Neal Stephenson on Christianity, Grace, Sincerity, and Seeing Things as They Are

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Design of Experiments, skmurphy

I have started to reserve Sundays to write on spirituality, charity, and a higher moral purpose to our life as entrepreneurs. I was struck by the quote that Stephenson puts in Juanita’s mouth in Snow Crash and have concluded that he is performing a similar ministry in his science fiction writing. There is a sense of wonder and meditation on “some power like grace, like the Force, or Providence, or what-have-you, that had been at work in the world today” (Zula’s reflection on events in Reamde).

Juanita has been using her excess money to start her own branch of the Catholic church–she considers herself a missionary to the intelligent atheists of the world. [...]

“Don’t be condescending,” she says. “That’s exactly the attitude I’m fighting. Religion is not for simpletons.”

“Hey, I went to church every week in high school. I sang in the choir.”

“I know. That’s exactly the problem. 99% of everything that goes on in most Christian churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and they conclude that the entire one hundred percent is bullshit, which is why atheism is connected with being intelligent in people’s minds.”
Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

I think a lot of folks see people’s flaws very clearly in their teens and early 20′s and turn off to religious beliefs. I think is far more complex and if you can maintain a sense of wonder then you cannot mistake your umwelt, the limits of your perception, as the limits of reality ( or as Arthur Schopenhauer observed in “Studies in Pessimism“, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world”).

“The ministry of Jesus Christ was … an attempt to take religion out of the temple, out of the hands of the priesthood, and bring the Kingdom of God to everyone. That is the message explicitly spelled out by his sermons, and it is the message symbolically embodied in the empty tomb. After the crucifixion, the apostles went to his tomb hoping to find his body and instead found nothing. The message was clear enough; We are not to idolize Jesus, because his ideas stand alone, his church is no longer centralized in one person but dispersed among all the people”
Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

I think this also imposes a tremendous responsibility for action: free will implies everyone can and must make a difference.

“That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.”
Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

We all fall short of our intentions to act correctly. That doesn’t mean we lack integrity. There can be different motives for what appears to be hypocrisy.

This was probably rooted in a belief that had been inculcated to him from the get-go: that there was an objective reality, which all people worth talking to could observe and understand, and that there was no point in arguing about anything that could be so observed and so understood. As long as you made a point of hanging out exclusively with people who had the wit to see and to understand that objective reality, you didn’t have to waste a lot of time talking. When a thunderstorm was headed your way across the prairie, you took the washing down from the line and closed the windows. It wasn’t necessary to have a meeting about it. The sales force didn’t need to get involved.”
Neal Stephenson, Reamde

Again, free will requires us to observe and act on what we see.

“Or maybe none of it had been that rational…maybe this was all down to some supernatural effect, such as grace, that flowed through people’s lives even if they didn’t understand why.”
Neal Stephenson, Reamde

I think miracles occur around us frequently.  They may not be what we hoped for or what we were expecting. But they are there.


More on “umwelt” from the concluding paragraphs to ”What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit?” by David M. Eagleman

 Our unawareness of the limits of our umwelt can be seen with color blind people: until they learn that others can see hues they cannot, the thought of extra colors does not hit their radar screen. And the same goes for the congenitally blind: being sightless is not like experiencing “blackness” or “a dark hole” where vision should be. As a human is to a bloodhound dog, a blind person does not miss vision. They do not conceive of it. Electromagnetic radiation is simply not part of their umwelt.

The more science taps into these hidden channels, the more it becomes clear that our brains are tuned to detect a shockingly small fraction of the surrounding reality. Our sensorium is enough to get by in our ecosystem, but is does not approximate the larger picture.

I think it would be useful if the concept of the umwelt were embedded in the public lexicon. It neatly captures the idea of limited knowledge, of unobtainable information, and of unimagined possibilities. Consider the criticisms of policy, the assertions of dogma, the declarations of fact that you hear every day — and just imagine if all of these could be infused with the proper intellectual humility that comes from appreciating the amount unseen.

Q: We Already Have a Prototype, Can We Still Do Customer Development?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, Design of Experiments, skmurphy

Q:  We have already implemented the first prototype of our product, but we need to know that we are either on a good course or need to change.

A: If you long for certainty you should not be doing a startup, pick a regulated utility or government bureaucracy as a career. Lean Startup and Customer Development techniques can help you to reduce risks by identifying them and developing mitigation strategies but it’s not a guarantee. Any real market attracts competitors and you don’t get to write their plans so it’s not just a question of understanding the prospect’s status quo but being able to identify and react to competitive threats. The view that product-market fit is a ratchet that you cannot fall back from neglects the impact of competitive response, new entrants, and continued changes in technology and customer preference.

Q:  Perhaps I overemphasized our desire for certainty; we understand a startup is uncertain. Should we use our current prototype as an MVP?

Yes. I would  start with what you have and use it as a probe to refine your understanding of the market and customer needs.

Make a distinction between the product, your message, and your target customer. You can talk about your product in different ways, adjusting your message to highlight and test key hypotheses. You do not have to make any changes to your product to this. Any product by definition–or at least any short enough for a prospect for prospect to listen to willingly–of necessity highlights some aspects omits others. You can also use different messages on different target customers or present different message to different prospects of the same type as a way of refining your understanding of what they view as important.

It’s critical that you have conversations with prospects and not simply present messages and see what they react to. It’s only in conversation that you can truly be surprised (you have to be listening, it’s not a monolog) and often the most surprising and useful thing a prospect can do in a conversation is to ask you a question you have not considered before (that’s why it’s called a conversation not an interrogation). When you are looking for early customers the value hypothesis is critical. You may reach them using non-scalable methods that don’t address your first real growth hypothesis.

My take on the distinction between hypothesis and assumption, your mileage may vary: A hypothesis is what is being tested explicitly by an experiment. An assumption is tested implicitly. By making your assumptions as well as your hypotheses explicit you increase the clarity of your approach and the chance for learning. The two things that can trip you up most often is an unconscious assumption that masks a problem with your hypothesis or an unconscious bias in whom you are testing the value hypothesis on. In particular you may have defined your target customer by certain selection criteria but your actual choices for whom to speak to (or who will speak with you) are not sampling from the full spectrum of possibilities.

