Building a startup : the beginnings (january – february 2012)

Two months ago, I joined my actual partners, Benjamin and Jonathan, for the long journey of a startup creation. Because, I like to share what I do and what I thought about software developments, I’m going to do the same about entrepreneurship and share my point of view on what we do. For this post, I won’t talk about the product and will focus more on the organisational aspects.

1. Thoughtland

Before meeting each other, we were in the wonderful world of thoughtland: we talk about ideas around self-hosting with our friends and we tried to anticipate the trends of the web. Worst, we were dispatched and did not know each other yet. The debate is wide and exciting and this phase is good to initiate our vision but the risk is to stay here too long and guessing too much on what does not exist. Fortunately, we like to get things done. First move: Benjamin hired partners.

NB: Thoughtland, I found this word from Pretotype It – The book

2. Hiring partners

After much reflection, Benjamin, who knows clearly what he wanted to build around self-hosting (he scratched his own itch and find a solution to a problem) decided to gather people to help him. First he used a classic and efficient technic : rely on people from his network. That led him to Jonathan, a brilliant developer  who graduated a year ago and had some experience with startup : one more builder for his team.

But finding the right people who are available and share your vision is not the easiest thing to do and sometimes network is not enough. To take things to the next level, Benjamin has several criterias: be interested in the web, desire for entrepreneurship, technical skills, availability, network… That’s a good start but then what’s next ? To make things happen Benjamin had a clever idea which costs almost nothing. On a blog post talking about cloud applications and  their privacy issues he left a comment telling approximately this: “Stop whining, do something. I’m building a company on self-hosting, if you are interested contact me.” Head shot: I answered.

By posting a comment on this blog post he knows that he will have very few answers but the conversion rate of his answers would be high: only people who are concerned by the problem and motivated to do something would answer to this kind of message.

NB: Head shot is a FPS video game reference, it means you did a risky, precise and efficient shot.

3. Organize

One of our problem is that we don’t have an office. Moreover we don’t know each other very well. So, how do we deal with that ? One solution, meetings :

  • One 4 hour meeting each monday in a coworking place : that is not a very productive meeting, but it is a way to learn to interact and work together.
  • One online daily meeting where people report what they do and what they are planning to do. Ideally we say no more unless we had a serious issue to deal with.

For the rest, we send emails without expecting fast answers to not force others to check their mailboxes too often.

4. Tools

To do all of our tasks, we studied several kind of tools. We tested a lot of them quickly and looked for two characteristics : simplicity and cost efficient. I started with a short list. Then I gave it to my partners who reduced it. We chosed our tools as in an agile way : use the easier to start with so we will be able to modify it easily when needed. Then we finally decided to use the following ones :

  • Skype : for our online meeting
  • Github : code repositories and ticket issues
  • Gollum : our wiki, integrated to github and easily movable if we want to host it.
  • Trello : kanban tools that we use with one board of three columns (to do, doing, done) for our daily meetings .
  • Jekyll : lightweight blog engine

5. Find an incubator

To be introduced to the French startup world, to meet more people and be visible to VCs, a good start is to be selected for incubation. It offers also us a small office, workshops and better access to public funds. Incubator is not mandatory but it helps a lot. Moreover, preparing the presentation to be selected, push you to think your company under the main aspects. This is really a good exercise. The only bad point is that they ask silly things like 3 years business plan. Wake up, this is a tech startup !

6. Action

Thinking and preparing good work conditions is a good thing, but he does not lead you to a viable product. So we started to focus on that. We had a great workshop with Stéphane Bagnier which explores the fundamentals of lean method. That motivated us to interview potential users and build a pretotype. Which is what we are working on right now. We also built a fake door (not online yet) to grab some emails and validate our message.

NB: Fake door is also a word from Pretotype It – The book, it is a website where you can suscribe like on any other web application, but after you suscribe a message tells you that te product is not ready yet.

Conclusion

I also didn’t mention administrative stuff and analyses/discutions like “bootstraping or not”, technology choices, vision, etc. Both are time consuming too but it fills up our wiki with a lot of useful informations. Finally, I am glad we arrived at that point after two months. We put the rails on our path to the minimum viable product : now we can focus on it.

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2 Responses to Building a startup : the beginnings (january – february 2012)

  1. Pierre says:

    Good start and best luck for the next steps !
    Your kanban tool is ugly, i would never use it.

  2. Aurelien says:

    Super d’avoir sauté le pas!
    Bonne chance

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