startup

Roooster Is Shutting Down

It was a long journey for us here at Roooster.

We started working on the idea of a business platform for creative professionals in early 2015. We believed, and still do, that the time has come to present the world with a new method of doing business: where independent professionals are not just Continue reading →

Posted by Samuel Miller in entrepreneurship, 0 comments

So What Is Roooster All About?

We started Roooster out of our own experiences and frustrations: Chasing projects, only to find, once we won the bid, that we have none of our favorite team members available. Continue reading →

Posted by Samuel Miller in entrepreneurship, 0 comments

How Is Sharing Caring?

This is Africa: I drove with my host around Soweto, when he threw his plastic water bottle out of his passenger’s seat window. To my protest, he just smiled and said “sharing is caring”. I noticed while driving around these roads, how the shoulders were littered with bottles and cans, plastic bags, cardboard boxes and old rags. Now, as he kept smiling, I started noticing the people walking on the side of the road, picking up stuff. “Everything is recycled here”, my host continued: “nothing is left unused”.

Roooster is a solution based on the idea of sharing. Obviously, freelancers can’t be compared to used water bottles: water bottles don’t get to decide if they want to be refilled or not. In this competitive independent studio market, sharing is perceived as a problem, and for a very good reason:

Being someone who relies on a freelance workforce, you want to have an edge on your competitors, to signify you as unique and make you stand out from the rest. You hire only the most talented professionals, those who you already know have both the skills and the work ethics to provide the best contribution to your project. But how can you establish this edge, when the talents we use for our projects are also employed by other studios? Our competitors?

The answer is simple: every studio has a leader, someone who distinguishes the studio by their quality of work, by the creative ingenuity or by the speed of delivery. For the busy studio, there is always need for a fresh talent to join a project’s team. This person, if they’re good, will probably be constantly busy with many creative leaders queuing up to hire them.

So how does one make sure that the project is teamed by the best available talents? Evidently, a big list of high quality contacts is needed, because, as a creative leader, if you blink for a minute, you’ll find that all of your precious contacts are already employed by other studios.
And it is a good thing: it tells you that your previous projects were part of the reason these people were hired for their current project. It is also Your work which is evaluated by your peers. You do the same: appreciate other studios’ work and try to contact people from their credit rolls.

There is this African code of sharing one’s good fortune with those who need it. If you have a good job and a steady income, it is basically your moral obligation to hire a housekeeper. This piece of information, believe it or not, was provided by my host as an answer to my question why there is no self-service gas station in South Africa. For the same reason, in this industry, where high-value professionals sometimes find it hard to market themselves, they rely a lot on the recommendations of those with whom they have worked. If you can’t provide your dear freelance a job right now, why not help them get hired? By the time you’ll work together again, you will also benefit from the gained experience.

Exchanging contacts is a great way to communicate with other studios. Sometimes you recommend a brilliant illustrator and get the details of a 3D modeller to build your fantasy castle. Sometimes you ask for a character designer, and get “go fish” as an answer. Besides, there is absolutely no reason to think that the creative freelancers that you keep in your secret address book are, well, a secret.

 

Posted by Samuel Miller in Blog, entrepreneurship, 0 comments

Marry Poppins case: Who is in charge of hiring?

While Marry Poppins is used very often as an example to explain gamification (because “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go doooown”) there is a different case to be made from the 1964 film and it is about recruitment of professionals. Weirdly enough, it is alarmingly similar to the situations I found myself when hiring a web designer, only without a star talent gliding down with umbrella from the sky.

For me, the most unbelievable thing about Marry Poppins was not her umbrella flights or her crossing over to animated reality. The hardest thing for me was to believe that the adorable children in need of a nanny could be considered mischievous or misbehaved. Why would a nanny resign in such a protest? Sure, the kids disappeared again, being dragged away by their kite, but where was the nanny? Oh well, this is a Disney film. Julie Andrews had it easy as a nanny, first with the Banks kids and later with the Von Trapp seven. Yes, they did some pranks, but comparing with my kids, they’re pretty docile. and docile is what some project managers, corporations and even some creative leaders want their employees and freelancers to be. They are often regarded as highly valuable assets who don’t necessarily know what’s good for them or for the greater good.

When it comes down to recruiting new hires, executives tend to act just like Mr. Banks, the father. They receive requirements from the “children”, only to ignore them, while letting HR, or a project manager / producer compile a different set of requirements.
The difference between Marry Poppins and reality, is that in real life, a star talent is not blowing away the competition to be singled out and present the corporate with no alternative for the position.

