Good friends of mine launching their product this Spring 2014– let us know what you think!
“The most beautiful people to be around are the ones with open minds. The ones who will tell you that sorrow is just as wonderful as bliss and that at any moment, you can be whoever you want to be and love whoever and whatever you want to love – whether it is religion or the same sex. I sit at bars and I linger in coffee shops just to find these kind of people…Without knowing it, they are slowing changing the world.”
Google India Commercial. “Partitions divide countries, friendships find a way”.
Start with this my friends.
In the odyssey of your startup, numerous factors will undoubtedly come into play. The list can be endless, and more than often, beyond inundating. It’s easy to be assailed with idle coffee meetings, vain pitches at meetups, foolish preparations for these pitches, despairingly gauging the fundraising climate, or naively worrying about extraneous factors that are just beyond your control.
Your time is limited. It’s vital for you to move swiftly, to test the riskiest assumptions you’re making, and compulsively validate whether your hypothesis even has legs. The best entrepreneurs have this uncanny ability to sift through the noise and discern for something I call the “limiting-factor” tasks. The term was inspired from my exposure to the hard-sciences in undergrad, and its definition can best be understood as the reactant in a chemical reaction that limits the amount of product that can be formed.
Within the chaotic, vast sphere of your startup, there will be certain undertakings that you just can’t move forward without, and they ultimately “limit” your ability to progress. These tasks are subjective and unique to each; it’s up to you to be due diligent. Competition is unforgiving in today’s brisk tech cycles, and you absolutely can’t afford for your team to work on something that no one will use, or on tasks that yield only marginal returns.
There is a popularized term in our industry that stems from the classic lean-startup school of thought called “Product-Market” fit. I personally think this term’s scope is a bit opaque, and prefer the word “Product-Customer” fit. I’ve opted for this because it places a substantial, dramatic focus on the only variable that truly matters — your customers.
The decisive limiting-factor is reaching this celestial destination of “Product-Customer” fit. If you’re not there, get there. You must ask the question– does this product I’m creating solve the problem of my customers? Do they like it? Even better, are they willing to pay for it? If not, you need to iterate on your product and fit it around your customers. Some of the best insight I can give is to get your customers involved as soon as possible.
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else”
Lovaash has two customers. First, we have Creatives. Some of the best painters, artisans, calligraphers, typographers, and cartographers from all over the world are creating Lovaash Online Stores by the hundreds every week in our private alpha. Second, we have consumers who own spaces– home-owners in the outskirts of cities, students with dorms, young professionals across San Francisco and Miami, owners of Italian to Korean restaurants, interior designers liable to enterprise clientele, and the list goes on.
My team and I are creating technology to solve the issues in selling the work of our Creatives through a SaaS (Software-as-Service) dashboard that manages transactions, real-time promotions, analytics, and more. And as a Consumer, you’ll be able to find exactly what you want through the lens of your personal space. The solution will be a 2-sided global marketplace with its foundation etched in inspiration, simplicity, and affordability.
Lovaash is where you ”Enhance your Space”.
The most potent high is learning.
I covered this on Launch Ticker when it first came out. It was my first experience witnessing the introduction of new, scalable technology that would have an immediate affect on millions of people within minutes. It felt like society really did take a small step forward.
My co-Founder Mayer receives a fair amount of requests to consult young technology entrepreneurs in Sacramento and Silicon Valley about the direction of their respective startup endeavors. Mayer’s acumen on venture strategy is among the best I’ve seen, and I fully encourage students at Cal, Stanford, and UC Davis to reach out to him if need be. Every once in awhile I’ll tag along to one of these coffee meetings just for pure, curious inquisition; I’ve come to crave the energy these entrepreneurs bring to the table.
It has become commercialized in the startup community to say things like “Ideas don’t matter” or that “execution is everything”. But the truth is that ideas do matter, just not in the narrow sense of how startup ideas are traditionally defined. The best of these ideas are well thought out, can span years of potential shock, and carve out a formidable niche within their competitive landscape.
