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A raw account of life inside of a brand new startup

Every entrepreneur loses sleep over something, be it a learning curve, a need for more programmers, a decision about financing, or otherwise, and there are always multiple ways to skin a cat. This is but one account of the “why” behind a budding startup.

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The inner workings of startup-life

The goal of my column here is to reveal the inner workings of start-up life, and with that life comes an entire spectrum of emotions. I feel like I should post a large emoticon board on my wall so every day I can circle one of the emotions as to how I feel. That changes minute by minute depending on what I am dealing with. No, I am not bi-polar. That’s just how it feels to have a startup.

I was recently asked in a private Facebook group “why do you do what you do?” When I first read the question I did a double take just to read it correctly. That felt like a metaphor because I needed to think about what I was reading and then actually think about the answer. Why DO I do what I do? Because i’m passionate! I’m passionate about the consumer, transparency, being an entrepreneur, the need to make a living, disrupting, creating something people like, technology, the schizophrenic highs and lows of success and failure, seeing if others think like I do, making a great product, efficiency, useful data, the unknown, asking the question “why” and “why not,” and because someone told me once…”you cant do that!”

I have no idea if anyone will relate to these answers or not.

A third business venture

This is my third venture in business and I can happily say I wouldn’t trade my first two experiences for all the tea in China. They are what has made me who I am today, for better or for worse.

We were labeled “pioneers” at my first company. What did that translate to? Nothing but experience. What we did do was blaze a path for many who followed. We pushed forward the evolution of an entire industry. A lot of people who followed in our footsteps made a lot of money. I did not. But I helped changed the way an entire industry operated and I helped champion a cause for the consumer.

My second journey was by accident. It was after my first company was no longer in operation that I accidentally fell into homebuilding. The time was right. I had been raised in a family that was extremely architecturally conscious, I had an eye for design, I am crafty by nature, and many people over the years had said, “you should be a homebuilder. You would be great with your eye for detail.” So, I said what the heck? It was a great run for 10 years building million dollar plus spec homes, but we all know how that ended.

Back to the question of why

Which brings us to today. Why am I here? Why do I do what I do? I already listed the reasons. The problem is that doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t always make it fun.

Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough. One of my favorite commercials on TV is for Staples where a single person named Dave is cast in his office doing 12 different things all by himself. He walks down the hall, saying “Hi Dave”, as he waves to his alter ego. As an entrepreneur with my own startup, that is my life.

The real frustration for me is the reliance on others to do things I wish I could do myself but aren’t qualified. On the top of the list…WRITE CODE. I would give anything to be a programmer.

Currently, my programming is outsourced. This was the only option to create my beta product. My team is excellent! There are, however, inherent issues that I face. They have other projects. I am not in control of their time. I rely on them for application management. As an entrepreneur starting a company, there is NO ONE willing to work as hard as me, as long as me, or to create a product as well as me! If I could do all of the things I pay others to do, I would never sleep. It is very difficult to get others to share your start-up passion.

Getting others to share your start-up passion

Case and point: on occasion, we will push out a release to our production site. After the fact, I might notice a bug. If I was able, I would work tirelessly to push a fix, but I CAN’T. It kills me because no one feels quite the same about that [bug] as I do. Yes, I want perfection. Is that so bad? Everything I am creating depends on delivering the best product and the best customer experience possible and once it makes it to www, it is a reflection on us.

My team does their job and does it well, but I will soon face other issues. I need better controls on what we are doing. I am a one man show right now. Our dev takes place in a completely virtual environment. I work daily with a team of four. Three live almost an hour away and one is in London. We are extremely agile.

Two ways to develop

For those of you who dont know what I mean, let me explain. As I see it, there are two ways to develop:

First, you can sit down with a company, pay them to do a Scope & Discovery with you for a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 dollars where they will go over as many details of your application as you can think of. They will help you develop user stories, functionality, workflow, and if they provide assistance in business consulting, they will throw in some strategy planning as well. Strategy might consist of pre-launch planning such as creating a buzz, capturing sign-ups to keep prospects “in the know,” beta testers and when to take out your MVP (minimum viable product).