Q: Or should we build another or several other smaller MVPs to  test only the most important  assumptions? Should we build various tests in parallel to test the needs of different types of customers?

I have come around to the approach of testing several hypotheses in parallel, I think you learn faster and are more likely to identify a good opportunity more quickly. After you take your current prototype and use it to have conversations,  I would explore a few different potential customer types in parallel. One good article on this is by David Aycan, “Don’t Let the Minimum Win Over the Viable,” where he offers a comparison between three approaches:

Traditional linear approach:

linear
Standard sequential pivot approach:
pivot
His recommended approach:
recommended

I am also a huge fan of Discovery Kanban  as a way to manage a set of options and experiments in parallel with managing commitments to customers and other execution targets. It actually gets harder as you start to gain some early customers and need to continue to explore the market and refine your understanding in parallel with keeping your current customers satisfied.

John Gardner: Leaders Detect and Act on the Weak Signals of the Future

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 5 Scaling Up Stage, skmurphy

Some excerpts with commentary from “On Leadership“  by John W. Gardner.

There is such a thing as the “visible future.” The seedlings of [future] life are sprouting all around us if we ahve the site to identify them. Most significant changes are preceded by a long train of premonitory events. Sometimes the events are readily observable.”
John W. Gardner “On Leadership”

Marcelo Rinesi advised “the future is an illusion, all change is happening now” and Peter Drucker told us to “systematically identify changes that have already occurred.” From an entrepreneurial perspective you can often transplant a solution from one industry to attack a similar problem in another: as William Gibson suggests, “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” This model for innovation brokerage requires that you be open to new solutions to old but pressing problems and that you scan more broadly to find them. Gardner offers his own explanation for why opportunities are overlooked:

“…the future announces itself from afar. But most people are not listening. The noisy clatter of the present drowns out the tentative sound of things to come. The sound of the new does not fit old perceptual patterns and goes unnoticed by most people. And of the few who do perceive something coming, most lack the energy, initiative, courage or will to do anything about it. Leaders who have the wit to perceive and the courage to act will be credited with a gift of prophecy that they do not necessarily have.”
John W. Gardner “On Leadership”

There is always a value in closing the deals that are in front of you and making this month’s payroll. But there is a risk in getting caught in the treadmill of the urgent. Gardner offers a prescription for leaders and leader/managers to differentiate themselves from managers trapped in the immediate crisis.

  1. They think longer term—beyond the day’s crises, beyond the quarterly report, beyond the horizon.
  2. In thinking about the unit they are heading, they grasp its relationship to larger realities—the larger organization of which they are a part, conditions external to the organization, global trends.
  3. They reach and influence constituents beyond their jurisdictions, beyond boundaries. In an organization, leaders extend their reach across bureaucratic boundaries—often a distinct advantage in a world too complex and tumultuous to be handled “through channels.” Leaders’ capacity to rise above jurisdictions may enable them to bind together the fragmented constituencies that must work together to solve a problem
  4. They put heavy emphasis on the intangibles of vision, values, and motivation and understand intuitively the non-rational and unconscious elements in leader-constituent interaction.
  5. They have the political skill to cope with the conflicting requirements of multiple constituencies.
  6. They think in terms of renewal.

John W. Gardner “On Leadership”

I think this is a good list, even for bootstrappers who are worried about keeping the lights on this month. You have to devote 10-20% of your time to problems in the longer term, and connections and initiatives that may not bear fruit next week but perhaps in three months or a year or two. The last suggestion, to consider how to renew skills, relationships, and shared values, is also a critical one for the long term.


More on Drucker’s suggestion for sources for innovation:

“Innovation requires us to systematically identify changes that have already occurred in a business — in demographics, in values, in technology or science — and then to look at them as opportunities. It also requires something that is most difficult for existing companies to do: to abandon rather than defend yesterday. ”
Peter Drucker in “Flashes of Genius

Tony Schwartz: Notice the Good, Cultivate Good Habits, Slow Down, and Do the Right Thing

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

Tony Schwartz wrote a  great post on “Turning 60: The Twelve Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned So Far.” Here are my top four from his list (original numbering preserved).

2. Notice the good. We each carry an evolutionary predisposition to dwell on what’s wrong in our lives. The antidote is to deliberately take time out each day to notice what’s going right, and to feel grateful for what you’ve got. It’s probably a lot.

I think this is a clever way of saying count your blessings, but a good habit to cultivate however you phrase it.

7. The more behaviors you intentionally make automatic in your life, the more you’ll get done. If you have to think about doing something each time you do it, you probably won’t do it for very long. The trick is to get more things done using less energy and conscious self-control. How often do you forget to brush your teeth?

There is a lot to be said for breaking out of the routine and “thinking outside of the box” but the more useful default activities you can turn into habit the more you can concentrate on what’s really important. Three useful business habits for you to consider:

  • Carry a pen and paper or 3×5 cards to capture thoughts, insights, and suggestions from others.
  • Make a list and work it. Less useful for exploring but essential for finishing. This is a habit I learned from my first business partner, David Woodruff, at Woodruff & Murphy, Decision Systems Associates. He always carried a clipboard and pen everywhere so that he could plan the day and work the plan. It was a habit he had picked up managing  small construction projects but it has broad applicability.
  • Always debrief at the end of a project. Ask for feedback and volunteer self-criticism before offering your suggestions to others. Especially when things have not gone well and you would rather sweep the wreckage under the rug.

8. Slow down. Speed is the enemy of nearly everything in life that really matters. It’s addictive and it undermines quality, compassion, depth, creativity, appreciation and real relationship.

I find this to be very hard by the middle of the day. Forcing myself to measure twice and cut once is easier in the morning than in the afternoon when I often I feel behind.  The right decision, especially where people are concerned, is critical. I try to meditate twice a day and take at least a short walk  to clear my head in the late afternoon. This is very counter-cultural for Silicon Valley and startups, it’s an overlooked source of effectiveness as a result.

10. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and don’t expect anything in return. Your values are one of the only possessions you have that no one can take away from you. Doing the right thing may not always get you what you think you want in the moment, but it will almost always leave you feeling better about yourself in the long run. When in doubt, default to calm and kind.

