How 99Designs.com came to be

I love hearing stories of entrepreneurs, it keeps me motivated and there are always great lessons to be learned.  Today, I went to an event in the city of Campbell to hear Matt Mickiewicz, Founder of SitePoint, Flippa, and 99Designs, talk about how he got started.  At first glance, Mickiewicz is a very happy-g0-lucky type of guy, but don’t be fooled because he is a serious entrepreneur.

Back in late 1990s, there wasn’t a lot of of information on how to build websites, so Mickiewicz decided to pull all that information together on one website called WebmasterResources.com.  Hahaha, I laugh because later in his talk he mentions another website with a long name.  Alright back to the talk.  He coded WR using MS FrontPage which he jokingly said he pirated.  Did I mention that he was only 15 years old when WebmasterResources.com was started?  During lunch at school, he would have sales calls with customers and say that he had a hard stop at 1pm.  Unfortunately his customers didn’t know that his hard stop was really his social studies class.

Later, Michiewicz partnered up with someone much older (not 15) who had the business know-how to take WebmasterResources to the next level.  WebmasterResources then got rebranded to be SitePoint.  SP had a lot of tutorials that were downloaded a lot.  All of them for free.  He figured out quickly that there was a demand for printed tutorials.  For $35, people can get a printed copy of a tutorial so that they can use while creating a website.  He said they found some sh*ty online print on demand service who could take credit cards and went from there.  Today, SitePoint gets 2.5M visitors per month and has 1.5M email subscribers.  They were able to outgrow a competitor who had $3M in funding when SitePoint only had $300K in funding.

It is often asked how entrepreneurs come up with their ideas and then how do they validate and build the business.  For Mickiewicz, he was keen on monitoring the conversations on the vBulletin forum on WR.  Organically, graphic design competitions were happening with no money involved.  Then people started offering money to have directed contests.  Mickiewicz saw this and decided to build a MVP product within SitePoint.  He also implemented a $10-$20 listing fee for the contests.  Soon people from coffeeshops and non-tech businesses were finding their way to his SitePoint site and posting design contests.  The design contests were buried in the forums so Mickiewicz knew that he was onto something.  Later, 99Designs was spun off and the rest is history.

Another website, Flippa, is a website auction site which started in the forums on SP too.  To this day they have auctioned off $55m worth of websites with 55% of website sales ending above it’s initial sales price.  A notable site is FaceSmash which sold for $30k the week the movie Social Network came out.  Even Perez Hilton blogged about Flippa because of its relationship to FaceSmash and Social Network.

One idea that never took off was NameMyThingey.com where you can crowdsource business names.  People would get 50-100 name recommendations and be indecisive and not choose a name after all.  The name brainstormers got pissed because of this.  Oh well, you can’t win it all.

I really enjoyed hearing Matt Mickiewicz talk about all of his business ideas.  I had no idea that 99Designs was just one of many companies that he started.  I wish him luck with Flippa and a new eLearning video website that he’s working on.

Tips from Matt Mickiewicz:

  • To keep costs low try swapping services for other services. He would trade ad space on WebmasterResources for free hosting services.
  • If you are deciding to get an MBA, maybe try finding someone really smart in the Valley and volunteer to work for them for 2 years.  I guess this makes sense.  If you are going to forgo salary for 2 years why not do an apprenticeship.
  • Track your competitors, look for their sales process, what’s going on on their front page, and their conversion rates.  Since 99Designs has started, a bunch of other graphic design contest websites have popped up.  He said CrowdSpring actually did a contest on 99Designs for its logo.  Funny!
  • Pick up a book on sales and negotiating
  • Don’ts: 1) Don’t hide from customers, his personal cell phone was on SP website 2) Don’t trust  vendors and prepay for things.  Some vendors go bankrupt.
  • Consider using Amazon EC2, 99Designs uses it, they get 5.25TB of images uploaded frequently, EC2 helped them scale with customer demand
  • Initial team members of founding team should be 4-5 people – 2 developers, 1 designer, 1 product manager, and maybe 1 marketing person.  This is probably one of the first times that I’ve heard product manager and marketing person at the very beginning.  I agree.
  • If there isn’t positive feedback early even when it’s a less than perfect product, then you should abandon it.  He said loyal customers will stick it through and give you feedback to make it better.
  • It’s possible to outgrow other competitors who have a lot more funding than you.  The main difference is that they were able to leverage their distribution channel.  He mentioned that an idea is worth nothing and often times fails because lack of distribution channel.
  • Consider partnering up with forums and pay forums who send customers your way.  He told me that one dating website had over millions of users and he asked them how they did it.  The dating website basically partnered up with forums overseas and acquired customers that way.  Since this was in other countries, their customer acquisition costs were much cheaper than the US.  After establishing a foreign user base, the the dating website came to the US.  I have never thought about launching in other countries especially since it’s cheaper to acquire customers.  I’m going to have to try this one day.
  • You can get more sign-ups using viral techniques.  The dating website mentioned above leveraged user’s imported email contacts to get more sign-ups, for every 100 email contacts imported, they got 10 new users (10% conversion rate).  I think this method has worked well for Facebook.  I know that I went through my gmail contact list to see who I can “friend” on FB.
  • If a product is not part of your core business, consider spinning it off / rebranding it.  This is interesting because I personally wonder why Amazon keeps Mechanical Turk and EC2 under the Amazon brand.

