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?”.
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.)
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?”.
The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is a metaphor for life. What seems completely new is often just an unexpected combination of the familiar but previously disconnected. This is Innovation 101, but too often we forget, and think the one asset we have is the answer, rather than asking what we can bundle it with to transform its value.
Peruse my blog and you’ll see I pretty much chronicle my experiences as an ultra light, non-funded, start-up entrepreneur. You’ll also see that I divide my time, not necessarily equally, among two main efforts: 1) called :Twetailer, which has morphed into :AnotherSocialEconomy and 2) :edu.cyn.in. While both were born out of a burning desire to correct something I found profoundly wrong, yet so “simple” to fix, I’ve always considered them to be worlds apart. That was until I tried to fill a void in my execution plans – sales & marketing. Now I know these are not subjects to be treated lightly but, in my own defense, I was primarily concerned about the Guy Kawasaki lesson How to Change the World: Defensibility. With all that reasonably taken care, I started educating myself on Search Engine Marketing (SEM). As a matter of fact, my very last post was how I used that new knowledge to rethink AnotherSocialEconomy’s :Widget. Who knew? It was not only another entry point/channel/stream into the system (remember, I’m a techie) but it actually competes – quite nicely, with Pay-Per-Click (PPC), Cost Per Click-through (CPC) and Cost Per Action (CPA).
In the early days, I tried getting schools to pay for the edu.cyn.in service but, being a techie and not a sales rep, failed. There was either not enough budget to go around, not enough qualified staff to support the service, or, simply the FUD Factor (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt). But I’m a persistent bugger and based on my prior experience with social software on the Internet, within enterprises and even within schools, I just couldn’t give up.
I knew the service was greatly appreciated by the kids. I knew the service was greatly appreciated by educators – albeit a special select few. And as a parent, I also knew the frustration of organizing events, committee meetings, car pools, other extra-curricular activities and even purchasing related goods and services.
And on top of all this pressure to sell edu into schools, I was still struggling to sell AnotherSocialEconomy – which needed a way to reach retailers & consumers.
Started getting that sinking feeling
Things just seemed to be getting worse. Was I going to be one of those start-ups with a great idea – in my case, two great ideas that no one other than myself, Dom & a few others knew about? It’s not like I don’t know my limitations. I think I’m a pretty good technical business analyst, software product manager, maybe even a social media manager. I love pre-sales demos, presenting at shows and conferences, have a pretty cool online education story to tell, love story telling and I’m pretty pleased with my stickman videos and presentation creations. But I just can’t seem to get past this marketing & sales hump. I’ve tried to bring in others but it just hasn’t gelled yet. Maybe some seed money would be the way to go. Either way, if I don’t get any traction, I’ll probably have to drop edu. Yikes! That would really hurt because not only have the Cynapse folks been more than fair with me (I’m also a struggling Reseller), it would mean that my daughter Sara & friends would lose the service.
Back in my IBM days, Perseverance was not only a welcomed characteristic, but encouraged too (by some). In a company of over 390,000 (at the time), it was all too easy to say things like; “I’m waiting for so-and-so to get back to me”, or, “Today’s first agenda item is to decide when we’ll meet again to discuss this matter”. If you truly wanted to make a difference, you had to persevere – you had to press on people, press a few buttons, or, as my wife Anna says, I just had to continue being the real pain in the ass I can be.
Dropping edu, dropping, AnotherSocialEconomy, getting a real job are options I’m just not ready to accept yet. What I really have to do is find a better way to persevere.
Do you have any suggestions on how I can make edu & AnotherSocialEconomy work for each other? Stay tuned for Part 2.
I recently signed up for Google AdWords and started playing around with its campaign site. After twenty, or, thirty minutes, I started getting a splitting headache and through frustration, closed my Google Chrome browser and defiantly opened up Firefox. Now to be fair, I had no business signing up for AdWords, since I can’t even spell S-E-M (SEM) but, I was determined to get a better understanding of what I could be missing. Being a start-up and desperate for bootstrapping sales, it seemed only logical to investigate.
