Tag Archives: #startups

F.A.Q on software development outsourcing

Software development outsourcing has long been accepted in the IT industry, but there is still no unified recipe on how to find the right partner.

While large enterprise has the benefit of outsourcing advisors, SMB companies and startups have many questions, especially when considering outsourcing overseas.

We’ve put the most common questions into a short, helpful guide. Continue reading F.A.Q on software development outsourcing

NTR Lab Gives Back To The Startup Community

Recently we started an amazing campaign called Give Back To The Startup Community.

The idea is to “give away” two of our development teams as our way of saying thanks to the community that drives our growth.

Each team consists of 2 skilled developers for up to 2 months.

  • Javascript team (node.js + AngularJS or React); and
  • neural networks/Machine Learning team (we are AI experts)

I also want to tell you a bit about why and how this happened.

The motivation is pretty simple — we grew 51% Y2Y in 2016 helping startups scale their software development.

We had an opportunity to work on great products with entrepreneurs from San Francisco, Austin, Boston, London, Amsterdam and many other amazing places around the world.

We worked with a lot of talented founders and the learning was definitely reciprocal. Although NTR Lab, at 16, is no longer a startup, our development centers feel like startups, with that special atmosphere of new ideas and pure enthusiasm.

The startup community has given a lot to us, so we wanted to give a lot back to it. And what better way than to help two of them succeed?

We are looking for two startups — at any stage — with one of three situations:

  • building their MVP to secure funding;
  • urgently needing to complete something to meet a critical deadline; or
  • needing to implement an important new feature.  

Our plan is to cooperate with accelerators and venture capitalists, as well as founders, to choose the two most innovative ideas that are likely to succeed.

There is absolutely no charge to the chosen startups.

If you are interested send our founder an email describing the project (it should be interesting/fun for the developers, too). Please include your pitch deck with your message.

Note: If you want the AI team, you must have a dataset to train the neural network.

There are two caveats.

  1. We reserve the right to choose the applicant we believe is the best fit.
  2. We have the right to document and write about how and what is happening. This is the first time we have given back and want to describe the process and publicize the story. (Be sure to follow us on twitter and don’t forget to check for new posts here).

Be sure to share this post with your network.

My trip to Disrupt London and 46 facts for every entrepreneur

 

I don’t know about you, but last week was crazy for me.

I attended Disrupt London; it was my first trade show with NTR and my first as CMO and the days after meeting with potential clients. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite that busy!

My return trip took a full 24 hours! I don’t sleep well on planes or during layovers and on top of that I get terrible jet lag.

But I’m not really complaining; it was so worth it. The conference was fabulous; I met many interesting entrepreneurs and we developed many sales leads. Of course, London was fabulous, as always.

Because I’m so short of time this week, I thought I’d share a very interesting infographic about the global startup ecosystem.

For more about Disrupt, visit me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter; I’m writing as fast as I can.

In the meantime, here is the promised Infographic.

entrepreneurship-infographic

Created by DealSunny

Interview with the CEO of Poshare

I’m very excited to share today’s interview with Zhanna Merson, founder of Poshare. Anyone who loves glamorous gowns, but not their price tags, will love Poshare (for the curious, Poshare is a contraction of ‘posh’ and ‘share’). And that includes guys who are looking for something totally unique for that special woman.

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Tell me a little bit about yourself, your family, your background, your roots.

I am originally from Ukraine; I came to the United States in 2006 as an exchange student. Both my parents are engineers, my father started his own business in the 90’s, he has certainly inspired me to pursue something of my own.

When I moved to America, I lived in New York for the first nine years. When I started Poshare I had the opportunity to move to Houston, which, so far, has proven to be a smart move.

My initial idea was a result of my interaction with a good friend, with whom we used to exchange dresses and accessories. This practice has virtually doubled our wardrobes, but all that ended when she moved to Miami. Initially the idea was to build a P2P marketplace where women would rent dresses from one another which could help them kind of monetize their closets. But after thinking it through, I realized that a peer-to-peer marketplace had a serious flaw – unreliability. Women typically rent dresses for a particular event, so there’s no space for error. If the dress wasn’t shipped on time and in perfect condition, client may be left with nothing to wear, which would result in a nightmare, decorated with complaints and bad reviews. I decided that Poshare should be a curated community of boutiques and designers, those that have a proven track record of customer satisfaction. I wanted to pick and choose our dresses and make sure my vendors were professionals who would deliver the product in good condition and on time, minimizing customer service issues.

