Pivoting for Profit

Just build a _____ profitable business!

David Heinemeier Hansson, This Week in Startups #46 (1:10:45)

My Lessons Learned - Make a Profit
My Lessons Learned - Make a Profit

Reflection

In the spirit of Agile, here’s my retrospective on when we realized the primary objective is to build a business & not to get funded.

Inflating Our Own Bubble

TechCrunch50 2009

Back in June 2009, I read about the TechCrunch50 2009 contest & while we barely had any running code, submitted an entry. My collaborators thought it was a bit of a stretch, but we all agreed it’s nice to set goals. So while trying to get a grip on what was required of us, I immersed myself in TechCrunch stuff. From what I understood, there was a common theme emerging – get funded & get out. And making it to the semi-finals only encouraged me.

I Think Our Bubble Has a Leak

Signed Copy of Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check
Signed Copy of Guy Kawasaki's Reality Check

We thought we had something that was so paradigm shifting, yet so simplistically obvious at the same time, that we’d have no trouble bringing on a CEO to help us reach Jason’s Promised Land. But it wasn’t happening like that. And as time passed, we realized that if we wanted to see our dream change the world then we couldn’t wait on someone else to make it happen.

Paradigm Shifting

That primed us for This Week in Startups #46 with David Heinemeier Hansson | ThisWeekIn.  Fast forward to 1:10:45 and there you have it.  It was paradigm shifting, yet so simplistically obvious. Just build a profitable business and the problem will be solved. Read his and Jason Fried’s Rework and you’ll get it too!

Trolling for Customer Development

The other day I was perusing Twitter when I saw Ben Yoskovitz’s

BeanSprout – a dating website for Business Development Partnerships: http://bit.ly/ivLRyf

A few tweets later, I was signed up and working with one of BeanSprout‘s founders – Artie Patel. I told him “Ideally, we’d like to hook up with someone like Localeze“. To which Artie responded; “They’re a customer of ours. Let’s see what we can do to help.”

Lessons To Learn

I’m actually planning on meeting Artie next week when they present at International Startup Festival – Montreal, Canada, July 13-15th 2011 where I’ll be volunteering for my Starving Startup ticket. Stay tuned for more details about how another startup delivered an awesome experience & whether it can help us learn to build a ______ profitable business.

(Thanks to Greg Meyer for tuning me into  experiences that @delivertheawsome.)

Related Links

Go out there and make some money!

Dan MartellTo Raise, Or Not To Raise | @MapleButter

The Start-Up Chronicles: Chapter 1. An Idea, Five Ws and one H

The time has come to put down the books, close the blogs and simply focus on doing and not learning. Here’s my Idea’s Five Ws and one H.

What’s Your EQ (Entrepreneurial Quotient)? The intent is to test your knowledge of the subject of entrepreneurship, not to test how good an entrepreneur you are, because, there’s no way to measure that. Therefore, scoring high doesn’t mean you’re the next Steve Jobs, and scoring low doesn’t mean you’re not. This makes the EQ test as reliable as the IQ test, but it can’t hurt to have a good working knowledge of the reality of entrepreneurship.

What your score means:
17-22. Your score is high, so you can now focus on doing, not learning.

Reality Check: Guy Kawasaki.

idea
idea
Background

Arising from my three-part Connecting the dots series, here’s the first entry of my Start-up Chronicles where I’ll journal about decisions made and ones coming up; actions I’m taking and those I’m deferring.

Focus on doing, not learning

Take a look on the right sidebar under “Pivotal Reading”. I’ve read all I could read – for now. (FYI, my “idea” image was inspired by Back Of The Napkin.) So it appears the time has come and the stars are aligned to take a shot. To be quite honest my idea is not the kind of stuff that will change the world but it might just change a few things for a few people. And if I could do that, well that’s pretty good for starters.

My Five Ws (and one H)

In the interest of keeping things short and sweet, I’ll briefly blog about my Idea’s Five Ws (and one H). However, I’ll save the What entry for when there’s actually a piece of executable code for you to try for yourself.

Next up – Who

My next post will discuss the Who decision-making part of my Idea.

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Connecting the dots – Part 2

There is no plan… well, maybe a little one.

Garr Reynolds' 'Career Advice '08' - Page 99
Garr Reynolds
Background

In my previous post, Connecting the dots – Part 1, I provided three sources of inspiration for this three part series.