Google Sales to the Rescue, sort of
The very next day I received a call from a Google Sales Rep – Terry Dewey, who was incredibly helpful, and patient, in walking me through the site & giving me my very own S-E-M 101 Course. But, by the end of the call, there was one thing terribly obvious to both of us. If I couldn’t manage to spend $7500 a month on AdWords advertising, then there simply wasn’t any point in getting started.
WCT: Wholly Crap Through
At $7500 a month, with an average of 3% conversion rate, my customer acquisition cost was probably going to cost me more than I was going to make.
Reality Check and The Referral Engine Bibles
So needless to say, I’ve abandoned my jump into SEM and have returned to the teachings of Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check & John Jantsch’s The Referral Engine. If I understand correctly, the key to success is sharing with those who can help. So that’s the motivation behind the :AnotherSocialEconomyReseller and Referrer programs. Another lesson learned, is that I have to make it real easy for those folks to pass the message along and that’s why we developed the :Widget and the :Bookmarklet.
The Ultimate Cost Per Action (CPA)
CPA offers are the truest form of performance marketing. Rather than basing payouts on bulk traffic which may or may not convert, cost per action refers to compensating affiliates/publishers for real sales, leads, and other conversion metrics. This is often the most empowering method for advertisers, as they are able to gain direct results from their advertising budget. The CPA model is a risk-free approach to advertising that usually targets niche specific publishers or clever affiliates.
So for starters, here’s how our Widgets whip click-through and pay-per-click advertising for Influencers (MFCs).
Become an AnotherSocialEconomy Reseller
Post an AnotherSocialEconomyWidget on your blog, or, web site. The widget can be customized to your site’s look and feel so it doesn’t distract your readers.
Contact Retailers, suppliers, manufactuers, brands, distributors, and anyone else in position to close a sale – locally, or, online and have them register as AnotherSocialEconomyRetailers.
Blog, review, rate, do whatever you do to contribute valuable content.
Your readers can then fill in your site’s Widget to purchase whichever goods and/or services mentioned.
AnotherSocialEconomy will then notify all registered Retailers within range of the Consumer’s location and ask them if they have the goods/services available for sale.
Those Retailers with inventory on hand, then propose their goods to the Consumer via AnotherSocialEconomy.
Once Consumers confirm, they can then proceed to the local Retailer and pick up their goods.
AnotherSocialEconomy is about connecting serious buyers with local retailers. So only those Consumers interested in buying, will click-through. And only those Retailers in a position to close the sale, need to reply. There’s no conversion rates, or, customer acquisition costs to worry about. Retailers only pay when they close the sale.
But wait, there’s more …
And what about that kind Influencer? Since they Referred the request via their site’s Wdiget, they get to share in some of AnotherSocialEconomy’s proceeds. And in this particular scenario, since they- as a Reseller signed up the Retailer who made the sale, then they again, get to share in some of AnotherSocialEconomy’s proceeds. Now that’s some CPA, eh?
I’d like to thank Michel Drouin for connecting the dots between click-through advertising and the value proposition of :AnotherSocialEconomy’s :Widget.
Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how this one works out.
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?
I’ve done the startup thing & I’ve done it all wrong. Just Read Guy Kawasaki’s books for more examples.
I understand the value of lawyers & accountants, so they get paid first and that comes out of my line of credit.
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.
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?”.
If I understand Guy Kawasaki correctly, paying for things that may never happen simply reduces the likelyhood they will.
Here’s what I believe
I believe there’s a certain group of people in the world that love what they do but not necessarily where they’re doing.
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.
I believe these people just need an opportunity.
If you’re one of these people, then here’s what I’m offering you
I’m offering you a chance to build your own micro startup doing things exactly the way you want them done.
I’m offering you a chance to go beyond resumés and looking backwards when all you want to do is look to the future.
I’m offering you a canvas, silly putty, a stage for to show the world what makes you so hot.
