Startup Chile Week 9: On learning Spanish

I started Spanish lessons this week. I've signed up for ten private 90-minute classes. I've been doing decently on my own, but wanted a kickstart in speaking more. I like experimenting with different programs. Here's an overview of what's working for me.

Babbel: I started using Babbel the minute I found out I got into Startup Chile. It's great for vocabulary and customized learning as you can choose what vocabulary or grammar you want to practice. It also uses spaced repetition, a learning technique we will be implementing in My Elephant Brain.

Michel Thomas: When you first listen to Michel Thomas you think, what, who is this guy with the strange accent and how can I learn Spanish when he speaks so much English? But then, after just 30 minutes when you realize you can actually speak some Spanish, you become a convert. He's an excellent teacher with a fantastic method for teaching vocabulary and especially grammar. You end up learning without too much effort. There's also an iPhone app available.

Duolingo: It took me a couple of tries to get into Duolingo. Initially I found the translation bits difficult but the software is super slick which makes it pleasant to use. When you're studying a subject for an hour or more a day this makes a difference. It's geared more towards the translation activities of reading and writing so it's not the best for learning to speak. But it's a good complement to Michel Thomas's auditory program and Babbel for learning vocabulary and grammar.

Weekly Summary

Pete's taken on the role of Tribe Leader for the Tech Tribe. He started this week with a talk on Windows 8 development.

My boyfriend Andrew is visiting for two weeks so I had a flurry of vacation planning involving car rentals and flights. We're heading off to Valparaiso (or Valpo) on the coast for a couple of days as soon as he lands. Then we're flying to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for 4 days. And finally we're driving south for a week. It should be awesome!

High of the week: This week gets two. What can I say, it's been a good week!

1) The boy is here!

2) Since we didn't make the top 20%, Startup Chile staff offered to provide feedback to everyone else. We took them up on this offer and got some very positive feedback, which gave me confidence that we are on the right track.

Interesting thing: One of my friends I climb with is Barbora, from the Czech Republic and part of the Videoflot team. They had a housewarming party. There, we met the Slow Riders from Poland. You always meet interesting people while traveling but these guys might take the cake. They are driving a Trabant, a Fiat and a motorcycle across South America. Check out the photos on their Facebook page. Incredible.

Startup Chile Week 8: B2B or B2C

Adam Walker, founder of Local Energy Technologies, gave a presentation this week on his master's thesis topic, comparing B2B and B2C startups. He's analyzing Kauffman data, looking at failure rates compared to other variables. B2B startups have lower rates of failure than B2C startups. He emphasized that with this information, when we see a problem in the marketplace, we should be able to choose at what point in the supply chain to address the problem.

Adam pointed out that most entrepreneurs choose to serve the end-customer rather than look for opportunities along the whole supply chain. This generated a pretty good discussion and one startup shared its story of starting as a B2C company but pivoting to serve businesses when it saw more potential and interest from them.

I find this all fascinating because as My Elephant Brain (and even previously with Fit with Friends), Pete and I purposely chose to go B2B. We both agree that extracting money (and even attention) from consumers right now is very hard so it was a no-brainer decision for us. But I guess it's true that most entrepreneurs do not think this way. The data itself is quite compelling though. If you knew you could lower your risk of failure by making a decision about who you choose as your customer, does it not make sense to do so?

So, B2B. But there's been an interesting development with My Elephant Brain. Check out my "high of the week" below.

Weekly review

Weekly pitch training was moved up a bit earlier in the day this week. I'm not a morning person but I'm at work by 10. Most entrepreneurs aren't in yet so I got a little one-on-one coaching with James, the Pitch Tribe leader, and founder of Marketeer. James is a formally-trained actor and one of those rare, amazing teachers. Every word he says is useful and relevant. I'm surprised more entrepreneurs don't participate in pitch tribe. The skills are not just for pitch presentations. They're also for selling. And you sell every time you open your mouth to talk about what you do. Which is all the time.

I mentored my first Chilean entrepreneurs this week! This pair of teachers is working on providing a tutoring service. They also want to provide a technologically innovative solution to tutors and students. They're still trying to figure out what that might be so I gave them some guidance. It's a bit weird because I certainly don't feel like I have much experience myself but they were really appreciative. I think I provided some value and hope to do it again soon.