Taking inventory of my own dots

While I may not share much in common with Steve Jobs – aside from a first name, I do feel I have to stop trying to connect my dots looking forward. I’ve been in the business of software development for over 25 years now. Truth be told, if I had to do it all over again, I would still be in this business – but I’d do things a little different. There’s nothing I love more than creating things. And the only thing more exhilarating that thinking

Wouldn’t it be great if you could… yada yada yada” 

is actually bringing it to life.

Back in the dot com days, I was fortunate enough to get asked to join a start-up. We put together an e-learning solution & without going into too much detail, I have yet seen anything better. But as you may have guessed, it was a dot com & it suffered the same fate as many. I held on for three years, despite only being paid for one & picking up the odd contract here & there. Others, for their own reasons, clung on to hope even longer. For myself, with a wife (Anna), two kids (Sara & Alex) and many of the other things that come along with them, it was the hardest lesson I ever learned. It was also the best time of my life. From early morning conference calls to one’s that stretched into Sara’s soccer games, or, Alex’ bottle, to working through the night feeling quilty while Anna was alone watching TV, or asleep in bed. We were at it 24×7 and would gladly have worked more if we could have only found a way.

What started from a 10-minute phone call, went to whiteboard, proof-of-concept, alpha, beta and live. For the first time in my development life, I actually understood and contributed to the value of marketing, sales, service & support. It was the best & the worst all neatly bound together. But my dot (com) s were not going to connect as dreamed.

Dot change

Within a few months, I was fortunate to get a much appreciated job with IBM Canada’s Montreal Rational Software Lab. And while it was a great experience, I never really felt my dots would all of a sudden start aligning. And so, as Seth Godin might say, it was a good Dip-dot, but a dot nonetheless.

Value-dot first, Sales-dot second

And so, here I am. If you’ve seen any of my last few posts, then you may know I’ve been trying to build a case for the shared services of a Community Product Manager. To be quite honest, it’s been a tough sale. Not so much because the concept lacks merit, but more so because it’s difficult to only talk about delivering value. Today, you have to deliver value first and then build on that in order to get the business. Unfortunately, the cost of delivering first and selling later – in this particular case, is just too high for me. So I’m going to consider this a little Dip-dot and simply move on.

My next dot

My next and final post in this three-part series will lay the foundation for my next dot. In the meantime, it’d be nice if any of you could share some of your own dot-stories here.

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Lessons learned from Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life – Part 3

My outside your firewall, shared listening and engaging Community Product Manager service offering for social software vendors/providers.

Sharing
Sharing does have its advantages

According to wikipedia

Shared Services refers to the provision of a service by one part of an organization or group where that service had previously been found in more than one part of the organization or group. Thus the funding and resourcing of the service is shared and the providing department effectively becomes an internal service provider. The key is the idea of ‘sharing’ within an organization or group.

Background

As the title suggests, this is the third and final part of my Lessons Learned series and where I’ll propose the business model I’ve come up with. Here’s my previous related posts:

  1. How to infuse Social Content 2.0 into your social software lifecycle
  2. Trial offer to test the Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life
  3. Lessons learned from Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life – Part 1
  4. Lessons learned from Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life – Part 2
The Business Model
  1. I will assume the overhead costs associated with:
    1. Monitoring the social software market. Using Radian6, I would create a Topic Profile including keywords for social software vendors / providers like Socialtext, Atlassian, Blogtronix, MindTouch, Cynapse, Liferay, Vignette…
    2. Filtering out and tagging relevant buzz about product features and directions across the market
    3. Offering free service exporting tagged content and publishing on blog
  2. Offer monthly fee-based services where I would:
    1. Net out tagged content with respect to product features and publish on permission-based site (Say for example there’s a few posts about “permissions”. I would then write a 1-liner describing the “permission feature” and link to the original supporting content published Step 1.3)
  3. Offer hourly, or, tiered fee-based services where I would:
    1. Collaborate with respective social software vendors’ / providers’ (Customers’) Product Managers to determine which features described in Step 2.1 should be elaborated
    2. Engage with original content authors and elaborate on product features selected in Step 3.1
    3. Privately share results of Step 3.2 with respective Customer Product Managers
    4. Collaborate with respective Customer Product Managers to determine which features described in Step 3.3 require further assistance / services

Other variations
I could resell Radian6 Seat licenses – governed by certain permission restrictions and share my Topic Profiles for those:

  1. Customers whose only pain is the cost of Radian6 (who can then determine later on if they want Steps 2 and/or 3)
  2. Potential colleagues who would collaborate on Steps 1, 2 & 3
Thoughts?

