Category: Startups

Startups Around Blockchain Technology

Category: Bitcoin, Startups

When you mention Bitcoin, first thing that comes to people’s minds are that it’s an anonymous digital currency (it’s actually far from anonymous but that’s a discussion for another post). So it’s primarily associated with “digital money” for majority of people.

But it’s much more than that. The underlying technology that Bitcoin is built upon is called Blockchain. Blockchain in simple terms is a decentralized platform that keeps track of all the transactions ever executed on the platform. It’s transparent and it’s decentralized, in other words no central government or banking institution controls it. There are major “nodes” (or servers) that keep copy of all the transactions, and there are many other computers that sync to those nodes.

Various types of “apps” can be built on top of Blockchain, it just so happens that the first “app” is a digital money app called Bitcoin. This was intentional by the founder(s) of the Bitcoin (Satoshi Nakamoto, a person or a group of people) to include the money part within the first release of the Blockchain, so that it serves as a reward for the miners (people who solve complex algorithms to generate Bitcoin) and node maintainers to earn monetary value for their contribution to the blockchain. In simplistic terms, bitcoin to blockchain is like gmail to internet. One is a platform and a protocol, and another is an app that is built on that platform/protocol.

Types of Apps being built around Blockchain Technology

Lots of interesting startups are being developed around Blockchain. Below are some of them. I’m not going to cover the ordinary ones like Bitcoin Exchange Platforms, Bitcoin Wallets, Bitcoin Payment Processing Gateways, Bitcoin Debit Cards etc. Rather will be mentioning the more interesting ones that are leveraging on the Blockchain Technology and not necessarily the currency Bitcoin itself;

Payroll System

  • Bitwage - bitcoin based payroll system for companies. Especially useful in paying international employees or freelancer workers.

Cloud Storage

  • Storj.io - Think of it as the truly decentralized version of Dropbox, where your files’ chunks will be stored in thousands of other members’ PCs.
  • Filecoin.io – Data storage network and electronic currency based on Bitcoin.
  • Bithost.io – Normal hosting with a twist, just pay with bitcoin and no need to provide bank details.

Crowd Funding

  • Counterparty – raise funding for your startup. Think of it as a Stock Exchange based on blockchain technology that allows you to IPO on your own.
  • Koinify – Crowd funding platform specifically for blockchain related startups

full details »

OhLife Alternative

Category: Startups, Tips

It’s a shame that OhLife is shutting down. If you didn’t know what it was, it was a service where it periodically (eg; daily, weekly, monthly, depending on what you choose) sent you an email asking “How was your day today?”. You would just reply back to the same email describing your day, week, month, and it would save it in your account in OhLife.com.

And one of my favorite bits of the service was, it would include a random post from your life, saying; “Oh snap, remember this? 175 days ago you wrote…” (see above screenshot).

What I liked about the service was, it was not a burden, it was very easy to use, it didn’t force you to write. If you didn’t want, you would just ignore the reminder email and just enjoy the random post from your life.

Well, now that the service is shutting down, how can you record your life in a similar fashion?

OhLife Alternative via IFTTT

If you are not familiar with IFTTT (if this then that) service, then please check this post first. I have created a recipe in IFTTT that will do the following: Everytime you send an email with the subject #OhLife to trigger@ifttt.com it will save that email in your GoogleDocs. New entries will be added as a new row in the spreadsheet. Date and email content will be saved in the document.  full details »

How to Find Pro UI Designers for Your Startup

Category: Startups, Tips

Say, you have an idea for a startup which you would like to build MVP (minimum viable product i.e most basic version) of it but don’t know any decent UI designer who can visualize your idea and turn it into this amazing User Interface; the likes of Instagram and other similar cool apps.

If you have done web or mobile app projects of your own before, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – it’s a challenge to find pro User Interface designers.

Most of the time, prior to deciding if you should hire full-time developers and designers for your startup, optimal and cost-effective thing to do would be to outsource MVP version to freelancers. Hiring of full time staff can come later, once the app achieves product/market-fit.

For this reason, you would normally want someone who is pro and available for freelance work. Many sites like oDeskFreelancer, Elance, DesignCrowd etc have these kind of resources. But it’s really a pain to find the right person.

Melting pot for Great, Pro Designers

But there is a great platform where all the professional designers hang around, and that is on Dribbble. It’s a place where designers showcase their work and peers feedback and “like” each others’ work. It’s also a great place to find the right designer for your startup idea.

full details »

Bookurve – Amazon books, cheaper with free shipping to Malaysia

Category: General, Reviews, Startups

If you are an avid book reader in Malaysia and often purchase books from Amazon, you must already know how much the shipping fees are pain in the neck. Bookurve, a local startup that was founded by my friends Hossein and Lian Shen is addressing this issue.

Value proposition of their startup is simple;

  • Give access to wide selection of books (almost any books sold at Amazon is available on Bookurve)
  • At a cheaper price (usually 20-40% cheaper than Amazon)
  • With free shipping if you order above RM25 (for West Malaysia)

They have taken few pivots to reach to their current business model. And I’m optimistic about it, as it’s working pretty good for them.