This week Startup Chile organized a Christmas party for at-risk children. After the regular fun and games it turned into a dance party and then karaoke. Latin American culture reminds me so much of my own Filipino culture sometimes. :)

High of the week: As part of my marketer role I've been creating profiles on various Startup directory-type sites. Last week I submitted to BetaList. We were published to their newsletter on Sunday. I didn't think much of it but when I logged into our site three days later I found nearly 300 sign-ups. I had a quick look at our site visits and it looks like our conversion was quite high at about 42%. I'll have to dig into this a bit more to be sure, but it was a pleasant high this week. And it also makes me re-think our current B2B strategy. I'll have to talk to these people to see what it is they're expecting and whether they're likely to pay for the service. Exciting times! 

Low of the week: I'm missing that Christmas feeling a bit. It almost feels like it's not happening!

Lesson learned: Who you choose as your customer matters. Go for the one that's willing to pay you.

Interesting thing: A bunch of us went to see The Hobbit. I generally do everything I can to stay uninformed when it comes to movies because I don't like knowing the story or anything beforehand. I read the Hobbit a long time ago but I had two unexpected surprises: First, I didn't know it was going to be in 3D. And second, I didn't know it was only part 1 of 3. But the interesting thing? In Spanish, Master Baggins is Senor Bolson. :)

Startup Chile Week 7: Constantly learning

The coolest piece about this entrepreneurship thing so far is that I'm constantly learning. Maybe it's because I don't know anything, but whatever the case, I'm an eager learner.

This week I learned about agile software development: scrum, kanban and user stories. I've never played a role in building a technology product before so I find this is all new and very interesting. Pete and I put about 40 user stories into Jira, the platform we are using to track software development. User stories describe software features from the perspective of users. They are written like this: 

As a (role) I want (something) so that (benefit).

An example of this would be: As a user I want to login with Facebook so that I don't have to create an account. 

You do this for every single feature you want to build for your product. As we go through these stories we often run into architecture problems which are neat. I guess that's one reason why programming appeals to me (not that I'm doing any of that at the moment).

These user stories are then sorted into priority order and divided into weekly "sprints" or time periods of work. Pete will begin a sprint on Monday. I will be on the sidelines cheering him on, providing water as needed.

Weekly Summary

This week I met with our "padrino." Padrinos (or padrinas) are connections that Startup Chile arranges for us. They're locals (or in our case an almost local, having lived here for 13 years) that help ease the transition of adjusting to a new city/country/culture. Or as our padrino Shawn puts it, it's the person you call if for some reason you land in jail. Shawn is founder of Austral Group which does MBA study tours to Latin America. He also has an awesome dog with an awesome name - Guinness.

High of the week: I went climbing this week with my friend Stephan, founder of Fairlink. Although I've been climbing twice in Chile, this was the first time I led, which felt great. We both led two climbs and tried a third, harder one, which we bailed on. As we were walking down the mountain waiting for the collectivo (shared taxi), a pickup truck picked us up and we rode down in the open back. I hadn't done this in a while, fun, fun, fun!

Low of the week: It's sometimes funny working the other side of this enabler-entrepreneur equation. Having done research for hundreds of startups, you develop the habit of judging ideas pretty quickly. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong, but if you're negative on an idea you usually keep it to yourself.

This week I got a taste of the other side when I met with a representative from a local mentor network about getting a Chilean mentor. She asked me whether my idea was necessary. So I did some convincing but ultimately I could tell that she had judged My Elephant Brain as being an early-stage company (which it is) that might not have a market. Fair enough. At first I was disappointed because this was the first negative feedback I had received. But upon reflection I actually appreciate her honesty. Until we have market validation My Elephant Brain is not a business. This inspires me to try harder to achieve product-market fit. 

Lesson learned: I pride myself in being honest. I should respect and appreciate the same from others.

Interesting thing: I've been doing a weekly 40-minute hike up Cerro San Cristobal. It's a big hill with a a great view of the city and a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top. It's a 5-minute walk away from where I live so it's super convenient. Usually the scene is a mix of runners, mountain bikers and people walking. This week it was the Immaculate Conception so I ended up joining a pilgrimage up the mountain. 

The pilgrimage.