Q: Should I Tap My 401K To Bootstrap?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, Books, skmurphy

Q: Should I tap my 401K to bootstrap my startup? I had a conversation with the CEO of another firm and he and his partners did this to bootstrap. They started a C corporation and set up a corporate retirement account, the partners then rolled existing retirement accounts into the corporate plan and invested the money in the company’s stock. I did a little research and found these articles:

Good and Bad Reasons to Pivot

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, checklist, Lean Startup, skmurphy

Much has been written about a startup making a pivot in direction after Eric Ries first coined the term
in a 2009 blog post “Pivot don’t Jump to a New Vision.” The word pivot has attracted almost as much wordplay as the word lean.  What follows is a short list of good and bad reasons to pivot.

Esther Derby’s Six Rules for Change

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, Sales, skmurphy

Esther Derby (@estherderby) presented “Six Rules for Change” at LeanWX NYC 2015 “The Design of Purposeful Work”

  1. Congruence.
  2. Honor what is valuable about the past and what is working now.
  3. Assess the current situation and system.
  4. Ascertain who is trusted and who people turn to for advice, and weave them into your network.
  5. Guide the change. Consider where global principles apply, and what can evolve locally.
  6. Design experiments in collaboration with people who are involved in the change.

These same rules are essential to making a complex sale. What follows are my notes on her talk.

Larry Smith: Fail Fast, Fail Often, and Die

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Design of Experiments, skmurphy, Video

Larry Smith is a Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo who writes and lectures on Entrepreneurship, innovation, and Technology markets. What follows is part of a conversation he had with Alan Quarry as part of his AQ’s Blog & Grill series of interviews with entrepreneurs. His key point, that he makes in a somewhat cranky fashion, is that technology entrepreneurship is a complex undertaking that requires patience, careful analysis, and planning.

Resources for Student Entrepreneur Organizations

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

Andre Nieto Porras: Tree Of IdeasWith the 2016  school year getting ready to start in the next six to eight weeks at most colleges and universities I have had several conversations with student entrepreneur organizations about how I might be able to help them.

I have developed content and given talks and webinars over the last five years that may provide student entrepreneurs help to get oriented to many of the basics of customer development, innovation, and new market exploration. 

Webinar Replay: You Need to Be a Little Crazy

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, Books, skmurphy, Video

This is a webinar replay that was recorded on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 with Massimo Paolini, Miles Kehoe, Dorai Thodla, and Sean Murphy discussing Barry Moltz‘s “You Need to Be a Little Crazy: The Truth about Starting and Growing Your Business.” They share how they personally found the courage to start their businesses and their desire to make “working for yourself” mean not only a better job but building equity.

Kennedy Inaugural

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Selections from the John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address, Friday, January 20, 1961. 54 years have passed and we face the same challenges but seem possessed of less courage in our beliefs and less committed to spreading democracy.

13 From Zeldin’s 36 Topics for a Serious Conversation

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Demos, skmurphy

The last chapter in Theodore Zeldin‘s “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives” lists 36 topics for conversation. I have selected thirteen I think would lead to a serious conversation between entrepreneurs and listed them below (retaining their original number) along with some additional commentary.

4. Emotional Wavelengths: How does one improve one’s skill at guessing what people do not actually say?

Reading intent is a challenging but important skill in sales and negotiations.  A conversation is about mental models as much as facts and events. I think you have to distinguish between unstated or implicit assumptions or things left unsaid that can be surfaced with the right question. If you can become more sensitive to facial expressions, breathing, body language, tone, and cadence–all things that don’t come through in an email or text chat session–you can start to fill in some of the blanks. I sometimes find that it’s easier to discern intent on a phone call than face to face, a paradox that may be due as much to not needing to control my own facial expressions and body language so that I can concentrate more on what the other person is saying.

8. First Impressions: Why do we talk of love at first sight, but seldom of love at first sound.

There are many people that 30 seconds into a phone call I can tell we are going to work well together. I am not always right but there is something about voice that builds trust. I would rather have a 30 second audio clip than a 30 second video clip without sound if I needed to make a quick assessment of someone. A warm laugh in particular is hard to fake (in the same that that a smile that does not include the eyes is insincere).  Someone who is trying to communicate a sense of wonder or curiosity about a topic often makes a positive impression on me.

18. A Room of One’s Own: What are the virtues of silence?

You can also learn a lot from careful observation. At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes a shared silence can provide a lot of comfort to someone who is in pain that words may not improve upon. When my boys were younger and I wanted them to take a nap I would lie down with them and breathe deeply. I would remain calm and often they would calm down and take a nap. Of course sometimes they would let me go to sleep first and move on to other rooms.

20. Team Spirit: What place is there in conversation for the competitive instinct?

Teamwork always involves not just communication, coordination, and collaboration but negotiation. Sometimes a competitive challenge–if I can get this part done by Thursday can you be done by then as well–can break a deadlock or move the conversation forward in a useful way.  Good managers cultivate  esprit de corps because it’s much harder to let the team down than the manager alone. The trick is to discourage competition that cuts off listening or a willingness to share good ideas, bad news, or misgivings and concerns.