Though I’m not really interested in what your idea is, nor should you as an angel. Any “wantreprenuer” can come up with some idea and recite it to anyone who’ll listen. The question I always ask, especially at these meetings, is why now? Chances are that anything you try has already been done before on the internet. Antecedents existed for Youtube, Instagram, Google, and almost every other technology startup that has thrived since the dot-com bubble. However, each of these companies were valiant solely because the timing was just right.
Lets take Vine for example. The concept of digestible, looping videos is nothing new. There literally exists a graveyard of companies that vainly attempted to reach product market-fit with this idea. Vine succeeded because of its acquisition and ultimate integration by Twitter. Twitter’s robust and active user base frictionlessly adopted Vine into their tweeting habits to make way for a new form of sharable content. Youtube is another paradigm. Dozens of companies before Youtube attempted to create crowdsourced video sites and failed. However, those crowdsourced video sites were ahead of their time. Youtube got the market timing just right, and by 2005, all the puzzle pieces were in place– a new flash version, cheaper access to digital video cameras, blogs willing to embed video, copyrighted web content that easily exported to Youtube, and reliable home broadband.
Many folks ask me about Lovaash and the reason as to why now? We feel that 2013 is the right time for market penetration. The increasing ubiquity of SLR/DSLR cameras has brought a shift in how artists sell their work. Artists all across are outgrowing the gallery culture and are moving into the online space as global merchants. Lovaash artists currently span 36 countries and our marketplace will feature work that you’d never expect to find locally, at a fraction of the price, from street artists in Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, and Madrid. Only 3% of the world’s art is currently online, with even less of that in the sphere of mobile. Through other e-commerce leviathans like Fab and Amazon, we’ve learned that consumers are becoming more and more comfortable making larger purchases on tablets and phones. Lovaash will pioneer creativity onto the growing mobile frontier blazing way for a new, touching purchasing experience. What’s even more exciting is that the culture of sharing visual imagery is reaching a favorable zenith. Lovaash products are being Tumbled on Tumblr, pinned on Pinterest, virally shared on Instagram, Facebook, and StumbleUpon. Each image is accompanied with textual inspiration from its creator. Lovaash is not in the sales business, we are in the Inspire business.
Sometimes, you can do all the right things, but if it’s at the wrong time, it still won’t happen; and sometimes, you can do all the wrong things, but if it’s at the right time, it’ll somehow still serendipitously happen. So ask yourself the question– why now?
There is some advice that I feel is very important to first-time entrepreneurs– don’t start a “white board” company. A white board company is a company that you create just for the sake of creating a company. Entrepreneurs create scalable solutions for problems. It just so happens that in order to effectively distribute the solution of this problem it requires the creation of a syndicated team– a company. Problems are only truly understood by pivotal members of a market’s respective demographic who experience this problem first-hand. In truth, the best entrepreneurs find themselves as ones by accident. More than often, good ideas can’t be contrived.
Now this advice is a general rule of thumb. There have been some admirable examples of outsiders brazenly entering markets and introducing a new order that no one was expecting. Often market incumbents aren’t innovating enough and it’s these outsiders who are willing to try some of the most daring solutions. These solutions can take away a good amount of market share from existing players in the short-run, or at least enough for them to notice you. Your job isn’t to come out on top in the long-run here. Your indifference and naivety is your biggest weakness. Startups are marathons, and it takes a truly experienced and committed insider who understands the market, its problems, and its future to win in the end. You as an outsider should directly attack their customers. Disrupting the status quo in a competitor’s customer culture is entirely your power to leverage. Companies will do whatever it takes to protect loyalty. Force these competitors to address the situation and have no option but to buy you out.
If you want to win in the long-run, solve a problem that you yourself are experiencing.
We’re busy building our Lovaash Online Stores. Earlier this week, our Lead Developer Daud showed me the specs behind the stores, and I can say that what we’re building truly is exciting technology. You see, these stores are a direct result of talking to artists, understanding a problem, and assorting out an innovative, pragmatic solution. Our culture is special in the sense that our product is being designed by our customers and artists every step of the way.
Our definition of an artist is broad and wide. They include painters, photographers, calligraphers, digital artists, designers, craftsmen and more. These artists all have an exemplary dimension of creativity, and each and every single artist has their own unique and accessible place on the Lovaash platform. These stores are designed to handle all elements of business for an artist to allow for an adamant focus on the one thing they truly love– creating beautiful work. Lovaash manages all print-on-demand, drop-shipping, payments, visual analytics, and offers powerful SEO optimization by pushing items to the tops of all major search engines.
