How to run a startup, a quick and dirty guide

What we do at Merkapt

I’ve read too many startup post-mortems lately. “If only we would have done X instead of Y and Z we would have wasted less time and money and maybe survived”. And yet, all these late epiphanies are just rediscovering what is explained over and over in the ecosystem. What goes wrong, why doesn’t it stick? After discussing online with a few of you, I’ve tried to get to the core of how to run a startup, as a quick and dirty guide for first-timers.

As to be perfectly clear this “guide” only concerns EARLY STAGE STARTUPS. Early stage meaning from pre-launch to 12 months post-launch. And startup meaning you intend to innovate (more on this afterward) AND you’re expect to get in fast or even exponential growth (this part is usually widely forgotten in Europe). That you are a tech, digital, deep tech or whatever startup will be largely irrelevant for me here.

In this exercise, I tried to distill everything that really matters into 5 core principles. These are the ones that I honestly believe anyone with a significative experience with startups, and no vested interested in selling you their crap, will tell you.

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My perspectives on the future of digital economy in 42 bullet-points

the future of digital economy - innovation copilots

I have been doing a lot of work on the future of digital economy for various multinationals these last months. Part of the work is to map the key driving forces that are shaping the future of the markets.

It’s not about checking the latest technologies hype, because it’s essentially irrelevant and doesn’t really produce solid foresighting. Remember five years ago when everyone was focused on the emergence of the internet of things? After everyone tried to connect its fridge or spread bluetooth objects in retail spaces, what happened? Nothing much.

It’s also not so much about just checking where the internet is at the moment (in which case you should read the always remarquable Mary MEEKER’s report). But that again, is very tech oriented, and while Alibaba and a few others are discussed, it’s also eminently US-oriented. And this is a problem on so many levels.

That being said, if you’re in the business of seeing where the digital markets are going to shape the next five years, this is in 42 bullet points what I think you should consider as key events and drivers:

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The US just forced China to commit to full digital sovereignty

trumpocalypse - innovation copilots

I’m in Vietnam right now and don’t have a lot of time to share my thoughts and a thorough analysis. I just want to pin that down for further reference:

China has spent nearly two decades building a digital wall between itself and the rest of the world, a one-way barrier designed to keep out foreign companies like Facebook and Google while allowing Chinese rivals to leave home and expand across the world. Now President Trump is sealing up that wall from the other side.

NYT, 2019, May 20 by Li Yuan

I can’t agree more.

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Innovate in Mumbai, Sell in San Francisco

innovate in mumbai sell in san francisco

Remember how since 2008 India was supposed to be an innovation force to be reckoned with? We had hundreds of keynotes on Jugaad innovation , bottom-up innovation, etc. Look it up, it’s fascinating that no one remembers that anymore. End result: not much, if anything really. This didn’t change anything in London, Paris or San Francisco, not even in Mumbai. But lo and behold, India seems to be back with a new idea on innovation: ride-sharing motorbikes.

Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking right now. What’s new?

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Why Startups Fail

why startup fail

You might not remember ANKI Robotics, an hardware and AI startup featured onstage at an Apple event in 2013. Well, this company folded yesterday and had to fire 200 employees after burning through $200 million in capital funding (including Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz). And ANKI was not idle in the market, it was generating around $100 million in revenue since 2017. This is not small potatoes!

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So, now Apple is a bank (finally?)

In 2013, Apple launched Apple Pay as both a digital wallet and a mobile payment service, and now Apple is a bank?

Up to now, even with iPhones NFC capabilities, biometric authentication and the very robust Apple ecosystem, Apple Pay wasn’t a amazing success. An extra feature in Apple’s ecosystem yes, not a revolution. And since then, I’ve been waiting for more news and more commitment to this service.

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Innovation is not about being smart and fast

innovation 2030 plan - innovation copilots

There is this on-going fallacy about innovation. Innovation should be about being smart and and being fast. Or at least, smarter and faster than competitors. Seeing the next big thing, catching the next wave, seizing the white space, finding the blue ocean… These narratives are all about a promised Eden, hidden from the masses of companies that are not smart enough to read the market or the technology.

If we unpack this mindset, we get the following familiar reasoning:

  1. There will be an optimal way to go ahead and outcompete everyone else;
  2. We are then at point A in time and need to go to B (the future optimum);
  3. Investment is needed and we’ll have ROI when at B;
  4. Going from A to B shall then be as fast as possible;
  5. Knowing where B is, requires intuition if we’re looking into it too early;
  6. If we are too late (others are already getting to B) we’ll need to spend more money and, as followers, get less ROI.
  7. We obviously need to be smart to be just in time to run for B.
  8. Rinse and repeat.

This has been taught in every innovation class of every business school, university and tech entrepreneurship class since 1962, when Everett ROGERS modelled his diffusion of innovation theory.
Let me make the case that it’s actually a terrible (terrible) reasoning. Continue reading “Innovation is not about being smart and fast”

How to Feed Digital Monkeys (a discusssion on Status as a Service)

status as a service - innovation copilots

Eugene WEI has been writing on tech since 2001. I’m not going to sell you his CV that goes from Facebook to Hulu and Flipboard. Let it just be said that he knows what he’s talking about. And his latest article he’s writing on Status as a Service and this is one of the most remarkable reading I had on the digital social media and consumerism.

He starts of by dissecting how traditional network effects are twisted in social networks through three axis (social capital, entertainment and utility):

There are several different paths to success for social networks, but those which compete on the social capital axis are often more mysterious than pure utilities. Competition on raw utility tends to be Darwinian, ruthless, and highly legible. This is the world, for example, of communication services like messaging and video conferencing. Investing in this space also tends to be a bit more straightforward: how useful is your app or service, can you get distribution, etc. (…) The creation of a successful status game is so mysterious that it often smacks of alchemy. For that reason, entrepreneurs who succeed in this space are thought of us a sort of shaman, perhaps because most investors are middle-aged white men who are already so high status they haven’t the first idea why people would seek virtual status (more on that later).

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What is the shelf life of Zuckerberg point of view on entrepreneurship?

Am I the only one that wonder why we still ask rock-star CEOs what was their recipe for success? I understand the father figure thing. But the 2019 market, its digital environment and socio-economics have nothing much to do with what they had to face in 2004. What can a Mark Zuckerberg or a Jeff Bezos tell us about launching a startup in 2019? At what point do we file their inspirational quotes with the ones of Tesla, Bell or Ford?

But even so, in these ‘inspiring’ talks we never take into account the survivor bias: the CEOs we look up to are the ones that survived. Were they extremely shrewd and visionary or just plain lucky? Or more exactly, what was the proportion of shrewdness vs. luck? And what is really transferable to you and your project? Shall we also work on the cultural bias? What white american males have to share with  woman in China or India? (Even when taking into account that many of these US guys were immigrants.)

I’m just saying… Finding inspiring people is probably a game you want to play looking forward, not in the rear view mirror.

Business Model Canvas for Innovators

business model for innovators - innovation copilots - icopilots

I already made a case in 2016 for letting go of the now generic business model canvas. Story short: it’s a fantastic training tool. As such, it’s very open and can be used by a lot of  trainers, consulting enthusiasts, or business schools. The price to pay is that it’s a blunt tool with no credo, no vision, and worse: no teeth!

Innovation is a contact game that is played at high velocity. We require sharper tools.

Let’s see how it works shall we? Continue reading “Business Model Canvas for Innovators”