We always try to put clients first and make sure our partners get paid when we do. Bootstrapping a startup is a very difficult way to make a living and may of our clients find it to be very stressful from time to time. I try to remain empathetic since i have made most of the mistakes that I see them making or hear them recount. But I also try and be as honest and direct as they can tolerate, explaining what I see as the key facts in  a situation, and courses of action that they should consider.

 

Founder Story: Steve DiBartolomeo of Artwork Conversion Software

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in EDA, First Office, Founder Story, skmurphy

Steve DiBartolomeo is co-founder of Artwork Conversion Software, Inc., an EDA software firm headquartered  in Santa Cruz CA with a development office in Manhattan Beach, CA. Founded in 1989, the company develops CAD translation programs, CAD viewers, plotting software and IC packaging software.  Artwork has over 5000 customers worldwide including Alcatel, AMD, Applied Materials, Agere, Bosch, KLA Tencor, Motorola, Ericsson, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, Hitachi, Lockheed Martin, Photronics, Siemens, Seagate, Sony, TRW..

Q: Can you talk a little about your background and how you came to found Artwork Conversion Services?

I have a BS/MS in Electrical Engineering from UCLA (1978). My founding partner, Antonio Morawski, has a BS from Loyola and a MS from UCLA from around the same time period. I cut my teeth at TRW Semiconductor in Southern Calif starting in 1976 as a student. When I graduated I continued on there until 1980 as an RF design engineer, as did Antonio–we met at TRW.

I took a year and a half off of work and went back to college (UCSB) until I ran out of money and then in 1982 joined Avantek in Santa Clara as an international sales engineer. In 1984 my boss asked me to join a startup, Step Electronics, that would specialize in high tech import/export selling microwave and RF components and subassemblies. One of our first clients was a small software start up, EEsof, which pioneered microwave EDA on PCs. (Prior to that microwave design software ran on a $250K VAX and cost $50K – EEsof’s ran on a $5K PC and cost $7500.) I spent much of the next years selling EEsof tools in Europe (where I lived for a year in 1986) and then later in Asia.

In 1986 I needed a translator for a pattern generator in order to close a large EEsof sale in Germany. EEsof could not do it. I mentioned this to Antonio and he said he knew how to write such a translator. We took the order and delivered it 6 months later.

In 1987 I returned back to the US and tried to sell more pattern generator translators in Silicon Valley. The companies that I contacted were not interested in our translator but had lots of suggestions as to what they did need — so we slowly developed new products (on a part time basis) based on their feedback. At that time (between 87 and 89) Antonio was employed as a consultant at TRW and as a professor at Loyola. He did the programming out of a corner of his small garage.

Finally in 1989 we decided to do this full time. I left Step (which had really been an excellent apprenticeship for learning how to run a small, lean operation) and Antonio left Loyola after completing his teaching contract.

Our primary reason for starting the company was to be “masters of our own destiny” and to work on stuff that was interesting. We really only wanted to make enough money to cover our mortgages and live a reasonably comfortable life.

Q: So what were the early days like?

Between us we put up $10K each and started with that (and two years of experience and a few customers and orders in the pipeline). As mentioned, our largest initial purchase was two fax machines (at $1500 each) and a copy machine ($3000). I worked out of a 500 sq foot office in Santa Cruz and Antonio continued to work out of his garage in Manhattan Beach. We broke even from day one even if the monthly salary was small. Eventually we added a secretary and a programmer and Antonio moved from his one car garage to his father’s two car garage.

I handled all the sales which were almost 100% from Silicon Valley. I basically drove into the valley several times a week and installed and demonstrated the software. I also did tech support, marketing, technical writing … basically everything except programming.

We added employees one at a time and grew slowly but surely.

At the time we started (end of 89), the business we knew best — RF and Microwave components and design — was taking a tremendous hit; the giant build up of the early and mid 80′s (due to Reagan’s military budget) was over and an enormous consolidation was occurring. I’d call an engineer on a Monday to make an appointment and by Friday he’d be gone.

There was not yet any Internet and even cell phones were a tiny market. Things looked especially grim because no one could envision what was going to drive new designs. But somehow we ground through the first couple of years — not making much money but not losing any either and slowly adding a few products every year.

By 1995 we grew to a peak of 14 people – 8 programmers, 1 sales guy, 1 boss (me) and 3 office people. Our maximum revenues peaked at about $3 million dollars in the late 90′s.

Business took a major downturn in 2001 what with the dot-com crash which killed a whole bunch of network and chip startups that were buying our tools as well as hurting just about everybody in the tech business. I recall our shipments dropped 40% one month and stayed down for 18 months before slowly building back up again. By 2004 business was excellent again. Things stayed pretty buoyant until 2007; from that point on it seemed to drift down gradually and, of course, at the end of 2008 the downward drift became disturbingly steep. Most of 2009 was pretty awful and it was not until early 2010 that we saw the green shoots of a recovery.

Q:  Where are you today?

Today we are 10 people (7 programmers, 1 sales guy, 1 boss and 1 office person – the internet nature of business no longer requires production of software other than a click).  Our goals are not high growth but rather a good profit margin. As a software company we have zero cost-of-goods and the great majority of our expenses is salary. So once you are past “break even” everything after that is profit.

Q: When you look back over the last two decades or so what are the accomplishments that you are most proud of ?

We are very proud of having kept the company going for over 20 years completely on our own. We didn’t borrow a penny and every quarter we showed an operating profit.

We  made several major market and technology shifts during those 20 years that kept us going:

  • We started by building software for RF and Microwave designers.
  • We branched into software directed at PCB designers.
  • We branched into software directed at IC designers (back end).
  • We moved from translators to display software (viewers).
  • We moved from direct sales to end users to OEM sales to other EDA companies.

We have seen many other EDA and technology firms try to change direction, usually in response to major changes in technology or the market that either died or were badly injured in the process.

We were early Internet and web adopters and this enabled us to expand our market from just Silicon Valley to worldwide without a large sales force.

Q: What’s been the biggest surprise?

I think it was more of a gradual realization: most EDA entrepreneurs start as EDA users, run into problems doing their job, come up with a clever solution and are suddenly find themselves an EDA supplier. The surprise comes some years after you are an EDA supplier–you have stopped designing stuff and find that you no longer really understand the “problem” side of the equation and have to pester people to tell you about what problems they need solving. However this reliance on others for your critical input is never as reliable as your own (past) understanding of the problems that need solving.