Here’s the Risk
You have to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
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
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”.
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.
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?
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.
Partnering, building communities and pitching social software to Sara’s elementary school.
Cut win-win deals. A partnership seldom takes place between equals. As a result, the more powerful side is tempted to squeeze the other party. The weaker side, for its part, will begrudgingly accept such deals and try to get what it can. Bad idea. Bad karma. Bad practicality. If the partnership is a win-lose deal, it will blow up because concrete walls and barbed wire cannot hold a partnership together. Only mutually beneficial results can. In the long, the bitter seed of resentment planted at the start of a partnership will grow into a giant, destructive weed.
A couple of posts ago, I wrote about building communities to help drive my start-up’s outside-in software development and my working relationship with the good folks at Cynapse. And while my last post was – for the most part, about getting to be a TechCrunch50‘s semi-finalist, I did end with my desire to sow the social software seeds in my daughter Sara’s elementary school.
As a passionate software entrepreneur and social software evangelist, it breaks my heart when Sara tells me she’s bored learning how to use Word and Excel in Computer class. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about her teacher – a fine and qualified professional. I’m not complaining about the curriculum, nor about the state of our education system. In no way would I ever expect the school to provide social software education. But nothing says that I can’t.
Who’s in for a little extra-curricular activity?
So I approached the school and offered just that. I prepared a marked-up version of Cynapse’s Flash marketing material & evangelized the virtues of, not only the mechanics of learning social software but the life lessons – I truly believe, it can teach the kids.
Our 30 minute meeting became an hour and a half and ended with a few action items:
The school would have to agree to a trial period with the understanding that, if successful, they would continue the program.
Cynapse would have to agree to barter three months of free hosting in return for a modified version of their Best Practices Guide for Elementary School Students.
The students would have to volunteer for the extra-curricular activity and agree to collaborate on the Guide. Delivery of the Guide deems success.
Since the meeting, the school has delivered on Action Item #1. In addition, Cynapse has delivered on Action Item #2. So later this week, I’ll be presenting my offer to Sara’s Grade 6.
I’ve since elaborated on my initial presentation by incorporating some keywords mentioned during our meeting and added the narration. But after playing it back for Sara, she thought it may be “too much” and I should try to be more funny. 🙁
The problem was, I tried to create something that would appeal to too many audiences – students, school staff and maybe even parents. So in the interest of outside-in development, I created two more videos which have passed the Sara Test. Once, approved by her teacher, I’ll start with those & save the one above – hopefully, for another time.
Please feel free to share any thoughts, or, experience around social software in schools.
In the spirit of openness, I just want to state that this post is a plug for the wonderful folks at Cynapse and their awesome and even at times inspiring, social software platform – cyn.in.
Outside-in software development
The underlying theory behind outside-in software is that to create successful software, you must have a clear understanding of the goals and motivations of your stakeholders. Your ultimate goal is to produce software that is highly consumable and meets/exceeds the needs of your client.
Now Guy, Carl & John can’t all be wrong – developing software solutions in an ivory tower is no longer an option. As any external & internal stakeholder will tell you, you need feedback – especially in the world of global development & delivery (GDD). So how do you connect all these people from all over, with different skill-sets, different perspectives and most importantly different roles and rights? For example;
As a Developer (Internal Stakeholder), I would like to see Customers’ (External Stakeholders), comments on how they interact with the system, so I can better understand what value they’re trying to achieve.
As a Founder (Internal Stakeholder), I would like to collaborate with other Founders on our financial planning by sharing discussions, files and bookmarks, so we can communicate in a more timely and efficient manner than email.
Both of these scenarios involve the sharing and disseminating of information. However, not necessarily across Developers, Customers and Founders.
The state of the solution – Version 2
Having software development & start-up in my blood, I was thrilled to see the state of cyn.in. What the solution lacks in features, as compared to some of the competition, it makes up for in design, ease-of-use, quality and support.
