Business advice from an unlikely source
On my bookshelf is iPhone User Interface Design Projects (living the dream, I know). 32 pages in, I stumbled across a software development concept that could easily replace 99% of the business plans I’ve seen.
It’s the application definition statement: I am building a <your differentiator> <your solution> for <your audience>.
I am building a <free> <whoopee-cushion app> for <budget-conscious nine-year-olds>.
This kind of thinking could bring some wonderful clarity to entrepreneurial news projects. Try it out on yours and see if it doesn’t help.
Hard to imagine I wanted to move away.
John Kass, First Amendment foe
My former Tribune colleague and grilling god John Kass today posted one of the more myopic pieces of journalism I’ve read recently.
Chicago’s Associated Press bureau has been after the state to release the names of Illinois residents who have state firearms permits.
Kass, a gun owner, fears thieves would file a Freedom of Information request and target houses with firearms. There’s a couple of problems with this concept. Ever met a thief smart enough to file a FOIA? Or one interested in burgling a home when he knew the owner was armed? And wouldn’t the cops then have a handy list of suspects for gun-related burglaries?
More importantly, Kass manages to avoid mentioning that government data compiled at public expense should be available to the public. And that organizations like the AP can’t exercise their First Amendment right to investigate government misfeasance without access to information like the gun permits.
Here’s a sampling of articles that have relied on access to the kind of government data that Kass would like to keep secret, courtesy of the folks at Investigative Reporters and Editors:
- The Los Angeles Times examines “how the state of Texas has granted hundreds of concealed-weapons permits to citizens with questionable backgrounds.”
- KCTV investigates the Missouri Department of Conservation policy that allows felons to obtain firearm hunting permits. The policy exists, despite federal law which prohibits felons from owning any firearms.
- A (St. Paul) Pioneer Press investigation found that “hundreds of convicted criminals forbidden by state and federal laws from carrying handguns, rifles or shotguns are being granted licenses to hunt game using firearms in Minnesota.”
- The (Ft. Wayne) Journal Gazette investigates Indiana handgun laws and finds that state laws allow a felon from another state to use his or her real name to get a license to carry a handgun in Indiana because no nationwide back ground check is done. In addition, an Indiana handgun license allows a gun buyer to take immediate possession of a handgun while a nationwide background check is performed.
It’s fine that Kass and other gun owners want their names kept secret. But for a journalist to pretend that there’s not another side to the story — now that’s embarrassing.
Did TBD.com deserve an extra 12 months?
The Monday-morning quarterbacking on the demise of highly regarded news startup TBD.com is already in full swing, and factors from marketing to hyperlocal itself are receiving some blame.
But after just six months of operation, you can’t legitimately cast blame at all — unless its directed at the people who made such a hasty decision to turn out the lights.
Peter Drucker (and Jason Fried) will tell you that very few businesses succeed on their initial concept. Ideas need to be tested, and the results of those tests sharpen or redirect the concept. That’s true for the marketing message, the advertising sales pitch, the editorial tone — everything. Those iterations take much longer than six months. There’s little evidence they happened at all at TBD.
More importantly, even the most aggressive advertising team can’t build a sales pipeline in six months. When you’re selling for a new business, it sometimes takes that long to get an appointment with an ad buyer who’s never heard of you.
So, TBD launched in August. Let’s charitably imagine that it took two months for sales reps to have sit-downs with their blue-chip local advertising prospects. In other words, many of those meetings took place in September and October … just as advertisers were signing contracts for 2011 with other media outlets who had been working them since March. TBD’s reps inevitably heard some variation of this line: “The site looks great. We just spent all of our budget for 2011, though. We’d love to do something in 2012.”
We launched Chicago Current in November 2009 and faced precisely this problem. About 80 percent of the advertisers I spoke with told me to call them back in May. When I did that, they told me to call them back in July. And then they made commitments — for the following year.
It’s crazy to launch a startup without an exit point in mind, whether it’s the length of time or the amount of money you’re willing to spend to hit certain milestones. But it’s equally crazy to launch with the assumption that any of those milestones will come within six months.