ZURB.com’s blurb on Matt Mickiewicz:

It’s not often that you hear of a 15 year old who was closing $10,000 advertising deals for his newly launched site in between classes at school, earning enough to buy himself a new BMW with cash by the time he was just 16.

That’s the story of Matt Mickiewicz the founder of Sitepoint, a site which, back in 1999, was the first online forum for web designers and developers. It has matured to be a massive web community and tutorial/resource archive for web developers and designers now. Matt has spun off three other businesses based on observing how his 1+ million users use Sitepoint.

PicPredict app in AppStore now!

A labor of love has finally come to fruition! From start to end, I developed PicPredict, your photo fortune teller. It’s an iPhone app where you can select a photo on your phone, add your own fortunes, then shake for your magical psychic answer. Voila!

I had this idea of creating a fortune teller app with a cartoon character and funny fortune sayings. I did some customer validation and soon realized that what I thought was funny, may not be funny to someone else. One friend suggested that I make the app fully customizable which I thought was a great idea. I guess you can call it a pivot (aka Silicon Valley buzz word du jour) for my app.  Additional feedback showed that people loved sharing their photos with their custom fortunes.

Two to three months later (after I had already developed the original, scrapped app), I completed PicPredict. People often ask where I find time to develop apps. I tell them that some people like to knit. I like to develop apps. You find time to do things that you enjoy.

During the app development process, I learned how to use Gimp and InkScape to create my graphics. Thank you Google for helping me find all sorts of tutorials. If you don’t want to create your own icons, check out Glyphish.com. For $20, you get the pro package of iPhone icons. Not bad.

Like at most hackathons (iOSDevCamp is great!) and Startup Weekends, a good UI person is a must-have on your team, but often hard to find. Become friends with one now so you can get good feedback when needed. UI people are great.  Also, don’t forget to leverage friends and family for UI feedback.  Using the iPhone simulator on my MacBook, I created a demo video using Jing and Screencast then shared the link via email to everyone who would listen and watch.  Videos make it easy to understand what the app is doing without having the user install the app.  It’s like a pseudo test run.  Actually, people recommend having a demo video on your post-launch page too.

For those of you who do not have Apple Developers license yet ($99), I suggest that you first develop your app then maybe 1-2 months before it’s ready to be submitted, apply.  You can download XCode and develop your app without the license.  The only catch is that you can’t test your app on devices until you have your license.  It takes about 2 weeks (my experience) to get accepted into the developers program.  Then it’s a yearly fee of $99.  So better off delaying the cost if you can.

After I submitted PicPredict, it took about 3 weeks to get approved (1 week in “Waiting for Review” state, 1 week in “In Review” state, then a bump in the road and re-submission needed for another week of review).  I’m happy that I completed PicPredict in a reasonable amount of time.  I hope that everyone enjoys it!

As a thank you to my readers, I am giving away promo codes to random people who tweet, “Check out PicPredict app in the AppStore today! http://PicPredict.com by @sounalath”. Don’t miss your opportunity to try out PicPredict for free!

Click to tweet!

Some PicPredict app decisions/challenges along the way:

  • buttons with text or icons – text on buttons were ugly, icons looked more clean, but took more work to create
  • app name – Apple didn’t like my original name, so I had to change logo and views with the new name, it took about a week to settle on a new name, should the name explain what the app does or should it be some obscure name, Domain.r is great to come up with a non-dot com URL
  • flow of screens – mockups, mockups, mockups help so much, check out MockUp apps b/c all you need to now is PowerPoint
  • sharing options – email, facebook, twitter – this round email only for simplicity
  • color scheme – kept black and white as it was related to original app name
  • price point – anything over $0 is challenging but I opted out of advertising revenues, there’s one blog posting about an Android developer making money from ad revenues, it’s a good read
  • promotion methods – to be determined, lots of articles out there (e.g., can try app review sites, twitter, facebook, your own blog, local newspaper, all networks that you’re involved with), trying word of mouth first, wish me luck! read one guy’s journey for his game app
  • an email from Apple saying additional review time needed – most likely means your app is about to get rejected although few say they have gotten approvals, google for more stories
  • Tip: If you have a crucial update to an existing app, you can use the “expedited app review process” form to push your update through the review process

If you are wondering about how long it takes for your app to get approved once submitted to Apple, here is a hilarious answer (from StackOverflow.com) that I can’t stop laughing about:

After your app is submitted to the App Store for review, a robed monk is there to recieve it when it arrives. The monk ushers your app to the Shrine of Acceptance, where it will begin its journey.

Each journey is unique and special, just like your app, and while the journey has been rumoured to include attacks of security ninjas, IP-samurai, and even a final battle with Steve himself, no-one’s quite sure what happens. The best you can do is sit back and wait.

Press release for PicPredict app:

KSG Ventures is introducing PicPredict iPhone app, a unique, entertaining way to use iPhone photos as a personalized fortune teller.

