Jump starting the “Startup” Culture here in T&T

the social networkI don’t know about you guys, but when I saw “the social network”, the story based on how Facebook came to be, I got really excited about my craft all over again. I actually saw this movie … probably about a year and a half after it came to movie theatres but I felt like it was the right time for me to see it. Beyond the general narrative of the Zuckerberg vs. the Winklevoss brothers, the idea that some smart young people can come up with a great idea and refine it over time to produce something that changes the world is what I’ve been dreaming about since I started coding in BASIC on on my TRS 80 when I was 8.

Having been in the Harvard district recently, where some of the movie was based, I was really able to connect with the underlying ‘vibe’ of the movie and one of the things that excites me most of all is this … it is largely possible to start the same type of business right here in Trinidad and the region in general — but we have to see the opportunity and seize it. I am very encouraged by the number of companies that I see on a continuous basis being started here in Trinidad related to software and other forms of technology. We seemed to have had fairly good computer related training here in Trinidad, but in my many years here, I have seen a number of companies struggle and heard many others complain about the ability to get technology related businesses going.

I read things at times that can either encourage you or discourage you … but as a Trinidadian we also have a tendency to, as we like to say, get “bad mind” which essentially means that we become resolute and determined to push through in spite of what others say or what the indications … uhh … indicate =)

I recently came across “TechCrunch Cribs” videos and was really encouraged to see what startups actually look like. I recall speaking with an accounts teacher years ago in one of my accounting classes and in one lesson she said, “Okay, so we’re going to start a business. How much do you need to get started?”, my response was “75 thousand”. I thought this was modest actually, where as she was shocked. Since then I have been questioning and paying attention to a tendency of mine to over prepare before I get started on something…

Not sure if you guys use justin.tv, but I’ve been using this online streaming service for a while now and found it really interesting to see their “crib” at the following link:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/21/tc-cribs-inside-the-escheresque-home-of-justin-tv-and-socialcam/

Check out some of the other TC Cribs videos and tell me that you don’t get charged up about doing what you love and doing it the way that you wanna do it!?

dictionary.com’s second definition of a Startup

adjective

of or pertaining to the beginning of a new project or venture, especially to an investment made to initiate such a project, as in a commercial or industrial enterprise: high start-up costs.

Eric Reis defines a startup differently. His lean development methodology is one that I think extremely applicable in our context

Eric Ries @ RailsConf 2011

 

Also have a look at Eric Reis’ interview on TechCrunch here http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/14/lean-startup-eric-ries-tctv/

According to Eric Reis

A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty

Startup = Experiment

Eric believes that the true purpose of a startup is not to make money, but rather to learn how to build a sustainable business around a particular product or set of products. This certainly changed my perception of the “startup”.

Another description of a startup definition that I found interesting comes from Paul Graham in his November 2005 blog post on “How to fund a startup”

… isn’t the consulting company itself startup? No, not generally. A company has to be more than small and newly founded to be a startup. There are millions of small businesses in America, but only a few thousand are startups. To be a startup, a company has to be a product business, not a service business. By which I mean not that it has to make something physical, but that it has to have one thing it sells to many people, rather than doing custom work for individual clients. Custom work doesn’t scale. To be a startup you need to be the band that sells a million copies of a song, not the band that makes money by playing at individual weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Again, these definitions help to crystalize what it means to build a startup. Go check out his post. Fair warning though, it is pretty long.

In thinking about starting a technology product based business, I’ve always thought about a couple of very specific problems

ISSUE POTENTIAL SOLUTION
Funding I believe that there are more local companies willing to invest in local IT startups. As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have come to realize that you can start small and grow as necessary. The respective costs of several requirements for tech business is now very affordable, these include:- Broadband connectivity (very affordable now)
– Office productivity tools (Google or Office 365)
– Website & Product hosting services (many options)
– Computer hardware (very affordable in TT)
– etc
Market Many articles list a fairly large market as a key ingredient for a startup. Well, two things; firstly, according to the lean software development methodology, a startup’s focus should first be to build a great product then ride that product to success which leads to the second point which is that when that happens, internet companies have the global internet as their market place and can then make arrangements to market in the valley or other cities in the world as necessary.
Scaling Scaling up and down with user demand is critical when shifting gears from startup mode into profit and delivery mode. In the past this usually meant heavy investments in Hardware and Software and the relevant building, power and human resources necessary to support them. Now we have the Cloud. While it not perfect, it certainly takes a whole lot of the burden off of small companies attempting to compete in the larger market with the bigger fish who have far deeper pockets.

These are some of the challenges that startups face. It may be that I’m being a bit naive regarding the nature and the amount of challenges that startups face, but I’m about to beta test these theories myself. I’ll be sure to let keep you guys in the loop.

I hope I’m not the only one that’s excited about the possibilities to building very successful companies right here in the Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, and as always, I’m extremely interested in getting feedback from you guys on what you think about this topic.

Take a few minutes and leave a comment =)

 

Cheers.

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