What Startups Should Worry About: Peldi Guilizzoni’s 2010 Business of Software Conference Presentation

Sun, Nov 7, 2010 by

This post is part of a series of posts from the 2010 Business of Software conference (BoS2010). For a summary of the conference, and an index to the other presentations, click here.

Peldi’s 2010 Business of Software presentation: “Do Worry… Be Happy!” – One thing they don’t tell you about quitting your job to become a startup CEO is how much you’re going to worry about things.

Peldi Guilizzoni & Zuly Gonzalez at BoS2010

Peldi was my favorite BoS2010 presenter. He started off with a really cool Bobby McFerrin video, and kept the energy going all the way to the end. His presentation was candid, and very inspiring. I hope they post Peldi’s presentation online, because there is no way I can do it justice here.

After his presentation, I had the opportunity to talk to Peldi. He’s such a nice guy! He’s very humble, and someone you can easily relate to. He’s the type of guy you want to succeed.

What Startup Owners Worry About

What do startup owners worry about? Everything! What should startup owners worry about? Well, not everything.

It’s actually really hard to choose to ignore certain threats, but it’s crucial for your business’s success. Deciding what’s worth worrying about is not an easy task, and can seem daunting at times – but it’s a necessary skill to learn. And even more important than learning to decide which concerns are worth worrying about, is learning to cope, and live with, the uncomfortable emotions that result from trying to ignore these lesser important issues.

In his 2010 Business of Software presentation, Peldi shares some of the issues that concern him, and discusses which ones are worth worrying about, and which ones are not. Peldi also shares some tips to overcome, and deal with, those fears.

Why You Should Listen To Peldi

Why should you listen to Peldi? Well just take a look at his revenue chart below. $2M in just 27 months! I’d say he knows a thing or two about running a successful software business.

Peldi Guilizzoni's Balsamiq Revenue Chart at BoS2010

Image credit: Mark Littlewood

What Startup Owners Should Not Worry About

Peldi started off by discussing three common fears startup owners worry about, but shouldn’t.

Asking customers to pay for your product. We have been paying for products since the beginning of time – I want something you have, so I’ll trade you for something you want (usually cash). But, for some reason we have this weird aversion towards paying for software. (Side note: I’m not totally sure why that is, but I suspect it has something to do with the internet being “free”, and the wide abundance of free software you can find online these days. My guess is that pre-internet it wasn’t so hard to imagine someone paying cash for a piece of software.)

So, don’t worry about asking customers to pay for your product – it’s a basic concept. And in general, if you have a decent product, people will pay for it. HubSpot co-founder, Dharmesh Shah, and other startup experts, suggest you start charging for your product as soon as possible, because you get way better feedback from paying customers.

Not having enough time. There will never be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything you need to. We all have this problem, and it’s one that will never go away, but worrying about it will only make things worse – and take your time away from working on real issues. Prioritize your tasks, and complete the most important ones first. The rest can wait until tomorrow.

Pirates. Software pirates that is…not the ones off the coast of Somalia. You’ll never have 100% guarantee that no one will steal your software. You can take steps to prevent most people from doing so, but you’ll be hard pressed to stop a really determined individual. Plus this is becoming more of a non-issue these days with the movement towards SaaS. The little bit of money you will lose from software pirates is not worth the time spent trying to stop them. Don’t worry about it, take it as a compliment, and move on.

 

Peldi Guilizzoni Discussing Software Pirates at BoS2010

Image credit: ©John M. P. Knox

Common Startup Fears

When to quit your full-time job. After working on his wireframing tool part-time for several months, Peldi decided to take a leap of faith, and quit his job at Adobe. This was before his company was profitable. Making this decision is not an easy one, and will vary from person to person. There are a lot of things you need to consider, such as:

  • How much savings you have
  • Who else this decision will impact (do you have kids, a wife/husband, or other dependents)
  • Your risk tolerance
  • How far away your startup is to profitability
  • The likelihood of success

(Personal note: This is something I have been struggling with for several months now. I reached a point where I can no longer take going into work everyday. I’ve realized how much better it is to work for myself than to work for someone else. However, I’m very risk adverse, and I’m afraid I still need my full-time job to survive. We are not at the point yet where we can sell our product, Light Point Web, so my full-time job is paying the bills right now. I do have a little bit of savings, but it’s not enough to last until Light Point Security is profitable.)

Having competition. You should embrace your competition. Competition is a validation of your market, and your idea. If there is no competition maybe that means there is also no market to be had. In fact, you want to create something so good that people will want to copy it. You can also learn from your competition’s mistakes to make your product even better.

Building the wrong product. What if no one wants to buy your product? That’s a reasonable fear to have. It’s important to be flexible, and realize that your final product may not look anything like your initial vision. The key is to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Listen to your customers, and modify your product if necessary. In the beginning, customer feedback is far more important than money, because it allows you to shape your product into something that the masses will want, and pay for.

Work/Life balance. You can’t spend every waking moment working on your business, and ignore your family in the process. You need a good balance that works for you, and your family. After all, they’re probably the reason why you’re doing this. Peldi’s strategy is to work while his family is sleeping, so they won’t know that he’s ignoring them.