Last week I tried out their service (mainly to see the end-to-end customer journey and provide feedback) and ordered my first book, received it few days back and couldn’t be happier :)

Give it a try..

Website: www.bookurve.com

Ideas vs Execution vs the Founder

Category: Startups

You know why some startups that are working on some of the great ideas/products fail? You would think that they have a great idea, have a great team, and have a backing of the leading VC firms in the industry, but often times they end up in the dead pool after a few years.

There are of course many reasons for their failure, but to drive the idea of this post, ceteris paribus – mostly it’s because of the person, the leader, the entrepreneur behind the idea. Yes, I think, one of the most important requirements for a startup to succeed is to have a founder who is absolutely obsessed with his/her idea (provided that product/market fit has been achieved), very passionate about it and driven by it on daily basis. And most importantly, he/she is involved in all the important decisions about the product; from marketing to design to product features to User Interfaces… etc, basically end-to-end involvement. This is necessary. It’s a pre-requisite. Especially in the early years of a startup.

It’s when founder decides to heavily delegate (or even outsource) the product development to someone else, that the problem arises. Unfortunately, this is what happens in some startups; the founder would be too focused on the business development part of the startup and have little involvement in the product development part. Or some entrepreneurs who have money would setup a company and hire someone else to run their startup for him/her. Or some entrepreneurs would decide to outsource the most important part of the startup (i.e product development part) to third party companies.

It’s also why big corporations have struggled to churn out great ideas into successful products and services. Because, in big companies, new ideas would come from top management as a directive and passed to relevant divisions and subsequently to Product Managers or “Product Owners” for execution. This kind of delegation, especially for the new and innovative ideas can be disastrous. On top of that, big corporations would have layers and layers of red tape and processes that hinder the efficient execution of an idea. Inter-department collaboration on launching new ideas can be a real pain too.

So, it’s no surprise why Amazon allowed hugely successful Zappos to run independently after its acquisition in 2009. Or why Walt Disney kept Pixar as a separate entity after its acquisition in 2006. It’s precisely for the reason to keep the company culture alive and untainted, to keep the acquired company lean and efficient. And most importantly, to let the passionate people behind these companies to run them.

Steve Jobs have said on this topic spot on in his 1995 interview called “The Lost Interview“;

You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.

And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous trade-offs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic.

And because of this, you can’t outsource your idea to someone else to make it successful for you!

Wikipedia’s Initial Idea and How it Evolved

Category: Business Insights & Advices, Startups

Wikipedia as we know it today, with more than 3.7 million articles for english version alone, had a different idea and business model altogether in the beginning that many people may not know it now.

As the story goes.. In 1999, Jimmy Wales had an idea, he wanted to create a free encyclopedia to be written by experts and PhD holders, it was called Nupedia. He reasoned, only scholars, academics and experts in a particular field would be able to write such articles. It made sense, as scholarly articles needed a lot of referential data and research, not everyone would be able to write such articles. However, in its first year, his team of “experts” were able to write only a dozen articles. They were simply too slow. This was due to many reasons, most of the academics were too busy, it was difficult to convince them to write for Nupedia, research normally took few years..etc.

So, Jimmy Wales saw that it was not working, something had to be done. He came out with a new idea. He suggested to his team, why not make it in a way that anybody can create an article, others can edit it, etc… basically early years of crowdsourcing. But the editors of Nupedia and Advisory Board were not very supportive of the idea. For them it was the opposite of what they were doing at the moment. Non-academics, and uncontrolled editing and creation of articles, they thought, would jeopardize the credibility of the articles and company as a whole. They reasoned, there would be too much error in the articles, which would render the articles useless for any scholarly reference or research.

This new idea ended up separated into different project and was called “Wikipedia” (wiki – hawaiian for quick). Within a year, there were more than 20,000 articles in it. Clearly it was a success and it was working. As for the margin of error, it was 3.86% per article, compared to 2.92% for Encyclopedia Britannica according to 2005 research by journal Nature, which is acceptable. And usually these errors get corrected over time.

Eventually, Nupedia was shutdown in 2003, and it had only 23 articles at the time of closing. And as they say, the rest is a history…

Lesson to Startups and Entrepreneurs..

Sometimes the initial idea for your startup may not work out, and you might end up doing something totally different for your startup and its direction. And this phenomenon is actually very common in startups. As Jawed Karim of YouTube said in SVC2M event in Kuala Lumpur, their initial idea for youtube was “a dating site with videos“.

So, if your first version of your product (MVP) didn’t take off, don’t despair. Find out why it didn’t take off, get feedback from your potential customers/users on what they want, after that iterate and try again!

Note: If you want to read more about wikipedia story, check this Business Week article here

Please feel free to comment about your own experiences or of any companies that you know which changed their business model, direction, idea drastically from the original one.