Monday, December 10, 2007

Why PeerFX?

"I want to work on PeerFX with you."

That's music to my ears baby.

I've heard that once this past week and I'm thinking of seriously bringing her onto the team. I see a drive, passion, commitment that money can't buy. On relevant skills? I believe that skills can be developed and both of us are in it to learn together. I can't say that I have the most relevant skill set for the business either! But here I am!

The past weeks have been stressful dealing with my partners on the shareholder agreement issues; I'm so fortunate to have my advisor help me out with the legalities of the agreement and to make sure that I am protected as well. Thanks Irf. I'm spending $1500 on that agreement - 20 pages of paper. I suddenly want to go to law school instead.

I need to have someone share the passion I have for the business. The gleam I have in my eyes when I talk about it and the excitement of making an idea a reality. I admire those that have the courage to venture into the unknown and frankly this new candidate that I've been speaking to has that. I just want to make sure they are taking a "calculated" risk and not just risking everything to be part of a new Start Up business because it's just. so. cool.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Team has Disbanded

So it's a no go. The team I mean. For me that doesn't mean the idea's a no go. I fully intend on taking this on to a very successful finish :)

I understand that people have other priorities, commitments, etc. It feels a bit awkward that the team is suddenly down, myself and Florence. Great. Three people! Yay!

Maybe it's for the better that we figured out whether we wanted to proceed with the business at this time instead of having people drop out a year later. This means now there's more room in the team for new hires! New opportunities are everywhere!

Oh. The road ahead is tough. Good thing I got some tough shoes on as well :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Time in the Trenches 4: Team Commitment

Ughhh. The "C" word. I'm sure you all know how important it is to have a great team with people that you trust will deliver great work every time. I'm even more sure that we all know people that are committed to a business work with more passion and deliver results beyond expectations. Some businesses are lucky and the founding team members all decide to stay on to realize the dream, but my scenario was slightly different.

My founding team started with our idea and we saw that it had potential from the favorable feedback that we got from judges at various national and international competitions; then we graduated and the real world hit us - each member had to make a choice between stable corporate life and a start up with possible potential.

Everyone wanted to contribute to a small portion of their time to work on the business. Let me tell you now - part-time contribution does NOT cut it. Do you think you have the greatest idea on Earth? Well if that's seriously what you think...wouldn't you want to contribute every waking moment to realizing your idea? Yes. That's what I thought.

Before you incorporate and try to seriously start a business, make sure that you have the commitment from your entire team; people that want to stay on because there MIGHT be some potential but can't contribute all their effort to it for one reason or another just aren't a fit for a start up business. I know that many individuals have mortgages to pay, kids to feed, etc. but that just means the start up life may not be for them. I'm fortunate that I have a minimum amount of commitments so I can pursue my dream.

The bottom line is that your team should be aligned to building your business 24/7; not when they have spare time.

If you have stories about your business team that you want to share please do post it in the comments!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Time in the Trenches 3: PR Timing

SO. We have aired on Dragons' Den. Yaaaaaaaaaaay.

Now for the crazy number of emails filling up my inbox. Double Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

Now reality hits and I'm concerned with my marketing/promotional efforts coming too far ahead of our service launch.

We've received so many emails asking when they can start transacting. What do we do. What do we do? Obviously we can't speed up our development given that we're still in the due diligence phase with the deal. Can we actually go and shop around for other deals right now? (edit: YES YOU CAN. YES YOU CAN. YES YOU CAN!!! We thought we couldn't. Well, at least I learned my lesson early on.)

Lesson Learned: Time your marketing efforts so that it coincidences with some huge event coming up a month or so after it. It would be perfect if we could launch the service next month and start having people transact on it. The publicity from the exposure on the show can only last us so advice is PLAN ahead for publicity/marketing. I'm totally kicking myself that the service isn't "ready to go". I guess the good thing is at least we're taking the time to ensure the quality of our service platform before we throw it out there to you guys?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Time in the Trenches 2: Surviving the Dragons' Den

I think this was one of the critical events for the business - getting onto Dragons' Den. We pitched there, we received an offer and had to keep quiet about it for months while we were going through due diligence. This is when you truly feel how hard it is to keep a secret.

Everyone always asks: "Hey...weren't you on Dragons' Den?"..."How was the filming? Was it scary? Did the Dragons try to tear you apart?"

I actually found the experience a lot of fun; it was different from the other competitions that the business had participated it and of course it would be aired on national television.

I always get the "What did the show do for you?"

