To Pivot, or, Not to Pivot

Sometimes when you swing at the ball, you simply miss and create a hole in the ground.

Lessons learned from entrepreneur by Demian Entrekin

Retrospective

In the spirit of Agile, here’s my retrospective on Pivoting.

The Yin & Yang of it All

Eric Ries defines the concept of a Pivot as:

… the idea that successful startups change directions but stay grounded in what they’ve learned. They keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future. Over time, this pivoting may lead them far afield from their original vision, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to detect common threads that link each iteration.

Why would you Pivot? Well, in our case, we felt we achieved Problem/Solution Fit – we think we have a problem worth solving. Granted, we’re working a little backwards here because we feel we have the Minimum Viable Product (and more) before running any Experiments. (That “MVP Feeling” could very well be an issue.) Nonetheless, you start thinking about Pivoting when you’re not getting any traction – people just aren’t adopting your solution. So at one point you’ve got to wonder if it’s your message, your target audience, or, simply you & your ingenious idea?

If they aren’t ready to listen, it doesn’t matter what you say

Don Dodge posted:

Don’t waste time trying to convert someone who isn’t ready to listen. Move on to the next prospect. Go back to the doubters later with a fistful of customers or partners. Or better yet, let them come to you…when they are ready to listen.

Personally, I love that! If I understand correctly, that means you’re just not targeting the right audience. But that also means, at some point after trying other audiences and still without traction, you have to rethink the root cause.

Pivoting comes to mind, but unless you have enough data from previous Experiments, or, a Minimal Viable Target Audience (MVTA) to Experiment with, then you’re exposing yourself even more to the dreaded “W” word:

Waste is any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value.

— Womak/Jones, Lean Thinking (Thanks Ash)

Pivot or Divot?

Demian Entrekin brings up an interesting image.

One unfortunate aspect of the term “pivot” is that it sounds like “divot.” If you are a golfer, you know what a divot is. It’s a hole in the ground where you missed the ball.

So what happens if you think you’re not getting traction because your new fangled ingenious idea changes the status quo? We consistently get good feedback from Consumers because we save them time & money trying to find What they want from local retailers/merchants who actually have it in stock. However, the retailers/merchants we interviewed & Experimented with don’t really seem to care about saving anyone time & money.  Not even their own! I just don’t get it.  If you, as a sales rep in a store could reply to a simple message  – like email, Twitter / text, or, instant message that you have something in stock, doesn’t that make your life easier? Didn’t you just close a sale with Minimal Viable Effort (MVE)?  Most sales reps we encountered share the attitude that if the customer wants it they’ll find me. Don’t they even know their ABC‘s? What ever happened to Always Be Closing? I hate status quo!

Lesson To Learn

So unless I completely missed the boat on our Problem/ Solution Fit, I have to plot a course towards a more fitting Minimal Viable Target Audience (MVTA) to run the next Experiment, to gather more metrics, before even thinking about the next Pivot.

It’s A Pirate’s Life For Me

Not just the Spanish Main, love. The entire ocean. The entire wo’ld. Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs but what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.

Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Source: http://pirates.wikia.com/wiki/File:Jack_Last_Scene_COTBP.jpg

Light Bulb!Light bulb!

Last week the family & I went out to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the very last lines made me think about life as a Startup.

Gibbs: Jack, I have to ask. You had the chalices, the water, the tear, you could have lived maybe forever?
Jack Sparrow: The fountain does test you Gibbs. But better to not know which moment maybe your last. Every morsel of your entire being alive to the infinite mystery of it all. And who’s to say I won’t live forever, hey? Discoverer of the fountain of youth. I have no say in it, Gibbs. It’s a pirates life for me. Savvy!

Savvy?

That’s what it’s like living the life of a Startup.  Even the Pirate Code – which crew members sign, entitling him them to vote for “officers and on other affairs of moment, to bear arms, and to his share of the plunder”  bear resemblance to some startup structures.

Lessons To Learn

Whether you be a captain/founder, or, an employee/crew member, you always have to think like a Pirate. The startup is your ship and your ship is your freedom.

