In early June I took part in Webinale Berlin – a holistic event with an ambition to embrace and combine the business, technology and design perspectives on web and mobile development, e-commerce, conversion, social media, online marketing, tech start-ups, etc. It is with such a formula that the conference organizers attempted to build bridges between web developers, designers, entrepreneurs and managers. They did a good job.\ This blog post presents the key takeaways. Some of them are directly related to the conference content; others were discovered in connection with the event, i.e., either while preparing for the conference or exploring some of the themes identified there.
1. Markus Kempkes on IT infrastructure for startups & other topics\ I guess Markus delivered one of the most interesting presentations I saw at the event: a presentation that offered many practical, down-to-earth tips for those who are building a tech firm and also encompassed a wide spectrum of issues an entrepreneur needs to address. Thus, the presentation went beyond what was promised in its title. Some noteworthy thoughts:
- Your IT infrastructure, incl. the process tools used, is determined by the type of client you target. When you change your target market – for example, when you start to target bigger enterprise clients – you need to transition your infrastructure to fit in with their expectations. It is a good idea to develop an IT / application strategy upfront and have a plan along which to progress with infrastructure scaling.
- When you decide on the technology stack for your project, you do not choose merely a platform but rather – much more broadly – a specific ecosystem with its strengths and weaknesses, e.g. PHP, Rails, .NET. Keep the ecosystem, rather than just the platform, in mind when taking decisions.
- With regard to cutting-edge technologies – avoid using them unless they are needed to ensure the competitive advantage of your product / business. Some entrepreneurs / firms decide to use the newest technologies just because they are fashionable. Such technologies, however, come at an extra – often significant – cost (if only because the service provision / supply is scarce), and the crucial question is if there really is justification for the extra expense. In principle, favour commodity over cutting-edge technologies.
- If you cannot find the developers you need in Germany, consider outsourcing to CEE, to countries like Rumania, Bulgaria or Poland. Source carefully, and you may find reliable teams who can deliver quality work on your project. When you choose to outsource, focus on vendors with 10-20 staff members, i.e., the size that is likely to ensure a sufficiently comprehensive service, a level of team stability and enough care and attention to meet your needs. Vendors over or under this range may fail in one respect or another.
- Specific average prices quoted by Markus for CEE (as of June 2012): the daily rate of 350-450 euro for the System Architect and 150-250 euro for the Developer, which is, very roughly, half of what you pay when outsourcing to a local service provider in Germany.
- Regarding the team architecture, your CTO should be a System Architect. Senior Developer is not enough to fill in the position.
2. Mobile development
To begin with, I would like to express my gratitude to Enough Software – a mobile development firm from Bremen – as well as all the contributors behind the Mobile Developer’s Guide To The Galaxy- a non-commercial (free), community-driven overview of mobile technologies for\ developers and decision-makers. I have no hesitation whatsoever in quoting the testimonials from the back cover: “The most comprehensive and concise guide to developing for mobile.” “Extremely helpful content, also for non-developers.” Embrace the opportunity!
If you are into mobile development, I strongly recommend you watch the presentationdelivered by Markus Bokowsky @MarkusBokowsky from Bokowsky + Laymanm GmbH: Executive Summary – App-Entwicklung für Entscheider. I truly enjoyed the well-structured, process-oriented approach Markus advocates in his presentation. The systematic approach may very well help you bring the complexity of mobile development projects under control. Lots of practical tips and tricks. Great content! Great delivery!