When did you start Poshare?

I started the company in 2015, but the website hasn’t launched until February 2016.

Congratulations! What actually drew you to become an entrepreneur, rather than working for somebody?

Well, I guess growing up in a post-USSR country and living through the 90’s, with all that political turmoil and economical hardships around, made me feel uncertain about working the regular 9 to 5. It felt like I am putting my well-being into the hands of someone else. As a kid I remember seeing so many people with presumably steady jobs were losing their income, everybody was so stressed out about government companies closing left and right, people were wondering whether they will have a place of work tomorrow or not. From my experience most those who were bold enough to start something on their own, took risks of trying something new, have succeeded. Plus of course having this sense of freedom, being able to do what you think is right and being responsible for your own future looked quite attractive to me.

You mentioned that you don’t have a cofounder, so what triggered your move? Did someone influence that decision?

Initially I really wanted to find a co-founder but finding a good one is easier said than done. I’ve met a lot of people who were interested, some went as far as immediately printing ot business cards, but unfortunately when it came to sitting down, rolling up their sleeves and really getting to work – I kept hearing excuses: don’t have the time, not feeling it today, sudden health issues, this, that.. You know the old saying, if you want something done right – do it yourself. So that’s what I did. Initially I was working evenings, after a day at my full-time job. I think it took about 10 months before I realized that in order to really get Poshare off the ground I will need more time in a day. Fortunately, I have always been financially responsible and saved enough to be able to leave my job and fully dedicate myself to Poshare.

Tell me about your culture.

Our company culture is about being a team, being as open and honest with each other as possible. Thankfully we are all good friends from the same city in Ukraine so we know each other quite well.

Right now, Poshare consists of two people here in the States and three developers in Ukraine.

I want to build a friendly, compatible team, where people support each other, where everyone is comfortable bringing up an idea, asking questions, pointing out any flaws they may see. If someone disagrees with me and they have a better solution – I am happy to hear them out. I don’t want to run this company as a dictator and surround myself with only those who agree with me. I want a team environment where everybody feels equal in terms of being heard.

Nevertheless, I don’t want my teammates to think that our friendship means that they can slack, because they really can’t.

 You don’t want them to become too relaxed.

Exactly. There must be a clear understanding that, while I’m not going to micromanage and constantly look over your shoulder, I expect you to do your best. When I hire people I try to find those who love what they do, who share my vision about the product. One of the least pleasant things is having to fire someone. I’ve only done it a few times thank God.

What values are most important to you?

Professionalism – in whatever you do. Honesty and responsibility are two main traits that I’m looking for in people, whether we are speaking about my closest circle or the folks that I work with. I like straight shooters. Of course this isn’t about just flat out saying everything you think; it is about being open and honest. If you promise something, you make sure it’s done. You have to own it. People of course make mistakes and it is perfectly fine as soon as you can take responsibility for your actions and learn from it.

What focused you on those particular values?

It might be my Ukrainian background. One of the hardest things for me personally, when I moved to US, was to get used to corporate politics. I just feel a lot more comfortable when we act as a team – not when we pretend to be one.

Makes sense. How will you hire when the time comes?

Well, I’ve noticed that my best employees were brought into the company through referrals. I am kind of obsessed with recommendations and references. I also am not afraid of outsourcing certain things. Ultimately our team was made from outsourced developers that later became the in-house crew.

The last question is about leading. Of course, position-wise you are the leader of the company, but it’s interesting to know how you think about leading.

Leader should lead by example only: one must be motivated in order to motivate others, be able clearly communicate company’s vision, be passionate about what he/she does. If the spark isn’t there, it’s only a matter of time for the team to fall back. For example, if you expect someone to work weekends you should be ready to pick up the phone or respond to their email during that time. At least this is my philosophy. Being a leader is a great responsibility and a lot of hard work.

I first came to America thanks to a program called Future Leaders Exchange. I got a full scholarship. Applicants had to go through a number of exams and psychological tests, then among almost 3000 people only 50 were chosen. I work hard to live up to their belief in me.

