Start Hanging Out With People Who May Have Your Solutions

Stop staying around people who have your problems and start staying around ones who have your solutions.
Jeffrey G. Allen, Instant Interviews

Background

About a month ago, I was at local Startup Drink night and met Mohd Shahnawaz. Crying in my beer about my inability to get traction for my startup, Mohd recounted Jeffrey G. Allens’ quote & suggested I try finding events where people may actually have the skill-sets I looking for.  Oddly enough, my favorite Startup Lessons Learned is Steve Blank’s “Get Out Of The Building”. Unfortunately, my myopia equated it with Customer Development & not recruiting. But as luck would have it, I had just received an email inviting me to the weekly Westmount Networking Breakfast & figured that’d be the perfect place to start.

Westmount Networking Breakfast

With about a dozen people in attendance, we went around the room giving our respective 60-second “info-mercials” (or, “Elevator Pitch” in geek-speak) and concluded by describing the perfect new contact we’d like to meet.  Being the week after the International Startup Festival, I figured my pitch was in fine form. I figured wrong! It was met with confusion. However, it did validate that I definitely needed someone in Marketing.

During the meeting & over the next week, I met with some & gathered more & more feedback.  As each week went by, I tweaked my Pitch & tried my best to come up with something that not only resonated with the audience but had potential to even help some.

Going For Coffee is Not a Waste

This morning, I was reading Mark Suster’s post “Why You Need to Take 50 Coffee Meetings” & posted the following Comment:

As a techie startup, not every challenge can be resolved writing code – like Customer Development (Steve Blank).  Instinctively, going out for coffee seems to align more with Lean’s definition of Waste (“Any human activity that absorbs resources but creates no value”, Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System.) But nothing can be further from the truth. Providing you’re not going out for coffee to listen to yourself pitch, or, drink your own Kool-aid, getting out offers  huge opportunities to save precious time & resources.

 

Recently, I started attending a weekly business networking breakfast of 10-15 regulars where we all take turns presenting what we do (Elevator Pitch) & the ideal contact we’d like to make. And while I’m the only Techie Startup, everyone else in the room is pretty much a Startup, whether they’re a Small Medium sized Business (SMB), or, an agent for a larger organization.  Personally, I love presenting/pitching, so I look forward to every meeting where I could tweak & tune my Pitch, hoping it aligns better with the audience’s needs. It’s a lot cheaper to change a 60-second Pitch than to keep cranking out scalable code that customers will may never execute.

 

For those who shy away from presenting, there’s no better place & forgiving audience to practice in front of, week after week.  (Steve Jobs doesn’t wing it.) Going for coffee is not a Waste – it’s a opportunity. Blowing a face-to-face potential stakeholder (employee, business partner, customer) meeting, now that’s a Waste.
Thanks Mark for drawing those thoughts out of me. I feel a blog post coming on 🙂

Lessons To Learn

Read Mark’s post, join a local business networking group, go beyond “Getting out of the building” and “Coffee Meetings” and “Stop staying around people who have your problems and start staying around ones who have your solutions.”

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?

Enhanced by Zemanta