How we went to the project [#tceh] for 5 years and what, besides the brains, Russian IT startups lack
It so happened that no business education can help launch a brilliant project . First you need to fill up the cones, smell the gunpowder and understand how real life works. The theoretical model will only help when you plunge into the business with your head.
The problem is that no one is teaching this. The good news is that you can create an ecosystem where the development of such a science will be as painful as possible for self-esteem, but at the same time it is effective in terms of the saved money, cars and apartments.
Right now the times are ending when many made uniform bullshit for easy money, similar to the dot-com boom. And they said that "we will begin when we find an investor." The model was simple: an idea was taken from the ceiling, nothing was done on it, but there was an investor. If possible - a sucker who does not really understand IT. The money received was invested in a prototype and a lot of PR, then an investor of the second round was wanted. Then it’s standard: “when the vodka is drunk, it turns out that the jeep is broken ...”. And the project was ending.
Now many collect rake pens with their own forehead. Our team has been watching this for the past few years and has been trying all the time to help with knowledge. For free .
Now more and more people are ready to start at their own expense, which is commendable. As a rule, these are specialists who are very good in their field and understand that they need to make a product that they would need in their work. First it is done in the evenings, then it starts up - and now the former department head of a large company becomes the CEO of a startup.
The first series of problems is what appears when there is a banal lack of experience in both running your own business and simply relations with the outside world. In general, they are described here in the rake census . Briefly - improper relationships with co-founders at the start, unreasonable expenses and attempts to run ahead of the engine (starting not with testing hypotheses, but with “well, we will be great sometime” behavior), inaccurate goals, rejection of criticism and the inclusion of stealth -mode ”, when an already launched and finished project is not promoted, but is completed in the manic perfectionism of hardcore IT.
Russia is characterized by the problem of relations between the founders - if they begin to take shape at the time of receiving money from the investor, people who started a friendship project may suddenly turn out to be greedy and unprincipled freaks for each other. Because everyone counted on more, but this was not fixed from the very beginning - and preferably not by verbal agreement, but by something more provable.
First AAA project
When reality knocks you down a couple of times, you realize that rainbow dreams are a bit at odds with how they usually happen, and the second stage begins. Someone leaves to work in a large company and returns to the market in 3-4 years with an excellent product (the benefit of caution after the first mistakes helped), someone suddenly realizes that the small side direction of a large unsuccessful startup can bring a ton of money. The rest try again, again and again.
At some point, you get an AAA project. That is, a finished product, in the development of which there were no mistakes fatal for the company, and which already has a well-warmed market waiting for you. Such a niche is usually distinguished by the fact that 3-5 start-ups “develop” it immediately. And the one who comes to the finish line second receives a few percent of the share of the first.
The most common mistake is a misunderstanding of the importance of social connections. Surprise, but there is no “average client”, each of your clients is a person with a name, surname, their tasks and their business. And you need to find him personally and also lead in person.
And it’s good if the understanding comes that it’s worth getting out somewhere, if only in order to listen to what your competitors are saying. It hurts to sit on the cheers of the presentation of the rival project, but where else can you legally collect insights about what the opponent plans to do?
Example: today, the App in the Air team says that they were actively noticed by conference organizers and journalists from their travel industry. The project receives attention, among other things, because the guys, in their own words, before that (in 2012-13 this was not an AAA project) worked perfectly both on the issue of technological events and publications in IT mass media.
The result - you must find your most important customers in person and occupy the market through close communication with them. There is such a good rule: in the morning - run around the customers, in the evening - they drank the product. So you don’t lose anything - including 90% of future profits.
B-class: personal connections are also extremely important
It is clear that not all projects immediately go to the A-level. Category B projects are something that seems to be useful, but there are no customer queues yet. About half of all startups on the market. Typical things are important here: hypothesis testing, sales, finance and investment, as well as established processes within the company. And here, too, IT startups are often very mistaken in underestimating communication.
You need industry knowledge. You need people who really work in the companies for which you are doing a project. You need those who are willing to buy it and who are willing to discuss it with you. You need those who would have long implemented such a project within their company if there were resources.
The point here rests at once on several closely intertwined factors. The choice of metrics, sales plan - all this is tied to the exact definition of the target audience, and many simply do not. And here it is useful (and sometimes mandatory) to take and sit over a detailed portrait of a customer: to describe a specific person, his habits and needs, his problem - and compare this with your decision. By the way, it is good to overestimate your market after such an exercise.
Here is the story of one of the projects we are currently working with:
“Investors have a 2x2 rule: the sales plan declared by the project should be divided in two, the declared self-sufficiency period should be doubled. In our case, this rule, as it turned out, looked like 10x10.
In addition to the specifics of the sales channels (for example, in practice it turned out that selling one grandmother in the salon per month is the norm), we were faced with the peculiarities of the mentality of buyers ...
There was only one thing left: to experiment, look for your buyer and the path to his heart. But first, we found a way to the heart of our investors to support these experiments. ”
As you can see, the first bright idea after getting real sales data is a little dull.
Where to get such knowledge?
Again, you need to go to people in the community, and even better to form a community.
A simple option is hackathons. In addition to a fun pastime, in some cases it’s just the ideal option for many people - to combine the obvious benefits for the product and the team with the inclusion in the expert and technological get-together. It's not bad when one of the key people in PayPal development recognizes you, right?