But this value isn’t what truly makes a Lovaash Online Store peerless. I want to take the time to discuss three introspective motivations as to why an artist should create a Lovaash Online Store:
A Unique Audience
Knowing your store’s audience is monumental. Enhance your Space. It’s our one thing. A Lovaash member is anyone who owns or manages a space. Our community consists of suburban home-owners, studio renters in cities, students in dorms, small businesses such as restaurants, and interior designers liable to a specific clientele. Each and every single member comes to Lovaash in hopes to solve one problem– how do I easily find something I love for my space? Your work, by nature, is the remedy to their problems. Etsy, Fine Art America, Red Bubble and ArtFire all have an annoyingly fragmented audience. All the home-owners we’ve talked to have no idea what Fine Art America even is, and your work loses its shine in the midst of t-shirts on Etsy. Your work on Lovaash will make more sales because of our unique and focused audience.
Content is King. Each item on Lovaash has a 120 character-limit requisite of Inspiration in order to be listed. This is an opportunity for you as an artist to provide original content to the world. It can be anything: what made you create the piece, how it makes you feel, words you live by, or something random you thought of that very morning. As customers explore and discover items for their spaces, they’ll hover over your work with their mouses making way for a refreshing user experience in which your Inspiration is illuminated. Customers will have the ability to immediately share your work along with its respective Inspiration on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and StumbleUpon. Your work will connect with and distribute much faster on Lovaash.
Lovaash Online Stores are meant to be “Followed”. Choosing to follow a store gives a customer access to the most exclusive prices. Lovaash artists can create promotions in real-time for either the grand Lovaash marketplace, exclusively for their followers, or as individual pages that can be linked deep into their network. For example, an artist can create a flash sale by discounting their work for a specific time period; or perhaps a discount to the next 5 people who choose to buy a print of their work.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, and some of our favorite features. If you’re interested in becoming a Lovaash artist, feel free to directly message me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Success is never accidental ~ Jack Dorsey
It is appreciably easy to start a company in 2013. The product development cycle is the shortest it has ever been. You and your roommate can whip something up overnight with little or no cost given today’s technology. This change has upped the supply of startups considerably. Logically, one would expect the demand of startups to decrease, but it hasn’t. Problems don’t just go away on their own, markets are still fragmented, and a better solution always exists.
In truth, the supply of startups destined for failure has increased. I firmly believe whilst there has never been a better time to start a business, there has never been a more difficult time to grow one. There is no silver-bullet to customer acquisition. The term “customer acquisition” is in a sense misleading. Customers aren’t just picked up somewhere, they’re developed into ones. They evolve from doubting visitors to zealous referrals. It’s incumbent on the leadership of a startup to engross their potential customers in as many encouraging ways as possible.
Early-stage validation is really the chasm most startups fail to span. Every startup must build a foundation in its larval-stage that will slowly generate growth through the aptitude of compound interest. It is better to have a 100 people who can’t live without your product than a 1,000 people who are some-what interested. These 100 people will work with, fight for, and stay loyal to you despite all the mistakes you make. I encourage the CEO’s of companies to get into the mindset that they are really recruiting an army. The culture, drive, and passion of this army is completely sourced through you. Your extended network is in fact larger than you actually think it is, and the network of your 100-person army is exponentially larger. The secret of growth lay within the density of these connections.
No one demographic is completely the same. If you constantly try to exhort one demographic over the other, your discrimination will eventually cap growth as you mistakenly focus on differences rather than consolidating similarities. Instead, seek for a unifying thread between your potential customers. Look for a raw, captivating nerve that fastens your startup’s diversifying community. This connection can’t be faked, and you must do your due diligence in understanding the authentic behaviors of your customers. For Lovaash it’s creativity. We’ve come to understand that all our early adopters have an insane appreciation and curiosity for it– whether you’re a student with a dorm, a young professional who just signed a lease in the city, or a first-time suburban home-owner.
This indescribable pursuit of creativity and its originality is the heartbeat of Lovaash.