What do think? If you’re a social software vendor/provider, is this a service that may be of interest to you? Do you currently have a Product Manager? If so, is your Product Manager able to keep up with the social content? Do you see the any value in consolidating the redundancy? Do you see where it really is just a matter of per·spec·tive? Where …

one piece of content can yield dividends for many investors 

I’d love to hear from you folks in the field & prove there is a way we all could succeed at doing more with less.

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A Nordstrom “Nordie” Story

An unexpected customer service story right out of the pages of Chip & Dan Heath’s “Made to Stick”.

A Nordie Story
A Nordie Story

A little off topic for me but …
For the most part, I focus my posts on social software. But while doing so, I’m also working on a start-up project and spend time with books that I often refer to in my writings. Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die is one of them. As described in the book, one of the principles in getting someones attention, is to use stories about something unexpected.

Setting the scene
A few weeks ago, while on vacation, my family & I were walking through a mall in Hallandale, Florida. As we approached the Nordstrom department store, I started recounting some of the Nordie stories illustrated in the book, like;

The Nordie who ironed a new shirt for a customer who needed it for a meeting that afternoon;
The Nordie who cheerfully gift wrapped products a customer bought at Macy’s;
The Nordie who refunded money for a set of tire chains – although Nordstrom doesn’t sell tire chains.

My wife – Anna, thought the first one believable, the second just a mistake and the third simply ridiculous. But as fate would have it, Anna needed a dress for an upcoming wedding and despite my being the poster child for “I hate shopping”, I suggested we try Nordstrom simply because of the book.

The scene
Right, or, wrong, this is how I shop with Anna & the kids – Sara (11) and Alex (7): I let Anna walk up front while the kids and I hang a few steps behind. Being the Poster Child, I often backseat drive and offer which direction we should be going – call it payback 🙂 However, this time I got us into a small enclosed area of with some brand name over top which I never heard but had Anna chuckling to herself. You must know that chuckle. The one you get when you refuse to stop for driving directions and you end up on dead end street. Within less than a minute, Anna held up a white T-shirt with a movie poster on it for $395 US dollars. I then bowed my head, held my kids close by and quickly and quietly, followed Anna into a friendlier neighbourhood.

The score
Thankfully, we found our way into a area that was more appropriate for our budget. And with the quick help of a salesperson – Bethany, Anna tried on a few dresses & settled on the first one – which by the way was around $150 US dollars. There was only one slight glitch; both Anna & Bethany thought a “shrug” would go nicely but there wasn’t anything suitable in the store.

So Bethany offered to hold onto the dress for a few days while Anna (read “we”) scoured the mall (read “malls”) for the shrug. However, feeling a little smug about scoring the dress in Nordstrom’s and fearing that a pattern may be emerging, I encouraged Anna that it would be a lot easier, to find the shrug if she had the dress with her. Besides, in the worst case, if Nordstrom could take back tire chains they can certainly take back the dress. Since the customer is always right 🙂 , Bethany offered Anna a few places to check and sure enough, we scored the shrug too.

The unexpected
A week after returning home to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Anna received that Thank You card above. Needless to say, the both of us were impressed. Its not like we’ll be back in area next weekend and decide to stop by Nordstrom’s. its also not as if Anna bought the $395 white T-shirt with the movie poster on it. But it was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. One worth retelling and one worth visiting Nordstrom’s the next time we’re in the neighbourhood.

Thank You Bethany!

Thoughts?
Given the current economic climate, I would imagine more and more retailers would be following Nordstom’s lead. Do you have any unexpected customer service stories you’d like to share?

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Lessons learned from Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life – Part 2

per·spec·tive n. Subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view.

