entrepreneurship

Google is a smart company and Sundar Pichai is a smart man.

When Android One was first announced at Google I/O, I didn’t fully understand what the program did. New details have emerged in a BBC article, and I have to say, it’s genius.

I’ve consulted for an Indonesian company before interested in launching its own tablet. It was not an easy process. They had to meet many potential vendors in China, test an endless list of components and spend a lot of time haggling over price. Even then, prototypes were often disappointing from a price-to-performance ratio point of view. It was a huge management challenge, especially for a company whose strength is marketing and distribution.

The Android One program makes all that easy.

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As I researched the Search Filter Host problems plaguing my Surface Pro 3 — which results in hot temperatures and low battery life — I am reminded that functionality isn’t the same thing as usability.

The search index is a good idea. Windows builds an index of your files as unobtrusively it can, so when you search for something, results instantly appear. It’s a wonderful thing when it works. This is an example of high functionality; all modern operating systems should have it.

However, Microsoft’s implementation comes at a sacrifice to usability. While you can specify which locations and file types to include in the index, Windows will try to index everything within those specifications. Good, right? Nope.

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How dumberer can people get? Even accomplished investors can do really questionable things. Take Pavel Curda, a venture capitalist, mentor at an incubator and the founder of the API Mashup Contest. His dumb thing is meeting women at tech gatherings and emailing them the following message soon after:

One Woman Finally Calls Out a Tech Investor for Creepy Advances

Yep.

The crazy thing is that this must work sometimes, else why would he keep doing it right? Well, Pavel flew too far near the sun when he tried it on Gesche Haas.

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I’ve written about the difficulty of doing a mobile apps start-up before, and this report from comScore only reinforces that argument.

According to comScore, in any given month, the majority of US smartphone users don’t download apps…at all.

Yet, mobile app usage continues to grow; apps now represent 52% of time spent with digital media.

The conundrum is that while apps are ever more important, users aren’t downloading more of them. It’s a situation where the top 1% of apps rule the roost while everyone else flounders, struggling to get discovered.

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Recently, an angel investor asked me to provide advice to a start-up in which he was the sole investor. I researched the space and came to the meeting with a hypothesis on why they weren’t doing well: the product was bad; they scaled too quickly, at one point with 50 people at the company; tried to do too many things, etc.

The founder, investor and I met up at Starbucks and after a couple hours discussion, the investor shocked the entrepreneur and me by declaring that — based on what he just heard — he’s going to liquidate the company. Wow! He later clarified with me that he was already thinking it, and wanted to get my input before he made a final decision.

I just hope I don’t cross paths with the entrepreneur…or if I do, to make sure there are plenty of witnesses around in case he decides to take violent revenge!

I share this story because something in the news about HTC’s new business unit, HTC Creative Labs, which created apps like the ZOE on HTC One, caught my eye.

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Xiaomi and OnePlus proved that it is possible to start a successful smartphone company, even with limited resources. Here’s their strategy in a nutshell:

  1. Create a compelling product for tech enthusiasts
  2. Sell it direct as a loss leader
  3. Limit production to create scarcity
  4. Build awareness and demand
  5. Sell profitable related products and services
  6. Scale production once component costs drop

Small Chinese companies like Xiaomi and OnePlus were able to create markets even while competitors like Apple and Samsung spend billions in advertising their smartphones. Their success is a blueprint for others to follow, whether you’re running an established smartphone company or starting one.

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I’ve got friends doing mobile app start-ups, and a couple of them rely on freelancers to develop their apps despite my advice not to. What I’m about to write is a generalization — not all freelancers are bad of course, but despite honest intentions, it’s usually not a good idea to hire freelancers to build your start-up’s app.

The reason is this: Incentives aren’t aligned. Entrepreneurs want a high quality product, one that will require many iterations. Freelance developers want to complete the project as quickly as possible. You will get a lot of unhappiness as a result of these two differences.

Prior to feecha, we built digital products for companies, so we understand the pressure freelancers face. The biggest cost is time: the more quickly a freelancer can complete a project, the sooner she can receive payment and move on to the next project. So it’s in her best interest to define the project brief as exactly as possible and deliver not much more. Every time the entrepreneur wants to change something, it comes at the direct expense of the freelancer; unless the freelancer can convince the entrepreneur to pay more. Not an easy conversation.

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