Lovaash has debuted its landing page for about a solid day and half now. I wanted to share some statistics we just pulled in:
- People are spending an average of 4:35 on the alpha product
- Referral traffic from Facebook is spending a full 7:25
- Referral traffic accounted for 45.8% of all uniques
- Direct traffic was at 52.3% of all uniques
- Email was the primary referral medium. Followed then by Facebook
- Bounce rate is at 54%
The bounce rate is a bit too high. We’re speculating it’s due to mobile. Nearly a third of all incoming traffic came from a mobile device. We haven’t optimized mobile yet to fit our alpha, and I admit when I type in lovaash.com from my phone I’m completely turned off. We’re going to push mobile optimization real hard this weekend.
Lovaash co-Founder/CTO @Qhack sent an internal email out to the team today shedding light on our viral coefficient. Although we haven’t completely figured it out yet, it seems promising. We can see the chains of email’s inviting their friends, and friends of friends. Some chains run 5 links thick. I like this direction things are going in. Lovaash is all about its community inspiring one another. Its one thing for some random stranger to tell you what to like or not to like, and it’s completely another when a close friend shares an inspiration they love. We’re going to keep Lovaash available through invite-only. It’s like a grass-roots organization– it sparks with a few people who decide to audaciously believe. The power will always belong to the customers who’ve chosen Lovaash to bring into their homes.
Startups are a full-contact sport. Lets face it — it’s not easy to disrupt, change, and challenge markets. The hours are long. The path is uncertain. Passion runs deep. Mistakes will be made. It takes a certain breed. As I meet more entrepreneurs, I keep seeing a common trait. These people who are diving head-first into building something from scratch are some of the gutsiest, stubborn, and most driven beings on the planet. They see things before the rest of us. Spend a week in the Bay Area and you’ll feel it. They’re wired to be risk-takers. They’ll forgo salaries and quitting is never an option. Ask yourself if you’re the type to go all in.
A new trend exists in our age. In our parent’s generation, there were only really two options after you graduated from college. One, go work for someone. Two, go to grad school. Now, there’s a third– create a company. Young graduates are craving the edge, are looking down below, and eyeing the dive.
2013 is a great time to start a company. Technology is at its finest. The cost of creating a startup is 1% of what it used to be. The product development cycle is real short, and you can test your business model and all its assumptions with remarkable speed, ultimately minimizing your risk.
So fuck the safe path. Swing for the fences.
E-commerce is evolving. Over the past decade we’ve seen two real crests of e-commerce. In the beginning, commodities provided the initial spark. Jeff Bezos and co. perfected the art as Amazon began bringing products from titans like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Costco onto the uncharted frontier of the internet. Selection, speed, varying price-points and transparent payments were the hallmark consumer value propositions. The bigger the catalogs, the larger the inventory, the better it was. Jason Goldberg, CEO of Fab, calls this age Commodity Commerce. With every crest, there is a trough, but its important to remember that these lows have hidden gems buried within them– they tacitly signal the next trend, the next big opportunity.
There soon came a time where digital media increasingly became more ubiquitous. Youtube, Netflix, Google and Apple began pursuing original content in the form of books, movies, music and more. The archaic traditions of purchasing hard-covers, DVD’s, MP3 CD’s from your local mall venues were soon cast away. This idea of Digital Commerce broadened the purchasing lexicon of your typical consumer. It was an experience elated and unseen. This era shed fears of brandishing your credit card to online venues and encouraged people to experiment with their purchasing habits. Most began owning intangible products at a remarkable velocity, and soon companies like Dropbox began offering cloud computing as a consumer solution for the first time.
The third crest will be something that industry leaders are calling Emotional Commerce. We are on the fast-track to this destination. Every person brings with them a unique background, a distinct taste and an exclusive niche. Marketplaces online will truly be defined by the products they choose to house. These products need to be exciting, riveting, and touching. Ultimately, this means that brand power will be of the utmost importance. Companies should be very meticulous about their marketing strategies. First impressions are everything. Your curation will define you.
