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Find Seven Samurai

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Business

Find Seven Samurai

All we know about starting an Apple business, from the idea, to product launch and beyond

by Michael Göbel and Oliver Pospisil, Inspired By Life

Inside Inspired By Life

Michael: "Hello, this is Michael. Who's calling?"

Oliver: "Hi, my name is Oliver. I've checked some of your applications out in detail and I sure hope you can help me with my idea, too."

Michael: "Thanks for calling. Tell me more."

Oliver: "Now that you've heard all about my idea, I think what I need the most is to get a GUI designer on board.

Michael: "What a totally awesome story! I work in the design sector and that is my core area of expertise. Let me give your idea some serious thought. I'll definitely call you next week. Goodbye for now."

As promised, Michael called back just a week later.

Michael: "Oliver. Your idea has certainly given me food for thought and congratulations - it is still stuck in my mind. Let's get together as soon as possible and flesh out the details. What about next Saturday?"

During our meeting on Saturday, we delved into a lot of issues, some of which are as follows:

Oliver: "What's the best way to pay you?"

Michael: "You can pay for some training lessons at ObjectPark and, in turn, you'll let me use part of the code in my software, too. What do you think about that?"

Oliver: "Wonderful. It's a done deal."

Introduction

Seven Samurai, the film: In 16th century Japan, farmers in a small village face the prospect of losing their crops to thieves. Their solution is to hire samurai to protect them. The farmers are poor and can only offer food and lodging. Nevertheless, they soon recruit the first samurai, Kambei Shimada. He slowly but surely manages to recruit other samurai for the task at hand. In the village, the samurai teach the farmers basic self-defense and fortify the entire village. When the bandits attack, both the farmers and samurai are well-prepared and after battling fiercely, they defeat the bandits and win the fight to safeguard their crops.

After you've worked out all of the details of your business plan, take a minute to sit back and reflect. The moment of truth has come: "Can you and your team do it all by yourselves?: the coding; GUI and icon design; writing the user manual, the website content and the press release; designing the website?"

Arriving at the answer is easy: Have you or someone else in your team done all of the above before at least one time and in a best-in-class way? If you answer no, that means you need help. And a yes means that you can do it without any external help at all.

I answered with a NO. As a consequence, I searched for samurai to help me. The first samurai was Michael and then he brought Rafael on board.

And, now it's time for action, urgency and excellence!

Three characteristics every samurai must have

In the knowledge that you can reach literally everyone on this planet today, you have to know exactly who you're looking for. Here's a list of some of the general skills each one of your samurai should have:

Experience: You need people who have done this before, preferably at least more than once.

Wisdom: You need people who know how to do it with best-in-class quality.

Achievement: You need people who deliver tangible results in real-time.

In essence: follow Joel Spolsky's advice as spelled out in his concise guide, Smart and Gets Things Done.

Now start to imagine what your ideal samurai should be like just like you imagined "One day in your user's life." Think deeply about her or his level of experience, know-how, the list of achievements and her/his expectations when it comes to compensation.

What if they steal my idea?

To motivate samurai to fight for you, you need to tell them about your idea. That is the one and only way. Be smart and first communicate the general idea only. You can go into more detail with your potential samurai after you've built up mutual trust during each additional meeting.

Let's be honest, there is simply no way to guarantee that your idea will not be stolen. On the bright side, however, it is still up to you to decide on how many details and secret "ingredients" you communicate.

My own personal experience: I've been talking about my idea with businessmen, trainers, domain experts, developers as well as with sales and marketing experts for three years now. To date, it doesn't look like anyone has stolen my idea yet. Why? These could well be some of the reasons:

  • Maybe potential idea thieves think my idea isn't even worth the effort to steal (I sure do hope that's not true!).

  • We didn't communicate our secret "ingredients" to anyone else unless it was absolutely necessary.

  • Potential thieves who could steal our idea are often too busy with their own ideas.

  • And, my number one reason why is that no one with whom we have talked can even begin to imagine the future success potential as clearly as we can.

Hopefully, some people are just waiting until we release it and that means we're on the right track!

Make sure to be extremely cautious when talking to potential investors. Before talking about the secret "ingredients," get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Where are all the good guys?

Here's our list of the top five places to find the right people.

#1: Micro-ISV

The best people are already self-employed. They took the step you're taking right now awhile ago and their own business is up and running successfully.

These are my favorite people and my first choice because they have proven their success in launching a product and they know what it takes to stay in business over the long haul. They have deep insights into what does and what doesn't work and into how long it takes to make things really happen. Additionally, it is quite likely that they also know who the right people are to make things happen.