The BIG problem is after you have spent a week with these guys, they will want a big deposit. Then they will want you to GO AWAY! They will try to create and code your product, working from what they have as their understanding, with as little contact as possible. The reason for this is logical. They want to knock out as much code while not allowing for any scope creep. This is actually a good business practice [for them]. If you are a hands on type of person (like me), you will not be sleeping for an indefinite period of time.

Then you show up to review your deliverable and, VIOLA, it’s nothing like you expected. Now you have to pay for the time already spent in dev and the time it’s going to take make corrections. It becomes a “he said, she said” argument about how it was SUPPOSED to be. Everything becomes subject to interpretation. The developers say…”you never said that”. You say…”I thought that was understood,” and the cycle begins. I have painted a worst case scenario here, but it happens.

The second method is developing in a very agile environment which is more of a “make it up as you go along” routine. This is more favorable for the hands-on entrepreneur, and arguably better for the team because there are less mistakes along the way, and things are constantly being refined to be exactly the way you want it. However, with this model exists the dreaded “scope creeeep.”

Scope creep is when you want to add one “neat” little thing. That turns into three “neat” little things and so on and so on. Now you are off track from the prioritization of the deliverable. The devs have spent time appeasing your need for instant gratification, and the project is taking twice as long as anticipated on twice the budget. As ugly as this may sound, it is still my preference.

Every day, subject to their availability and other projects, my team and I are banging on IM’s, group calling on Skype, emailing, sharing files and previewing work on our dev site. This is as close to being a developer as I can be, without actually being one. I love that!

My next challenge

Now comes the first problem as we move forward. I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land. But that brings me back to… if I could do it myself… I would!

There are time to market concerns. I wrote last week about the blistering pace of technology roll outs in the real estate technology space right now. That keeps me up at night. I know of only a handful of companies that seem to be headed in the same direction as NuHabitat (my company), but I’m sure there are others. Some of these guys are the big boys with deep pockets, and others are like me.

My next challenges lie ahead and there is a great deal more I have to do to get my company where it needs to be, but that is the life of a start-up – constant pursuit of perfection.

As the leader of NuHabitat LLC, Jeff brings a unique qualification to the table with 10 years experience of buying and selling homes as a high-end luxury homebuilder while working with clients, agents and brokerages. Motivated by a unique set of circumstances, his goal is to provide a more efficient and economical approach to prospective home buyers and sellers in the modern day world of residential real estate.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    April 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Everything about this is brilliant. God bless the unreasonable men and women.

    “Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men.” ~ Edwin Louis Cole

  2. Drew Meyers

    April 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough.”

    ugh…I know the feeling all too well.

    “I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land.”

    La la land without a budget. Having that development team you want is entirely possible, but it’ll cost you a fair amount of money.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to effectively share negative thoughts with your business partner

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You and your business partner(s) are in a close relationship, and just like a marriage, negative emotions may play a role in the relationship.

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You and your business partner are in a relationship. Your business was born when you shared a common vision of the future and became giddy from the prospect of all you could do together that you couldn’t do alone. Now, you spend much of the day doing things together in collaboration. The stakes are high; there are obstacles to overcome, decisions to make together, deadlines to meet, and all the stresses of running a business.

It’s no wonder a business partnership can often be just as complicated and emotional as a romantic relationship. If you are struggling with your business partner, you might find helpful advice in resources originally targeted towards troubled couples.

Relationship expert Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein has explored how to share “toxic thoughts” with your partner. In a linked article, Bernstein describes toxic thoughts as distortions of the truth that cause us to overemphasize the negative attributes of our partner.

Some examples of toxic thoughts include blaming your partner for larger problems that aren’t really their fault, inaccurately assuming your partners intentions, or resenting your partner for not intuiting your needs, even if you haven’t expressed them. The defining characteristic of these toxic thoughts is that, although they may be based in the truth, they are generally exaggerations of reality, reflecting our own stresses and insecurities.