They definitely made a good choice :)

Thank you and thanks for having me.

Interview with the CEO of Stuffed Pepper

 

Today’s interview is with Heather Jacobsen, the founder and CEO of Stuffed Pepper, an online magazine and resource for the gluten-free and paleo lifestyle. Heather says she is also a mother, researcher and writer, and loves to find order in chaos.

Jacobsen Heather

Tell me a bit about your family/background/etc.

My father was a Naval officer, which brought me to exciting places around the world. I’ve lived on both coasts (in the US), went to grammar school in Denmark and even got to spend Christmas in the Philippines when I was three. I developed my wanderlust at a young age, as well as an appreciation for the paradox that this world is vastly diverse, yet at the same time most of humanity shares many of the same values. One of those values I believe we all share is the desire to be healthy and most of us are even willing to take the proper steps to do so. Unfortunately, however, many of us are lost when it comes to knowing how to eat properly.

Being the daughter or a Naval officer, I also developed a great sense of discipline at a young age, which helped me focus my creative world views, so I can really get things done. I have a Master’s in Ethnobotany and have used those skills to delve deep into the science of nutrition and break it down in a easy-to-digest terms for laymen.

What drew you to becoming an entrepreneur?

I never thought I was an entrepreneur. But I’ve always had the wish to do something that would “make the world a better place.”  After my second child was born, and I no longer had a career, I was looking for something to do and decided to start a blog.  Because I had been gluten-free for almost a decade, I thought I could share my gluten-free recipes and advice; I found I am not alone in my gluten sensitivity and the blog snowballed into a larger, community website as I found others that wanted to share their knowledge and expertise.

I continued to research the far-reaching effects of gluten sensitivity, as well as the proper way to stay gluten-free. It isn’t as straightforward as you think! It wasn’t long before I realized that people needed more than just recipes.  Going gluten-free is not easy!  Not when most of us have been conditioned since birth to eat bread and cereal with pretty much every meal, including snacks.

That led to developing meal plans, a 30-day program, and other downloads that would help people really stick with the diet and get back to health.

 

Where/how did you and your co-founder meet/decide to do a startup?

I don’t have a co-founder. But if you know someone who is interested… :)

 

Tell me about your company culture.

I work with interns from time to time. Otherwise, I am the sole employee. Other than my own posts, all of the contributions to the website are from volunteers.  I have no set schedule. I am a mother of two young children, who are my first priority. So I work when they are at school or when they have gone to bed. I allow the same flexibility with my interns and volunteers.

My interns are rarely local, so we meet over Skype when we need to. I don’t have a set schedule for posting articles or for tasks that need to be done by interns. We all work together to negotiate hours and timing so that it works to everyone’s benefit. Because my company is mostly online, we have that sort of flexibility. That is the nice thing about the digital age.

 

 

What values are most important to you?

Truth and integrity are hugely important to me. We are an online magazine giving free health and nutrition advice. Our income comes from our downloads and advertising.

Unfortunately, most people get their nutritional advice from the food industry itself. The food industry has a powerful influence in the FDA and the USDA who create our dietary guidelines, so there will undoubtedly be bias in what we are told we should and shouldn’t be eating.

Additionally, when consumers scan the labels of foods in the grocery store and see captions like “heart healthy” or “low calorie” they assume it must be healthy for them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Our aim is to provide honest, scientifically sound nutritional advice, without industry influence. We work only with food companies that truly understand the importance of nutrition, and are not just interested in the bottom line.

 

How did it happen? Were there conscious decisions on what you wanted the culture to be?

Yes. I consciously chose to be flexible, casual and also trustworthy. As a mother, I need flexibility. And I am not the only mother out there, who needs this. I have had several interns who were completing degrees in nutrition who were also mothers. Flexibility was also important to them.

I have also always been a seeker of truth. Maybe it’s because I am a Sagittarius, and we are notorious for being so truthful we sometimes hurt people. I try not to do that! Or maybe it’s because I always admired the muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle which brought to light the ugly truth behind the meat-packing industry of the early 1900’s.

Either way, I believe people have a right to be informed about their own health and that proper nutrition is the first place to start. For that reason, all of our information on the website is free. Its only the extras, the meal plans or the consolidation of information in books, that we charge for.