Furthermore, this entails a purchasing experience at the other end of the spectrum. Before, in the bland-commodity era, speed was the pursued ideal, encouraging customers to be in and out of online marketplaces. In this 3rd wave, your platform should do the exact opposite. You want your customers to stay and spend time on your platform. You want them to explore it and make personal, intimate connections with your products. These bonds will enrich the word-of–mouth marketing strategy behind your platform creating a respectable viral loop engineered into your customer segments.
I think the most important and thrilling opportunity lay with merchants. The unspoken truth is that the creators of products are the only ones that can truly lead this emotional connection with consumers. It is only natural to allow merchants to sell, distribute, and adhere to their respective networks better. This is the fundamental obligation of any marketplace. Thus today’s marketplaces have a burning responsibility to offer an unmatchable trove of merchant tools through developing technology. Allow your merchants to drive up sales and traction to your platform with original, heart-felt content only they can provide. Give them credit. As creators, they rightfully deserve it.
This past week, I attended Launch Festival 2013 held at the San Francisco Design Center Concourse off 8th street. With over 300 new companies, distinguished speakers like Chamath and David Sacks, and over 5800+ people, the event boasts itself as the largest of its kind in Technology. It certainly did live up to its hype. The guy adjacent to my table was a Russian-born, Canadian entrepreneur who had just flown in from Toronto to show his new Cover, a crowd-published social magazine that lets you see a digest of the top stories about any topic across the world-wide web. On the other side was a Swedish orthopedic surgeon and the founder of STD Triage, a mobile app that allows ordinary people to send in pictures of personal skin issues anonymously to some 30 or more dermatologists for immediate consultation right through their phones. The skin-app guy had just made a permanent move to San Francisco and upon asking him his thoughts on his new home he replied, “…what I get done in one week, it’d take me a whole year in Sweden”.
I studied the new startup ecosystem thoroughly at Launch. Perhaps the most robust theme, sticking out like a splinter, is that “Data is King”. The value propositions many platforms are giving to their specific customer segments are stemming well beyond just a wider distribution or making a specific task easier or faster. Data, numbers, and visual analytics on both the user and their respective friends/customers/employees/buyers/readers – you name it- are being engineered into the core architecture of every platform. It’s blazing way for a unique and evolved user experience. It begs one to ask the question of where the internet is truly going. Experts have ambivalently debated the mantras of Web 3.0 for some time now. If you ask me, the cardinal direction has its branches delving into individuality. Every person is different– each with their own exclusive tastes and desires. The path forward wants to celebrate this difference. Categories, titles, and judgements seldom do justice to us, and this all provocatively suggests that providing services and goods at the individual level with a very personal, idiosyncratic user experience will be the theme of decade.
This brings me to my second take-away: a good UI/UX can take you a long way. The fact of the matter is that the internet is still inherently ugly. A strong push to make it prettier and easier on the eyes is a leading strategy of most startups now. To be honest, many ideas at Launch weren’t really all that novel, and the only real value being echoed by founders was that it looks and feels better than their “out-dated” competitors. It’s analogous to that enveloping magic of the “new girl” at school, that same rush spills over to the newest, prettiest platform on the market.
Furthermore, healthcare is an untapped market. I can’t tell you how saturated the consumer or enterprise space is getting. An event app here or a daily-deals travel site there were far too ubiquitous in the demo-pit. The truth of the matter is that its easy to get into the space. Any random kid, from the most obscure city can come up with an idea within these realms, and thus the competition is extraordinarily intense, allowing for only the most neoteric ideas to come out as winners. Healthcare, on the other hand, was practically non-existant. Why? It’s because of a high barrier to entry. Most people aren’t doctors. Most people don’t know the best way to create, pitch, or deliver a new device that tracks or indexes the daily data of an average consumer’s sodium-potassium levels (this was the only other health-care startup besides STD Triage in the entire Festival). I’ve come to the conclusion that in our generation some of the biggest problems and issues in healthcare will be solved by MD’s that don’t really practice medicine at all and who have absolutely no interest in working repetitive lives at Kaiser or a DNA-sequencing lab.
Lastly, move to San Francisco. The whimsical promise and allure of tomorrow’s innovation, the self-less exchange of ideas, and its breeding of world-class entrepreneurs is incessant as ever.
you can follow him @ekramjan