Marry Poppins was the perfect match to the children’s original list of requirements, to the dismay of HR (which, for the sake of argument, is Mr. Banks). For one, she did not fit the “corporate culture” of stern, no-nonsense professionals (the cook, the maid). However, she did allow the children to change this culture into a creative, imaginative and fun dynamic.
Professional services for recruiting new hires often work against the interests of the hiring professional. This happens as HR specialists believe they know better that the recruiting party, with whom they should be working. It can be a corporate department or an external recruitment service working for small businesses. Marry Poppins’ case for recruitment shows the negative points of using recruitment specialists:

1. Advertising the wrong requirements for the job
2. Ignoring the stakeholders
3. Accepting only candidates who fit the bill exactly, with no differentiating qualities

Of course, dealing directly with the task of finding the perfect person for the job, is extremely time consuming. There are almost no shortcuts to it. The burden is much higher for independent studios, when the need to hire arises several times per month, according to project necessity. Well, there are many cases where you can let other people do the job for you, but talent recruitment isn’t one of them.

Posted by Samuel Miller in Blog, entrepreneurship, 0 comments

This is Roooster

As an owner of a creative studio in London, I have very few in-house employees. Like many other design companies, we are heavily depending on freelances to help with the ongoing projects. This is a good thing: our work is not limited by skill, location or staff. Working with freelancers, both on-site and remotely, allow our studio to adapt fast, be very versatile in style and discipline, keep our overheads low and work with exciting artists and clients from around the world. But this flexibility comes at a price: The grueling and constantly recurring task of chasing after available freelance artists or scouting for new ones.

Being a design professional is supposed to be living the dream, to challenge ourselves with new ways of thinking and explore our creative boundaries. Starting our own studios meant we felt responsible enough to take on bigger projects, so we get it: there are managerial tasks, more accounting and there’s also constant hiring of freelancers. Gone are the days of setting up shop and working with an in-house staff of 9 to 5 artists. We are constantly on the lookout for talents who meet the specific requirements of each project. These high quality professionals, are not just waiting for us to call them: they actively search for projects. 

In the domains of high quality design and creative services, there is very little comfort in using freelancer recruitment services. Even if you think you may have found the right person for the task using one of these services, you still have to spend a lot of time going through their portfolio, understanding what was their part in every project, where creative projects are often collaborative, and trying to learn from colleagues what is it like to work with this person, as the match needs to be personal as well as professional. The challenge is even bigger when trying to find a remote artist to work with.

This is why we started Roooster: We had enough browsing through hundreds of online portfolios and fancy websites that claim to understand your creative needs. Or even worse, online services that offer useless ranking systems and focusing mainly on low cost bids rather than quality. You know these sites, those which are avoided by self respecting freelance designers and artists. In Roooster we want to allow creative studio owners to share freelance information with their peers – who else can vouch for their professional contacts?

Posted by Rotem Nahlieli in entrepreneurship, 0 comments

Yoovi’s Lesson In Viral Marketing

About a year ago I met Eytan at the Google Launchpad, a startup bootcamp of sorts, in TelAviv. A year has gone by and out of that bootcamp only a handfull of startups survived.

One has managed to recruit several million dollar from investors, some gave up and moved on to the next venture and some returned to the employee workforce. Eytan Levitt is one of the entrepreneurs who made it through the year and his startup, Yoovi, is now at the final stage of its product launch – a closed beta.

The idea behind Yoovi is a photo management and sharing service for parents. Yoovi is not an ordinary mobile app and its launch requires a considerable investment. The app is at the Apple App Store for several months now, but it is an invite-only service as yet. Eytan’s challenge is double: on the one hand, potential investors require guarantee of public demand. The goal that Eytan set are pretty straight forward: 20,000 pre-enrolls will get Yoovi enough funds to complete the launch. 100,000 will fund additional services. On the other hand, the public doesn’t know Yoovi and users are constantly bombarded with messages from dozens of competing products every hour. Photo sharing is something we do every day. An average mobile user has 3 to 5 different apps they use concurrently to do this: Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Path. Yoovi has a unique niche and it does answer a specific problem for parents who take loads of photos. But in such a big ocean of apps, who will notice a unique little drop?

Eytan’s solution to these two problems was a brilliant videoclip, where he presents the idea and asks the viewers to vote for the app by adding their emails on Yoovis website. The clip was shot at the end of January, cut and edited at the beginning of February. Now all that’s left is to distribute it and hopefully make it viral.

On February 18 Eytan released the clip on his personal Facebook profile and on Yoovis page. He needed to get the required number of users within 31 days.

