Life of FBi | Non-Tech Start-up Founder

Looks like a Chinaman, Sounds like an Aussie, Utterly Confusing

Archive for September 2010

What is the 7 Links Challenge?

with one comment

Doing some research for a new content site we’re starting at Blank Label Group,  I stumbled across a Problogger article on the 7 Link Challenge. For those unfamiliar, Problogger is a blog about blogging, more specifically it’s written by Darren Rose, the Melbournian (Australian) on how he makes six-figures a year from blogging. The article is an idea to publish a post with these following 7 categories:

My First Post

Literally titled My First Post, it was written and published a little over a year ago, in August 2009. Reading it, I can’t help but chuckle. I used to post at a content site, College Mogul, but slowed down because of the editorial limitations. I intended this post to be a provocative voice of truth and meaning, I would post 10 items in the first 20 days, and then slowly … I found myself running a start-up.

The Post I Most Enjoyed Writing

This was a really tough decision. Reading over my past blogs, I had a lot of fun reviewing my Mass Technology unConference last year, mostly because Bill Warner put on such an awesome event; I did a similar recap of my visit to TechCrunch 50, including a photo with conference organizer JCal;  I vainly want to point to Events to Hit Up in Boston because it was before Startup Digest‘s real move into Boston or even Greenhorn Boston existed, albeit both awesomely quality publications; but the one I truly most enjoyed actually writing had to have been my start-up visa story. It was off the back of my first real publication review (thanks Wade Roush, I’ll never forget you!) and it was a story that I was really passionate about telling.

The Post Which Had the Greatest Discussion

Now I’m not going to pretend that this blog has a following of any sort but a post I did a couple of months ago about where Blank Label, and I personally, might relocate included some interesting comments. Having started the idea for Blank Label in Shanghai, working on the business planning in Sydney, then doing most of the early execution and launch in Boston, then returning to Shanghai post-launch, I was ready to consider relocating again (yes I’m that restless). Commentators had some interesting suggestions for places I might consider, including one I never ever would’ve thought of.

A Post on Someone Else’s Blog That I Wish I’d Written

Given the title of my blog is Life of FBi | Non-Tech Start-up Founder, it would give some hint that at least half of my articles intend to be about founding a start-up being non-technical, but I’ve never really written the killer article about what a non-tech founder does at a tech start-up. Spencer Fry did. He’s the young founder of  Carbonmade, a platform designers use to show of their work. He wrote a comment on Hacker News that received 164 votes, and to put that in perspective, that’s the 10th most popular comment of all time. A big statement for one of the most respected start-up news sites. His article was an elaboration on his comment, titled What’s a Non-Programmer To Do?

My Most Helpful Post

My most recent piece is a reflection of the biggest lessons learned, specifically for a non-technical founder knowing nothing about online marketing, nothing about e-commerce, nothing about web technology, and a lot less about business than I thought. It’s a harsh reflection of a lot of young ‘business guys’ who think they have a lot of value to add in start-ups and that just being absolutely untrue.

The Post With A Title I’m the Most Proud Of

It’s Not All About The Sex

The Post I Wish More People Read

Two themes you might see running across this blog are the start-up visa, and young start-up founders. Obviously if you know me at all, you’ll know those two pertain to me very directly.  This is a post that I really hope all young, aspiring entrepreneurs get to read, especially those, who like I found, are not getting what they need out of institutionalized education. The article derisks taking time of school, weighing up the pros and cons. Disclaimer: I almost tell every student I meet to drop out of college.

What did you think abou the 7-Link Challenge, did you learn something interesting, do you plan on doing the 7-Link Challenge on your own blog? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Written by Fan Bi

September 21, 2010 at 9:42 am

Posted in General

3 Lessons in 12 Months as a Non-Technical Founder

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It is honestly a little scary to think that 12 months ago, someone came across a tweet, that linked to this very blog, that led to an email exchange, that six weeks later launched Zee and I had our first conversation in September last year, and with Alec (who designed the site) and Danny (our marketer) built and launched the site on October 31, 2009. I was still in my Babson dorm room at the time.

I like the familiarity of talking to young, first-time non-technical founders of tech start-ups. I’m often reminded of three characteristics we all share, that we often all fail at.

1. We know nothing about technology yet we think we can control programmers

Reading TechCrunch or HackerNews doesn’t mean you understand technology (referencing here specifically to consumer web tech). I wish I had read Don Rainey‘s 8 Lies Developers Tell You before I started any of this. That’s in no means a dis to the programmers I’ve worked with on Blank Label, but more a reflection of things you should generally be aware of going in.

There are some strange dynamics: you have to trust your developer(s) but can’t trust them completely, your designer and developer may only sometimes get along, you have to be patient with the development but also enforce frequent time pressures. Something I’d highly recommend reading is 37 Signal‘s Getting Real. My favorite quote; “Fix time, flex scope” in reference to launching a web app.

The best lesson I’ll give is be extremely empathetic: things always take longer, there is no quick fix, and there will always be bugs. There’s nothing that ticks of a programmer more than a ‘business guy’ who doesn’t get it.

2. We know nothing about tactics or strategy yet we want to call ourselves the ‘business guy’

So at the very least if we’re the ‘business guy’ then we should know how to set the short-term tactics to set the path to the milestones of the broader strategy right?

Granted I’m an undergraduate dropout, but unless the two dozen Harvard MBA students I’ve met are the ones in the bottom quartile, you don’t know tactics or strategy until you actually have real experience in acquiring customers and building product, whilst simultaneously managing money and building your own team. You know much less than you need, and worse, much less than you think.

This is an area where you can really use the help of experience. It is with regular conversations with advisors analyzing business metrics and customer development that you can really gain some insight as to what the next steps of your company should be. And remember, you’re decisions will almost certainly be wrong, and that’s okay. Just make sure they don’t kill you.

3. We know nothing about being a CEO yet we love to think of ourselves as the CEO

There’s been a bit of buzz around the blogosphere around what a CEO’s role should be. Fred Wilson kicked it off with What a CEO Does and Mark Suster followed up My Life as a CEO (and VC) with a really quality piece.

So as a titan of industry, I thought I’d chime in. When I’ve had moments to myself in the past 12 months, when I haven’t been working on day-to-day operations or spending time communicating with my remote team, I’ve asked myself, am I really being a CEO? If I know less about technology than our programmer, and less about customer acquisition than our marketer should I just be the operations guy rather than the CEO.

Something surprising that I’ve learnt is when you build a team, you get instant kudos from the team, even though you’re not sure why. A few things you can rely on are your charisma and leveraging the CEO title to speak with business development partners or potential investors, i.e. bring the big bacon home once a month. But you get even more respect when on daily basis you do a ton of homework and connect the dots between what your selling, how you’re selling it and how people are responding to it, i.e. bring bread to the table everyday.

Written by Fan Bi

September 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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