I think the business model is great – its got something for everyone. For the techies, the open source model is a great way to use & potentially contribute to the code. For the folks looking for a free open source solution to experiment with, the VMware image provides the cheapest simplest in-house solution. And for those who want to avoid any hardware/software/networking issues and assure themselves of timely & helpful support, then the Software as a Service (SaaS) offering is the route to go.
For now, the one weakness is lack of documentation and knowledge base contents.
A few benefits
Since I consider myself a cyn.in early adopter, I hope to contribute to the requirements process – with my own spin of course 🙂 In addition, I’ll be blogging / tweeting about how we compliment certain features in their infancy with other solutions to achieve our desired results. Why am I doing this? Well, in the interest of transparency, I get a preferred SaaS deal for helping out and I better position myself as a potential reseller & service provider. However, most importantly, I actually do enjoy this stuff. And I will especially enjoy myself if I can contribute in a meaningful way to what I trust will be a distributed software development effort in an outside-in agile environment.
The state of the solution – Version 3
In addition to Enterprise Support, another SaaS benefit is being seamlessly migrated to the latest release – which by the way is as gorgeous as the Adobe AIR desktop client. If you’re currently a cyn.in Version 2 user, then moving to Version 3 should be one of your priorities. If you’re not, then Version 3 offers every feature you’d expect from a social software platform – minus some functionality. For example, while there are calendar Events, they lack the ability to invite members. Until that’s enabled, we supplement cyn.in Events and with Google Calendar. In my opinion, a minor price to pay.
For whatever cyn.in lacks in documentation, they more than make up for it with their Enterprise Support. Despite being timezones away, I can always count on a timely, concise and helpful experience. There’s seems to be no question too small, or, bug too big for them to answer in the same courtious manner. And in those special cases when I do come across a missing feature, it’s nice to know that my input is used to help contribute to their development process.
A future post – User roles and permisssions
A key feature for this start-up community is the ability to control user roles and their permissions. Currently, we use Personas to help us in our development effort. In the near future, we’ll be ready to search for actual users to assume their own personnas and help us define and satisfy their needs. When that time arrives, I’ll describe our community’s site hierarchy and permissions for members to better understand how they fit in.
My Idea’s Unhidden Agenda, also known as, Work-For-Attribution, and how I hope it will attract community members and contributors – the Who.
Imagination: Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Leaders create things that didn’t exist before. The do this by giving the tribe a vision of something that could happen, but hasn’t (yet).
You can’t manage without knowledge. You can’t lead without imagination.
As written in my Part 1, I needed to find a way build on my lessons learned and try my best to avoid repeating any errs of the past. But even more than needing a way to attract members to my new tribe, I needed to find a way to give them an environment where they could go beyond simple contributions. I needed to find a way for them to build their own opportunities, own quests and maybe even their own tribes.
The Unhidden Agenda
So a little while back, I came up with the following for my collaborators:
How to make this viral
I was also wondering how to make this a community project where we could create the engine and enable/empower other communities to use/build/extend it for purposes we haven’t yet considered, or, may simply not be in our domain of expertise. In other words, make it “viral”.
This is what I’ve come up with so far
The core engine – to be defined later, is the center of our community. If you’ve read Seth Godin’s Tribes then you already know that every community needs a leader. That would be me – Steven Milstein. And while this is not a democracy, that certainly doesn’t mean that I won’t hear & listen to the members of this tribe. Now that may sound harsh but, please hear me out – I’m not finished yet.
Since you’re here reading this, then I’m going to guess that you like the idea, or, appeal of leading – maybe even a tribe of your own. It may not be today, but someday in the foreseeable future. If this is not the case, then I deeply encourage you to give this some thought. Because what I’d like to see is each of us exploiting this opportunity to seed own tribes with this core engine.
What I’d like is for each of us to create an entry here with our Unhidden Agenda. Describe what it is you hope to gain by investing your time, energy, maybe money, in this venture? (Don’t tell what you can, or, cannot invest.) You have to be honest & you have to be passionate. Once approved/agreed upon, this Agenda will then represent your social contract to this endeavor. Break your Agenda, break your contract – you’re out.
