Transparency – It’s Bigger than Boardrooms Bits

Reinventing the board meeting may offer angel-funded startups that don’t have formal boards or directors (because of geography or size of investment) to attract experienced advice and investment outside of technology clusters (i.e. Silicon Valley, New York).

— Steve Blank, Why Board Meetings Suck – Part 1 of 2


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Retrospective

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

When the Boardroom is Bits

Steve Blank made a great case for changing the traditional, scheduled, physical approach to startup boardroom meetings by facilitating on-demand communication and transparency with the founders blogging about their activities. That way board members, advisors, investors, basically anyone with the right credentials can get up-to-speed at their own convenience.

But if;

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”)

then we have to think bigger than the boardroom.  We have to think about transparency throughout the startup’s life cycle. Not just for board members but for the Founders and everyone else involved – to some degree.

Transparency

Imagine a new stakeholder comes aboard. Whether they be an Internal Stakeholder – like an advisor, or, an engineer, or, an External Stakeholder – like a customer, or, business partner, they’ll have to get up to speed. Having crucial decision-making data hidden in scattered “My Documents” folders, personal Calendars, or, email just doesn’t scale. Attachments, CC & BCC lists are error prone & disasters waiting to happen.

And it’s not a matter of who to blame. It’s not a matter of what was right, or, wrong. It’s a matter of knowing what decisions were made, at what point in time and with what available resources.

Collaboration Tools

Integrated collaboration tools like blogs, wikis, discussions, events, videos, audios, shared images, bookmarks, files & yada yada yada have been around for years. Personally, I’m a big fan of Cynapse’s cyn.in suite and that’s why I became a Business Partner. I use it for AnotherSocialEconomy.com and even in my daughter’s elementary school and high school. (See edu)

But more important than the tool themselves, is their content.

Content Rules

In my past eLearning-Labs CTO life, my CEO & President – Rick Felt, who came from the publishing business, had one rule – Content Rules. So while the tools are nice the real Lesson to Learn is content is everything. Whether it be as deceivingly mundane as meeting minutes, an advisor’s feedback, or, a Customer’s user experience, it’s imperative for it to be all searchable & accessible to those with the right credentials.

One more thing….

The only thing better than having an integrated suite of collaboration tools, is having that content linked to your Business Model, your Agile project management software and your source control. In AnotherSocialEconomy‘s case, we link our Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas, cyn.in, Pivotal Tracker and github sites. So we not only offer Transparency but, Traceability & Accountability as well.

Wouldn’t it be great if..

EricRies' Validated Learning Cycle, cyn.in, Ash Maurya's LeanCanvas, PivotalTracker, GitHub

Imagine if accelerator and incubator programs sublet virtual collaboration Space to each of it’s portfolio members. Then not only, do those startups benefit but so do the all of the Internal and External Stakeholders – well beyond the calendar limits of those programs. Now that would accelerate the validated learning cycle & extend Boardroom Bits.

 

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.