As everyone is talking about tips for startups at the moment, I thought I’d maybe start a video conversation about it on Seesmic. It’s based on a fairly popular series of blog posts I did a few years go called Bootstrapping Anti-Patterns
If you have a Seesmic account and are bootstrapping, please reply with your own experiences. Otherwise feel free to reply here.
Families you know that group of wonderful people who truly love you and will help you with everything. Well families can be great, however one of the hardest things to realise in particular if you have a great family is that their advise is almost never good news for you.
Don’t get me wrong there are definitely exceptions and I’m not saying in any way that you should dislike your family. But just as with anyone else in the world you need to know and understand their true motivations before you listen to advise.
Here in lies the problem. Family and with that include spouse and really long close friends will almost always have a selfish motive with you. That is fine, being selfish is great. However to succeed you also need to be selfish. If you realise and understand this you can decipher much advise that family members sling at you.
The things that entrepreners do essentially boil down to taking risks that others don’t. These risks could for example be:
- Dropping out of school
- Moving to another part of the country
- Quitting your job
- Working 24/7 without any real promise of an outcome
I’ve been writing these anti patterns since I started this blog and in honor of Evhead’s 10 rules for web startups I wanted to create an overview over them mostly for my own sake but also for newer readers of my blog.
An Anti Pattern is often talked about in the software development world. WikiPedia says the following:
Anti-patterns, also referred as pitfalls, are classes of commonly-reinvented bad solutions to problems. They are studied, as a category, in order that they may be avoided in the future, and that instances of them may be recognized when investigating non-working systems.
It isn’t just programmers who repeat mistakes, entrepreneurs do the same. Bootstrappers fall into a slightly special category of entrepreneurs who really can’t afford to repeat too many of these mistakes so I am collecting ones that I myself have done and also that I have seen other people do.
Many small businesses bootstrappers included, get caught into the trap of making yourself looking like a business. This is a big an often expensive mistake, focus on your business instead.
Many techies get so caught up in tech support for themselves, that they don’t have time for the business.
I have seen many startups die, because the founders spent all their time working on their business plan and not on their business.
Many business magazines have romanticized the idea of funding your million dollar business by applying for 20 credit cards. The only problem is that you are actually more likely out of business sooner than later as you need to make the monthly payments.
You should be optimistic, but you should also realize when you need to step back for a minute so you can keep your battle going tomorrow.
More than most people solopreneurs and bootstrappers need to listen very carefully to our users. We don’t have a bunch of partners or investors to slap us in the face when necessary and believe me it is necessary at times.
This is closely related to #3. Please, please get on with your business. The only people who are interest in you building a team are a bunch of VC’s who aren’t going to invest in you anyway at this stage.
As a bootstrapper you need to be focusing on small steps such as paying the rent. No one believes in these 3 year revenue goals, you shouldn’t either.
If you are a solopreneur, people will trust and respect you more being honest about who you are. Most people start writing “We…” everywhere about your services. Why not use the cluetrain to your advantage and be your own voice.
If you are a software developer, you probably have a user agreement. Whatever your lawyer says, I think it is more important to respect your relationship with your customers and write in English.
Send me yours
I will no doubt think up more of these. If you have some of your own blog them or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do we do it? We keep writing legal language to satisfy non existant lawyers that none of can afford anyway. I am not a lawyer (hmm I smell an evil recursive argument coming along), but I think a court (at least in common law countries) looks more at the intention than the language. This is why Click through licenses and the like are not normally worth the pixels on the screen. However if you write a straight forward agreement in straight forward English (or whatever language), you have a much better case in the future as it is harder to deny understanding the terms if it is spelled out clearly.
While they might not be perfect I try to not talk legalese. Here are excerpts from the Usage Agreement for WideWord
Here you need to try and persuade the reader to read the rest of the agreement:
The following is the no nonsense plain English agreement between you and me, Pelle Brændgaard the operator of WideWord. By creating a document in WideWord you agree to be bound by this agreement. I hate reading these things as much as you do, but please try and read it I will keep it very short and as fun as possible – I promise.
it may not be perfect. In particular the first paragraph still sounds to sterile to my liking.
What do you offer?
We provide you a service where you can collaboratively write and publish documents.
Be very clear and short here. I’ve managed to do it in a single paragraph.
Are you in a beta?
Then you should write about what your users can expect now and afterwards. I think it is alright to not know everything right now, just be honest about it.
You will be able to create as many documents as you want to without limits. During the beta period, it might be that you loose your documents because of some strange but. I have done extensive testing in my secret lab and feel that this probably wont happen, but you are warned.
Copyright and such
If your site includes content created by your users you need to talk about this. I would like to go into this in more detail than I have here, but I haven’t finished thinking it all through yet so I feel what I have here is sufficient for the time being:
Your own documents remain your copyright. It is also your responsibility to obey copyright law or it might become our responsibility whether we want it or not to enforce it.
We all need to make a living and dont be scare about admitting that to yourself or your users. If you do put advertising on the site let them know upfront:
We reserve the right to place advertising on all the pages on this site. At the moment we only provide advertising on the public pages, but we might change this in the future if we can do it while retaining your security and privacy.
Security, Data Loss etc.
Seriously be honest here. You can’t always protect yourself against everything, so just be honest about it. With regards to security it is a good idea to write a separate little article about the security of your system. In particular the user is just as much responsible for maintaining the security of his data as you are. Write it.
During the beta period I aim to provide full uptime and no loss of data, but as nothing can break a system like thousands of people doing something you didn’t think they would do, we can not guarantee it. That is what the beta period is for.
Once we leave beta we do aim to have the system as secure as possible, 99% uptime and lots of backups and redundancy. With regards to security please read my Security Page for more info about security in WideWord.
Remember that your documents are only as secure as you keep the url’s are that are stored in the initial email. Keep this email safe and secure. If you forward it to someone he has access to your document.
Disagreements, courts, jurisdiction etc.
Be flexible and human about your service and I think you probably won’t get many problems. But specify this. Courts and Lawyers almost never benefit the parties involved.
If you have a problem please write me at email@example.com . I doubt that there would ever be anything we couldn’t work out. Lets leave the lawyers billing people other than us.
See the full Usage Agreement for WideWord for more.
Please feel free to use mine as a model, of course remember to change it to your circumstances. And don’t worry if it gets me in trouble I will blog about it here.
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Other under Anti-patterns
- BAP TV - Solo Techsupportitis
- BAP TV Bootstrapping a business vs playing a business
- Don't listen to your families
- Bootstrap Anti Patterns roundup - the first 10
- BAP#10 Legalese in User Agreements
- BAP#9 Using We when you should be using I
- BAP #8 - Focusing on an imaginary 3 year revenue goal
- BAP #7 Searching for the team
- BAP #6: The Snowblind solopreneur
- BAP #5 Believe you will succeed but don't let optimism blind you
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- Previously unreleased interview with me from Kenya about Kipochi
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