The wind’s on our side boys! That’s all we need!

Gibbs

It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy.

Steve Jobs

My Sustainable, Repeatable, Scalable Startup Lessons Learned

A startup is a temporary organization formed to search for a sustainable*, repeatable and scalable business model.

Steve Blank (*Ash Maurya helped me with “sustainable”)

My Prezi Startup Lessons Learned - #1 Lesson
My Prezi Startup Lessons Learned - #1 Lesson

Mantra

This is my #1 lesson learned. Regardless of the situation, the first questions that come to mind when considering any course of action is

  1. Is it sustainable?
  2. Is it repeatable?
  3. Is it scalable?

Used Car Pivot Scenario

For AnotherSocialEconomy’s used car vertical, we experimented using Google Adwords for our used car Customer Channel. We had a daily budget of $10 for our English Campaign & $10 for our French Campaign, both set to the greater Montreal area. Initially, our Cost Per Clicks were around $2 but after some tweaking & some special sauce we got them down to $0.72. (Read the documentation. It’s all in the Quality Score!) And within 10 days, we actual “sold” a car. Not bad, eh? That’s the good news.

Based on our Customer Interviews, we wanted to validate our hypothesis that car dealers would be willing to subscribe to our lead generation service, once we proved we can deliver leads – despite spending one tenth (ultra conservative) of what they’d spend on their monthly advertising.

Business Model

Revenue

The beta would be free but with the understanding that dealers would pay a monthly subscription of $250 – which includes 25 free Proposals.  After that, it would be $10 a Proposal.  Since many managers also were skeptical of their sales reps being able to deal with the emails, we’d also offer a Managed Service for double the price.

Costs

We were spending less than $600 a month on creating Demand. But there were hidden costs. Each new Consumer’s email address had to be validated. Then each new Demand had to be qualified since most of them were for something like “BMW 335i”.

From the car dealer’s perspective, we wanted more than a URL and “Have your customer call me” response. We wanted them to take advantage of the situation and offer some incentive for the Consumer to contact them.  We wanted them to think like a “Nordie”.

Lesson Learned

Is it sustainable?

No. The Car Dealer Pivot Customer Channel was simply too expensive to sustain with the current Revenue Model. However, while none of the dealers wanted to pay subscription fees, most were willing to pay a finder’s fee which could justify the Adwords expense.

Is it repeatable?

No. The Car Dealer Pivot was simply too complicated. Our original idea was to go after Consumers looking to buy something more precise – like a “Wii Super Mario game”. Something that a retailer either has in stock, or, doesn’t. There’s just too many variables in used cars to repeat the process in another vertical.

Is it scalable?

No. The Car Dealer Pivot required a lot of manual intervention on both the Consumer side, as well as, the Retailer side.

Bad Pivot?

No. The Car Dealer Pivot was not a bad move because we learned a lot. For example:

  1. Customer Development: We should have interviewed more dealers. Although we did have enough Early Adopters to launch the beta, we should have qualified them better. We didn’t want to take any money until we knew we could deliver qualified leads. And when it came time to “sign” they crapped out.
  2. Customer Channel: We learned a lot about Google Adwords and I think we got pretty could at it even after only a few weeks.  I still think it’s a good channel for us to find Consumers. Our biggest oversight was the dealers’ unwillingness to participate.  We still don’t understand why someone making commission on a used car won’t reach out to a local prospect.
  3. Unique Value Proposition: We should have stuck to our original vision of connecting Consumers who know exactly what they want – like a “Wii Super Mario game”, to local Retailers who either have it, or, don’t have it in stock.
  4. Get Out of the Building: We definitely got out of the building. We definitely exercised our bits.
  5. Problem/Solution Fit: Every Consumer we spoke to outside of the Building can identify with the Problem/Solution. However, that’s not the case for used car dealers (Retailers). Their Solution requires the Managed Service which, unless funded by the car Manufacturers, is simply too expensive for us to pursue. And while we have a Pitch for that, even “validated” by a few insiders, we already learned our lesson and choose to move on.