Q: What were the significant changes in the environment you have had to respond to?

The internet changed everything. We jumped on it early and have benefited from our ability to be everywhere in the world from our desks in Santa Cruz. Nowadays I think WEBEX (and the other screen sharing apps) is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

We realized that we needed to change from direct sales to OEM partnerships in the late 90′s because the big kahunas–Cadence, Mentor and Synopsys–started sucking the air out of the EDA markets. They each wanted to be all things to the customer and cut the kind of deals (we call them all-you-can-eat) that would cut off any other vendor.  So we changed our focus to selling into the big EDA companies with small modules that enhanced their products.

Q: What’s the current challenge you are wrestling with?
Design is following manufacturing offshore. We’ve seen this accelerate since after the dot-com crash. It’s a lot harder for a small  US based company to cover Taiwan, China, India and Singapore. The big guys set up design and application center’s in these countries.

Q: Any suggestions for other entrepreneurs who want to bootstrap a software business?

If you want to run a company you can make a living from–in other words you are not writing a business plan where the exit strategy is on the first page–then I think I can make a couple of suggestions.

  • Start with a small team with common values and complementing skills – in our case Antonio was the programming guy and I was the sales/applications guy.
  • Don’t take any more money–none if possible–from outsiders than absolutely required.
  • Create something small and simple and quickly get it out there. You’ll get much better and faster feedback than if you try to go around asking people what they want.
  • Refine it based on feedback. Document it. Do it again.
  • Grow slowly. Fast growth is very inefficient since you will then have a lot of people on board that have not figured out their job.
  • Staff or employee turnover has a high hidden cost since the replacements have to start over.
  • Cash is king. Save some of your profits as a cushion against a rainy day.
  • Spend a lot of time listening to your customer’s problems. Not every problem is one you can or should solve, but the aggregation of their issues gives you a solid base for making seat-of-the-pants decisions. You’ll never have enough information to make a MBA-style decision on new products or directions. But if you’ve listened to enough customers you’ll have a good “feel” and make better decisions.
  • Beware of business plans. Have a look at some business plans that are 3-5 years old of both successful and unsuccessful companies. You’ll have a good laugh at both. The main difference between the successful companies and the dead/dying ones is how they reacted when their assumptions blew up.

Finally and most importantly: people can say one thing and do another. Only act on what people tell you if you see that their behavior is consistent with their talk. People are much better at telling you what they don’t like than at what they want. When we are developing a new product we try to get something into their hands quickly and then listen to them criticize it. The criticisms are usually much more specific and useful to defining a product.

Q: Steve thanks very much for your time.

Q: Pricing Professional Services

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Q: I am starting a service business that will help clients with advertising and search engine marketing but I am not sure how to price my services. Do you have any suggestions for how to look at this?

Services and service pricing has a very different physics from product pricing: service hours cannot be stockpiled, they arrive one hour every hour, and they have to be delivered synchronously. Even if you are pricing your services based on value and not on time it’s a very different equation from product pricing.  You might look at

All have good models for managing, pricing, and marketing professional services.  Weinberg ‘s Secrets of Consulting is probably the best book to start with for a solo practice, but all of them are worth reading for useful perspectives on consulting. In chapter 12 Weinberg addresses ”Putting a Price On Your Head” directly and offers ten rules of pricing:

  1. Pricing has many functions, only one of which is the exchange of money.
  2. The more they pay you, the more they love you. The less they pay you, the less they respect you.
  3. The money is usually the smallest part of the price.
  4. Pricing is not a zero-sum game.
  5. If you need the money, don’t take the job.
  6. If they don’t like your work, don’t take their money.
  7. Money is more than price.
  8. Price is not a thing; it’s a negotiated relationship.
  9. Follow the principle of least regret: set the price so you won’t regret it either way.
  10. All prices are ultimately based on feelings, both yours and theirs.

All of these rules also apply to early software sales, which often embed a significant service project or deliver a result as a service to lay the groundwork for a subsequent product sale. The other books are useful reading for the same reason for software entrepreneurs who are trying to navigate the early sales process or who are bootstrapping by offering services as well as a product.

For a straight up analysis of product pricing The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing” by Thomas Nagle is the best book that I have read.

Related blog posts on pricing:

Discovery Kanban Allows Firms to Balance Delivery and Discovery

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 5 Scaling Up Stage, Design of Experiments, Video

I believe that Patrick Steyaert’s Discovery Kanban offers critical perspective on how large organizations can foster the proliferation of Lean Startup methods beyond isolated spike efforts or innovation colonies.

I think Patrick Steyaert has come up with an approach that builds on what we have learned from customer development and Lean Startup and offers an orchestration mechanism for fostering innovation and operational excellence. I think  this will prove to be a dynamic approach to managing innovation that will be as significant as Saras Sarasvathy’s Effectuation, Christensen Innovator’s Dilemma and Innovator’s DNA, and Ron Adner’s Wide Lens. I believe it’s going to become part of the canon of accepted principles of innovation because it offers not only a way to frame the challenge of balancing discovery and delivery, but a mechanism for planning and managing them in parallel.

Discovery Kanban is a synthesis of a number of distinct threads of entrepreneurial thinking–Lean Startup, Kanban, OODA, PCDA, and Optionality–into an approach that helps firms address the challenge  of executing and refining proven business models in parallel with exploring options for novel business opportunities. The reality is that you have to manage both current execution and the exploration of future options whether you are in a startup that is gaining traction and needs to develop operational excellence (or an innovation colony that now wants to influence the existing enterprise) or and enterprise that needs to avoid the “Monkey Trap” of escalating investment in a business model that is reaching the end of life instead of parallel exploration of a number of options for new business units.

At the extremes startups are viewed as scout vehicles–suitable for exploration to find sustainable business models–and established enterprises are viewed railroads, very good at moving a lot of cargo or passengers along predetermined paths. The reality is that almost all businesses need to manage both excellence in execution while not only keeping a weather eye on new entrants fueled by emerging technologies and disruptive business models but also exploring for adjacent markets that can leverage their established competencies and new competencies required by current customers.The Lean Startup and Customer Development models have fostered a broad understanding of the need for iteration and hypothesis driven product probes. Kanban models have shown the value of making work visible to enable the shared understanding that makes cultural change possible.