Just as much as in a love relationship, these toxic thoughts could easily strain a business partnership. If you find yourself having toxic thoughts about your business partner, you will need to decide whether to hold your tongue, or have a potentially difficult conversation. Even when we remain quiet about our frustrations, they are easily felt in the awkward atmosphere of interpersonal tension and passive aggressive slights that results.

Dr. Bernstein points out that being honest about your toxic thoughts with your partner can help increase understanding and intimacy. It also gives your partner a chance to share their toxic thoughts with you, so you’d better be ready to take what you dish out. It might be hard to talk about our frustrations with each other so candidly, but it might also be the most straightforward way to resolve them.

Then again, Bernstein points out, some people prefer to work through their toxic thoughts alone. By his own definition, toxic thoughts are unfair exaggerations of and assumptions about our partner’s behavior. If you find yourself jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, or blaming your partner for imagined catastrophes, perhaps you’d better take a few minutes to calm down and consider whether or not it’s worth picking a fight about. Then again, if you’re self-aware enough to realize that you are exaggerating the truth, you can probably also tease out the real roots of any tension you’ve been experiencing with your business partner.

If you are going to get personal, shoulder your own emotional baggage and try to approach your partner with equal parts honesty and diplomacy. Avoid insults, stay optimistic, and focus on solutions. State your own feelings and ask questions, rather than airing your assumptions about their intentions or behaviors. Keep your toxic thoughts to yourself, and work towards adjusting the behaviors that are making you feel negatively towards each other. Your business might depend on it.

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Business Entrepreneur

This Uber for chefs will bring a home-cooked meal to your home

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Who doesn’t love a home-cooked meal? Now with this amazing startup service, you’ll soon be able to get one without having to cook it yourself.

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A professional chef making a home-cooked meal with a tall cheeseburger.

Who doesn’t love a home-cooked meal that you didn’t have to cook?

No one.

And restaurants, UberEats, DoorDash, and their ilk have been banking on this desire for some time… Although whether restaurants can stay in the game remains to be seen.

McDonald's sign with a sign that says "We are short staffed. Please be patient with the staff that did show up. No one wants to work anymore."

Disrespect your essentials at your peril, but I digress.

Cofounders Heinin Zhang and Siddhi Mittal of London-based toddler-aged company, Yhangry, are bringing a solution to the problem that’s neither dragging into a restaurant during a gross
and grossly mishandled plague, nor struggling with how to perfectly word directions to your home for delivery drivers.

Essentially, you pay a certain amount per head in your dining party, which includes the chef’s time and expertise, groceries, booze if you want it, AND post-cooking cleanup. Then said chef
comes to your home, does their thing, and skedaddles.

If anything, it’s like a nice little splurge— okay, NO I can’t yet afford to keep a private chef on hand to make sure I’m not having Taco Bell sauce packets for lunch, but I COULD maybe do a
little splurge once every quarter and have some ‘Let’s pretend we’re rich’ time with a gaggle of friends.

It’s like a spa day, but for your tummy.

Now of course the idea of luxury house calls isn’t new, in and of itself, but you have to admit it is extremely cool that you can trust a centralized service to have vetted individuals who need to uphold certain standards on their books. Let’s face it, if your first thought upon inviting someone you don’t know into your house isn’t ‘What effed up ess are they gonna do in here’, you’re too well-adjusted to be reading this anyway.

I kind of love it! And I’m not the only one.

Yhangry’s raised $1.5 million USD (1,079,272.50 pounds sterling in redcoat money) through several angel investors after managing swift, and successful pivots during England’s lockdowns
last year! What started as a custom dinner party organization had to shift to virtual cooking classes! Now, as things open back up with the advent of the vaccines in Great Britain, Zhang and Mittal’s business savvy and quick thinking are being very aptly rewarded. They’ve got a ready team of 130 chefs in their rosters, Covid guidelines for all to follow, and a lot of big names
in their corner.

Nimbleness always pays is the takeaway here.