In startup meetups, when seasoned entrepreneurs speak in front of new entrepreneurs, they talk a lot about “evangelizing” – the  need for an entrepreneur to become a preacher or a prophet for their own venture. This is exactly what Eytan did in the days that followed the release of the clip:

Launching the campaign was a live event broadcast on Yevvo. Within several hours, with the good help of friends, he already collected 700 emails.

The following day, Yoovi’s team opened a “war room” at the Google TLV Campus. It was a viral marketing hackathon, with beer and pizzas. Friends came over to show their support and within a day the number of emails collected surpassed 4,000. Eytan practically moved into the Campus. His presence there was put to good use: on the third day he spoke in front of a group of entrepreneurs from South America. It was February 20 and responses from all over the world were pouring: a guy from New Zealand sent a moving message, someone else sent a video of herself using Eytan’s clip in a lecture about viral marketing and Saul Singer, the author of Startup Nation enlisted to the campaign, posting about it on his highly popular Facebook Page.

Yoovi’s livecast was still going strong on the fourth day, making it effectively the first TV reality event of the Israeli startup scene. Meanwhile, responses continued to flow: Eytan reported about a twit fro Saudi Arabia sharing the clip and about a CEO from one of the largest parents’online communities asking for a beta invite. On the sixth day the count was already on 8,000.

Things changed on the seventh day. It was opened in Barcellona, at the World Mobile Congress. With all due respect to hackathons and friends’support, you still need the big conventions to meet investors and get media exposure. Here is what Eytan shared on his Facebook account:

 Hello friends, first I’d like to say thank you very much to everyone that’s supporting, helping, saying nice things, sending emails.. wow.. just wow..

Yesterday was my first day in the Barcelona conference – I was in the less successful venue but I still got the maximum I could, chinese investors that really liked Yoovi and offered to invest, I also reached 3 journalists – one of them from a really big publisher.

Things I learned yesterday:

1. Always provide value – the way I got to these 3 journalists was through a panel where the crowd was participating, and I really participated and asked question that made sense to the discussion. When the panel was done the journalists came to me(!!) and said thanks for participating. 

2. Everybody is trying to fight over media’s attention, my primary goal isn’t to pitch my story, but to create rapport.

3. The “second most important person in the room technique” – when everybody wants the attention of someone, look for the person that came with him – and talk with him. It’s gets amazing results.

4. Always help – I offered someone to charge his iPhone with my mac’s USB, turns out he’s the BizDev of Rovio(Angry Birds) and really helped.

5. The parties in the night just as important as the conference – my goal for today, get access to the most important party/

6. Someone told me a great sentance – “the most content I create, the luckier I am” – HOW TRUE!! I’m thrilled that our campaign continues going well, I find it a world wonder, I hope our attempts to get converage will be fruitful soon(they will).

Sorry for not live streaming as much, 3g and bettery are a real constraint on that.

That’s for now – HAVE A GREAT DAY!!

Eytan from Barcelona

February is ending and Yoovi achieved half of their target number so far, within just 10 days.

A campaign’s success is measured against its defined goals. As of today, the campaign is a success. Goals can be changed during the campaign. In the case of Yoovi, the Barcellona convention was a great opportunity not to be missed and a game changer. Talking about viral campaigns, it is hard not to refer to global phenomena such as Kony2012 , which received over 100 million views within 6 days on YouTube. But such a comparison would be unfair: Yoovi is a struggling startus, trying to pre-enroll potential users – not raise funds on Kickstarter or fight against child abuse in Africa. Behind Yoovi you won’t find massive donor support or an army of Twitter controlling Hollywood stars. Yoovi’s campaign is an excellent lesson for young entrepreneurs with limited resources.

Posted by Samuel Miller in Blog, entrepreneurship, 0 comments

Is a Kickass Co-Founder what you need? Seriously?

You need a co-founder to get into a startup accelerator in Tel Aviv. There’s a known bias towards founding teams as opposed to single founders. This issue is well discussed in many forums and I even deal with it in this blog. So if we are looking for a team of co-founders, what should be the ideal equilibrium of the team?

I have spent a lot of time looking into several pair-up events and founder matching groups. There are certain questions that keep popping up in almost every form that I need to fill. One of them, which I never have a good answer for, is “why should a kickass co-founder want to join you?”. Why indeed?

We are now light years away from the era of “great idea is enough”. Gone are the days when you could buy a great domain name and get funded based on a vague promise. We are well into the the era of “have great partners will travel”. This still doesn’t mean I want to have my ass kicked, metaphorically or not. But before we can establish wether or not anybody needs a kickass co-founder, it would be nice to establish exactly what is a kickass co-founder.