Not being noticed. These days everyone wants to get on TechCrunch, or on the front page of Digg. The trick is to be so remarkable you can’t be ignored. Getting noticed is great – it’s what you want. But be careful what you wish for, it can also be a bad thing if you’re not prepared.

Picking a niche that is too small. A small market can be a good thing for a startup, because it is much easier to lead. Peldi gave the example of Bingo Card Creator – a very small market. Seriously, when was the last time you had to create your own Bingo cards?…When was the last time you played Bingo? Although it’s a tiny niche, Patrick McKenzie (a BoS2010 Lightning Talk speaker) is making it work. And so can you.

Peldi Guilizzoni discusses small niches at BoS2010

Image credit: Betsy Weber

Finding advisors/mentors. Peldi has no formal method for finding advisors. The most important thing is to be yourself. The best advisor is one who you feel comfortable with, and can trust. It does you no good to have the top expert in your field (better known as Frank to those of us who attended BoS2010) as an advisor, if you can’t feel comfortable enough with him to discuss all of your business problems in excruciating detail. So look for someone you click with – someone who would be your friend even without the expertise.

Learning. Peldi suggests you read as much as you can. Especially before you start your venture, because you’ll be too busy to read after you’ve started. Peldi highly recommends you read You Need To Be a Little Crazy: The Truth About Starting and Growing Your Business. The book details all the horrible things that can go wrong while running a business. Peldi says it’ll scare you more than anything. However, if you still decide to pursue your venture after reading it, not only are you truly committed to the idea, but you will also be ready for the troubles that lay ahead.

Dealing with the business side. Most software startup owners are technical people. We are good at what we do technically, but we have no previous business experience. Developing a great product isn’t enough to succeed, you also need business brilliance. Most of us have never worked with accountants or lawyers in the past, dealt with payroll or EULAs, or heard of terms such as accrual versus cash or NAICS codes. Peldi says you need to fake it. Pretend you have expensive lawyers and accountants behind you. Pretend you are the CEO of more than a one-man startup. Always say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, even if it is just you.

Feeling like a fraud. Peldi has been extremely successful with Balsamiq, yet he doesn’t feel he is at the same level as the other BoS2010 speakers. Feeling like a fraud is not all that uncommon among successful startup owners. In fact, research shows that 40% of successful people consider themselves frauds, and 70% of all people feel like fakes at one time or another. It’s fine to have these thoughts. The trick is to use these thoughts to improve your product. Don’t let them take over you, and destroy your business. Talk to an advisor, or other people you trust, about your fear – they will help you.

Raising capital. This isn’t always necessary, especially for software startups which require very little capital to get started. One option is to retain your full-time job, and work on your venture part-time until it takes off. Another option is to use your savings to fund your startup. Unless you are looking to be the next Facebook, don’t worry about raising capital, make due with what you can easily get.

When should you start hiring. It’s important you don’t hire employees too early. You could end up in a situation where you don’t have enough work for them, but are still paying them just the same. Peldi waited a long time before hiring his first employee. His suggestion is to “wait until you are about to die” before hiring someone.

Forgetting something important. A great way to remember things is to write them down. Peldi chooses to blog. Blogging is a way to record what you’ve done, what you want to do, and ask for feedback from your customers/readers. A side benefit of blogging is its marketing effect. Blogging shows your human side, and hopefully your personality will shine through. People rather buy from people than companies.

Creating a business plan. Writing a business plan is a good way to organize your thoughts, and really think about the viability of your business idea. However, it’s not something you should obsess over. The truth is that nobody reads business plans anyway. It’s a must have if you are looking for investors, but don’t fool yourself into believing that they will actually read the whole thing. And when an investor does look at it, he is just looking for all the reasons why he shouldn’t do business with you. Investors also know that the financial projections in your business plan are completely unrealistic. So write a trimmed down version for yourself, and move on.

Key Takeaway From Peldi’s BoS2010 Presentation

As you run your business, you will worry about almost everything, however, not everything is worth worrying about. Only worry about the important things – the rest will eventually work itself out.

Fun Facts About Peldi

I learned a couple of things about Peldi during his talk:

Memorable Quotes

Some memorable quotes from Peldi’s BoS2010 presentation:

  • “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
  • “Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”
  • “Create something so good people will want to copy it.”
  • “If you work while they [your family] sleep, they won’t know you’re ignoring them.”

More on Peldi Guilizzoni

Peldi Guilizzoni of Balsamiq at the 2010 Business of Software conference

Image credit: ©John M. P. Knox

Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni is the founder and CEO of Balsamiq, makers of Balsamiq Mockups, a wireframing tool for programmers, UX experts, and even business types. Balsamiq has been a bit of a poster child for a new wave of tiny but ambitious bootstrapped tech startups, netting over $1.6M in sales in the first 18 months of operation and gathering rave reviews. Peldi is a champion of the “radical transparency” trend that’s sweeping the Internet, through his posts on the Balsamiq blog.

You can find Peldi’s personal blog here, and his Balsamiq product blog here.

Follow Peldi on Twitter here.

What are your thoughts on Peldi’s presentation? If you attended BoS2010, did I miss an important point? What was your favorite part of Peldi’s presentation? What was your key takeaway from his talk?