Just look inside your Mac's application folder. I bet you'll find at least five great applications crafted by Micro-ISVs. Check their webpage out. Chances are they offer a sophisticated development service. At any rate, don't hesitate to ask them for support or for a further recommendation.

Ask your friends what their favorite applications are, too. You should also check Apple Downloads, MacUpdate or Versiontracker out to find even more fantastic applications.

Which application won the latest Apple Design Award or were Best of the Show? Those applications are always a great resource.

Once you've found someone whose application and website is great, whose writing is compelling and convincing or whatever else you're looking for, send them a short email, explaining your idea like a teaser and ask for their support.

#2 Newsgroups and forums

Check forums, newsgroups and the like out. That's where you'll find people who can give you valuable advice. Try to locate their website or at least their email address and contact them directly to request their help.

If some of them are just too busy with stressful, full-time jobs or if they cannot help further for other reasons, go ahead and ask them anyway and make sure to thank them because I bet you anything they'll know someone else with whom you can talk.

#3 Conferences

The best conference site to find a Mac developer is WWDC, where you will meet thousands of developers in just one single place. Okay, it is expensive to get a ticket, however, the big advantage is: You can talk to them directly.

#4 Ask your friends

Tell your friends what you're looking for and ask them if they can recommend someone with whom you can talk. A further recommendation is a very effective way to track the right guys down. Most great guys know other great guys and most people love to help.

#5 Look at job boards

The last option is to post an offer on a job board:

This alternative appears to be tailor-made, especially if you need a developer, but it is also a good option for any other kind of expert you may need. The ultra-best applications were undoubtedly created thanks to the expertise of great marketers, copywriters and designers. That's why you should by all means ask them for a recommendation. I'm absolutely sure they'll help you out unless you're competing with them in the same market.

First Contact

Not only is the first contact the most important, but it is also always the most critical. The better prepared and more relaxed you are, the easier you'll make things for the candidate.

Preparation first

Before the first personal contact, make sure to get a resume and work samples. These are the two most useful things you need to become familiar with the candidate. Stay on the lookout for what could just well be interesting stories, but without any real substance behind them!

Warm-up

The warm-up phase is the right time to tell the candidate about yourself and about further details of the project. Before concluding the warm-up part, connect with your candidate by asking questions about his or her resume.

Diving into details

Here's a list of questions you can use as a starting point.

  • Your resume says that you ... Please tell me more about it.

  • What is the most challenging project you ever participated in?

  • What made it so challenging and how did you handle the stressful situations?

  • What role did you play?

  • Why did you chose the solution you did? What were the alternatives?

If you're looking for a developer:

  • When did you start coding?

  • What development tools do you use and which tools would you love to use?

  • Tell me more about some of the algorithms you've designed.

During this phase, you start to dive into details. You want to find out whether the candidate is excited and passionate about his or her job. Are candidates just focusing on meeting "the deadline" or are they truly dedicated and committed to their project work? Are the candidates neither afraid nor hesitant to disagree with you or are they a yes-yes I agree with you even if they don't kind of person? And last but not least, does the candidate walk the talk?

Wrap-up

Now it's time to give your candidate the explicit option to ask questions. End the interview by letting him or her know how you will proceed.

Your homework

If you think the candidate is a potential samurai, check his/her work samples and references out in detail one more time.

Assess them to determine whether they fit your needs or not. If you need a reference as a benchmark, just use Apple.

When In doubt, Just say NO

Never, ever decide on a candidate right away or immediately after the first contact. If you think a candidate demonstrates samurai potential, arrange a second or even a third meeting. Talk to all promising candidates at least once again even if you're already more or less sure that you've found your ideal samurai.

Once you've interviewed all promising Samurai candidates again, don't rush into a decision and think it over carefully during the weekend. Come Monday, it's time to make clear-cut decisions: If a personal connection and rapport was not established, say NO. If you have even the smallest doubt, say NO or schedule a second call/meeting. If your hesitation lingers on, say NO.

But what happens if not even one single samurai is on your short-list after you've taken a decision? Well, c'est la vie! It's much better to start searching anew rather than opting for the wrong person. Bear in mind that it will not be easy and you'll need someone close by who you can trust and rely on.

Before you start all over again, reflect on your experiences and adjust your activities accordingly. In addition, sit back and ask yourself whether your expectations are just too high.

By the way: One of the reasons why I chose Michael is that right from the start he never hesitated to tell me where he thinks I'm wrong. He never worried about not voicing his open and honest opinion just to avoid a conflict or just to get the job.