With PicPredict, creating a personalized fortune teller is as easy as 1-2-3.  Users pick a photo on their iPhone, add custom fortunes, then shake the iPhone for their magical answers to appear. The fun part is the ability to share the PicPredict photo with friends and family with a click of a button.   This is no ordinary fortune teller app.  It is a fortune teller app that you personalize from scratch.  Imagine the creative and humorous possibilities.

PicPredict is available in the iTunes AppStore at http://itunes.com/apps/picpredict.
Link to website: http://www.picpredict.com
Founder’s Twitter ID: @sounalath

About KSG Ventures
KSG Ventures is a mobile development company located in the heart of Silicon Valley.  Its mission is to create fun and innovative apps for the person on the go whether it’s the busy mom or working professional. For more information, email info@ksgventures.com.

Related, I got my start in iOS development from my experience at Startup Weekend at PayPal in 2009.  I pitched the idea of Eventabulous and recruited a team of 8 to join me that weekend.  After the weekend ended, the momentum slowed down, but I wanted to keep the idea alive.  So I bought a MacBook Pro and checked out “iPhone Development for Dummies” from my local library (I still recommend to new developers that they should check out books from the library to get started).  In about 4-6 months time, I developed an app using JSON, Twitter APIGoogle Maps API, and a third party event database source.  I also learned how to file an LLC.  Thanks to Startup Weekend for giving me the push into mobile development and entrepreneurship.

HTML5 Hackathon @ Google

Through the codechix email list, I found out about the HTML5 hackathon at Google. I decided to give it a go and check it out. It was just half a day, 12p-9p. I knew very litle about HTML5 at the time, but I heard that it’s great for mobile (later found out it’s great for mobile b/c it just works for mobile as good as a full blown website).

Before I went, I spent about an hour reading about HTML5, so that I wouldn’t be completely clueless at the hackathon. Audio and video seem to be the big things.

When I first arrived, the Eventbrite guys were checking people in with a mobile app.  They were also participating in the hackathon.  Google provided lunch. I sat next to a guy from Israel who will be attending Washington University at St. Louis. On the other side of me was a friend of mine who is originally from France. There were quite a bit of folks from other parts of the states, especially leaders of Google technology user groups.  There weren’t too many women as alway with tech events.  About 100 people in total.

After lunch, Google did a one-hour presentation on HTML5. They asked who has submitted to the Chrome store and only one guy raised his hand. Not sure how to interpret that. They then announced that the grand prize for the hackathon would be a Chrome computer and some HTML5 t-shirts. The clause to win is that the app must be in (or submitted to) the Chrome store and have in-app purchases. Hmm, okay, let’s get started!

Like most other hackathons, people get to pitch their ideas and then form groups around the ideas. Since Jonathan’s Card (more here) had been on the hot list, I decided to pitch a mobile HTML5 app that helps people tweet stories about their donations and free coffee receivings. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jonathan’s Card, Jonathan donated $90 to his Starbucks to be used by anyone. At the same time, anyone can donate more money to the card. My Jonathan’s Card story idea was well received. I got 8 other folks to join me. Unfortunately, not everyone had the same skills, about half knew a set of languages and the other half knew another set of languages.  Also, half of us were beginners in web technologies.  I ultimately took on the role of product manager instead of coder because the other set of skills were chosen (python, jquery) which were not my forte.

I focused on the product requirements, worked on figuring out the look of the UI and backend functionality. In the middle of it, we lost our jquery guy and one girl who’s well-versed in html/css stepped up to take over. We had one person looking into twitter integration as that was our main way of sharing the stories of coffee donations and receivings. To sum up the technologies, we used jquery (including html5 and CSS3), python, google app engine, and twitter. Oh, dinner was served somewhere in between, pizza, mmm, food of choice for hard-concentrating geeks. :)

At the end, we were able to demo how a person can share a free coffee story using Jonathan’s Card and twitter. We called the app JCard+. Get it? Like Google+. We didn’t have all the be bells and whistles of HTML5, but it looked pretty and animated nicely for a web mobile app.  The winner that day was the dinosaur team.  They made a kid’s app where you can make the dinosaur’s arms move and change color of the dinosaur.  Second place was a podcast commentary annotation marketplace (don’t ask me to explain, I’m still figuring it out).

Unfortunately, my team won’t be able to finish the app post-hackathon because Jonathan’s Card has been shut down. Someone wrote an article on how to buy an iPad with Jonathan’s Card, basically ruining the social experiment for the rest of us. Also Starbucks doesn’t allow sharing of Starbuck cards, but they made an exception for Jonathan’s experiment. Bah!

I’m glad that I attended as it gave me a reason to learn about HTML5. It would have been nice to have seen more schwag be given out. I love schwag!  Of course the free meals were nice.  Thanks Google for a good hackathon!

Some tips for a good hackathon experience:

  • Learn about the technology before attending, there isn’t much time to learn from scratch at these events
  • I always recommend pitching an idea at every event, if your idea sucks then no one will join you, if it has potential then the number of people will tell you, it helps to think of an idea beforehand too
  • If it’s not obvious, bring a laptop with power cord and plenty of water
  • Good project management skills keep the team on track for the hackathon deadline, hopefully someone will step up to break down the milestones
  • Decide whether you are attending to build upon an existing idea, work on a brand new idea, or there to win the prizes, each have different goals and attitudes about the hackathon
  • If you are want to be the people’s choice award winner, pick a sexy idea and show a sexy demo, a sexy demo will take time to perfect, allot time for it
  • Remember not everything in your app has to work, show the most critical user scenario, the demo will suck if you show too shallow of functions all over the place, you might even confuse the audience by clicking all over the place
  • Know what skills that you have on your team and keep recruiting over the weekend to fill in the skill gaps, sometimes people switch teams if the prior team doesn’t need their skills
  • Network, network, network, you are there to meet new people too
  • If you don’t have a Twitter account, get one before attending so that you can communicate with rest of the attendees leveraging event hashtags

ZURBsoapbox is a hidden gem event

Not sure how I’ve come to know about ZURBsoapbox events, but I decided to go to my first one a few weeks ago.  Why you might ask (or not).  Well, 1) it’s located in Campbell which is 15 minutes away from me, 2) the speaker was Kevin Hartz, CEO of Eventbrite (Eventbrite is an online ticketing service that I buy a lot of local event tickets from), and 3) FREE LUNCH!  The ZURB office is quite small which lends for some intimate discussions.  I will be returning to more ZURBsoapbox events.

I arrived a bit late, but got a chance to grab some lunch and meet one person, an IT guy at a startup which got gobbled up by an online videoconferencing company (hint: rhymes with ripe).  Soon after, Kevin Hartz started his talk.  The funny part is that I didn’t realize Eventbrite had male cofounders since Women 2.0 always spotlighted Julie Hartz, cofounder and wife of Kevin.

Kevin touched upon his earlier days and how he got involved with PayPal and YouTube.  I liked hearing the who’s who of Silicon Valley in his stories, but more importantly he had really good take aways.  If someone came to me saying that they wanted to do online ticketing, I probably wouldn’t think it would fly because of Ticketmaster, but now we have Eventbrite.  Eventbrite is very well known in the Silicon Valley and continues to grow.  I expect to see many great things from this company.  Keep a watch out!

Notes:

  • Friends with Peter thiel, most of PayPal mafia are conservative, says he’s the token liberal friend
  • ConnectGroup – developed relationship with a Hilton general mgr in the south bay, then he became an advisor for Connect, got them into a few other hotels
  • Basis of PayPal, people will pay a premium for moving money fast, logo started showing up on eBay auctions
  • Started Xoom, competes with western union, send money online and disperse cash via local international banks
  • Tip: Netflix is extremely well run company, very quantitative using metrics, disciplined in how much they spend
  • Xoom and Eventbrite are extremely repetitive like/aka subscriptions
  • Slew of Eventbrite-like companies , focused on making it easy for anyone to start selling tickets and organizing events, addressing longtail, 25% of business outside the US
  • Tip: don’t lose sight of core business
  • Xoom is a classic TAM, investors like Sequoia like to see these, Western Union has 20% of TAM
  • For Eventbrite, addressing longtail market was a leap of faith
  • Tip: If you want to go into a market where you are unsure, bootstrap to get a sense of whether there’s a massive opportunity
  • Invested in YouTube, it launched as a dating website, seeded craigslist ads for women to post videos
  • Eventbrite doesn’t do reserve searing but rolling it out, business translates really well in the international space
  • Tip: follow path of least resistant
  • They are ideal for festivals, sold 62% more than Ticketmaster for warp tour festivals
  • Creeping up to tackle ticketmaster but it won’t be overnight, want to built great technology and relationships not with backroom deals
  • Tip: Lock in enterprise customers incrementally, if you stretch too far then you just pull back, when you start doing custom work or bend from your core values, that’s your litmus test
  • Went to friends who held events and had them try it out
  • Tip: get alpha and beta customers then find out how customers find out about you organically
  • Saw up surge of traffic from Facebook, built tools to make it easier to share, now it’s #1 source of traffic
  • Eventbrite’s event discovery is broken, get a lot of comments on how to improve this like a friend or Netflix recommendation, they really need to build this out, primarily focused on event organizers now addressing users more
  • Tip: Feels companies should go Public earlier than later, quarter after quarter companies are transparent and accountable
  • Could go IPO next year, wants to be around 30 yrs, being public helps
  • Eventbrite is hiring, contact Kevin@Eventbrite.com

Kevin’s bio on EventBrite.com:

Kevin Hartz is Co-Founder & CEO of Eventbrite, a company changing the way events come together online, and happen offline. Kevin was previously Co-Founder and CEO of Xoom Corporation, an international money transfer company, servicing more than 40 countries worldwide. Xoom is backed by Sequoia CapitalNEAFidelity Ventures, Stanford University, and Peter Thiel.

Kevin began his career as a product manager and later co-founded ConnectGroup, a start-up providing high-speed Internet access to the hotel industry. ConnectGroup was acquired by Lodgenet (NASDAQ: LNET).

Kevin holds a BA and BS from Stanford University, as well as an MA from Oxford University (University College).

He has been an active early stage investor and advisor to start-ups including PayPalGeniFriendsterTripItFlixsterAdnectarYammer,TokBoxiControlBokuLookoutAnonymizerPalantir and Trulia, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Xoom, Lookout,TownHog, and TokBox (observer). You can view his full portfolio here. In his spare time, Kevin advises university students on entrepreneurship through Youniversity Ventures. Kevin lives in San Francisco with his wife, Julia, and young daughter.

APPNATION SF 2011 was fun


As of late last week, I didn’t plan on doing anything this week.  I saw a posting on the Women 2.0 website asking for women mobile developers to apply to win 1 of 5 free conference passes and a demo pedestal for APPNATION SF.  I couldn’t resist, so I put my name in the hat.  Viola!  I had won.  On top of that, because I was an APPNATION conference attendee, I got to enter my Eventabulous iPhone app into the AppCircus app pitch competition, a partnered event with APPNATION.  Unfortunately, I was not selected as one of the top 10 contestants, but last minute (day before) they had an opening and guess who took it?  Moi!

On the first day of APPNATION SF, I skipped out on the keynotes and anxiously prepared my demo pedestal.  Tent card?  Check!  Macbook with demo video?  Check!  Candy?  Check!  iPad with app?  Check!  Business cards and flyers?  Check!  Check!  I was ready to rock and roll.  During the day, the foot traffic was okay, not too busy, but not dead.  I made a conscious decision to hang out at my pedestal for the rest of the day instead of attending any sessions.  I met some interesting people and did a full demo to over 10 people.  I estimate about 200-300 people attended the conference in total.  Later that night, I did my pitch to an audience of about 50-75.  My 3 minutes of fame on stage was up so fast, but I loved the opportunity.  It was great!  The judges were from ReadWriteWeb, Mashery, Churn Labs, Samsung Developers, Wireless Industry Partnership, Pockergamer.biz, and Mobile Monday London.  The winner of AppCircus was Geoloqi, a secure, real-time mobile and web platform for location sharing.  I chatted with them shortly before the pitching started and found out that they are from Portland, Oregon, yay, my home state!  Congratulations to them.

On the second day of APPNATION SF, I took it more easy and attended 3 sessions – 1) Intel AppUp Application Development Lab, 2) Monetization Strategies, and 3) Free, Freemium, or Paid?  Intel had a big presence at APPNATION with a huge expo area giving out free pop (soda for the clueless), popcorn, and t-shirts.  At their 2-hr  lab session, you learn about how to develop for MeeGo and Windows OS using their SDK and IDE and how to get the apps into their AppUp app store.  Most importantly, at the end of the session, you get a MeeGo OS tablet (exopc slate) for free.  Well, you get it to use it for 3 years and may have to return it at the end.  The panels on Monetization Strategies and Free, Freemium, or Paid? were good.  I’m glad that I attended some sessions on day 2.

All in all, I enjoyed attending APPNATION SF.  I got a free pass, a demo pedestal, and a chance to pitch on stage.  What more can a girl ask for?  Also, my Eventabulous app got more downloads.  Thanks to Women 2.0 for hooking me up!

My notes from APPNATION:

  • App users are more likely than pc users to pay for apps
  • Almost every app category has a dominate app – social fb, weather weather.com, etc
  • Word of mouth is a big influence for app discovery
  • You might have 1000 play your game, 50 of them pay, and 1 of them give you half your revenue
  • Mistake of not putting ads on the homepage, did one day and made an extra 1k a day
  • Mistake of not testing out other a  networks, started with admob and didn’t change it
  • On startup – celebs leave voicemails for all fans to get text and dial in and listen to, hard to convert to ticket sales bc most didn’t have credit cards/money to pay even though they call 1-10 times a day
  • Apple users have the most wallet and are willing to pay 1-3 dollars for apps
  • You can start pricing high then lower the price the longer that the app is out
  • Free apps and inapp purchases have been very powerful going forward
  • Freemium works very well for games
  • Removal of ads has not been a good reason to upgrade to paid apps
  • One recipe app passed location to ad networks and saw more effective ad rev, but users were pissed as to why location was needed to search recipes.
  • Logo and icon are very important, don’t skimp on these (Sophia’s comment: makes me think of shape of perfume bottles, big diff)
  • Ipad users willing to pay 5-10 per app
  • Urbanspoon traffic doubled year to year, 7 figure a year revenue, 3 ppl built the company
  • Zynga poker model – money going in and no money going out, reduces liability
  • 75k apps on ipad, price of ipad apps going up
  • A lot of women are spending more time on mobile, looking for restaurants, where to shop
  • DirectTV went to urbanspoon to help ppl find sports bars with premium DirectTV sports channels near you
  • 80-90% are free apps in app stores
  • Old navy encouraged shoppers to use Shazam app to figure out what songs were being played in the stores
  • Urbanspoon closed the loop by now having a reservation system for restaurants

Some people whom I met:

  • Android game developers
  • prior Startup Weekend attendees
  • Mobile payment company
  • Ringtone company
  • Mobile incubator lab
  • Sales from a major tech blog
  • Startup bank
  • Software strategist
  • Big book retailer
  • Mobile ad network
  • Online store coupons

Making money with the $2.1T Mommy market

A few months ago, I attended this mommy-targeted shopping event in San Francisco with someone.  I was expecting a lot of clothing and baby equipment boutiques which there were, but I didn’t expect any startups pitching their services.  Two of which were TaskRabbit.com and SkinnyScoop.com.  I talked with both of the booth reps to learn more.

TaskRabbit positions itself as a safe online website where you can find people to do little tasks for you.  The marketing person (I’m assuming b/c she was not the founder) said I could use their service to pick up kids, do grocery shopping, etc.  Yes, I could, but do I want to?  I had a friend recently use it to find someone to pick-up a whole pie from a bakery and deliver to her for about $12 plus cost of pie.  OK, maybe it’s useful to those quick dessert fixes hahaha.  Now, I don’t know about the “safe” statement.  I would not want to take on the liability of ensuring that all “task runners” are safe even with clean background checks performed.  With some people, you just don’t know.  I’ll be curious to see how they do.  They have a business model (take a cut of transactions) and I’m assuming some traction.

The next startup at this mommy event was Skinny Scoop.  It’s just a polling survey service for mommies, think Yahoo! Answers w/o the text answers since you must choose a, b, c, d, etc.  To be honest, I do like to poll others on different topics and I can see this as being useful, but I would have never thought that a website could be dedicated to just polling surveys.  I asked them how they plan to make money and I didn’t get a good answer.  In fact, I don’t even remember what they said hahaha.

Related, there was a blog posting about the founder of Circle of Moms that I found most intriguing.  He was just a regular engineer looking to do a startup of his own.  Started something called Circle of Friends as a Facebook app.  He started noticing that there were a lot of “Circle of Friends” solely focused on moms.  One thing led to another and he decided to focus on the mommy market to make “Circle of Moms” as its own dedicated website.  This is a good example of bumping into a business idea w/o even trying.  Awesome!

Mommy market figures from BabyCenter.com:

Market Size by Age of Child

  • US moms with kids under 6: 23.4 MM
  • US moms with kids under 3: 14.2 MM

Spending Power

  • Total US Mom spending: $2.1 trillion

The Many Faces of Mom

  • Beauty Mom: 68% of women re-evaluate their beauty routine
  • Dr. Mom: 82% rethink their approach to health and wellness
  • Gadget Mom: 93% of moms own a digital camera; 1 in 3 never leave home without it
  • Green Mom: Saving the planet starts at home: 92% of moms think family first, planet second
  • Mealtime Mom: 59% of moms rely on prepackaged or prepared foods to get dinner on the table
  • Social Mom: Social media use among moms has increased 591% in the past four years

From Startup Weekend idea to iPhone App

For quite some time, I really wanted to do a Startup Weekend.  Finally, the stars were aligned and I got to attend one back in April at PayPal.  The format is simple – Friday brainstorm ideas and form teams, Saturday and Sunday work on idea, and Sunday night pitch idea and show demo.

Well, the idea that I pitched was an event finder app.  We developed a prototype on top of Google’s app engine.  Everything worked fine with some parts faked to show the concept.

At the end of Startup Weekend, a few of us wanted to continue working the idea.  Soon that number became zero after a week.  Interesting.  That left me all by myself, a product manager who use to code enterprise software.  What is a girl to do?

The number one problem was that I didn’t own a Mac, so within weeks I bought a brand new 15″ Macbook just for developing (the 500 GB hard drive wasn’t too bad either).  The developers on my idea were the ones with Macs.  Next, I wanted to find a partner in crime because coding can be more fun in pairs.  I found someone off of one of my yahoo groups, but turned out the project was more complicated than what she’d like for her first iPhone app. So we parted ways after a few weeks.

I eventually realized that I was just going to have to do this app all by myself.  The only way that I can do it while learning objective-c at the same time was to focus on a very scaled-down version of the app aka keep it simple stupid.

I read “iPhone Development for Dummies” and a bunch of online tutorials.  Thank you to all those websites who had great, simple write-ups on how to develop apps (Stack Overflow is great too).  Life saver!  Also, I kept in contact with two iOS developers from Startup Weekend.  We exchange ideas and tips with each other.

Seven months later, Eventabulous hits the App Store (aka last week)!  Does it generate revenue? No (boy, do I get this question a lot).  Does it do what I originally pitched at Startup Weekend?  A scaled-down version, yes.  Was it a labor of love and tons of fun?  Hell YES!

Eventabulous is a simple location-based event finder app.  Based on your current location, you can get a list of nearby events for the next 7 days.  For a given event, you can get directions, look at tweets nearby, and share event information via email with your friends and family.

I encourage to download the app and try it out for yourself.

Have an Eventabulous week!

[guest post] 3 Startup Weekend tips

I find Startup Weekend is a great event to meet great people. I like it so much that I’ve been to 4 of them this year. Here are a few tips I share with every team that I join.

1) The presentation is the key

The results of your time and efforts are succinctly summarized in a 5 minute presentation (actual time may vary) at the end of Sunday. Please don’t spend every second of your presentation peppering the audience with facts, figures and speculations. Tell a good story and sell your idea, save the market analysis and business model information for the Q&A session.

2) Fake it

If it’s not in the presentation, don’t spend time on it. Don’t build a database. Don’t use a server unless it’s integral to the presentation. If people can’t see it, they won’t care. Spend your development time on creating an amazing interface.

3) Make a plan

Manage your time wisely. The time spent discussing the idea takes away from the time to build the idea. Decide who’s going to do what and set time limits for when things need to get done. Make time to practice the presentation and make last minute changes.

Startup Weekend is a very intense event and I hope these tips will help you get through it with a little less stress.

Scott Tran is a freelance iOS developer, follow him on Twitter @strandev, download his VisualCSS app.

TEDx Bay Area Women, quick fire talks

I somehow caught wind of this event while browsing my usual websites.  I’m glad that I did.  For those of who you do not know what TED events are about. TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. This year, TEDWomen focuses on the question: How are women and girls reshaping the future?

In the bayarea, TEDx Bay Area Women organized an event hosted at SAP in Palo Alto, California.  To get invited, you had to fill out a short questionnaire and then get selected to attend.  There was ZERO cost for attendees because the costs were covered by sponsors (Thank you sponsors!).

Unfortunately, they had to split the attendees into two rooms – one room with the actual speakers, one room to watch live streaming from the other room with speakers.  I was fortunate to make it into the “real” room.  There were about 200 attendees.  I wish that the badges had the company names instead of just names.  I had no idea what people did whether tech, entertainment, or design.  In any case, the valley is small.  I met 2-4 women whom I’ve met at other SV events.

Some folks whom I met:

Debra Bowen, Secretary of State of California
President of The Tech Museum
Founder of JackCards.com
Senior (Health) Benefits Consultant
CEO of a software development outsourcing firm (Ukraine)
Business development consultant

Check out the tweets here.

My rough, rough notes: (I will highlight the interesting parts and clean up at a later time)

Debra Bowen, Secretary of State of California – voting machines were pulled bc they weren’t sure if viruses been loaded to a machine. One polling machine missing  today.  Polling code must be open sourced , can’t have propriety code

Jill Tarter, Director of the Center for SETI Research – new turtle mascot, open source code, cloud services from amazon, telescopes

Tara VanDerveer, Stanford womens basketball coach – connect with your team and have team believe in what you say, 5-7 pg scout report of opponents, 5-7 DVDs of opponent, ability of coach tosloq down the game in real time and react to them, in order to play basketball with boys in drive way she brought best basketball if they want to play with her ball she has to play too, most of halftime is reminding the team, it is not about competing against the other team it’s about competing against ourselves,

Alexa Ringwald, Director at Serious Materials, MarketYoYo.com startup – 1.2m people in India, 700k have cell phones with SMS, not smart phones, 66% of women do the work but receive 10% of income, 1% of property

Almaz Negash, Managing partner of Entwine Global- 57% of 10m women in USA graduated from college, 64% of 862m women global are literate, 70% are women of poorest people, un wants to cut poverty by 50% of worlds poverty by 2015,

Cartoonist (steaming from TEDWomen event in D.C.) – women+humor=change,

Shaherose Charania, CEO & Co-Founder of WOmen 2.0 – bangladesh woman sells access to her cell phone becomes a founder, men look her into the eyes now, 3.9m have access to mobile phones, less than 10% of founders are women, 51% of workforce are women,

Heather Fleming, CEO of Catapult Design – engineering without borders (EWB), clean burning cook stove, wind turbines, developing technology for poor people living in rural areas, founded a design firm for impoverished people, anyone anywhere to have access to design services, 1.6B don’t have access to electricity, CatapultDesign.org,

Sophia Yen, MD, MPH at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital – US has a high teenage pregnancy rate compared to other industrialized countries due to lack of use of protection, high schoolers are having sex, 12th graders 64%, emergency contraception pills can be taken up to 5 days after intercourse, more effective if taken sooner, every hour you wait before taking ec pill it doubles your pregnancy rate, no scientific reason for age restriction for ec, currently age limit is 17 years old, ec can prevent 2.3M unwanted pregnancies and 1M abortions, if you have a lot of nutrition, your body will have a period every month and get ready for reproduction, typical women go 14 years of having a monthly period before having a child, due to blood loss = lower math scores, 5 IQ points lower,

Vivek Wadhwa, senior research associate with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, – endured a lot of veracity for doing research on the diff of number of women and men in entrepreneurship, VCs commented on why he’s doing the research…is he trying to get laid?  avg age of tech entrepreneur is 39, 41 avg age of women ent, most entrepreneurs come from middle class families, more so lower middle class families, not college dropouts 44% have bachelor degrees, better educated than their parents, diff in sales in revenue between ivy leaguers and non-ivy leaguers is not significant, majority worked 6-10 years for an employer before starting their own, majority didn’t come from ent families, bootstrapping is the norm not VC, success factors: #1 experience, #2 management team, #3 luck, women more likely to obtain funding from business partner, women start 3% of tech firms, 1% of high-tech firms, contribute to fewer than 5% of all IT patents and 1.2% of open-source s/w, women in top mgmt achieve higher 35% ROE, 34% better total return to shareholders, well-respected VCs tweeted about hot chicks at parties, “if indians can do, so can women do it too” (in regards to mentoring each other and rising above discrimination), VCs dont’ get excited about women-pitched ideas b/c women understate (are conservative) about the potential of their ideas,

Karen Baker, WHAM! startup – 45% of women in Mumbai experienced domestic violence of which 75% of women attempted suicide, 7 of 10 are women who are liaisons between the slum and the police,

Lynnelle Ye, freshman at Stanford – I solved a math problem that no one on the team could solve. The answer was completely different feom the answer  Was it a stroke of genius? No, I learned the method 3 years before and waited 3 years to apply it.

Esther Wojcicki, Journalism and English high school teacher at Palo alto high school – PAHS has many publications produced by students like magazines, newspapers, online newspaper, tv shows, crazy! So impressed that I will be encouraing kids to do journalism in high school.

SAP speakers: Marilyn Pratt, SAP Community Advocate, and Anne Hardy, VP of Technology Strategy – innovicide- exclude users when designing, not haring knowledge, throw in every bells and whistle, kill ideas by consensus, worship propriety, ignore feedback, only engage recognized leaders, Innovation weeked at sap- participants from the sap community, did it in different cities, did it in las Vegas, 200 ppl there, listen to experts and deep dive with experts, 30 hrs for weekend, identified a real problem that they wanted to tackle, at end of it they present to the crowd and jury, winners from each city compete, they have 6 mins to present

Businesswomen’s Sustainability Leadership Summit

Last week, (seems that all of my postings start this way) I attended the Second Annual West Coast Businesswomen’s Sustainability Leadership Summit, a Women’s Network for Sustainable Future event, at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California.  There were about 150-200 women in attendance (my guestimate).  I am by no means an expert on “green” businesses and sustainability, but I definitely have an interest in learning more about what this area is all about.  Is it a buzz or a real trend?  Do companies really care or is it a status/image thing?

The morning started off pretty fast with Dr. Sharon Nunes doing a keynote about sustainability and IBM’s involvement.  It kept my attention.  Then we did breakout sessions to answer one of five summit questions.  I was in the yellow group, so our question was “How are the customer values changing? What can companies do to keep up?  Let me just say that I love breakout groups.  It gives me a chance to meet other people at the event and a chance to contribute.

We answered:

There are different groups of “green” consumers: 1) those who are on the cupse of being green, 2) those who go green if it’s cheaper, 3) those who go green at any cost, 4) those who do not know what green is

Consumers aren’t always motivated by cost savings.  There is a trend of saving the earth for the future of our children.  Many moms chimed in saying sometimes going green is the safest for kids (e.g., toys without toxic paints).

Companies can keep up by listening to their customers via social media or other feedback mechanisms.  Also, companies can be proactive rather than reactive by educating themselves on green issues.

To kick off the afternoon, Nancy Sutley, Chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality, and environmental advisor to President Obama, gave us a talk about thing that the goverment is doing to become more green.  I was impressed that the goverment cared enough to attend this 150-200 women summit.  It was definitely a treat.

To close, Judith Estrin gave us a talk on having sustainable technology, not necessarily related to sustainability as in green, but how to make sure innovation continues to happen.  I was intrigued by her bio, CTO at Cisco, currently or previously a board member at Disney, FedEx, and Sun Microsystems.  And to top it all off, she is an engineer.  Gotta love that!

All in all, the summit was very educational.  It hasn’t convinced me that I should be going after green jobs, but I’m more conscious of the things companies are doing and recognizing the huge challenge ahead of us.

Check out the tweets from the event here.

My takeaways:

battery-operated cars today only run for 100  miles, working on research for lithium air batteries to run cars for 500 miles

ikea’s value co-creation
– customers transport and assemble furniture

value creation network, it’s about creating relevant and compelling solutions

Asia will become 50% urban in next 15 years

urban population will almost double between 2010-2050 (to 6.4B!)

$11.5 worth of produce is wasted in India b/c of outdated post-harvest infrastructure

you can’t solve one problem w/o looking across the value system, you start to charge toll going into the city then you better have excess public transportation to handle the change in passengers

triangle of sustainability: does it hurt the environment? does it hurt people? does it save businesses money?

money is not the only driving factor for sustainability

make sustainability at work easily do-able, small steps

integrate sustainability into performance reviews

Nancy – from white house
$4.5B to help develop a smarter electric grid

Recommendations for Federal govt: encourage telework, updating IT systems so they turn off at night, use goats to save on lawn mowers

eco friendly buildings: natural lighting, motion sensors that turn off lights but you have to get up to turn lights back on

how long will smog be tolerable in a city with 22M people (Shanghai)?

joint chief of staff does planning 50 years out, climate change is one of the biggest threats

One panelist said her title is Chief Sustainability Officer or green queen

“think globally, act locally”

Siemens’ global sustainable board is made up of the business heads of each unit

global trends: climate change, demographic change, urbanization

general population of Europe is pretty savvy about being green

working with businesses outside of US, they are more nimble and more reactive

maybe partner up with someone to get green expertise, innovation takes awhile, solve it together

customers have broader problems

a lot of peole are studying environmental sciences, but what can you do?  get a set of skills that is applicable for a job, green is an area of expertise, not something that you just learn and no other skill

question to panel: how many peole execute the green initiative at your company?  The answer was 1, 1 with a workgroup of 20.  my conclusion: green jobs aren’t a big focus for companies

deep innovation is messy when you don’t know the outcome or when you don’t know when the outcome will happen

3 types of innovation: 1) breakthrough – credit card, 2) incremental – private labeled credit card, 3) orthogonal – debit card

1 & 3 can be disruptive – create new markets and industries

2 is necessary, just not sufficient

5 core values for innovation: questioning, risk, openness, patience, and trust