22. The Specialists: Can you tell from the way someone talks what their work is?

I have blogged about the Deformation Professionelle Of The Software Entrepreneur.

24. Human Resources: Is it possible to have a conversation with the customer, if the customer is always right?

It’s useful to point out the contradictions between different things the customer has said–providing you are not just nitpicking. Good customers know that the may need help making the right decision or selecting the best way to work with you so that even though they are “right” they are still very interested in your opinion. I think it’s difficult to have a useful conversation with someone who does not respect you, your ability to make a contribution or add value, or provide insight. If the customer believes they are right and are not interested in what you have to say you can still listen and ask questions to clarify. At some point a lack of respect indicates they may not be a good customer for you.

26. The Engineer’s Dream: Is the most worthwhile conversation one which takes the most risks?

It can be hard to tell how much risk the other person is taking. I think a better model is progressive mutual disclosure and that takes time. It may take a series of conversations–trust is built over time.

28. Audience Figures: How much do you rely for your topics of conversation on the suggestions of the media?

If media is daily/weekly/monthly publications and “short from writing” websites perhaps a tenth to a quarter of the time. If you include books and long form writing  more like a half. I think the media can make it harder for two people to reach common ground. I find it easier to accept an alternate point of view that’s been shaped by someone having very different experience than I do one based on reading different newspapers and magazines.

29. Baby Alarm: What is the effect of electronic toys on conversation?

It’s funny but watching someone take notes with a ballpoint pen on a pad of paper has as a different nuance than taking notes typing on a tablet than typing on a smartphone. I have seen shared note taking in a collaborative document editor or a text chat window in parallel with a phone call substantially improve the quality of the conversation. The challenge of breaking through the continuous partial attention syndrome seems exacerbated by cell phones but that may be because they are the new technology.

33. The Scribe’s Contribution: What can a letter do that a conversation cannot?

I include email as an epistolary medium for my comments here. A letter or email can allow you to compose your thoughts and present a clear argument or line of reasoning without interruption. For a topic that does not rely on the emotional subtext (e.g. filing a bug report) email is more effective. Introverts are much more comfortable receiving email–it does not require an immediate reaction the way a face to face conversation does–because it allows them time to think before responding.

34. I Didn’t Catch That: Is it ever worth pretending to understand when you don’t?

If you are sure it’s a minor point, yes.

35. Maturity: Do you like to have your opinions changed by conversation?

If I am confused about something I am certainly open to escaping my confusion. If I am inviting or open to change on a topic, yes. It someone is trying to tell me something “for my own good” not so much.

36. Thinking For Oneself: What kind of space, or time, is best for conversations with oneself?

I find meditation, writing morning pages, going for a walk, looking at old pictures, writing a journal, drawing a picture or diagram, taking a shower, waiting to fall asleep, and immediately after I wake up are all helpful. For the last two I keep a pad of paper and pens next to my bedside. I carry 3×5 cards with me so that I can capture random insights without forgetting them.

Related Blog Posts


Gary Smith 1941-2015

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

Gary-headshot-180x220Gary Smith, founder and chief analyst at Gary Smith EDA, passed away July 3, 2015 after a brief illness. He was a good friend and a mentor and he contributed substantially to fostering the collaboration around a shared vision in Electronic Design Automation that is necessary to keep Moore’s Law moving forward.

I learned a lot from him in a friendship that spanned more than  25 years and will miss the chance to compare notes with him on life and business. He lived the life he wanted, was devoted to his wife Lori Kate and his son Casey, and stayed active in a professional community he had nurtured for more than four decades.

A Serious Conversation Can Change Your Life

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, Books, Customer Development, skmurphy

Theodore Zeldin gave a series of six lectures on conversation that were collected in slim book called “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives.” I found it offered a number of insights on what is needed for a serious conversation. And since serious conversation is one of the primary tools for early market exploration and customer development; I have curated a list of nine excerpts I think entrepreneurs will find useful.

Client News: Bring on the Leads

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Clients in the News, Lead Generation, Rules of Thumb, tshafer

Intl Contact LogoPress Release Leads to Local Coverage

International Contact, Inc., a leader in media translation and localization, announced the appointment of Ron Fredericks to the role of chief technology officer in a recent press release. It was picked up by San Francisco Business Journal and resulted in print coverage in their “People on the Move” section. While International Contact is a global company with large multi-national clients, they believe that the local touch is important to maintain their outstanding personalized services.

Quotes From Whispers Under Ground, Broken Homes, and Foxglove Summer

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, skmurphy

Some quotes from “Whispers Under Ground“, “Broken Homes“, and “Foxglove Summer.” They are the third, fourth, and fifth novels in Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” series of novels about Peter Grant, a London Police Constable and apprentice magician.

I bought these three on the strength of his first book  I had the feeling that Aaronovitch succumbed to “Game of Thrones” disease–not greyscale but “literary elephantiasis”–where he is afraid to bring anything to a conclusion because his series has become so popular–and profitable.

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