Kurt Vonnegut: Replace the Code of Hammurabi with the Sermon on the Mount

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Some excerpts from Kurt Vonnegut‘s commencement speech Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia, May 5, 1999 as recounted in “If this isn’t nice, what is?”  He offers a critical insight for business as well as life.

Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?”

What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi, a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago. And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too. Are you ready for this?

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi, which includes heroes of every cowboy show or gangster show you ever sawm is this: every injury, real or imagined, shall be avenged. Somebody’s going to be really sorry.

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, “Forgive them, Father, they know what they do.” Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi, would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all of their friends
and relatives, and make their deaths slow and painful.”

His greatest legacy to us, in my humble opinion, consists of only twelve words. They are the antidote to the Code of Hammurabi.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The full video of Vonnegut’s Anges Scott College commencement is available on CSPAN.  I learned of Vonnegut’s speech from Maria Popova’s ”If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice to the Young on Kindness, Computers, Community, and the Power of Great Teachers” but she doesn’t include the “twelve words” in her summary.

“An eye for an eye and soon the entire world is blind.”
Ghandi [attributed]

Related

A Simple Checklist for Introducing a Collaboration Application

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

We work with several teams who have launched or are launching an application that makes a team or group more productive.  Here are a couple of suggestions for things to consider.

Be compatible with the status quo if at all possible

  • Collaboration or workflow applications that require at least two people to adopt in order to realize productivity benefits are very challenging to introduce.
  • It’s certainly been done: fax, email, CRM systems. But the list of failures is much longer.
  • Find a way to provide a single individual with a productivity bonus that is backward compatible with existing workflow (e.g. email, CRM, wiki, website, …).

Use your team as a case study

  • Is your startup using the tool for collaboration? If not, why not?
  • What no longer happens that used to happen before you started relying on the application?
  • What can you now do using your application that you could not do (or only do with great difficulty) before?

Have conversations before putting up a landing page

  • What have you learned from your conversations with prospects?
  • What problems or needs do you probe for?

Use your team as an earlyvangelist

  • What problems or need or recurring situation led your team to develop your application?
  • What alternatives did you try to do before you developed your application?
  • Why were they unsatisfactory? What was missing or still too difficult?

Listen carefully to your early adopters

  • What do your early adopters tell you that they like about using the service?
  • What benefits does it provide them?
  • What do they still see as missing?
  • Ask what three features they would demo either to other similar teams or to others in their company.

Understand why some teams failed to adopt your application

  • Teams that don’t try it may give you reasons, and these are worth listening to.
  • Pay close attention to teams that gave it a fair trial and decided not to go forward. Their rationale is absolutely worth addressing.

If you are working on a collaboration application for business and are having difficulty getting traction, please free to schedule office hours and we can design some experiments to explore your situation, see “We help you design experiments that move your business forward.

 

Successful Bootstrappers Are Trustworthy Salespeople Committed to Customer Satisfaction

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, Funding, Sales

Start with what you’ve got: you have an insight into an opportunity, a marketing edge, a particular problem where you’re going to bring distinctive value.

Don’t wait to get started until an investor tells you there is a market and they will invest. An investor cannot validate whether there’s a market or not. Worse, the process of seeking investment rarely teaches you more about customer needs.

The converse is even more important: don’t be dissuaded if an investor does not believe that there is a market.

It’s OK to ask your friends if it’s a good idea. But sometimes they will tell you they like the idea just so that you will stop talking about it and get out of their living room or office.

And again, if they don’t think it’s a good idea you should weight their perspective by whether they are a prospect or not.

Which ultimately means that you have to build a minimum viable product and start selling.

When a prospect tells you that they have problem that you want to solve for them, that’s good. When they write a check or give you their credit card, that’s validation.

But just because they have quantified their love for your idea it doesn’t mean that you are done. You need to follow through and see that you delivered the benefits that you promised to them.

More bootstrappers go wrong by not conserving trust than not conserving cash. Cash is important, but if you don’t keep your promises you cannot bootstrap successfully.

It’s primarily about selling and customer satisfaction. There may be challenges in building the product or getting it to work reliably when it leaves your hands. But the primary challenge is building something that people will pay for and order again (or extend their subscription) because it delivered the value that you promised.

Many of the people who are attracted to startups are drawn to a technology or a craft or the idea of being their own boss. Those are great reasons to bootstrap.  But success requires developing an empathy and rapport for your customers and delivering value.

The key differentiators are your ability to sell and ensure customer satisfaction.


Conor Neil has a great quote in “If You Can’t Explain what You do in a Paragraph, You’ve Got a Problem” (great title but he admits he cribbed it from Brad Feld)

“I believe the major risk of early stage startups is getting customers to buy, and showing that you can sell.”
Conor Neil

Q: How To Speed Up Early Trials, Adoption, and Sales

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, skmurphy

Q: I run a SaaS B2B startup that boosts employee engagement by bringing co-workers together for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. We have an MVP. We have done some customer development interviews and have half a dozen potential early adopter customers. The next step would be to do a free pilot of our product on a subset of about hundred employees at an early adopter company.  Our contacts are enthusiastic about what we do, we have had a couple meetings with each, we are offering discounted pricing, but it’s now been more than four months and none have them have decided to move forward to a pilot and we don’t have a path to a decision. 

How can we speed this up?

A: You can adjust your message (description of benefits for a particular target customer), your criteria for selecting a target customer, or feature set. Normally the cheapest thing to fix is to change the message, second is to pick a new target, and the most expensive is to add features.

A benefit will normally be one of these if you are selling to a business decision maker:

  • reducing an existing cost stream
  • adding new revenue that’s incremental to their current plan
  • managing or reducing a risk that they are concerned about
  • reducing the cycle time for a business critical task or process
  • reducing the error rate for a business critical task or process

You need to pay particular attention to:

  • How will you measure the before and after?
  • Who signs the check and how do they benefit?
  • There is no such thing as a free trial, there is always opportunity cost for everyone involved.