I’m not dead certain about this idea & am certainly open to your feedback. But until then, I think this Unhidden Agenda Model will scale & encourage others to not only participate but contribute. And if we truly believe in outside-in agile/scrum software development & we strive to maintain the integrity of the core engine then each of us should be able to fulfill our agenda.
My (Steven’s) Unhidden Agenda will elaborate on how I’d like to be the product manager/owner of some leading edge social software product. I’ll go on to say how I want to use this endeavor to prove that I can not only be just that but, also have a touch of vision and more importantly, that I deliver. I’d also like to boast about the community/communities I seeded and onboarded to social software.
I imagine [Retail IT Guy/Gal] ‘s entry will focus on their retail domain of expertise & how they would like to cultivate their own tribe.
For [Software Engineer Guy/Gal], I can see them seizing the opportunity to build the core engine in their own technical fashion and then sharing & expanding its APIs with the technical community of this growing social network.
As I said earlier, this is not written in stone but I would like to find a way to make this more than three guys who live in Montreal. If we’re all somewhat comfortable with this approach, then here’s what I see happening next:
1. Work & finalize on our agendas
2. Get to work on building a simple proof-of-concept
3. Start blogging about what we’re doing here & post your Unhidden Agenda
4. Find & contribute to your related communities
5. Seek feedback from others & maybe ask a select few join us in our Community
6. Invite some of those to publicly blog their own Unhidden Agenda in the hopes of gaining admittance to this exclusive community – exclusivity matters. (If you believe Seth Godin.)
My back of the napkin “Work-For-Attribution Agreement”
While I originally sought a lawyer’s opinion about the Idea’s monetization possibilities, I was immediately told not to proceed without securing my copyright and ownership of “said” Idea. And that’s when I had visions of Groundhog Day. To be very clear. I did not then, nor do I now, have any money. I did not then, nor do I now, have the time, nor the resources to expend on fantasies and illusions of gazillion dollar exit strategies. This is myReality Check. (By the way, if you click on any of the links that lead to Amazon and actually buy the book, then I get something back – although I quite honestly don’t even know that that is yet, through their Associates program.)
So as of today’s date, this is the best I can offer:
Whatever work you contribute will be considered “work made for hire” and for whatever reason that may not hold up, then the agreement will be considered a “copyright assignment” from you to my company – Milstein & Associates Inc.
Sounds harsh, eh? But, it is what it is. I’ll post this digital back of the napkin version in the Idea’s community site so folks can sign up – at least in the digital sense.
Now in lieu of any payment, what I hope to do – subject to lawyer approval, is offer an Attribution for your contributions. Something like movie credits, or, if you open Adobe Reader, click on the Help, About, Credits button – for starters. Ideally, as stated in the Unhidden Agenda, I would have to provide a mechanism and venue for folks to discover and explore your contributions, maybe even for you to start your own tribe.
Up next – The Community Venue
My next post will be about the Idea’s Community site and who would be its target audience.
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.
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.
Not all developers are born public speakers. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with some brilliant folks – from coders to architects. However, there are times when this talented group of people can’t seem to net-it-out. They’re so immersed in their code, or, diagrams, that its difficult for us less savvy folk to get the point. Now even if you never share your picture (which based on my own experience is a giant leap of faith), the exercise of attempting to draw it has huge benefits. With each iteration, you not only clarify the physical image but you clarify the one in your “mind’s eye” – which in the end simply improves your code, or, detailed diagrams
Not everyone’s mother tongue is English! Pictures transcend language. So look upon your creations like the Egyptians looked upon their hieroglyphics.
Not everyone can draw. True. Neither can I. But I still read the book and benefited from it. It’s easy to read – lots of picures!
So read the book anyway and post your thumbs-up, or, thumbs-down comments here, or, on my postings featuring my creations 🙂