How to Validate Your Business Idea: The Lean Startup By Eric Ries

Starting a business is a very daunting task. However, with this week’s tips, you can start by validating first your business idea before you even go full blast with your business. Here are some tips from the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries:

Draft the User Experience Vision. It is crucial to develop the journey of the user. If possible, draft it with functional specifications and UI/UX wireframe. It will serve as a high-level plan, so you will be able to consider all aspects that you can offer to your target market. The photo below is the actual brainstorming notes for our Snap Accounting project at Hilsoft.

Identify Critical Assumptions. With Snap Accounting, we assume that small businesses, who want to make their back-end transaction processing efficient, are not tech-savvy enough to setup existing self-service accounting platform. So our critical assumption is that they will need a platform where they can start to record their invoices or checks in a snap.

Build an Early Version to Validate a Critical Assumption (Concierge MVP, Smoke Screen MVP). In 2016, we started by forking the accounting module from our existing ERP suite. We quickly replaced the UI/UX but launched it without the self-service option yet. We offered it to accounting firms but did the customer onboarding manually. That is the concierge Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach. The smokescreen MVP is where you develop marketing campaigns without a finished product yet. It is like a pre-selling or pre-order style of MVP.

Release and Measure. After reaching 100 active users in the Concierge MVP of Snap, that’s the time we developed the self-service option (hilsoftsnap.com). We are now in the process of posting online ads and measuring the feedback of the market. At the moment, we get about 5-7 new registrations per week, with about 1-2 accounts that remain active.

Pivot or Persevere. This stage is where you do iterations in your product and tweaks your marketing efforts. I recommended that you continue to do that cycle until you reach your ultimate goal of either your revenue goals or investment for growth. Perseverance is the key.

Tuesday Tip With Net: Spice Up Your Breakfast

I want to welcome back Net! He was lost for a couple of months until I found him hibernating inside the car compartment. Net is here to bring you creative and innovative tips or tricks on Tuesdays.

Morning breakfasts don’t have to be the same fried thing every day. Today’s tip is a list of breakfast options that are not only healthy but also delicious though you have to invest in some unique ingredients. In any case, it is worth it.

Here are the common ingredients on every menu:

  1. Eggs
  2. Chia Seeds
  3. Flaxseeds
  4. Bacon
  5. Protein Powder / Whey
  6. Fresh or frozen Strawberries or Blueberries
  7. Peanut Butter
  8. Greek Yogurt
  9. Goat or Feta Cheese

Preparation is so easy. You’ll need a blender and baking oven in some of the menu.

Menu sample 1: Veggie Egg White Omelette 

   4 egg whites

   bell pepper

   goat cheese

   spinach

   Heat a medium-sized pan with cooking oil and saute the bell peppers and spinach. Pour egg whites, flip, mix and fold.

Menu sample 2: Baked Eggs

1 sweet potato

    2 eggs

    bacon bits

     coconut oil

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a pan over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon of coconut oil and add your chopped bacon. Cook bacon for about 3 minutes then set aside.

     In the same pan, add your sweet potato and cook for 4 minutes over medium heat.

   In a small oven-safe dish, layer your sweet potato on the bottom of the bowl, then chopped bacon and crack eggs on top with some salt and paper.

    Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Menu sample 3: Protein Shakes

    1 scoop of protein shake

    1 tbsp chia seeds

     2 cups of milk

     1 handful of spinach

     ice cubes

     1/4 cup of strawberries or blueberries

    Place all ingredients into the blender and blend for 1-2 minutes.

You can experiment with different types of shakes from strawberries to peanut butter, avocado, dark chocolate, flaxseeds, etc. Or mix and match eggs with greens, avocados, pancake, banana, etc. There’s a lot of options or even menu on the Internet. You just need to stock the common ingredients and tools above.

My Productivity Apps

Productivity is on the decline when we are disengaged from our work. We tend to procrastinate, at times, or become lazy with a big chunk of tasks on hand. It is the reason why I am obsessing the idea of making my work more anxiety-free and be more productive.

It’s a good thing that there are many productivity mobile apps available to make our work life more comfortable. I’ve tried a lot of tools, and here is what I use for now.

  1. Trello – I fell in love with Trello after trying several project management tools. I tried Assembla, Jira, Asana, Remember The Milk, but Trello somehow fit in with my work and lifestyle because of it’s built-in support for agile. I also have met Michael Pryor, co-founder and CEO of Trello and mentored us in Lisbon Web Summit last 2016.
  2. Alarmed – it is a very flexible reminder app that can nag you, or give you the option to snooze, add more hours or minutes on the fly. We all know that our day doesn’t really happen as planned, and with this app, I can easily adjust accordingly.
  3. Viber, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and Telegram – I use all of these tools because of the different preferences of my contacts. If I have a choice, then I would prefer to have a single app for all. I tried researching for one, but there’s no available in the market yet. Hopefully, someone invents this soon.
  4. Spark – I just tried this email client app to solve my problem in delegating an email to someone without forwarding it to the person. I still use the Gmail app in sorting out my email, but I use Spark when I need to delegate some messages in my inbox.
  5. Forest – I use this app when I want to focus on a particular task, and if I don’t want to be disturbed. It is an app where a user can set some minutes to work on a job (Pomodoro style). Trees grow virtually as a virtual reminder that you are growing and productive until you finish the time set.