I am a huge fan of “peer to peer knowledge sharing” but it sounds more like a method or management practice than an application. I suspect you need to connect the dots more directly to a business payoff or the specific business problem you believe that this will help them address. Can you give them a better diagnostic–offer more proof based on data from their operation–on the scope of the problem you are offering to solve for them?

A hundred people is a large number to involve in an early pilot. Can you show results with a small group of four to six? You don’t have to stop there, you can make that the first phase of the pilot, but you can use the small core group to encourage others to adopt within the organization and ultimately get to your target group of a hundred in three or four steps.

There is a temptation to increase the size of the promised benefit if the prospect is wavering, it’s often better to focus on a faster benefit even if it’s smaller. Time to positive impact is a good proxy for a prospect’s estimate of the amount of risk involved in a new tool, process, or methodology. I did a video chalk talk on this at  you may find useful.

Several meetings and no decision to go forward is a polite no.

Q: What if we played hard to get and told our prospects that we have limited resources and with other firms asking to get in we have to decide who to start this month?

I see several problems with this. You reinforce that you have limited resources which may make them question you ability to support them if they decide to go forward.  Also, if you are talking to bona fide early adopters this is can backfire very badly. While this “velvet rope marketing” model seems to employed by some B2C marketing folks, in my experience it does not work well and will turn off the change agents you are trying to reach. They want to be sure that you understand the risk you are asking them to take and will be there to support them to a successful conclusion. A message that you are unable to provide support when you are just getting started will make them very leery of placing a bet on you.

A better message would be based on the impact adopting you offering will have on their business. Make that your forcing function. For example, every month you delay you spend this much on workarounds or errors or forego this much revenue because you are not capitalizing on this capability. What is the cost of leaving things the way they are for another month? Make that a reason to change, not your impending inability to support them.


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Update July 16: This post was highlighted in Foundora Issue 333

We Help You Design Experiments That Move Your Business Forward

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Design of Experiments

While there are many challenges to master in building a new business, technology entrepreneurs have to balance three primary aspects:

  • Team: can you assemble the talent required and keep them together and moving forward?
  • Technology development: can you build a working product?
  • Customer development: can you solve a problem that people will pay for?

There are many more unknowns than these basic ones. A good advisor does not have all the answers but is familiar with the challenges of getting a new company started and a new product launched. A great advisor can help you design experiments to reduce risk and uncertainty and find answers that are “good enough” to keep moving forward.

We help you make sense of the market by correlating what you have observed with stories you have collected and data you have gathered. We help you form hypotheses and design experiments that tinker with your initial product concept so that you can explore the boundaries and depth of a prospect’s problem.

We offer accountability groups and consulting to help you design, test and learn from your experiments.

Interested in checking us out?  Contact us to book a free office hour conversation to get started.

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Write Down Key Commitments And Questions That Need Answers

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Consulting Business, Demos, skmurphy

When You Don’t Know The Answer Write Down The Question

My second “real job” was doing pre and post sales support  at a software startup. I had been hired at the same time as an older and more experienced engineer and after about two weeks on the job he took me aside and advised, “buy a notebook and write down any commitments you make and any questions you promise to get answers for.” He was about eight years older so I figured his memory had started to go. Also, he was not my boss. I ignored him.

Within about six weeks I had missed a few deliveries on promised items or answers and it was clear that I had mis-assessed. So I started to carry a lab notebook and write down summaries of every conversation. I included details to jog my memory like date, time, location, attendees and highlighted any commitments I made or answers that I promised.

I learned that the act of writing down a commitment in front of the customer and then replaying it for confirmation underscored that I was actually listening. At the end of the meeting I would summarize all of my commitments (or “action items”) and any questions I needed to research for a final check.

Later I learned a technique called “the parking lot” where you write down on a flip chart or white board  any questions you that either want to defer to later in conversation or you need to research. I then discovered that once I started to hold myself accountable in a public way in a meeting I could also include commitments that others had made or questions that they had promised to research in my closing summary and now we were all jointly accountable.

There is a strong temptation to avoid saying “I don’t know” and to guess at an answer or to provide a partial answer. For complex technical questions, answers that you may score as “mostly correct” tend to be rated as “you wasted my time with a wrong answer” by the customer.

In particular in a pre-sales situation saying “I don’t know, let me get back to you this afternoon (or tomorrow or next week depending upon urgency and complexity)” makes your other answers more credible because you have shown that you are willing to admit when you don’t know.

In my next job I was surprised when my boss’ boss would say, “I don’t know” clearly and frequently and I came to appreciate that “I don’t know” is actually an answer that is a hallmark of expertise. Experts know where their knowledge ends and are willing to label speculation as speculation so as not to intentionally mislead.

Here are some other refinements that I now use in remote meetings:

  • In a Skype session I take notes of what the other person is saying in the text chat. This demonstrates that I am actually listening and allows them to correct something I have gotten wrong or to add a key point that I didn’t include in my notes. When the session is done I have already documented it and had it reviewed by the other attendees so I can mail out the transcript if I am pressed for time, or take 10-30 minutes refine and summarize in addition to providing my raw notes.
  • The option for shared note taking by contributing to the chat also encourages the other participants to add their own notes. If many people are on the call the text chat can also allow one or more chat-based conversations to proceed in parallel.
  • You can also run a separate chat window just for your team so that you have a back channel to enable better coordination. Be careful you are typing public notes in the public chat and private notes in the private chat. Typing a public note in the private chat has an effect similar to waiting for an answer after you commented when your mike is mute. Typing a private note in the public window can be much more problematic – don’t write anything you would not want disclosed accidentally.
  • Shared note taking works if you want to use Google Docs or Primary Pad or another shared edit platform that allows for realtime update by multiple people.
  • In a webinar or screen sharing session open a Notepad or Word Doc or text file and type your “parking lot” notes into it as you are walking through a presentation or demo. As you go back you can turn them into strikethrough text or put an [x] in the front of each item as you complete it. You are left with a set of action items you can then confirm need to be address–and by when–for all parties as appropriate.