Up next

Stay tuned as I drill-down into my My Prezi Startup Lessons Learned.

Startup Lessons Learned 2011. Has It Been a Year Already?

You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.

– Steve Jobs’ Stanford University Commencement address (2005)

 

 

Garr Reynolds' "Career Advice '08"

Background

I was preparing a Prezi presentation on my startup Lessons Learned, looking back to my blog and and our Cynapse cyn.in social software suite for help in tracing my steps and it hit me.  OMG! It’s been two years since I posted about this Steve Jobs quote & Garr Reynolds’ images are still stuck in my mind’s eye. It’s been one year since I posted about my first Pivot – inspired by Startup Lesson Learned 2010 conference and the Retrospective (Agile) has simply compelled me to blog about my dots and where they have led me.

My Lessons Learned Sprints

My Lessons Learned Prezi may still be a work in process but the dots seem to be in place.  Trying to blog about the entire Retrospective is just too daunting. So in the spirit of Agile, I’ll break the Prezi up into dot-size sprints and will change the posted dates accordingly.

In the meantime, you can read about my favorite part of  Startup Lessons Learned Conference 2011Steve Blank’s Lean Launch Lab beta, as chronicled by Morgan Linton.

 

Lean Lectures #1 with Ash Maurya

Systematically iterate your product from Plan A to a plan that works.

Ash Maurya, Running Lean

Background

My first encounter with the Lean startup movement was last April at the Startup Lessons Learned. (BTW, according to Raymond Luk, Montreal had the greatest number of attendees!) I was amazed to say the least. It was Agile software development for startups! And while Dom & I practice an Agile approach to developing AnotherSocialEconomy, we weren’t doing so from the business side of things. To be fair, I’ve already lived through the highs & lows of a startup life back in the dot com days, so I do have a few of my own Lesson Learned, plus I’m a big fan of Guy Kawasaki. This time around, things are different. But now the question begs to be asked; “Are they different enough?”.

Lesson #1

Last night I attended the first in a series of presentations to be hosted by YearOne Labs on the Lean Movement – this one presented by Ash Maurya. Ash’s presentation is based on his book Running Lean, where he describes the systematic approach he’s learned and practiced over the years. (You can download the first two chapters which help explain the slides above.)

I won’t try summarizing Ash’s content since you’d be better served by visiting his site those he mentions like Eric Ries and Steve Blank. You can watch a few of their interviews on Vator TV Eric Ries and his ‘lean startup’ awakening, Entrepreneurship: a faith-based endeavor and What is the job of a CEO?.

Customer Development from Day 1?

OK, we didn’t do that. However, we did not completely live in a vacuum either and have actually Pivoted several times. And with each Pivot, we stayed true to the underlying value proposition: Save both consumers and retailers time, aggravation and money by connecting those who shop online and purchase locally offline.

I Regret Not Asking

The one question I should have asked Ash when I had the chance was: “How do you balance Customer Development with Defensibility?”.

Anyone care to suggest any answers?



The Yin Yang of Techie Start Ups

yin yangIn Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn… Yin yang are complementary opposites within a greater whole. Everything has both yin and yang aspects,.. constantly interacting, never existing in absolute stasis.
Yin and yang – Wikipedia

Background

We’ve reached our techie milestone. We have quality code running in the Google AppEngine clouds. We’ve validated our concept with as many people that will listen to us. We’re at the point now where we have to validate with the market. We need users. More specifically, we need Consumers and we need Retailers. We need marketing & we need public relations (PR).

Challenge

So while the real techie – Dom Derrien, can breath a little easier, the other – me, with my techie background, has to go out and market the crap out of Twetailer. But, I’m not really a marketing kind of guy. While I absolutely love demoing and presenting and evangelizing, I’m not particularly strong at finding the right people to get in front of. So, I need to find myself a marketing guru. But being an ultra-light start up (read “living of my wife and kids”), I need to find a marketing guru – preferably one shooting for the social networking sphere, who’s willing to drink the Kool-Aid. Fortunately, Marc Bienstock likes Kool-Aid.