If you are not quite a techie or want to go beyond the code, then there are slightly more universal formats. A startup has a bunch of things to consider - analytics, marketing, processes, logistics, sales, negotiations, etc. Special guys who do all this for you in a large company may not be in a startup for a very, very long time.
In order to catch all this in express mode and get practical tools and skills for launching a startup, the format of a working weekend has been invented for a long time: we make Harvest from this, but there are other options.
And there are quite “humanitarian” ways: for example, teaching. There are more and more venues and programs where you can share experience and meet useful people from the industry, and not only in Moscow. You do not need to be a world guru with a wall of certificates: one of the most popular educational projects for Internet professionals, General Assembly, does not build its work on famous names alone. Among their instructors, for example, there is a guy who makes a dating application only for New York. If you know something well and are perfectly versed in your field, you will be very welcome.
As the project develops, fairly critical choices constantly arise in which direction to dig. They often become fatal: a typical example is either a desire to please everyone at once, or an adjustment to a specific first big client with specific requests.
There is a very important point here, which we consider to be one of the most important in our methodology. A clearly articulated understanding is the first step towards a solution. Each project should have a vector to which each process obeys.
To come to this idea, it took us three years of trial. We started with a line of events - # poSEEDel'ok, thematic mini-meetings where you can voice the idea, Harvest (three days to develop it) and Feedback'a - evening gathering feedback when there is already something to show.
We expected that such a “funnel”, as we called it, would become the basis for regular work with projects - from idea to prototype and sales.
But not everyone went through the "funnel", and Harvest, the format most saturated with the presence of experts, quickly began to be visited by those who had already gone quite far from the idea stage.
So we found out the first really important need of working teams - to understand where to find useful professionals and sit down with them one on one (at least for half an hour, as we had). People who know exactly the right special field (lawyers, economists, cool developers and entrepreneurs, employees of large potential clients, investors and so on) are the most important for the success of the project in the early stages.
We were the team that launched the InCube incubator. Working with residents on a daily basis taught us to identify and close the requests of those who began to develop their project. And this is education (starting with the notorious "English for startups"), consultations on request, sometimes - even the need to pull people out of their shells. In terms of screening experts, we also learned something.
In parallel, we began to organize startup startups. This gave me experience working with large players, including corporations (Cisco, for example), and understanding their market demands. We are still proud that with the iPrize of 2011, the path of Ilya Gelfenbeyn and his SpeakToIt began, which everyone recently congratulated on a new round of investment.
About 4.5 thousand projects passed through GreenfieldProject’s online and offline activities, from the idea stage to well-known and even well-known projects (say Penxy, Scade, Budist, SportFort), as well as about half a thousand experts.
At the Founder Institute, just for example, this is a thousand-plus projects and up to 3 thousand experts, but “spread over” in 61 countries (according to information from fi.co).
As a result, it became clear to us that we need to create an ecosystem where knowledge can be freely exchanged, where the chances of non-industry errors (such as incorrect bookkeeping or crooked registration of shares) will be excluded, and also where you can find the right people immediately and quickly. And where will the motivation be at the expense of the community, in which there are the same "crazy" around.
The ecosystem for the IT business at the beta stage has turned out - #tceh
The idea is to hold regular meetings to help identify the main “latenesses” in the project and to outline steps to eliminate them. A mentor in such an ecosystem is always nearby. And if you combine this with coworking, it will work out very well: a specialist in the right field went to drink tea in the same kitchen as you.
Our #tceh - coworking, the main value of which is completely not in the room, and not even in the infrastructure, but in the ecosystem we are developing around it.
For example, problems “from ignorance” can be solved by “office hours”. We were inspired by the experience of the office hours format in Y Combinator - consultations with invited experts, including investors, experienced entrepreneurs, and professionals in specific areas.
How often is someone close to you who has access to the right people and relevant experience, but you don’t know about it? This is damn insulting. We solve the lack of dialogue between the projects themselves by involving participants in informal activities, among which there will be real Zvezdnovoynovsky fights with laser swords. We already ordered swords.
Recognition problems in the IT field are another big challenge. We definitely need additional communication with the community and the exchange of experience - conferences, hackathons and other events that we will bring to the next conference room.
The main thing is, you want - work, you want - just step into the center of accessibility of all the necessary resources. You don’t have to get out of your code at all, but you can go “your universities” in parallel with working on a project.
So why do we need such an ecosystem at all?
It’s clear that there are talents that can develop truly large projects (we bow to Igor Sysoev and Nginx), and the number of techniques and tools aimed at the result and at least minimal, but easing the hard work of an IT entrepreneur, is growing all over the world.
The general trend is the same as with sites: you can write from scratch and dig into the code, or you can take a set of ready-made solutions and engage in the development of the project. We want to develop exactly as a kind of SaaS for startups, based on the methodology. The scientific approach works here.
So let's go again
- The problem is that IT startup teams are well versed in IT, but poorly in business and PR.
- There is not enough industry knowledge to accurately understand who needs what.
- We need social connections and communication.
- We need motivation at every stage and real feedback.
- You need to see your customers every day.
- Isolation is evil. Someone who rescues you from schizophrenia should be constantly nearby. And you are his.
- Any methodology without practice is dead.
Of these bricks, #tceh formed. Coworking has been added to the existing methodology, where there is a lot of practice and knowledge. Further I will talk about both the methodology itself and the history of project failures, as well as about what we are doing here.
And now the question is for you. Surely you have a project that you would like to start. What three things do you miss to be sure of success? What is stopping you from starting?