Let’s assume that this is someone you want to work with and have an equal partnership with. The “kickass” adjective does not refer to aggression, anger management problems or an involuntary tendency towards jerking one’s foot into another’s arse. It is common sense to assume the term means someone who is highly proficient, dedicated, reliable and a high-achiever. Another assumption I can make, is that this is a rare breed: most people will not qualify to be kickasses, let alone candidates for startup founding.

OK, but is there a domain expertise to this person? Are we talking about someone who is a coder extraudinaire? Or is this person a spreadsheet wizard? Investor pitcher-preacher, or someone who can do almost everything with a high level of performance?

Non of the forms include the question of “do you regard yourself as kickass?”, but I guess, very few will really make such a statement. If anyone does make this statement, I guess that there will be very few who will want to join such a self-professed genius.

Peter Thiel, in his CS Startup course in stanford describes how PayPal rejected an engineer who qualifies as “kickass” simply because he was not a good fit to PayPal’s company culture. The ancient distinction between beggars and choosers is still relevant. When you are a chooser, it is almost always safe to say “no”. The beggar mindset does not allow you to say “no”. you may find yourself paired up with partners who are the wrong fit for you. You may find yourself partnered with a person who is, by any other standard, “a kickass”. This does not mean that you need this kickass in your business.

Posted by Samuel Miller in Blog, entrepreneurship, 0 comments

Content Is A Pauper King

There’s this company, see? And they are an online media company. Let’s just call them Original Marketing Giant for now, or OMG. So this company is brokering media space to advertisers, using Google ads. But it is not a monetization solution for the small businesses who have web presence. OMG has about a gazillion websites of their own, which compete against those small businesses for search result ranking. Fair enough, one might say, because this is a free world and whoever has the best content, which is most relevant to the user, wins at the end of the day.

OMG are masters of Search Engine Optimization. Their sites are mapped and validated, they have the right meta tags and the best snippets and the most pin-pointed titles and alt-tags and whatever. But for a gazillion websites, give or take a trillion, you need to have some content. They have some parenting websites and health care advice websites, and websites dealing with almost any other aspect of life that can be sold to advertisers. So they need the content for these websites.

Going over freelance job offers at elance.com, there are many requests for professional writers to provide hundreds of blog posts for this website and that. The requests are always similar: You need to provide articles of no less than 500 words with keyword saturation of 2%, keywords must be present in the title, the first and last paragraph, oh, and the text must be original. All this at a price of 5$ per article. OK, no one said that the articles need to be interesting, yes? and we can write the same article over and over again using different words. After all, the validation of originality is done by pasting the text onto one of those online tools that check for presence of the same text in the entire webdom.

Imagine hundreds of thousands of writers slaving away to feed the monster of web content. It has nothing to do with you or your life but it is there for you to stumble upon it, so that you will pause over the page for just enough time to register another ad impression, or even better, a click-through.

Now there’s another company. Let’s call them Little Or Less, or LOL for short.

LOL have the rights to use video clips from Holywood films for distribution over the web as content. OMG and LOL struck a deal to use the clips as content in OMG’s websites. Here is how it goes: OMG’s parenting website has dynamic content. if you click on any of the categories in the navigation menu, you will get a page which is automatically constructed of search results corresponding to the name of the category. There are two main types of content: blog posts and video clips. Let’s picture this scenario: You click on the category Mothers, and the page you retrieve has 3 clips for you to watch at the main position, the “prime realestate” of the page. The problem is that the resulting clips are not what the mothers who seek parenting resources will want to watch: There is that clip from 8 Mile, where Eminem and his friend discuss the fact that his mother is sleeping with his class mate. Oh, and there is another clip, where this dude from American Pie introduces the term MILF into the English language, definition included.

No one notices this and no one is considering this a problem. OMG has a gazillion websites, so why should they be bothered with just this one and the fact that the content in it means nothing to the target audience? Also, where there are already leading destination sites for any kind of topic, the bogus sites are there only to inflate the offering, adding much noise to the Googlesphere and creating the perfect background to push very few sites forward, while trying to shove competing sites backwards.

Eric Schmidt is quoted saying “If Content is King, Context is its Crown” (taken from his MacTaggart lecture in EdinburghTVFest). Thus, we have a perfect analogy for this situation, where the web is littered with so much worthless data: a king without the crown. This king is a pauper. It may be even worse before it will get better, because while we are waiting for good and interesting content without SEO terrorism, the need for fresh “original” content will drive startups to create pseudo AI writing machines. Oh, wait, this has already happened.

Posted by Samuel Miller in Blog, 0 comments

accelerated in TLV

Accelerator or incubator? I seriously don’t know, but right now I classify all known open spaces hosting budding startups in Tel Aviv as accelerators. They simply host startup entrepreneurs wanting to accelerate the process of launching and funding.

Getting on investors’ radars, being helped by peers and exploiting networking and hidden marketing channels is exactly what this means. Participation in one of the accelerators’ cycles (or waves) can reduce the time lost fro a year or a year and a half, to 3 and four months.

This is why it is so funny for me to hear from accelerator coordinators that “we don’t like to see ourselves as an accelerator”. Nope, this is a cozy gathering of the techie-tribes for the next several moons where we can all share the mead and listen to the storytelling of the great wizards and masters of the lore of venture capitalism.

For development purposes, accelerators are generally a good thing, as they allow you to accomplish a lot that you cannot do on your own. But if you have a team and the clarity of the road you take, a local coffee shop will do. There are several known cafes scattered around the streets of Tel Aviv, which are known spots for founding team on the verge of seed funding.The main benefit of these accelerators is as an access portal into the network of investors and entrepreneurs. This access is very hard to gain from a local cafe.

The best accelerators are the cheapest ones to enter. At least this is my impression after almost a year wondering around the city, at first with my previous co-founder and currently on my own, They provide space, focus, support and facilities that beat the price and distraction experienced at cafes. But the more expensive offer you nothing that will promote you anywhere. They will provide lectures by other entrepreneurs and possibly some sessions about anything from the spirituality of entrepreneurship to the merits of analyzing yourself to understand how you and your startup idea fit together.

There is a comprehensive list of known accelerators in Israel (page is in Hebrew) that is a must read for any Israeli entrepreneur who wishes to step into this world.

Posted by Samuel Miller in entrepreneurship

The Single Founder Ordeal

Leaving a dear co-founder of a venture that was going nowhere, I was left a single founder of a new venture.

There are several reasons why you find yourself, so further up the road, alone in whatever it is you decide to do.

But that is also the moment when you realize that this idea for a startup is exactly what you want to do. Now what should be the next step for someone who is alone with very limited coding skills and no partner who wants to jump onto the band wagon?

Googling up my predicament, I came across this article from someone telling his startup story as a single entrepreneur. Its title was promising, but in so many words he says what everybody else is saying, including almost every coordinator in almost every accelerator I came to visit:

A. Get a co-founder (“don’t hire, inspire”)

B. Learn to code

So I went out to get me a technological co-founder. Guessing that since my idea is in the realm of web services, I don’t need someone who is a NASA engineer or one of them ex-IDF wizarding units. I need someone who knows a bit more than I do to incorporate some open source code into the site’s server software and make the connection with all of the external APIs. Not to much to ask, right?

If you read enough startup lit and transcripts from university courses like Peter Thiel’s course at Stanford, you get the notion that Silicon Valley is swarmed with engineers who are looking for bright ideas by cool dudes and they can be reeled in by the promise of equity.

I am trying to create an equal partnership, so that should be a piece of cake but it doesn’t, because this is Tel Aviv, the Silicon Wadi. Here, there are lots of potential techie co-founders, who carry loads of papers in their backpockets promising them ownership in nonexistent companies.

I guess this is the flipside of the “serial entrepreneur” phenomenon. For every serial entrepreneur. there are probably two to four disillusioned developers who have settled for regular jobs in technology companies after a short startup adventure.

So if I am to get someone like this on my side, what I need to offer them is a salary. And of course an equal share in whatever company the idea is going to materialize as.

Accelerators are quite adamant about not letting single founder get into their cycles. They all say that the probability of creating a successful startup company declines massively when there is just one entrepreneur. When I asked one of the coordinators where this is coming from and on what survey this is based, she simply shrugged and told me that this is what she was told.

Again Google provides the answer: Paul Graham’s article Startup Mistakes , listing 18 mistakes that will cause the downfall of a startup, with being a single founder at the top of the list. The evidence the author of the article show are very weak and totally lack any evidence: instead of providing statistics  he simply asks: “have you noticed how very little successful startups with single founders are out there?”. Well, have you ever noticed how very few successful startup are there generally? The odds, whether you are alone or with a partner, are ever not in your favour. I am still waiting for an answer to the question I raised in Quora.

Wandering in the Tel Aviv acceleratorsphere, I came across several single entrepreneurs. Most of them have created a prototype or an actual working product (mostly services or community websites), but have not managed to find a co-founder and proceed anyway.Their tenacity will help them inspire investors and if they do, they will be able to hire a team. Probability of failure? Same as regular startups until proven otherwise.

Posted by Samuel Miller in Blog