Lesson Learned

Twetailer was conceived and originally targeted for techies like ourselves – cube dwellers. Which is fine, since we never planned on using the line “If only 1% of China…”. So demoing to techies was never a real problem, despite some minor usability issues. But in order to get to the next level, we had to demo to prospective partners, prospective CEOs, prospective Consumers and prospective Retailers. And the further away we got from the cube dwellers, the greater the usability issue became for those higher up in the org chart – tower dwellers. Thankfully, everyone got the true value of Twetailer’s service:  “Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via simple messages, for f(r)ee, or, Reverse Retailing”. But even our own accountant and lawyer turned on us with comments like “Can’t I just have one button to press? I’m not very comfortable with all this texting stuff. Hey, I have a great idea! How about an app for my Blackberry?”. Not bad for tower-dwellers, eh? 🙂

So now I think I understand. While I originally intended to service techie consumers, I needed non-techies to help me get that service to them. In other words, my techie solution had a non-techie dependency.

Time to Pivot

It pays to get out of the basement. Last April, I attended the Montreal venue for the Startup Lessons Learned Conference where among other gems, I was introduced to what Steve Blank calls Customer Development process and Eric Ries calls the The Pivot:

“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.

Modified Business Model

Originally, the fee plan was to charge both Consumer & Retailer a transaction fee similar to that of Amazon Flexible Payments Service fees (about 3%). But after speaking to several people, it became clear we couldn’t build a sustainable business like that. The common thought was the best idea is to solve a real business problem and charge money for it. So we’re going to charge a monthly subscription fee for registered Retailers. And because Marc felt Twetailer was too generalized and people needed a sense of urgency to use it, we’ve also introduced a Reseller distribution channel with our first one being targeted towards golfers & golf courses. (Congrats to Marc for being our first Reseller!) And to address usability issues, we’re offering a Managed Service for those non-techie Retailers out there.

Modified Development Roadmap

As much as I didn’t want to go down this route until there was actual income to pay for it, I seem to be in a Catch 22: If we don’t build it, they won’t come. If they don’t come, then I can’t afford to build it. So we re-prioritized some things & built it – an Android app targeted for the Golfer (Consumer) wanting to find a local Golf Course (Retailer). And since Twetailer is vertical agnostic, we’re making the app open source so other’s out there may be encouraged to built their own vertical, or, reseller market using our open application programming interface (API). Oh and by the way,  for those of you like my good buddy Rick Boretsky who think only techies have Android mobile devices, I encourage you to take a look a the First quarter 2010 information from The NPD Group’s Mobile Phone Track which reveals a shift in the smartphone market, as Android OS edged out Apple’s OS for the number-two position behind RIM.

Golf Pivot Videos

Please take a look at our pivot trilogy (less than 10 minutes) and let me know your thoughts. The first is intended to address our target audience with the second identifying their pain and the third illustrating our solution (for non-techies and techies alike).

Reflection

What do you think? Am I setting a bad precedence? Am I clouding my inability to market/sell my start up by throwing more code, time & energy at the problem, as opposed to, finding/solving the root-cause? Or, do you think this is a step in the right direction?

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Kool-Aid Being Served Here

#1You do not get credit before you do the work

Jason Calacanis, TWiST #47 with Niel Robertson (0:11:17)

If you’ve never heard of Jason Calacanis, then you owe it to yourself to check him out on one of his many ThisWeekIn episodes. I had the privaledge to demo to him once & he’s a character & a half! This past week he went after Generation Y – well 80% of them. And to be quite honest, I agree with him. Check out my own experience – My First Demo Pitch. Are All Retail Sales Associates Like This?

Living the Ultra Light Startup Life

Having lived and died the start up life during the dot com days and after reading everything on the right sidebar under Pivotal Reading, I’m now a proud ultra light startup entrepreneur. (See What are the characteristics of an Ultra Light Startup?.) With Guy Kawasaki‘s autographed copies of Reality Check & The Art of the Start tucked under my pillow at night, I have no trouble admitting to living off my faithful wife, dipping into my two beautiful children’s savings accounts the odd time and yes, there is a line of credit. So, if this was your reality, how would you go about soliciting help starting your startup?

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Work-For-Attribution. That’s what I called it back in my post The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 2 and that’s what’s in my Copyright Assignment Agreement. At least that’s the politically correct way of putting it. But lately, I just refer to it as Drinking the Kool-Aid.

The Pitch

Here’s my scoop

  1. I have no money.
  2. I’m living off the kindness of my wife & kids.
  3. I’ve done the startup thing & I’ve done it all wrong. Just Read Guy Kawasaki’s books for more examples.
  4. I understand the value of lawyers & accountants, so they get paid first and that comes out of my line of credit.
  5. If I understand my accountant – Sheldon Miller, correctly; banks just want the interest on your line of credit. VCs’ have a different kind of interest.
  6. If I understand my lawyer – François Senécal, correctly; pay for what’s in the critical path to getting your product to market.  Don’t pay for things like; “but what if one day Google buys this thing for a gazillion dollars?”.
  7. If I understand Guy Kawasaki correctly, paying for things that may never happen simply reduces the likelyhood they will.

Here’s what I believe

  1. I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that love what they do but not necessarily where they’re doing.
  2. I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that desperately want and can do more than what they’re do now.
  3. I believe these people just need an opportunity.

If you’re one of these people, then here’s what I’m offering you

  1. I’m offering you a chance to build your own micro startup doing things exactly the way you want them done.
  2. I’m offering you a chance to go beyond resumés and looking backwards when all you want to do is look to the future.
  3. I’m offering you a canvas, silly putty, a stage for to show the world what makes you so hot.

Here’s the Risk

  1. You have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
  2. You have to sign a Copyright Assignment Agreement. Typically, when you sign one of these with your employer, you agree to give them total ownership of your work & they agree to financially compensate you for it. In my case, you agree to give me (Milstein & Associates Inc.) total ownership of your work & I agree to fully attribute your contribution. You get no money, no shares, no promises of anything beyond public attribution. Oddly enough, it’s exactly as Jason said in above episode.

Here’s the Reward

  1. If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the first questions they may ask is; “Is the Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “Yes”.
  2. If one day Google wants to offer a gazillion dollars, one of the following questions they may ask is; “Is the team that contributed that coveted Intellectual Property locked down my Milstein & Associates Inc.”. The answer is “No”. At that point, my guess is that Google will then determine the value of locking down these contributors.

Bottom Line

In order for my startup to succeed, I can’t afford to chance that maybe you’ll contribute enough for Google to offer that gazillion dollars. In order for you to truly succeed, you can’t afford to give up an opportunity like this. Besides, who would you rather assess your true value? Me – a guy living off his wife, kids & a line of credit, or, Google? Basically, all I’m offering you is a chance to sit at the table. But first, you have to set it & fill the glasses with Kool-Aid. Do you have a better offer from someone else?

Reflection

So far three people have drank the Kool-Aid & I’m hoping one, or, two more will belly up to the table in the coming weeks. Take a look at Dom Derrien’s blog and let me know if you still think, in the worst case scenario, that he’s not seeing some form of immediate returns on his investment.

Next Up

Thanks to TWiST #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson, I just ordered Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (founders of 37Signals). Stay tuned to see why.

TWiST #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson

My First Pitch to More Than One Person Over the Age of 12. What a rush!

In fine company last night among QuantumWhisper, SoleiraSun, SolidWild at Montreal NEWTECH’s Demo Night.

Just demo!

Jason Calacanis, TechCrunch50 2009 Twetailer semi-finalist demo.

In 140 characters, or, less

Twetailer: Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via tweets, for f(r)ee, or, Reverse Retailing.

Rehearsed version

Live version

Last night I presented the slides & recordings as above but did the audio part live. Technically, I had 10 minutes – 5 for demo & 5 for Q&A. I actually consumed 7 minutes, leaving on 3 for Q&A.

Here’s the Q&A (paraphrased):
Q. Do you have any retailers signed up?
A. That’s the stage we’re at right now. We actually have one, my Volkswagen dealer Volkswagen Des Sources. GregVW thinks its great for used cars!
Q. Is it fully functional?
A. Yes! The recorded demo part was just to make sure we didn’t run into any timing issues. We also weren’t sure about Internet access here – which as it turns out, there’s none. But Yes, it’s fully functional. You can even do you own demo by sending “d twetailer what-are-you-buying #demo” and a robot will play the Sales Associate role. If you want, try sending “d twetailer used vw 2010 #demo” and Greg may even play along too.

Big Thanks!

Many thanks to Montreal NewTech, Felipe Coimbra for all his time, twitter apps & organization savy and the sponsors Bolidea and 63 Squares – Web Technologies and Marketing Collective.

See you at the NewTech Series: Pitch, Thu 2010-04-15 6pm.

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My First Cold Call Demo Pitch and Are All Retail Sales Associates Like This?

Man I told you… my day is, I come to work, I get paid, I go home. You think I want to do this all my life?

– Retailer Sales Associate (Let’s call him Trevor)

a teenage girl with a bored look twisting her hair
Like I care?

Background

Over the past few posts, I’ve spent some time describing my Social Software in Schools project, which has been an absolute blast & has yeilded some surprising results. (But that’ll be another post.) However, I also spend my time on my true start-up – twetailer. Without going into much detail here, I’ll just put things in context by defining it as:

Twetailer: Brokering Consumer Demand with local Retailers’ available Supply – via tweets, for f(r)ee.

Prior to heading off to pitch a potential business partner, I decided to try out my routine on an unsuspecting Retail Sales Associate who I thought fit our personna – young, tech savy, looking for an easier way to get things done. My pitch demos how consumers Google for product reviews, make a decision, then search for a local retailer to make the sale. Part of the demo, demonstrates how local business directories / search engines were failing local retailers, thereby creating greater barriers for entry (sales) to their stores – partly due to their antiquated taxonomy/categories.

The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Dragnet trademark

My Story

I approached Trevor – an unoccupied Carl’s Cameras Sales Associate, as opposed to, the older gentleman behind the cash register making sales. I introduced myself as being part of an Internet start-up company offering a free search service that matches consumers ready to purchase products with local retailers ready to make sales – all via Tweets/text messages. While Trevor didn’t use Twitter (too young), he was willing to listen, so I opened my MacBook & started my Keynote presentation. I went through all the slides/videos & stopped at the demo part to elaborate. Trevor was engaged! He had questions & thought it was “really cool”. He thought searching Yellow Pages for “cameras” locally was useless but did accept there may not be many alternatives, even after I demoed Google Maps local search. He wasn’t surprised to see Carl’s Cameras not among the initial Yellow Pages search results & conceded that no one walks into the store asking for “digital image processing equipment” – Carl’s Cameras taxonomy & there’s no way anyone in the store could change that. He loved the idea of “social tagging” Demand & Supply in the language (terminology) of the consumers’ & retailers’ & thought it was very practical.

However, here’s how the conversation continued;

Me: “Would you use Twetailer to help you close sales?”

Trevor: No. It’s not like I’m going to work here the rest of my life. My day is, I come in, I go home, I get paid.”

Me: But you could just sit down in the back room, have a coffee & make sales? Do you text message?

Trevor: True dat. Yah of course I text.

Me: Do you have unlimited text messaging?

Trevor: Yah, for sure. But I’m not going to use my phone for work & Carl’s Cameras is not going to give me a phone to text.

Me: Carl’s Cameras doesn’t have to give you a phone to text. Especially, if you’ve already got unlimited texting. Tell me, if a friend texted you & said he knows someone looking for a nikon d5000, do you have any in the store, would you text back? Wouldn’t you text “Yes, tell them to come see me.”?

Trevor: True dat… of course I would.

Me: So what’s the difference with Twetailer?

Trevor: I guess nothing. But my day is, I come here, I work, I go home, I get paid. You know… you should really speak to Carl’s Cameras’ Regional Sales Manager. He’s a really nice guy & he’s gonna love this thing. He could probably get all the stores to use it. (He then went to get me the contact info.)

Me: Thanks so much for your help. I really appreciate it. Take care.

True Dat Story

I then glanced over to the cash, where the elder gentleman was eavesdropping from all the time, waited to see if he had anything to add & then left.

Following Up

In the days that followed, I tried on several occassions to contact the Regional Sales Manager. The phone number Trevor gave me was also listed on the web site. Yet everytime I called, the phone system went on & on about the office hours & no matter what options I chose, no matter what day, no matter what time, I always ended back at the beginning. For the record “Carl’s Cameras” is my alias for a national retailer!

Moving forward

A few days later, I demo’ed to Kevin Makice – author of Twitter API: Up and Running – O’Reilly Media. He had a funny/sad take on this story. His theory is that small/medium sized retailers – the Mom & Pop stores, are so busy treading water, that they can’t imagine stopping for 5 minutes to try something new, simply on the hope that it can change their world. This would be especially true, for a technology they don’t get – like Twitter/ text messaging.

Ironic, eh?

Unfortunately, the irony of the situation, is that text messaging/tweets empowers these retailers to get back in the digital age. There’s no need for static brochure-ware web sites – which they may have missed, or, are out-dated. There’s no need for online e-commerce shopping cart sites – which they probably can’t afford, or, could never see any return-on-investment. There’s no need for anything more that an old mobile phone that can text message & someone to push those little buttons.

All they need is someone like Trevor to give a damm. Someone who would probably love the excuse to text at work. Someone who would probably find it easier than answering the phone.

Lessons Learned

Next time, I’m going to demo someone on commission 🙂

Reflection

Have you had a similar experience? Is this a generational thing, or, simply a management issue?

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Homage to TechCrunch50 2009, its Organizers and Participants

As a TechCrunch50 2009 Semi-finalist who chose legal services over Demo-Pit costs, I empathized every moment with the presenters and salute all of you.

LBS is just gonna get, sorry Location Based Services, is just going to become more and more important.

Dick Costolo,  Panelist & Judge http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/2169088

TechCrunch50 2009 Conference

Background
June 2009

with only the bare bones of running code, I submitted our TechCrunch50 2009 application. My contributors (The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 2. Who, Part 2), while suggesting I was being too aggressive, agreed that it’s always nice to have Milestones, and agreed to try.

July 27, 2009

I received an email informing stating:

Congratulations, your company has been selected for a phone and screensharing interview. We were truly overwhelmed to have over 1,000 applications from over 40 countries submit to launch at our event this year, so please feel great about making it to the next round of consideration.

August 2, 2009

We received an email instructing us to book a demo time and make whatever live demo arrangements necessary &

The duration of your interview will be 15 minutes. Please plan to demo your product for 8 minutes (show the product, we have the background information in your application) and use the remaining 7 minutes for Q&A.

As a reminder, DO NOT comment about your interview status publicly (including social media such as Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.) Unfortunately, we’ve had to eliminate 2 companies to date from consideration who posted about their status with the conference. We don’t want to take these steps, but other applicants are certainly looking out for people who do not follow the rules. Please don’t let this be you.

Sunday September 8, 2009 5:00 PM to 5:20 PM PST

Our twenty minutes of fame. Jason Calacanis logged into the demo a couple of minutes late. I reiterated our assumption that he’s seen our background video uploaded with our Application to which he informed us that he only saw our names & that of our start-ups’ as he found the demo log in information. Somewhat disappointed, I pushed back reminding him of the previous email. All Jason said was:

Just demo.

And demo we did. Not taking any chances, we had a prerecorded simulated demo of how the system will work end-to-end, followed by a live demo of its current development state. Jason made a few observations. Fortunately for us, we had collaborated for weeks on an entire internal wiki pages titled -“Pitch FAQ”, which just happened to provide fuel for my answers. And that was it. twenty minutes does not last long. Jason thanked us for taking time out of our Sunday evening, told us we should hear something in about a week and immediately signed off.

The three of us stayed on the conference call for another hour going over and over those twenty minutes and wondering if we could have done any more and whether Jason got it, or, not. And the truth of the matter is, if we could have done it all over again with hindsight being 20/20, we wouldn’t have changed a thing. So we were just going to sit tight and wait for an answer.

August 18, 2009

Via email:

Unfortunately, we regret that we are unable to place your company as a TechCrunch50 finalist. This is certainly not a commentary of your business, technology or team. Many applicant companies have gone on to great success without launching on stage. For our 50 limited slots, we purposely showcase a diversity of technology innovation from different countries, mixing both funded and unfunded businesses. In many cases, our need to curate this content matrix eliminates many outstanding companies from a lead position on stage. We received more than 1,000 total applications— making for many tough decisions.

As one of our semi-finalist companies, we would like to offer you the opportunity to participate in our DemoPit. Over the last two years, the TC50 DemoPit has become one of the main assets of the TechCrunch50 Conference. It enables another 100 companies (50/day) the chance to showcase their technology to conference attendees. And the favorite “Audience Choice” from our DemoPit wins the last presentation slot on stage, along with the right to win the $50,000 best in show award provided by the TC50 organizers. The DemoPit wildcard is our way of acknowledging that our judging is subjective and that there are many more outstanding companies in our West Hall than we can fit on stage.

This year, we will be selecting two DemoPit companies to present on stage, one from each Monday and Tuesday. So your odds have doubled for a shot to still get on stage.

For a while I considered dipping further into my line of credit and “invest” in the DemoPit and associated travel expenses. But after conferring with my Contributors, it seemed the responsible thing to do was move the project to the next level by investing further in legal services. And that’s what I did.

I replied to Peter of TechCrunch my thanks for the opportunity but simply couldn’t afford it. But at the same time, in the interest of outside-in software development, I asked if we could possibly get any feedback to help us.

August 20, 2009

Email to Peter at TechCrunch

Hi Peter,

Here’s a thought…

TechCrunch should publish an index of the semi-finalists with their 140 character description & video (link to youtube if you prefer) in exchange for them not going public until after the site is published at TechCrunch50.

Ideally, you would let your community rate & comment on their favorites. That would be a win-win for everyone:
You’re still the mecca for launching start-ups
You’re still The Sensitive One when it comes to non-funded (some call it ultra-light) start-ups – you’re almost angelic 🙂
We get exposure & hopefully feedback that can be used in subsequent outside-in development
My one-liner is: [Still a secret] & you could use the 5-minute video that’s uploaded from my Application, or, I can repost it somewhere for you.

Just a thought 🙂

Regards,
Steven

Peter’s reply:

Steven, I’ll pass this along as something to consider for future years. Thank you.

My reply:

Peter, in the meantime, is there any feedback you can possibly share with us to add even more tremendous value to our TechCrunch50 experience?

Peter’s reply:

Steven, I spoke with your reviewer, Jason, who told me “I thought they were off to a really great start and that [still a secret] is a real challenge and opportunity. However, their product was not as far along as the top 50 we are selecting this year. I have no doubt they will get to the promised land with a little more time and effort.”

My reply:

Peter, you just made me very 🙂

September 14-15, 2009. TechCrunch50 Conference 2009

I haven’t watched all of the presentations yet, but enough to honestly say that my heart and nerves went out to everyone presenting. While all of the panelists I saw offered practical and useful feedback, I did feel that some of them were hell bent on not giving any kudos. Yet despite the pressure, I thought the demos were great and the presenters ability and preparedness to answer the panel’s questions were even greater.

Big Thank You

I can only imagine the organizational nightmare it must been to pull off this event with such class – not to mention the temperaments required in dealing with start-up to guru egos. I thank you Peter and Jason for all your efforts, patience and inspiration. I look forward to one day meeting you in the Promised Land.

Building communities

Once the legal work is complete we’ll start expanding our start-up Community to prepare for a limited private release. In the meantime, I’m going to try to bring in some income by seeding the social software seeds at my Sara’s elementary school.

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