Perspective
Perspective
Background

In an earlier post, How to infuse Social Content 2.0 into your social software lifecycle, I reiterated a common theme I noticed in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Social Software. That theme basically stated that many social software providers’ ability to execute may suffer due to their lack of resources, or, size does matter – according to Gartner. To address this issue, I posted my Trial offer to test the Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life where I proposed the services of a new player – the Community Product Manager. And finally, after receiving some much appreciated feedback, I followed-up with my Lessons learned from Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life – Part 1 where I clarified the distinction between a Community Manager, Product Manager and a Community Product Manager. In this post, I’ll focus on what I discovered during that trial week by presenting some concrete examples and how I think it fits into the big picture.

A fleck of paint

Recently, there’s been a lot of news about Space Junk;

In June 1983, the windscreen of the U.S. space shuttle Challenger had to be replaced after it was chipped by a fleck of paint measuring 0.01 of an inch that impacted at four kilometers per second.

So here’s my fleck of paint: For the purposes of discussion, I purposely selected trivial content in order not to distract from the point I’m trying to articulate. For now, you’ll have to trust me about the volume of content flying around in cyberspace 🙂

It’s really a matter of perspective

Here’s some content I found using Radian6 during the trial period and a few different perspectives:

Scenario 1: Broadcast of new feature to anyone listening for Socialtext
Tweet from pascal_venier on Feb 28, 2009 02:48 PM

Studying Socialtext wiki automatic “Email notification of Recent Changes” to your inbox. A nice feature. http://twurl.nl/ypcmoj…

Perspective Possible reaction
Anyone connected to Socialtext May retweet
Competitor’s Customer Compares to current experience and may contact support, or, retweet
Competitor’s Community Manager May need to ask Support about feature and if it exists, may tweet their own spin
Competitor’s Community Product Manager Compares to current feature-set & if it exists then tweets their own spin else documents 1-line User Story. For example: “As someone interested in the contents published on a particular wiki, I’d like to receive email notifications of updates on a scheduled basis, so I don’t have to visit the site to ensure I have the latest content.”

Scenario 2: Broadcast of feature request to Liferay & anyone listening for Liferay
Tweet from helmblogger on Mar 03, 2009 12:34 PM

@Liferay Our business problem… “News” both organizational and departmental. Need to display “all-in-one” and “by department”.. thoughts?…

Perspective Possible reaction
@Liferay (Perhaps Community Manager) Depending on their role, may forward to Support, or, Development
Anyone listening for Liferay May retweet & contact Support too
Competitor’s Customer Compares to current experience and may retweet & contact Support too
Competitor’s Community Manager May need to ask Support about feature and if it exists, may tweet own spin
Competitor’s Community Product Manager Compares to current feature-set & if it exists then tweet their own spin else documents 1-line User Story. For example: “As an author, I’d like to publish hierarchical content, so that groups based on the hierarchy have permission to read it.”

Scenario 3: Blog post targeting sought after project management features and referencing a few social software players
The Best and Worst Project Management Apps posted Feb 08, 2009 05:17 AM

… But there are a number of organizations that command large amounts of cash who need to procure project management systems for their divisions around the world. This includes NGOs, Government Agencies, International Schools, Non-Profits and more. In these harsh economic times, businesses should be looking for ways to tap into new markets. Most emerging economies still have nearly 100% room for growth, if only developers take into account their needs and circumstances.

Do any project management products exist that are ready to serve this multi-billion dollar sector?…

Perspective Possible reaction
Anyone listening for Basecamp, Zoho, Google Apps, Zimbra, ActiveCollab, ProjectPier, OpenGoo, Dot Project, Cyn.in, Confluence, Rockclimbr, Drupal, Yammer, Noodle, Present.ly, Collabtive, Trellis Desk, Achievo, or, Product Planner May comment, or, tweet
Anyone associated & listening for any of the above organizations Compares to current experience and may comment, tweet, or, contact Support too
Competitor’s Customer Compares to current experience and may comment, tweet, or, contact Support too
Competitor’s Community Manager May need to ask Support about features and possibly comment/tweet their own spin
Competitor’s Community Product Manager Compares to current feature-set & possibly comments/tweets their own spin else documents 1-line User Story for each missing feature. This example is really about architecture: “As an emerging market decision-maker for social software selection, I need a self-hosted solution, so my users need only intranet access since Internet access is not always available.”
Do you see the pattern?