I fully wish these ladies every success, mostly because I reeeeeeeeeeeally want their home-cooked meal service to hurry up and be in my house already. What’s the English equivalent of fingers crossed… Something to do with tea? My teabags are plopped for them.

It only remains to sip and see what happens!

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Business Entrepreneur

Why receiving big funding doesn’t guarantee startup success

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You finally got that big funding check that allows you to make your dreams come true, but most startups fail because they shoot for the moon.

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funding box

The first thing every startup needs to get off the ground is funding. It’s crucial to have enough capital to cover equipment, inventory, and employee salaries, along with other basic expenses unique to the industry. Most startups cover these initial costs through business loans and capital from private investors.

Some business owners perceive getting funded as the first milestone toward success. While receiving capital is critical for success, being well-funded doesn’t guarantee success. Plenty of well-funded startups have failed, gone bankrupt, and all but disappeared.

How could so many well-funded startups possibly go under? The 90% failure rate for startups is due to a variety of factors including bad timing, no market, and most of all – mishandling of finances.

Here’s why receiving big capital doesn’t guarantee success.

Getting investment capital provides false hope

Getting funded can make you feel invincible and cause you to be too relaxed about spending money. It’s a powerful feeling to have plenty of money and know an investor believes in your business. Investors are smart; they wouldn’t throw money at a startup unless they had every reason to believe it will succeed, right? Not exactly.

Startups in big tech areas like Silicon Valley and San Francisco often have an easy time generating large amounts of capital from investors who can’t wait to throw money at the latest startup. Many investors ignore risk and throw their money at long-shot bets hoping to invest in the next Facebook or Instagram. The size of the pot is too mesmerizing not to take the risk.

These long-shot bets carry similar odds to winning a “Pick 6” bet in horse racing. The Pick 6 is one of the hardest bets to win because you have to pick the winning horses for six consecutive races. What if the top horse becomes injured before the sixth race? Investors who toss money at random startups have to pick a startup that will continue to meet all the right circumstances to become profitable long-term. Some of those circumstances are unpredictable.

No business owner wants to view their startup as a long-shot bet. However, the reality is that many startups are. You can’t gauge your potential for success based on how much funding you receive.

Having plenty of cash encourages premature scaling

When you’ve got the cash to scale your startup it seems like a waste not to dive in. Just one look around the internet reveals plenty of videos and articles encouraging entrepreneurs to scale their business. Advice online gives the impression that if you’re not scaling your business, you’re falling behind. However, scaling too soon can tank your startup.

Research conducted by Startup Genome found premature scaling to be the number one cause of startup failure. Nathan Furr from Forbes.com explains this finding and what it means for businesses. Premature scaling is defined as “spending money beyond the essentials on growing the business (e.g., hiring sales personnel, expensive marketing, perfecting the product, leasing offices, etc.) before nailing the product/market fit.” Furr says any business is susceptible to premature scaling – not just startups.

The problem is that premature scaling depletes your cash reserves more quickly. This leaves you with less cash to fix mistakes and readjust as you go along. Failure is what happens when you don’t have the necessary cash to fix mistakes and move toward success.

How to make the most of your funding and increase your odds of success

To increase the odds of developing a long-term successful startup, here’s what you can do:

Save as much money as possible. For instance, you don’t need a giant office with expensive furniture right away. Work from home and hire a remote team until an office is absolutely necessary.

Make sure the cost of acquiring each customer makes sense. Know how much money you’re spending to acquire each customer. Track all marketing efforts and eliminate the avenues that don’t generate paying, loyal customers. If the cost to acquire a customer is more than what they spend with your company, revisit your marketing strategy.

Aim for an order-of-magnitude improvement with your innovation. Skip Prichard advises startups to strive for a 10x increase in the value of whatever innovation is being provided to the world. For example, if your company is offering a lower price for a greater value, aim to increase the value 10x. Attract the early adopters who want big improvements and they will validate you.

Money is a tool – use it wisely

Celebrate when you get your funding, but keep that money in the bank for necessary expenses. Money is a tool that doesn’t guarantee success, but if you budget wisely, you’ll have a better chance at beating the startup odds.

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