3. The human side of tech – soft skills for techies
I used my voucher to buy the book “Agile Developers Skills” by Christoph Mathis @krishan_mathis and Andreas Wintersteiger. I hoped to find an overview of the typical KSA&Os one would expect to find in a professional software developer. I found more than I had expected. I particularly enjoyed the chapters devoted to soft / non-technical skills, attitudes and values software developers need in order to collaborate in teams / communities and execute projects effectively. The authors are very comprehensive in their approach. What’s more, the bibliography in the book led me to discover a series of excellent books devoted exclusively to the topic:
- Soft Skills für Softwareentwickler: Fragetechniken, Konfliktmanagement, Kommunikationstypen und -modelle,
- Soft Skills für IT-Führungskräfte und Projektleiter: Softwareentwickler führen und coachen, Hochleistungsteams aufbauen,
- Soft Skills für IT-Berater: Workshops durchführen, Kunden methodisch beraten und Veränderungen aktiv gestalten
The last one still has not been published, yet I hope it will match the previous two in quality.
I have to admit that I so far have not managed to find equally thorough publications on the topics in English. Uwe Vigenschow, Björn Schneider @BjornSchneiderand Ines Meyrose – have delivered a great service to those who need to explore the issues the authors write about in the books mentioned – I wholeheartedly recommend their publications.\ By the way, those attending the parallel RailsWayCon had an opportunity to find out more about the skill of rhetoric in a presentation delivered by Joseph Wilk. Joseph generously shared practical tips and tricks on how to discuss your ideas as well as persuade and motivate your audiences.
4. Web resources on German start-ups
If you would like to find out more about the German start-up scene, explore the web resources cited below.
Thanks to the guy who recommended them to me.
5. The ABC… pitch template
If you are working on the business concept of your venture, and especially if you need to pitch it to your stakeholders, consider using a neat pitch template presented by Christoph Räthke – a co-founder of the Berlin Mobile Mondays and the founder of the Berlin Startup Academy – an initiative behind an accelerator program meant to support entrepreneurs and enterprise intrapreneurs in their quests to convert ideas into digital businesses.\ The template (on slides 19-20 / at 21:34) may be viewed as a series of key questions which may help you develop a succinct and coherent story behind your venture; the story which will hopefully grasp the imagination of the people you are trying to win over. If not sure where to start, start with the pitch template.\ It may look like a minimalistic narrative rendition of the business model canvas or so, and as such enable you to arrive at the very core of your business concept. By the way, you can develop the pitch for your venture as well as for yourself as a specific person / contributor.
When it comes to financing,
- Daniel Höpfner – a start-up founder, consultant and mentor – showed himself as the man to turn to if you intend to support your start-up with public money in Germany.
- Christian Musfeldt @musfeldt– an investment manager and legal counsel – tried to balance the perspectives of those who seek and offer capital investments. In doing so, he himself offered a few useful tips for those who need to rely on investors to grow their business ventures.
- the investors’ panel provided an opportunity to get to know a broad spectrum of investor types. There were both more traditional start-up investors, e.g., Benjamin Rohe (MASAF) / Tobias Johann (Rheingau Founders) offering seed financing / incubation support as well as those who venture into new territories in financing, for example, Jens -Uwe Sauer @juwes from seedmatch – a crowdfunding platform for start-ups or Aljoscha Kaplan @joschak from GMPVC with their “media for equity” offering.
Interestingly enough, the epitome of the classic corporation – Deutsche Telecom – also seems to have been working on an offering for entrepreneurs: hub:raum – an incubator which is supposed to “support founders via seed funding, mentoring, corporate power and expert network.”
7. Creativity requires structure and discipline!
Gabriel Yoran @GabrielBerlin, the founder of Steganos and the location-based social network aka-aki, delivered an insightful presentation on branding and naming. In short, there is room for analysis and planning, and only afterwards is there room for creativity. As regards the former, the creative brief (slide 27) should help those who are to develop their branding messages. Work on it first, and then let your creativity unfold within the boundaries set by the brief. You are thus more likely to be coherent and effective when selecting a name for your venture or crafting your brand messages.\ BTW, if you are not sure if the name you would like to choose has been registered yet, check it at uspto.gov.
That brings me to the end of the article. I believe at least some readers, be they entrepreneurs, product owners or developers, will be able to benefit from some of the takeaways presented above. Good luck!