“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
— Steve Jobs, 1998
Tag: Startup Lessons Learned
Aren’t We All Startups?
Maybe you should stop introducing yourself as a Startup and simply say what you’re business is successful at delivering.
– John Kobel
In my last post – Start Hanging Out With People Who May Have Your Solutions, I reiterated the value of Steve Blank’s “Get Out Of The Building” and Mark Suster’s post “Why You Need to Take 50 Coffee Meetings”. Here’s an example of the my Return On Investment (ROI).
Aren’t We All Startups?
After watching me pitch over the last few Westmount Networking Breakfasts, John Kobel offered me some friendly advice. He suggested that people may avoid doing business with a Startup because it sounds risky. People want to do business with successful people with a proven track record. So when it came to my turn to pitch, I shared John’s advice & dropped the “Startup” from my opening 🙂
But as I listened to everyone else’s pitches, I couldn’t help but notice that we’re all Startups – in one form, or, another. Yes, some have established businesses behind him and some have been at this longer than I have. But in the end, we’re all pitching. We’re all searching for the right words to connect with someone listening & open the door to building a relationship.
The problem with networking meetings in general – not just our’s, is that we’re usually pitching to the same crowd with a few visitors. Now I understand these meetings are more about developing long-term relationships that typically pay off over the years. But there are lessons to be learned from all these Coffee Meetings (and other events) and no reason they can’t deliver an earlier Return On Investment. That’s when I had my “Ah Ha Moment”. All I had to do was start listening to the customer & find early adopters who, not just want the service, but truly need it.
Nearly All Consumers (97%) Now Use Online Media to Shop Locally, According to BIA/Kelsey and ConStat, March 2010. How many are finding you? Give us your sales pitch and we’ll connect them with you, right from your Inbox. Forget about managing search engine marketing campaigns, web sites and even qualifying the leads. Our metrics prove we can do it all for a fraction of what it would typically cost you. We are ReverseTheSearch.co.
I need to work on our true customer – the supplier, landing page but that’s the big idea. From a Pivot point-of-view, there’s really no change to the core principle. In fact, we’re actually trimming away a lot of the Waste and starting over with the Minimum Viable Product.
I’ll fill in some blanks with the Elevator Pitch version coming soon. But in the meantime, feel free to contact me with any thoughts.
Stop staying around people who have your problems and start staying around ones who have your solutions.
– Jeffrey G. Allen, Instant Interviews
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.”
Just build a _____ profitable business!
— David Heinemeier Hansson, This Week in Startups #46 (1:10:45)
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
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
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.
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.)
Go out there and make some money!
Meet Greg Meyer: A Maven & a Mensch
I learned this when reading Guy Kawasaki’s Reality Check:
Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, defines mensch this way:
Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.
Read more: How to Change the World: How to Be a Mensch
While trolling Twitter for #custdev, I came across You don’t need a business plan yet: 7 ideas for Customer Development « Information Maven: Greg Meyer. I read it, liked it and retweeted it. Shortly after words, I got a thanks mention from @grmeyer. Soon enough, one tweet led to another and then Greg asked for an interview.
The first thing Greg asked was “What can I do to help you?” – which surprised me because I thought Greg wanted to talk about my Nordie experience he posted on Deliver The Awesome. Not so. Greg explained he likes being an Information Maven – “a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others” – as described in his About.
Within moments, Greg was describing and offering to connect me with four, or, five contacts whom most likely share AnotherSocialEconomy’s Where Demand Comes to Meet Supply vision. And while it’s always nice to get feedback and introductions from someone who “gets it”, it’s even more of a delight when they come through.
Usually, someone coming through with an introduction takes the form of an email with contact info. But not from the guy who runs a site called on Deliver The Awesome. Within a very short time, Greg sent out emails like:
[contact-name], meet Steven Milstein. Steven is a Montreal entrepreneur. You should know Steven because he’s working on a way to match up qualified buyers with qualified sellers for speciifc commerce / e-commerce needs. Find out more at http://ReverseTheSearch.co.
Steven, meet [contact-name]. [contact-name] is [title / role]. You should know [contact-name because he’s a good guy and has lots of experience thinking about bringing concepts to market. Find out more at [useful link].
I hope this introduction proves useful!
Networking User Stories
Now that’s an introduction! They remind me of User Stories that take the form of:
As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.
Not only were the introductions short & sweet but each were custom wordsmithed, hoping to capture how this introduction may be helpful to it’s recipients.
To all my friends out there, please follow @grmeyer and @DeliverAwesome, visit and offer up your own service, or, retail experience that made you feel great. You can also follow @GregAtGist, the product marketing guy for Gist – a wild product that melds all your contacts social streams in your own Dashboard, or, my fave, email Inbox.
I’ve been practicing my @grmeyer inspired Networking User Stories whenever the opportunity arises & have to report, if nothing else, it is gratifying. I’m not good at following-up, maybe because, I know people are inundated with others trying to connect & I don’t want to put anyone in the uncomfortable position of feeling they have to explain their actions, or, lack thereof to me.
But based on all these networking experiences and months of various styles of breakfast meetings & coffee meetings, even this post by James Altucher – The 9 Skills Needed to Become a Super Connector Altucher Confidential, I’m really pleased to say that we’re taking apart our startup’s lego blocks & reassembling them to service the needs of power networkers. Once relaunched, we’ll be “taking the mundane out of making it rain” by facilitating half of the skills James mentioned.
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
Watch live video from Startup Lessons Learned on Justin.tv
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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
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
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!
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!
It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy.