Jan 142010

Jump Starting Start Ups

   

 

As I mentioned in some recent posts, I’ve really enjoyed sharing the Return Path story with the tech start-up community in New York through groups like the NYC Lean Startup Meetup .  

 

Next week I’m taking the Return Path story on the road to Silicon Valley where I’ll be presenting to Startup2Startup.  Startup2Startup is a group of Silicon Valley geeks, entrepreneurs, and investors dedicated to educating and helping the next generation of Internet startups. They meet monthly over dinner to discuss relevant topics in technology and entrepreneurship, connect with new people and companies, and share our knowledge and experience.

 

You’ll not only get to hear about Return Path’s 10 years in business but I’ll also be sharing some best practices to diagnose and resolve email deliverability problems.

Interested? Request an invitation here.

Stay tuned for more on this post-event.


Dec 282009

Learning How to Stop

Learning How to Stop

This is my last post about thoughts I had coming out of the NYC Lean Startup Meetup that I spoke at a couple weeks ago.  Being lean, the discussion went at this event, means not doing extraneous things.  While it’s true for startups that it’s important to make great decisions about what to do up front, it’s also true — especially as companies get larger and more important older — that organizations and individuals have to be vigilant about stopping activities that become extraneous over time.

This is HARD.  Once things — product features, business processes, reports, ways of communicating or thinking about things — get ingrained in an organization, there’s never a natural impetus to stop doing them.  Even the smartest and most thoughtful individuals often find themselves doing things that once made sense but no longer do. 

We encourage people at Return Path to create space to work OTB (on the business), not just ITB (in the business).  Take time not just to perfect what you’re doing and do it, but take time to reexamine what you’re doing and ask whether or not it needs to be done.  My staff is going to start doing an exercise at least quarterly around pruning/simplifying activities.  

Focus is not just about saying “no” to new tasks.  It’s also about saying “no longer” to old ones.

Dec 212009

Innovating in New York City

Innovating in New York City

Last week I wrote about speaking at the NYC Lean Startup Meetup.  One of my other key takeaways from this, which I’ve known for a while and have been meaning to blog about, is just how vibrant the tech startup community is here in New York.  I know others have been blogging about this like mad – Fred has some thoughts here, here, and here, and Charlie has some here and here.  Chris Dixon’s seminal post on this is here. (I even blogged a bit about why NYC is a good place to start a business back in 2006 here.)

I’ve had a little more time for networking and speaking in the past year than the prior year, and I’ve been blown away by how many startups there are here.  Like most things, New York City is such a massive and diverse place that it’s easy to “get lost in the crowd,” and there’s a lot going on.  So startups don’t tend to get the same level of social buzz that they do in Silicon Valley.  But Fred’s stat in one of those links above that over 150 startups were founded in NYC this year compared to over 300 in the Valley is interesting when you consider the geographic density here.  There are many more per square mile in New York.

Despite the geographic density to the startups, the New York startup scene is a long way from being a community.  There are some encouraging signs of late.  Charlie’s establishing a physical presence for First Round Capital is one. NextNY, with over 2500 members, is another, along with various Meetups.  I am learning more and more every day about local incubator-type organizations as well (take that term with a grain of salt).  I thought John Borthwick’s Betaworks was the only one until Charlie told me about Sunshine Suites, TechSpace, and the NYU/Poly program.  But something is still missing.  Some glue to hold it all together.

In the Valley, the startup community is  a cultural thing — plus, startups are part and parcel of a larger tech community.  Most of the big acquirers of internet companies are out there, so the ecosystem keeps cycling through companies and talent and investors.  In smaller cities like Denver/Boulder and Boston (and soon to be Seattle), TechStars fills a good void by providing a high profile “lure the talent here” combined with “meet the money” program. Seedcamp does that nicely in London, which, while it’s a big city, has a much smaller and more dispersed startup community than New York.

Since we’re unlikely to suddenly sprout a bunch of Fortune 500 tech companies in NYC, where’s our version of one of those programs in NYC?  Or is there some other “glue” lurking out there to tie it all together?

Dec 172009

Pivot, Don’t Jump!

Pivot, Don’t Jump!

I spoke last night at the NYC Lean Startup Meetup, which was fun.  I will write a couple other posts based on the experience over the next week or so.  The Meetup is all about creating “lean startups,” not just meaning lean as in cheap and lightweight, but meaning smart at doing product development from the perspective of finding the quickest path to product-market fit.  No wasted cycles of innovation.  Something we are spending a lot of time on right now at Return Path, actually.

My topic was “The Pivot,” by which the group meant How do you change your product idea/formation quickly and nimbly when you discover that your prior conception of “product-market fit” is off?  I talked a bit about the pivots we’ve done over the years here, not just the corporate ones, but some of the essential product ones as well.  One of the comments a member of the Meetup made that really stuck with me was that you have to “Pivot, Don’t Jump” when making changes to your business or product.

This has been true of Return Path’s pivots over the years.  Our pivots have all had two very solid foundation points — the company’s deep expertise in email, and our customer base.  Every pivot we’ve done has been in some way at the request/urging of our clients, and the new directions have always been in line with our core capabilities.  While we have a talented team that probably could execute lots of different businesses well, it’s hard to see us being successful in other areas that are farther afield.

People over the years, for example, have suggested that we should get into SMS deliverability — isn’t that going to be a hot topic?  We don’t know.  We don’t spend our lives immersed in text messaging.  What about getting into measurement of social media messaging — isn’t that related?  Maybe, but it’s not in our wheelhouse.  Expanding from email deliverability software and analytics, into services, into data, into whitelisting on the other hand – those were pivots, not jumps.

One other note of course, is that the larger your business is, and the more investors have a stake in it, the harder it is to make BIG pivots or any kind of jumps.  Innovation is still critical, but innovating from a well-protected core is what it’s all about, not chasing new shiny objects.

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