It did many things for us. Publicity for one; we were bombarded with emails from interested Beta users right after our session aired on CBC. The downside was that our service wasn't built yet, and everyone expected that it was already up and running. Seriously. We aired less than an hour ago and was made an offer at the same time...we had no problem putting together a prototype in less than an hour ;)

LESSON #1: Don't have the publicity/hype for your business precede your service launch by a LONG period of time. What's good timing? I would think a month of lead time is just right. Of course, it's difficult to time when to receive good publicity.

LESSON #2: As long as you haven't signed an exclusivity agreement which keeps you from shopping around for other investors, make sure that you DO shop around! Just because you're going through due diligence doesn't mean you can't connect with other interested investors and pitch to them as well! More interested investors = more leverage for your business and likelihood of getting a better deal for you (if the interested investors don't team up against you...)

LESSON #3: You might not end up closing the deal. We didn't. It didn't really make sense to give up more than half of our company at that valuation. In fact, I'm still bootstrapping the business right now. I know that start up businesses all need money to operate, but if you can afford it, be picky about your investors...because they will end up being your partners. Can you stand sitting in a boardroom with them for a day and having them call you when business isn't great and asking you where their money is? Always opt for smart money. This means you should find investors that can contribute their relevant expertise and industry contacts IN ADDITION to their money.

So that's what I took away from this experience. Best of luck to whoever is reading this and looking to pitch in the Den!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Time in the Trenches Part 1

University is a great time to dream. Big ideas. Huge opportunities. The ultimate issue is whether you will act to realize these dreams, ideas and opportunities.

It has been 2 years since the original founding team came upon our business idea and things have changed a lot since then. The purpose of this blog is to share with other entrepreneurs our experience in building our start up business. Many of the obstacles that we faced and conquered is not related to the core business but the surrounding elements that are required to keep it afloat (think pulling together an advisory team, drafting a formal shareholder agreement, recruitment people, and probably finding financing is the most tedious task of all).

I hope all of you will enjoy this "Time in the Trenches" series as a good read whether you are a successful, struggling or blooming entrepreneur. Please do share your insights, struggles, comments and suggestions with us as well, since WE are always smarter than just ME.

So the idea was "born" in an undergraduate class 2 years ago, and after receiving favorable feedback at several national and international competitions, the original team decided to give it a go and see if we could make it a reality. A few things I realized in hindsight:

1) None of us had any idea how to run a business.
2) We thought we had a cool idea but had no clear process on how to capitalize on it.
3) Part-Time commitment hinders on progress.
4) We lacked the knowledge of where to obtain advice on building a business.
5) We thought we knew more than we did. Everyone seems to have this "I'm smarter than the average entrepreneur" disease.

The remedies used to solve these issues:

1) Walk. Fall. Pick yourself up and try again. That's most of what it is - but the lucky businesses get advisors who self-identify and help you along. The key is knowing which advisors truly add value; just because someone says they'll help you for free doesn't mean it's always good. Crappy opinions/suggestions can be free as well - be selective.
2) Here are the steps we took:
  1. You know the importance of building a great team to drive the business forward. Do this first.
  2. Ask your potential customers what they want (DON'T, and I repeat, DON'T, try to build something and assume the world will come knocking on your door)
  3. Once you know what they want, build your product/service to tailor to those needs
  4. Get your customers to put their money where they mouth is, launch a testing phase to see if they actually PAY for your product/service. If they do - voila! They were telling you the truth about what they wanted! It usually doens't happen so easily and you will need to keep revising the product. Like Steve Jobs said in his book "People don't know what they want until you show it to them."
3) Come on. Common sense. How productive can a team be if they meet once a week to discuss key management decisions? What if a potential customer/partner emails you and says they need your response by tomorrow? Do you tell them your team has other jobs and can't get back to them until the end of the week? Wake up. In business there are two speeds - FAST or DEAD.

4) Network, network, network. An entrepreneur needs to love people. You will be amazed at the amount of knowledge you can pick up from talking to someone that has built their own business before; they can share this with you in about one-tenth of the time you would have to spend researching the same things yourself.

5) Humility. You will be amazed by how much people are willing to teach and share with you. Just keep in mind that every person you meet is teaching you something that can be applied to your business.

So these are the key lessons that I have learned from building PeerFX. Of course there's much more than this, but off the top of my head these are the most important ones. The following posts will be on the processes for the different milestones the business has achieved.

Cheers to our first post! Stay tuned!