What if they are in doubt?

Give it all you've got to convince a samurai!

Meaning: Inspiring story and vision

Practically everybody wants to do something worthwhile, something with a sense of purpose and meaning. Something that will make this world a better place. People donate money to help, for example, the "The Abraham Path Initiative" to bring people who have different perspectives and who come from different countries together in order to learn how much they actually have in common; they set the TOR server up to support a free-of-charge and secure flow of information. For a true sense of calling and purpose, most people are willing to invest their energy, time and money.

Now this is where your idea comes into play. Make sure you get the meaning and impact of your idea across. A true sense of purpose and meaning is the best leverage to get people on board, just like the first samurai.

Challenging work

Besides a true sense of purpose and meaning, people love challenging work.

Once you've built up a certain level of trust, it's time to mention some of the bigger problems that must be solved. For real coders, this is the true nitty-gritty. They are eager to learn something new and to get better and better each day.

Reputation

Just like the first samurai, the people you already have on board hold the key to your good reputation. Their commitment to your idea is what fuels soon-to-be samurai to jump on your bandwagon.

So now, if you've lucked out and found your first samurai, ask him or her without delay to get the second samurai on board.

Letter of rejection

If you said NO to certain candidates, send them an email. Make sure to say thank you and that after much consideration, you chose someone else who fits the job description better. Be polite yet firm in your way of writing a rejection letter. Remember, they did try and you want to encourage them to try again - but not with your company - so make your rejection letter nice but clearly understandable and straightforward for both sides.

Compensation or team up

It's a matter of fact that practically nobody works for free and everybody must pay for their living. If your budget is extremely limited, just be creative: you have a lot more to offer than you think you do.

Be open and honest when it comes to compensation. Never give the impression that your pockets are deep if they're not. When you're honest, your potential samurai will trust you enough to be honest with you, too.

No matter what the case may be, be creative when it comes to payment: as an example, serve as a reference or establish a contact for your samurai with somebody important to him or her. What about paying by installments or after your product has been released? And why not get them on board and team up?

Don't expect to get anything for free, but be ready and get excited if that should happen!

Finally: It might hurt a little bit, but some people will reject your offer. Just be honest, polite and tell them thank you.

Conclusion

Whether you believe it or not, a samurai it out there somewhere just waiting for you.

Just like you imagined "A day in your user's life," imagine your ideal samurai and stick steadfast to that ideal.

Go out right now and find as many candidates as you can and inspire them, enthuse them and get them to share your passion for the idea and end product. Test them out, but make sure you don't tell them all of the finite details! And no matter how excited you are about your idea, never forget that the probability that others don't want to team up with you and would instead steal your idea is lower than higher. It is a risk you must take and if you follow our advice, the risk of running into idea thieves is less likely.

Remember, all it takes it honesty and creativity when it comes to compensation or teaming up.

Once you embark on your journey of finding the samurai who will help you make your dream come true, you will experience some very interesting things: A lot of samurai will help you, they open doors and to some extent, they work pro bono, too. And, once again - action, urgency and excellence!

What's next?

In our next article, we'll give you some hot tips on how to develop high quality software applications. This includes coding, GUI design and Icon design.

Connect with us!

We want to share stimulating, innovative ideas with you and we really look forward to your feedback! Is anything missing or do you think something could be fleshed out in further detail? Just let us know and write to oliver.pospisil@inspiredbylife.com.

Bibliography and References

Books:

Spolsky, Joel. Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent. New York, 2007.

Watts, Duncan J. Six Degrees. The Science of a Connected Age. New York, 2003.

DeMarco, Tom. The Deadline. A Novel about Project Management. New York, 1997.

Poundstone, William. How would you move Mount Fuji? New York, 2004.

Websites:

ObjectPark: www.objectpark.net/en/index.html

Joel's job page: jobs.joelonsoftware.com

OS X Entwicklerforum (German): cocoadev.jobcoin.com

Apple Downloads: http://www.apple.com/downloads/

MacUpdate: http://www.macupdate.com/

Versiontracker: http://www.versiontracker.com/macosx/


Michael started MOApp up in 2004 and he has now developed more than ten applications - six of them are Apple staff picks. He does everything from software development, icon design, website development to sales management and public relations.

Oliver has been in the software business for over ten years, specializing in areas ranging from Palm programming to large-scale, in-house Java projects. In 2006, an idea grabbed his attention that both are now working on. He is still working full-time for a German retail company and will be until the new business starts paying off their bills.

 
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