 

How do you hire? What are the most important traits you look for in a candidate?

In addition to having the proper experience, such as in nutrition or social media marketing, I look for someone who is enthusiastic about the subject matter, who can demonstrate hard work and commitment, and who has the ability to put their own creativity into the job.

 

Do you think of yourself as a leader? Why?

I have never really thought of myself as a leader. Which is why, I suppose, I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur.

But in order for me to be able to stand behind my website, I needed to become an authority on the gluten-free diet. It’s when I began researching it more that I realized most people were not doing gluten-free “right.”

That is, simply replacing food containing gluten with those on the gluten-free foods aisle, was not enough to heal people’s bodies after gluten had done them harm.

This notion is different from what the majority of gluten-free consumers understand, and certainly what the foods industry wants them to believe. When I discovered this, I realized that I needed to take a stand, and become a leader in this new direction.

While there are still some who are resistant, I believe that more and more people are understanding that we really need to eliminate all grains from our diet or even adopt a paleo diet, if we want to truly heal. The paleo diet is receiving a lot more attention these days, and I am happy to help play a role in that.

Music with RNN: myth or reality?

 

Last week I shared my excitement about my involvement in NTR’s new work on neural networks/RNN and promised to share what I learn and backstories  about the project itself.

Remember when I told you about my “other job as front woman for Vkhore? Well, like most bands, compose a lot of our own music.

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I know from my own experience how hard that is — composing isn’t some off-the-shelf hobby.

But what if people with no musical training (formal or not) and no technical skills could use a computer application, choose the style of music to generate and listen to the results right then and there?

Sounds more like science fiction, but so do a lot of AI projects.

On a more personal level, training our own RNN to compose music means I’ve been getting a crash course about Machine Learning.

Over the past week I’ve been reading up on recent developments in Machine Learning in general and, more specifically, neural networks composing music.

 

There are already a number of them in existence. There is Magenta from Google; a tutorial that allows people  to generate music with a recurrent neural network. But it’s a simple model without stellar musical results.

What I wanted to know is if an RNN is can actually learn to compose music that has well-defined parts, i.e., the structure of music: verses, choruses, bridges, codas, etc.

Based on my research, there’s already been a good deal of development to make that happen. Originally, music generation was mainly focused on creating a single melody. You might  be interested in the discussions on Hacker News and Reddit about a year ago.  More recently, work on polyphonic music modeling, centered around time series probability density estimation, has met with partial success.

NTR’s goal is to build a generative model using a deep neural network architecture that will create music with  both harmony and melody.

We want our RNN to be able to create music that is as close to music composed by humans as possible.

I asked my colleague and friend Natasha Kazachenko, who is responsible for training our neural network to generate music, several questions to better understand exactly what we are doing. (It’s much easier to learn about a highly technical subject when you work in tech with good friends who are patient enough to explain stuff to a non-techie.)  I will share her answers next week.

I learned long ago that it is normal human psychology to attribute human traits, emotions, even gender, to non-human entities and techies (yes, they are human) are no different.

NTR Lab’s neural network is female.

Her name is Isadei.

Bad News Everyone

You can’t lead wearing rose-colored glasses.

That means talking about bad along with the good.

We live in world of crisis. And whether people are looking globally, or just locally, they would need to be six feet under not to have noticed.

Here are a few examples, in case you’ve been traveling off-planet recently.

  •        The Russian economy has been in a deep and painful recession for the last 18 months. Our national economy is down 6% second quarter 2016 compared to 2015.
  •        Dozens of tech companies are laying off.
  •       Official unemployment stands at 4.9, but the government numbers are notoriously low, since it only counts those actively looking (millions have given up).

Bad news, be it internal, regarding products and process, or external, with regards to your markets or the general macro-economic trends, will happen. Period.

But many leaders don’t like receiving bad news, which is really stupid.

Start with internal bad news.

According to Darrell Bracken, C.E.O. of Logitech, “The most dangerous thing is to be sitting in an office and nobody’s telling you what’s wrong.”

If you don’t know what’s wrong it can’t be fixed.

GoodNewsEveryone

OpenTable’s CEO Christa Quarles, whose team was wasting time trying to make everything perfect before showing her, passionately believes news should be “early, often, ugly,” which allows for faster course correction.