These are just tools, but in the end, it is all about how your approach in using them. You can use this and still be stressful. The key is organizing your time properly, time-blocking, and being mindful of urgent-important matters vs. non-urgent-non-important ones.

Maybe you would want to stop and gather your thoughts before engaging. I use Evernote in journaling and mind mapping when things are a little bit all over the place.

Creative Ways to Protect Your Small Business Legally At Minimal Cost

In our culture, legal support is often viewed as a luxury, than a necessity. We don’t typically subscribe to a legal retainer with a law firm during the early stage of our business. Why? Because we tend to focus on selling, marketing, and survival than the legal aspect. But in my experience, I would recommend that we establish our legal structure early on to avoid mishaps in the future.

As a startup or a small business, here are some guidelines on how to protect ourselves legally without necessarily hiring a legal retainer.

  1. Company Registration. Register as a corporation as this limits the liability of the owner or shareholders. You won’t be personally liable to the debt of the corporation. Gone are the days that we need to find dummy shareholders in the Philippines because of our support for a one-person corporation. I won’t mention details of others like, BIR, City Hall, SSS, PHIC, HDMF, etc., as these are all mandatory and straightforward.
  2. Employee Onboarding. Make sure you secure signatures of the following when you signup a new employee:
    1. Job Offer
    2. Job Description
    3. Employment Contract
    4. Accountability Forms
    5. Company Policies, Employee Manual and Code of Conduct
  3. Employee Management and Firing.  
    1. Document all incident reports, issue Notice To Explain on every incident and implement disciplinary actions according to your code of conduct.  
    2. If you want to fire an employee, schedule an admin hearing to let him/her state their case, and then execute fairly.
    3. Set a quarterly reminder to allow employees to evaluate themselves, then followed by the supervisor’s evaluation and then score them 1-10. For probationary employees, make sure to have a performance evaluation every 3rd and 5th of the month.
  4. Sales Contracts. This is basic, but we tend to disregard once we signup a deal with a customer. Make sure all your projects or sales are well documented with details like project period, the scope of work, and payment terms. Be also mindful of the termination clause. Some customers see a weak termination clause as an opportunity to terminate and ask for a refund, but in reality, they just changed their minds or have no budget at all.
  5. Service Delivery. Document, document, document. Make sure to document all services rendered by securing a service delivery acceptance form. If you deliver goods, a delivery receipt is a must. Record every minute of the meetings and file them up properly for easy retrieval during a legal mess. If the customer issues a demand letter, make sure to respond.
  6. Tax Management. This is a broad topic, but the most basic is proper filing to BIR of sales and expenses regardless if you have transactions or not. Consult with an accountant and get a copy of tax filing schedules and deadlines.

Dealing with legal issues are inevitable when your business grows. Thus if you set your legal structure early, then it will significantly help you in the future. Hiring legal will obviously protect you later on as I still recommend this when your budget permits.

Are Filipino SMEs Ready for Virtual Employees?

Telecommuting, remote work, home-based jobs are terms that we use in working virtually.  This virtual team structure is growing in popularity in organizations.  To some extent, we are already practicing working with people who are not in our visual proximity although we are in the same building or premises. 

We utilize instant messaging, emails, video conference tools to collaborate with our team.

Many organizations who are flexible and adaptable have already explored a virtual office environment as one means of achieving goals and project objectives. 

BPOs in the Philippines are virtual teams of their corresponding HQs in the US or Europe and not only dispersed geographically but also in timezones.

Here are some advantages of virtual teams:

  • Reduced time and costs in travel
  • Higher productivity, more time, and fewer distractions.
  • A higher degree of employee engagement and freedom from office policies
  • For companies to leverage talent across geographic boundaries.
  • Lesser overhead cost of office space for organizations.
  • Quicker decision making, less face to face meetings.
  • Improve detail due to documented instructions and notes

Disadvantages:

  • Some people work well with physical interaction.
  • Employee behavior diversity in virtual teams leads to cultural issues.
  • Employees who need training, encouragement, and motivation.
  • Weaker control and some employees don’t have a conducive workspace.

I am writing this because I am not sure of the answer. Maybe it depends on the industry, culture, nature of products/service, or ethnicity. This post is also to officially announce that Hilsoft, being an advocate of change adaptation and innovation is going virtual. This move is also in line with our recent initiative to go complete SAAS by the end of 2020.

Since last month, I started experimenting being virtual by living in a nearby province and less face-to-face meetings with the team at HQ.  We already have initiated a survey internally with the employees who are willing to work at home, which 50% responded yes and the 25% others responded either option would do.  The rest, which is new employees, wanted to work in the office, which makes sense.

