Something New

March 8, 2009

Here are my results the assignment I gave myself in my last post. To recap, the tasks I assigned myself were: Find three industries I am unfamiliar with, find three problems in each industry that can be solved by software, and find businesses that are fulfilling those needs.

I started by dividing my research according to the three sector hypothesis. The three sector hypothesis separates an economy into three sectors of production, that are increasingly farther away from a raw material based industry: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Primary Sector

The primary sector can be loosely defined as “agriculture, agribusiness, fishing, forestry and all mining and quarrying industries.”1

I chose agriculture for my primary sector research. Lots of agricultural problems are being solved by using RFID, GIS data, as well as Pocket PC/PDA delivery systems. There are a few accounting systems tailored for agriculture, but most of the technology products have hardware components.

Agricultural problems

  • Tracking animals’ statistics, such as health, pregnancy, last time fed or milked.
  • Soil analysis: Knowing soil composition and status can be vital to a farmer
  • GPS: A lot of farmers rely on GPS data to track their crop locations and the information about particular sections of land.

Example agricultural software vendors

Secondary Sector

“The secondary sector of the economy includes those economic sectors that create a finished, usable product: manufacturing and construction.”2

I’ve chosen woodworking for my secondary sector to research. The growth rate is slower than other occupations, about 3%, but the amount of software out there for wood working looks slim and low quality. 3

Woodworking Problems

  • Planning: There is a lot of CAD software out there, however much of it is up to and over a thousand dollars.
  • Optimization: Making the most of the resources you have can be tricky. Having a computer decide the best forms to use for cutting your materials and producing as little was as possible would saves time and money.
  • Material selection: Selecting the wrong material for a woodworking project could mean scrapping later down the line; software and data for this would allow you to put your time and energy into design and craftsmanship.

Example woodworking software vendors

Tertiary Sector

The tertiary sector is described “in conventional economic literature as ‘intangible goods’.”4

For the tertiary sector, I am focusing on the sales industry. I am focusing on sales because I’ve never sold anything, ever. As a wannabe entrepreneur, this is an egregious hole in my experience. Once I tried working for a non-profit to get people to register to vote, and that was hard enough. I can barely imagine having to sell something everyday and as a livelihood; but clearly this is something I will have to overcome.

Sales Problems

  • Tracking: Like many other industries, there is a need for good tracking software to account for calls, messages, contact information, people that declined the service.
  • Information: Having quality information about your products and inventory will help win over your your sales prospects. Having software to make information accessible, consistent, and up-to-date across your sales staff will make it easier to get new customers.
  • Motivation: Staying motivated and focused as a salesman can be difficult. Software that can maximize incentives at the right time means more sales.

Example sales software vendors

Lessons learned

Producers of physical goods require physical solutions

Primary and secondary sector industries will probably require both hardware and software to address their needs. Every industry can benefit from using software to enforce consistency, improve processes, organize information, and relieve manual administrative tasks, but the industries that can benefit the most from software solutions are not overwhelmingly producers of raw materials. They may be consumers of raw materials, but software (obviously) doesn’t do much for raw goods without a physical component.

Web forums and blogs are a great source of market research

For example, I found agricultural information at Agriculture talk that was able to give me an insight into farming needs. Even a simple search for your topic and forum yields useful results.

Build off of the experience of others

Jumping right into an activity is fun if you’re not too invested in the outcome, but building off of others’ experience is invaluable. For example, this article gave me some good insight into common selling mistakes. I’ve never sold anything before, so any and all tips are welcome. If you can’t get a good mentor, good research is a worthwhile (and sometimes better) second best. Also, checking out the competitors can give you much quicker insight into the existing market and what you can improve upon.

Sales are going to make or break you, no matter how good your product is

Obvious though it may be, probably the most important component for success is being able to sell your product. As I try to put myself into a sales-oriented mindset I imagine jumping into sales will likely be a humbling and frustrating experience.