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Dan Scheinman’s Blue Ocean Venture Strategy: Target Entrepreneurs Over 35

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 5 Scaling Up Stage, Funding

Dan Scheinman (@dscheinm) graduated from Duke Law School in 1988  and went to work as an associate at DLA Piper  before joining the Cisco legal department. Once inside he worked his way up to General Counsel, then ran corporate development which included managing minority investments and acquisitions, and finally was general manager for Cisco’s Media Solutions Group before striking out on his own in 2011 as an Angel investor with an unusual–for Silicon Valley–investment thesis: supply “seed plus” financing to entrepreneurs with track records (another way of saying “over 35″). From his Angel List profile:

I am looking to fund great companies who are going to run out of seed money but are not ready for the A round yet. Operationally useful (helped Cisco go from 80M in sales to 40B), but also useful at ground zero. Invested/on boards at Tango, Arista, Zoom and more. To date, have funded 7 companies.

Sarah McBride profiled him in December 2012 with “Moneyball, valley-style: Investor uses age bias to advantage, funds older entrepreneurs,” noting:

When he started looking around for start-ups in which to invest, Dan Scheinman noticed something: twenty-something entrepreneurs building Internet companies usually had a much easier time lining up early financing from venture capitalists compared to their forty- and fifty- something counterparts.

Age bias, increasingly acknowledged as a widespread phenomenon in Silicon Valley, has created opportunity too. “I was so excited you would not believe when I saw the pattern,” Scheinman, the former head of mergers and acquisitions at Cisco Systems (CSCO), recalls.
[..]
Scheinman generally invests $50,000-$250,000 as part of a $1-$2 million funding round. He takes an active role, helping to line up other investors, generally taking a board seat, and providing strategy advice. Scheinman says he is pro-entrepreneur, no matter the age, but finds it easier to invest off the beaten track.

Scheinman elaborates on his strategy in a January 2013 profile by James Grundvig: ” ‘Moneyball’ Comes to Silicon Valley: What Technology Investor Dan Scheinman Sees

“Venture capitalists of Silicon Valley won’t invest in founders who are more than thirty-five years old. They don’t do it. Knowing that, I look at being a contrarian — an opportunist — to find opportunities where the herd isn’t,” he said.

“A typical venture capital firm will look at 1,000 business plans each year. They will invest in fifteen of them. They are trained for pattern recognition. By reviewing so many (startups) they see common patterns on which type businesses should succeed,” Mr. Scheinman said. “But there’s a problem.

“I sat on a venture capital pitch before. Some entrepreneurs don’t pitch well. But instead of engaging them, those in the room looked away. I realized I had to go to the source and ask questions. Go deep. Assume nothing. Look beyond the pattern for bigger returns,” he answered. “Like in Moneyball, I look out of pattern. That includes founders who are more than thirty-five years old.”

Noam Scheiber also talks to Scheinman as part of his research on “The Brutal Ageism of Tech:Years of experience, plenty of talent, completely obsolete?”

Though he had ascended to head of acquisitions at Cisco during his 18-year run there, he always felt as if his quirkiness kept him from rising higher. His ideas were unconventional. His rhetorical skills were far from slick. “I’m a crappy presenter,” he told me. “There are people in a room whose talent is to win the first minute. Mine is to win the thirtieth or the sixtieth.” Back in the early 2000s, he proposed that Cisco buy a software company called VMware. It did not go over well. “Cisco is a hardware company,” the suits informed him. Why mess around with software?

Most Silicon Valley investors, he came to believe, were just like the suits at Cisco: highly susceptible to “presentation bias” and, as a result, prone to shallow conventional thinking. “Paul Graham”—the founder of Y Combinator, the world’s best-known start-up incubator—“says the most successful [investor] makes his decisions in twenty-four hours,” Scheinman told me dismissively. It was time to set off on his own.

The only question was what to invest in. “I could see the reality was I had two choices,” Scheinman told me. “One, I could do what everyone else was doing, which is a losing strategy unless you have the most capital.” The alternative was to try to identify a niche that was somehow perceived as less desirable and was therefore less competitive. Finally, during a meeting with two bratty Zuckerberg wannabes, it hit him: Older entrepreneurs were “the mother of all undervalued opportunities.” Indeed, of all the ways that V.C.s could be misled, the allure of youth ranked highest. “The cutoff in investors’ heads is 32,” Graham told The New York Times in 2013. “After 32, they start to be a little skeptical.”

I think the idea of working with older investors on seed plus gives Scheinman several opportunities and creates several risks:

  • Opportunities
    • Longer track records, easier to do due diligence on them as people and managers.
    • Older entrepreneurs may see risks more clearly than opportunities but probably better able to execute in the face of setbacks.  They are probably better able to  dodge some potential setbacks
    • Less competition for the deal, potentially a friendlier or at least less adversarial relationship
    • Funding amount is commonly sought but not often available, less competition more demand
  • Risks
    • Because these are “undesirable” Scheinman will have to help them to transition from “not a good idea” to “numbers are so good how did we miss this.” He will lose the benefit of the doubt going with older entrepreneurs for follow on funding (e.g. an A round after seed).
    • Unless he is “last dollar in” (which may also be deals worth searching out) he needs a clear plan to support the team for what they will need for a follow on “A round” presentation at time of funding.

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Jerome K. Jerome’s View on Groundhog Day (Replaying Your Life)

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

“Ah, me!” said the good old gentleman, “if only I could live my life again in the light of experience.”

Now as he spoke these words he felt the drawing near to him of a Presence, [...] ”Your wish shall be granted. You shall live your life again, and the knowledge of the past shall be with you to guide you. See you use it. I will come again.”

Then a sleep fell upon the good man, and when he awoke, he was again a little child, lying in his mother’s arms; but, locked within his brain was the knowledge of the life that he had lived already.

So once more he lived and loved and laboured. So a second time he lay an old, worn man with life behind him. And the angel stood again beside his bed; and the voice said,

“Well, are you content now?”

“I am well content,” said the old gentleman. “Let Death come.”

“And have you understood?” asked the angel.

“I think so,” was the answer; “that experience is but as of the memory of the pathways he has trod to a traveller journeying ever onward into an unknown land. I have been wise only to reap the reward of folly. Knowledge has ofttimes kept me from my good. I have avoided my old mistakes only to fall into others that I knew not of. I have reached the old errors by new roads. Where I have escaped sorrow I have lost joy. Where I have grasped happiness I have plucked pain also. Now let me go with Death that I may learn…”

Excerpt from On The Disadvantage Of Not Getting What One Wants
by Jerome K Jerome, collected in “The Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

There are no repeats. Take responsibility, apologize, and make amends now. Every moment is precious and will be lost: count your blessings. Mindfulness and meditation can enable you to detect self-deception. Love now. Pray for guidance. Act now.