But that only works if your company culture is built on the precept that the messenger won’t be killed, which is also the basis for innovation, especially if it disrupts anything.

Avoiding external bad news is even stupider.

Why?

First, because companies put enormous effort put into hiring the smartest people possible, so expecting them to be dumb and not notice the economy or how the company is doing is downright idiotic.

Second, because what you don’t address will give rise to rumors that are far worse than the actual news — particularly when it comes to layoffs.

This is also the time when age plays against many founders, because they have little-to-no experience communicating any kind of bad news.

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While there are dozens of approaches to communicating bad news, a good place to start is with Miki’s six basic steps.

Finally, the one sure thing about bad news — you can’t make it go away by ignoring it.

But you can make it worse.

Vision

 

I have my second job in the music band named Wkhore.  If you are curious, you can see and follow us hereThat’s me up front singing .  As a frontwoman and a leader I’m the first who thinks about future of the band.  I have my  vision. 

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That’s  why this issue is particularly important for me.

Late last year we touched on the importance of vision and what how to turn a vision into reality.

As Eric Ries and all Lean Startup practitioners will tell you “forming a clear vision for your startup is perhaps the most important early thing an entrepreneur can do” — emphasis on clear.

Vision provides guidance to the organization by articulating not only what its product is supposed to achieve, but also sets its values and the environment in which it will happen.

Fred Wilson wrote: A big vision is critical for a big success. You have to know where you want to be in a decade or more. That’s where the long roadmap comes in. … it all starts with a plan. I know companies that are great at communicating but don’t really have a coherent plan. All the communicating in the world won’t help them.

So figure out where you are taking your company. Answer the basic question on everyone’s mind, “what are we doing?” and you will be on a path to building a loyal, hardworking, and motivated team”

But none of these skills will help if, in fact, you are pointed in the wrong direction.

That’s why founders who excel are also great listeners — and not just to those who agree with them.

The greatest danger of vision happens when it is the property of one person; one person who will do anything to sell the vision — anything except share and modify it.

That is why every founder needs to follow the lead of the Romans. When Roman generals rode through the streets for their victory parade they were required to have a person in the chariot who kept repeating “Remember, you are not a god.”

Leadership. Motivation

 

There are thousands of articles and entire books on motivation, but for this blog I always look for stuff that is clear and simple and can be used by founders and bosses at any level.

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image source 

I was introduced to Wally Bock’s blog by a colleague and have found his approach to leadership actions a good fit to my criteria.

In his post, Wally identifies in 8 basic things you need to do to keep your people motivated. They sound simple, but providing them consistently requires focus and effort from you.

Guest post from Wally Bock.

One last time: how do you motivate people?

Apr 07, 2016 03:00 pm | Wally Bock

Continue reading Leadership. Motivation

Leadership. Intro.

Hey everyone, I’m back!

Remember I said I was going on vacation? What I didn’t mention was that it was an unwired vacation.

I was high in the mountains, with friends and no internet access. We played, sang, talked and I had time alone to think and dream. As Miki said in her post, it truly was magical. Take a look!

алтай 2016 1алтай 2016

I came back refreshed and recharged and ready for all the new tasks and projects my boss gave me. Now I can see that my company needs me and I truly make a difference.

Leaving the constant noise gave me time to think and one of the things I found myself thinking about was how entwined leadership and management need to be for a startup to be truly successful.

I agree with Miki that Warren Bennis’ ideas are out of date — if they were ever in. They don’t play well when combined with today’s knowledge workers.

I wondered if “experts” thought that, too, and decided to provide you with solid information to help you become a stronger entrepreneur and a better boss at whatever level.

So the upcoming new series is about the leadership and management. Not just high-level, but how-to’s on specific actions you need to perform. We’ll cover only one topic a week, so you will be able to save and use the series as a reference to help you through the challenges you will face.

Some of the topics we’ll cover are delegation, the pros and cons of ego, visions, culture and structure sans bureaucracy.

What I really hope is that you will write me and suggest the specific topics you want covered or issues you are struggling with. (Easy and safe to ask, because you will stay anonymous.) Write me at ykazantseva@sinergo.ru.

I also hope that you will take a few minutes to add your approaches/solutions when the topic is one you have faced.