Assuming the organization has a Community Manager then there may be an overlap in responsibilities with a Community Product Manager. However, this can be easily addressed with a little bit of collaboration. However beyond the overlap, a Community Product Manager could potentially extend the above scenarios by:

  1. Reviewing User Stories with their counter-part Product Manager & determine any course of action
  2. Engaging with the source and/or user community to elaborate and document the feature requirements
  3. Supporting the Product Manager in the feature development lifecycle thereby completing the Social Content 2.0 Circle of Life (see post title)
Panning the river for gold
Panning the River of News for gold

However, the most important pattern that emerged and lesson I learned was the one of Perspective. No doubt, even with the help of Radian6’s River of News, there’s a lot of work involved in mining for gold nuggets in cyberspace. But the beauty of striking these nuggets is that they’re environmentally friendly – they’re reusable! As illustrated in this post, one piece of content can yield dividends for many investors. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Up next

My next post will propose a Community Product Manager business model. I’d love to hear any of your ideas and will be more than happy to attribute and share them here.

Reflection
Do the above scenarios and quotes help in providing concrete examples of where a Community Product Manager can add value to your development process? Do you need more? Do you have any examples of your own you could share with me?

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My $0.02 to Dirk’s “Are you using twitter for customer support?”

More on how to infuse Social Content 2.0 into your social software lifecycle

One of Twitter’s endearing qualities is simplicity. After it’s “@” (Reply), or, “D” (Direct message), you have the remaining 140 characters to get your message across. Another powerful aspect of Twitter is it’s ability to broadcast, as well as, persist these messages. This means that anyone can pick up on a previous conversation and breath new life into it.

Traditionally, if you’re in customer service, or, support, this is probably the last thing you want. Imagine you’ve been working on an open “ticket”, playing round robin with the customer and perhaps development, you finally close the matter and someone, out of the blue, shows up with a new wrinkle. You may never be able to close a ticket again.

Granted, I’m pushing it a bit, but not much. The primary issue here is, Twitter is unstructured and traditional customer service and support need structure. And for good reason too! Customer service and support are legally binding. Customers pay money, in one form or another, for support and perhaps maintenance of the product, or, service. Once we, as providers of these products, or, services accept our customer’s money we are on the hook to deliver for a certain period of time.

So how do we convert this Social Content 2.0 that lives not only in Twitter databases, but in all the social networks, from casual conversations into legally binding action items? My guess is you don’t. I think if you try then you’ll stifle the casual conversations and pollute your service/support systems.

This is what I think you need to do with your customer service and support folks:
1. Explain to them the journey they are about to embark on in the new social networking frontier.
2. Take the time to onboard, or, train them on how to the tools.
3. Encourage them to use the tools in their personal lives first so they can appreciate their new found power and enlightenment.
4. Arm them with a core message so they’ll always know how to handle themselves. Read Chip & Dan Heath’s book Made To Stick about Southwest Airlines’ “THE low-fair airline”.
5. Follow other companies leads, like Dell, and create their social network accounts with their real names suffixed by the company name. For example: DirkShawVignette. Real people want to relate to real people. Not silly unprofessional icons and bizarro, or, no empty profiles.
6. Create a company web page listing all of their accounts so others can a) validate these people actually work there & b) discover more Twitter accounts to Follow. Look how Radian6 does it. Look to them again when you’re ready to scale your monitoring process.
7. To protect the richness and integrity of your Social Content 2.0 and not blur the line between it and your customer service and support systems, I would move some of traditional inside the firewall systems to the outside. Moving to transparent development means anyone, customer, or, not, can participate in the development and debugging process. That means you can see any defects already discovered in the system along with the internal and external conversations revolving around them. The same for feature requests. Maybe someone already asked for exactly the same thing, only slightly different. Go ahead and add your $0.02. The same for usability features. Maybe you’re having trouble with a particular feature. Could it be you’re the only one? Maybe, or, maybe not. At least you can check it out for yourself.

My guess is you’ll see a reduction in backend customer service and support costs, an increase in overall customer satisfaction and a happier, more fulfilled development team that’s not only more in touch with your market but also your new flock of evangelists.

IMO, of course 🙂

Off you go now. Good luck trying to fit this into 140 characters. That’s what tinyurl is for.
Thanks for inspiration! I’m going to blockquote this stuff and repost on my blog.

Originally posted as a comment by stevenmilstein on Dirk Shaw’s blog using Disqus.

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