This coming week, I am about to finalize remote work policies, control procedures, and performance measurement.  There’s so much more to consider, from hiring, face-to-face team meeting schedules, training, sales calls, client visits, etc.

I will document and publish the progress, hoping to provide value with entrepreneurs who are considering this strategy.

Innovation is Infinite

I just turned 39 and my fire to innovate keeps on burning. Creativity never stops, and I feel haven’t even started yet. Here are 39 sample innovations you can do to your life. It is endless.

1. Break your routine, your commute route or your habits.

2. Refrain from eating rice and replace it with sweet potatoes or any good carbs.

3. Download free home bodyweight workouts.

4. Try self-hypnosis.

5. Allot 20% of your income to pay debts.

6. Google passive income opportunities.

7. Try the Pomodoro technique at work.

8. Try Bullet Journaling technique.

9. Learn how to sell. Selling talent = Income Growth.

10. Identify your personal brand and enhance it. Brand is a long term asset.

11. Grow your network online.

12. Google hobby list and try some hobbies at least once a month. It can be your business one day.

13. Focus on one market niche at a time.

14. Be mindful in spending time with your spouse and your kids.

15. Connect with your relatives and friends at least once in a while.

16. Browse through your contact list and randomly send a “How are you?” text.

17. Declutter your desktop at least once a month.

18. Create a YouTube channel and document your business or life adventures.

19. Create an Instagram account and post every food you eat, refer from calorie content apps and put calorie captions in your post

20. Buy a sketch pad and try doodling or sketching. It is therapeutic.

21. Try waking up at 4am and sleeping early. Or vice versa.

22. Listen to podcasts while in traffic.

23. Message influencers or celebrities and offer them your service for free, video editing, copywriting, website development,

24. Connect with at least 10 LinkedIn accounts a day. Message them and offer your service.

25. Organize a small group dinner at least once a month.

26. Not fond of reading? Try audiobooks.

27. Practice labeling every action you do. “brushing teeth”, “sitting down”, “listening”, “washing face”, it improves your concentration skills and makes you be present.

28. Try something new at least once a month. Something you are scared of like public speaking, riding a motorcycle, etc.

29. Sleep naked.

30. No motivation to workout? Start small by walking in a park. Gradually increase your time.

31. Search self-motivation or self-affirmation on YouTube. Listen to it when you’re down.

32. Replace your negative thoughts, worries, fears with positive affirmations. As long as you take actions to overcome those challenges, then you have nothing to worry about.

33. Grow your idea muscle. Force yourself to think of 10 ideas a day.

34. Learn how to code.

35. Learn a new dish at least once a month.

36. For the singles, there’s no harm trying online dating.

37. Spend on travels than hoarding material things.

38. Engage with social media by liking, commenting or giving sensible opinions on their posts.

39. Establish an evening routine by evaluating what has transpired in your day, ask yourself what would somebody you look up to do with your current challenges, congratulate yourself and identify three important tasks to focus on the next day.

What is Your Ability To Innovate?

It was January 19, 2004, when there was an outburst of passion that exploded in our condo office unit. We saw a new article from eBusiness news about our product, the first-ever fully web-based accounting software in the Philippines. At that time, the term SAAS was named ASP or Application Service Provider.

We partnered with Ayalaport, a newly constructed data center in Makati to host our software and offered the tool in the market as subscription per month model.

We had our first client for the product, a bus company who used our accounting tool connected to a RAS dial-up connected to AyalaPort. But they only agreed to use it if we will develop a mobile bus ticketing application for them. It turned out our focus went to software development instead of product development.

Our second client was an accounting firm who has a team of accountants who is well-versed in Solomon software. They forced our product to be customized according to what they were used to be using.

We were supposed to be a product company but turned out to be a service delivery company. That has been our DNA up to this writing.

The term DNA in a business organization refers to the organization’s ability to perform and innovate. It can be its core values, culture, personality, or how the organization behaves as a team.

DNA determines the company’s productivity, profitability, and overall performance. But at times, the market behavior dictates the DNA of the company just like life and evolution. We evolve by adapting to change, the survival of the fittest. If you don’t adapt, you die.

It is the job of the company leader, or the founder to choose the company’s DNA based on his or her preference. If the leader mindlessly pursues projects without analyzing its effect on the organization, then it is when the market define you and not the other way around.

Hilsoft, for the longest time, has been around because of its customer-service centric nature. We construct and custom-fit solutions according to the customer need. Relevant to my recent post, “The Ugly Truth About The Customized Software Business,” there are challenges in that model that is not supposed to be complicated. It should be easy if the customer and the vendor, work harmoniously as a team, and very reliable.

With this realization, I am proud to announce that we are gradually steering the company towards being product-oriented as initially planned. We are going 100% SAAS in 3 years.

Hilsoft ERP Connect
http://www.hilsoftinc.com/erp