Footnotes

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_sector_of_industry
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_sector_of_industry
  3. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos285.htm
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tertiary_sector_of_industry
Resources

Wikipedia page on industries
Bureau of Labor Statistics description of Agricultural Workers
Bureau of Labor Statistics description of Woodworkers
Bureau of Labor Statistics on Advertising, Marketing, Promotions, Public Relations, and Sales Managers


Day 2 and counting

March 5, 2009

This is day two of theentreprenoob. I’ve accomplished jack squat today outside of reading about entrepreneurship. I’m currently reading Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start. The book is direct and precise. However, it has a lot more about positioning your business and marketing it than coming up with or executing your business. While worrying about VC funding and presentations are not my first concerns, the questions raised about the meaning you seek in your business and what your goals are, above and beyond monetary gains. This has me thinking about whether I even have a meaningful mission in mind.

Sadly, I have put in a 10-12 hour day at work today, so I am exhausted and have little energy to devote to my entrepreneurial goals. Part of me wants to kick back and take a break after a long day, but that excuse is so easy to repeat and so very tempting to believe. Days like this give me huge respect for entrepreneurs that are also dedicated parents and spouses. But even if I have no time to devote to a business, my problem remains the same: how am I going to change the world?

My requirements for a venture have previously been:

  1. a lucrative industry, such as legal, medicine, or IT
  2. a product that will both help people and save them time and money
  3. a product that can scale easily; software had always been the appeal, but maybe it looks that way because it’s in my comfort zone

What do you notice about these requirements? They are difficult requirements to obtain. They are unrealistic, and pretty boring. And they are stifling. Entrepreneurship clearly requires action, so I guess I will have to take it. I seem to have fallen into the stereotype of having a great solution where there isn’t a problem. Once I can define the problem, the solution will be much more apparent.

Lately my creativity has been sapped and I feel drained. My passion is for technology and finding clever solutions to hard problems, but I feel as if all I will produce is a lame project management application or a tired out content management system that’s been done a thousand time already. I think it’s time to break out of my comfort zone.

So let’s see, where do I have domain knowledge:

High domain expertise

  • computers
  • software
  • internet technology
  • politics

Medium domain expertise

  • healthcare
  • marketing
  • writing and publishing
  • art and design

Low/average domain expertise

  • consumerism
  • cooking
  • identification with 20-something year olds

Since software is likely going to be the platform to implement my business, my industry and domain probably should not be software itself. Let’s set some goals up, and then lay down some concrete tasks to accomplish those goals:

Goals

  • Become familiar with industries outside my core knowledge.
  • Find creative solutions to those industies’ problems.
  • Become better at researching viability of solutions with respects to marketability, cost/revenue, and competition.

Tasks

  • Find 3 industries that I am unfamiliar with and read up on them.
  • For each industry identify 3 areas that weakness or inefficiency.
  • Propose solutions for each area of inefficiency and rate the solution based on cost and ease of implementation.
  • Identify at least 1 company that is already addressing those problem areas for each industry.

Once I’ve gotten some sleep, perhaps these tasks will be only half as daunting.


Slow and Steady

March 3, 2009

I am starting theentreprenoob to track my attempts at entrepreneurship, noobish as they are. I am also hoping that by documenting what I am doing it will force me to actually try to accomplish what I want, rather than just talking about it.

Some background

I am a programmer in a support department for a Boston-based software company. I have a degree in Political Science without much of a formal background in Computer Science. I love to learn and love to be creative, but I think there is more that I can give to the world.

I’m a jack of all trades, which apparently some people still think is a good thing.

My goal here is to start slow and try to do at least one entrepreneurial thing a day and comment on the results.

My most recent project is a screen capture application: http://www.timecapper.com. While I went into this project with the purpose of testing my skills in bringing a project from concept to implementation, which I am happy to say was successful, I will say that I am disappointed that I didn’t do any market research ahead of time. The market for this is obviously flooded, so this product may be dead in the water. In addition, my motivation for marketing this product is low and my ability to charge is potentially stifled by my contract with my employer.

Without further ado, I bring you theentreprenoob