are many free sources of advice and much of them are more valuable than professionals who charge for it. I’ve seen entrepreneurs pay tens of thousands of dollars for what turned out to be very bad advice. Conversely, I have seen entrepreneurs pay nothing, except perhaps a cup of coffee, for advice and assistance that was golden. Advice is no longer commensurate with what you pay for it. That said, you should still give more weight to the *technical* advice of trained, paid professionals, than that of volunteer mentors. A mentor may be spot on by advising you to form a Delaware C Corp instead of an LLC, but you should still defer to a good attorney who understands your company’s needs and objectives. Second, consider the biases of the source. Every mentor is a prisoner of his or her experiences and biases. A mentor who was a CXO of a Fortune 500 company is going to dispense different advice than an entrepreneur who started and built his or her company from scratch. That is not to say that one’s advice is any less valuable than the other. It’s just that they are both going to have very different ways of looking at the world and how to bring a new product to market. Look at what sectors they come from, what their roles were, and the kinds of resources they had to work with. That will help reveal how relevant their advice is to your situation. Third, advice is only as good as clarity of goals and metrics [that the entrepreneur provides]. You can expect to get a lot of conflicting advice from both mentors and advisors if everyone you ask is unclear about what must be accomplished. You and your board should be very clear about the goals. You should not ask *most* third-party mentors and advisors what your goals should be and
how you should measure their achievement. You should only ask them for the best way to achieve the goals, and for their assistance and connections to do so. This was the problem with the entrepreneur who had the novel product and wanted my advice on his launch strategy. Each mentor he asked had a different notion about his goals. One mentor had given him advice thinking his goal should be to generate revenue quickly. Another mentor gave him advice thinking his goal should be to get user traction. I thought his launch goal should be market validation and product pivot (refinement). It’s not the place of a mentor or advisor to tell an entrepreneur what his or her goals should be! A good advisor/mentor can help frame the goals, but should not be setting the agenda for the venture unless they are also board members. It’s easier for you to weigh the ‘how’ if everyone you ask is clear on the ‘what’ and ‘why.’ The best way to start a conversation with a mentor or advisor is: “We think our goal is X and we plan to measure it by Y. Do you agree with X and Y?” He or she may encourage you to rethink the goal and the deliverables to support and measure them. Once everyone is on the same page with those things, you can debate the order and manner in which they should be implemented. Fourth, understand the motives of the mentor/advisor. Every mentor or advisor is “in it” for different reasons. Their reasons influence the type and quality of advice they will give you. Some people mentor at accelerators and pitch events because they want first dibs on good investment prospects. Some people mentor because they are trolling for a job or new clients.
nothing they want for their time, expertise and assistance. They either have a hidden agenda or they are clueless. Mentors who are just passing the time because they are bored of retirement can do more harm than good. If you really want to see how much a mentor or advisor believes his/her own advice, ask them how much they would be willing to invest for you to follow it. That’s why your board/investors are always your best counsel. Finally, never second guess your instincts and take full responsibility for the advice that you decide to follow. The primary reason you are running your own company is to be the master of your own destiny; to shape the world with your vision. After getting all inputs, listen to your inner compass. It will guide you. Trust yourself above all others. Once you decide on a path -- in cooperation with your board and inner circle -- accept full responsibility for the outcomes. Trust me, no matter which advice you accept or reject, you will stumble. Keep learning, keep iterating and optimizing. No matter how it turns out, you own it. In summary, there are many roads to the same place. One may not be better than another. One may be shorter and less expensive than another, but very bumpy and more stressful. Mentors and advisors may read the map differently; suggest different routes to take. As long as they all agree on the destination, your chances of arriving there are good. You can’t always choose your mentors or advisors, but you can choose whether to accept and apply their advice – which roads to take. Choose well and happy travels.
Beware the mentor or advisor who pretends it’s all about you and there is
Michael O’Donnell is an Entrepreneur Advisor and M&A Intermediary for Business Buyers and Sellers. He is a CEO of StartupBiz. com, where he advises entrepreneurs and investors on starting, buying or selling a business.
Clearmind.today COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY Support for teens, individuals and couples Central and Sai Kung Specialist in stress, burnout, trauma, and expat challenges (Anxiety, adjustment issues, conflict in the workplace or at home, divorce and separation)
p: +852 5990 8627 e:email@example.com www.clearmind.today
Crowdfunding Can Make Your Dream Extraordinary Despite the great heights that some crowdfunding campaigns can take startups, restrictive funding models used by popular platforms could do with some change.
CALL4VAN as an example. Although the Umadx project only met its initial goal of almost $160,000 HKD, which was 53 per cent of its full funding target, it still raised enough to kickstart mobile app upgrades.
Which is why new Hong Kong crowdfunding platform Umadx stands for ‘U In a nutshell, the five-month-old Umadx make a dream eXtraordinary’, and is a crowdfunding platform with an its two-tier funding model is far more added push on social. Besides built-in accommodating to project creators. social media sharing, a Umadx crowdWe had a chat with its Founder funding specialist actually proactively and CEO Richard Ko to learn reaches out to project creators with more about the thought procustomised social media analyt“The quality of cess behind his startup’s ics so they can better tailor unique funding model. their campaign. communication
from creators in the “With crowdfunding, Similar to Facebook, there are two major Umadx has a ‘Direct Mesmiddle of the crowdthings to consider: sage’ feature which allows funding process is Fundraising to get the project creators and backkey to achieving a money you need and ers to chat. “It’s a simple the credibility of the tool but an important tool, successful fundraisproject. There’s always allowing people to build ing campaign.” news that a project was trust. Trust is very important started by a not-so-credible when it comes to crowdfundcreator where they get the ing. We want project creators to money and leave the scene,” he engage with their supporters and vice said. “So we wanted to find a funding versa.” model that caters to the flexible needs of a creator to launch a project.” Unlike other crowdfunding project pages that are restricted to generic layouts, According to Ko, campaigners using Umadx lets their users customise their the Umadx platform have said that they campaigns beyond just changing the don’t actually need the full 100% of lead image. Similar to blogging plattheir funding goal to get the project off forms, Umadx project creators can the ground. With the goal to promote change font and color while tweaking transparency in mind, Umadx project page formats. Ko believes that “the qualcreators set two funding goals and are ity of communication from creators in the required to make their intentions for both middle of the crowdfunding process is amounts clear to backers. key to achieving a successful fundraising He uses local van reservation app campaign.”
Greatly inspired by the potential of product pre-sale as seen on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Ko wanted to add e-commerce elements into Umadx for the benefit of backers who enjoy online shopping. And if the future of crowdfunding is heading towards mobile commerce, then Umadx is on top of things. They have launched a mobile app which will improve the project discovery and management experience for both backers and creators. The app is available on both on iOS and Android. It allows backers to back projects of interest and discover projects anytime, anywhere. “We allow our project creators to set a featured reward so backers can enlarge images in the rewards section. They’ll see a close-up of the reward and they’ll get that impulse buying sensation - we want to make crowdfunding just like an online shopping experience,” Ko said.
Although Umadx appears to be focused on Hong Kong projects at the moment, Ko says that the next six to nine months will be pivotal for his startup as they begin testing the waters for expansion into Southeast Asia. “We’re doing some research on digital penetration in different Southeast Asian countries, online buying patterns and patterns where people use their mobile phones to do online purchases,” he said.
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