“You will turn over many a futile new leaf until you learn we must all write on the scratched-out pages.”
Mignon McLaughlin

See also

Don’t Waste Time Painting Tom Sawyer’s Fence: Proving Someone Wrong Is A Poor Motivator

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

Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth – stepped back to note the effect – added a touch here and there – criticised the effect again – Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:

“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”

Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:

“No – no – I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence – right here on the street, you know – but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”

“No – is that so? Oh come, now – lemme, just try. Only just a little – I’d let you, if you was me, Tom.”

Mark Twain “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”  Chapter 2

In “You Can’t Do It is a Powerful Motivation” Rand Fishkin recounts accurate advice he receive and ignored:

  • “You can’t build a big company in the SEO space,” said plenty of business people I talked to. “Stick with consulting–it’s what you know and you’ve got a great brand.”
  • “You need to hire a head of product and build a product team.”
  • “You can’t build a search engine sized web index on $1 million.”
  • “Don’t try to raise money now – you won’t get any.”
  • “The self-service / web app model is wrong. You need to build an enterprise sales force / charge more for your product / create embedded software so it’s not so easy to quit.”

Most of this is implementation advice from folks with considerable implementation experience. No one was arguing about customer need, except perhaps the last one is about value proposition. He needs to turn this into a positive narrative. The Germans have an aphorism: “Stubbornness is the energy of fools.” He should reframe this as a persevering focus on his prospect’s needs.

Sam Walton suggested an approach Rand might consider in his ten rules for building a successful business:

Rule 10: Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom.
If everybody else is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction. But be prepared for a lot of folks to wave you down and tell you you’re headed the wrong way. I guess in all my years, what I heard more often than anything was: a town of less than 50,000 population cannot support a discount store for very long.

Related:

Join Us For An Independence Day 2014 Bootstrapper Breakfast In Palo Alto

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

steaming hot coffee and serious conversationThe first Friday in July falls on the 4th so we are going to hold our “First Friday Palo Alto Bootstrapper Breakfast” at 8am at Hobees. We are meeting on July 4 (we have done it twice in the last 7 years) but we are pushing the start time back to 8am if you want to sleep in. I got a short email from Miles Kehoe of New Idea Engineering who asked “I am signed up but is Hobee’s OPEN on the 4th? A lot of people call that a “holiday.” Of course most of those are people we do NOT call “entrepreneurs” I suspect.” I replied that I had gotten a call from Jose Valencia, the general manager for Palo Alto, asking me to confirm that we wanted the back room since they would be open on July 4 for breakfast. I told him we were coming.

This is a chance to check us out if you are normally tied up in the morning and still live tine for picnics and barbecues and fireworks in the afternoon and evening. Two topics we may explore are managing the “work/work” balance between a “day job” or other “keeping the lights on” work and launching your startup and managing the transition from day job or freelancing and working full time on your startup.


If you live in or near Midland Michigan, consider stopping by the MidMichigan Innovation Center at 2007 Austin Street, Midland, MI on Wed-Aug-13 at 8:30am in for the kickoff of the Midland Michigan Bootstrapper Breakfast. Chris Moultrup, Program Director at the MidMichigan Innovation Center was inspired by Travis Johnson‘s success with a Bootstrapper Breakfast in downtown Detroit and has volunteered to moderate breakfasts in Midland.

Q: How Much Effort Should I Invest in Automated Testing For An MVP?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Q: I have worked on large enterprise software systems but am now struggling working at a startup creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). I am a big believer in BDD and TDD, so I’ve developed a MVP that has high coverage and great specifications describing and asserting its behaviors in HTML with good pictures. My worry is that large chunks of my MVP may never be used again if the customer doesn’t like the demo. Also, I developed the MVP from the bottom up and I worry that I wrote tests for corner cases that may or may not be exercised in the demo.

A:  Daniel B. Markham (HN: DanielBMarkham ) gave a great answer  to “Should you TDD an MVP?” on HN a while back: ”The maintainability you’re looking for in a startup is your relationship with the customer.” Here are some excerpts from his full answer  (emphasis in original):

The question here is really “what’s the test?” You have to realize the MVP is the test.

For a startup, customers are how you pass the test. Anything else is a red light. So in the most important way possible, as long as you have no customers, you have a test which is failing.

This is important because the maintainability you’re looking for in a startup is your relationship with the customer. Manage that and the rest takes care of itself. If you are already in a business, yes, “maintainability” means writing code that will last. But if you’ve just got an idea or a dream, you’ve got nothing worth maintaining. Nor will you ever.

Put differently, your technical debt can never exceed the economic value of your code, which in a startup is extremely likely to be zero. (Different scenario entirely for project-based work for ongoing businesses, which is why TDD makes so much sense in that scenario).

Q: OK, but some customers pay us for demos and expect us to put the demos into production with little or no modification.  If we are given more money to operationalize the demo, it is for features missing from the demo.

A: These don’t sound like an MVP if it is only aimed at one customer and they are paying for it to be developed. I think your challenge is to determine the feature content for a contract development software project to be deployed at a single customer. This sounds like a question of getting agreement on needs and a specification, not how to take an MVP to 6 or 12 or 20 prospects and correlate their feedback.

I don’t think MVP is the right term or framing for the situation that you are working in, the demo sounds more like a user acceptance test for a project that they have paid for.

I think your MVP  is what you showed them to get them to fund the development of the “demo” that if accepted will be deployed into production.

Ten Principles for Trust and Integrity from Adventures in Missions

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

I have come to believe that morale or esprit de corps is the critical resource for a bootstrapping team. With it they can persist, blending freelancing, consulting work, customer discovery, product development, sales, and customer support.

The simple view is that you can just focus on one thing at a time–develop a product, market it, refine it, scale up–and that a few iterations will get you there. The reality for most is that it’s much harder and requires perseverance as a team.

The teams that persevere bring complementary skills and shared values to a common effort sustained by trust, shared vision and joint accountability. The first ten principles from  Adventures in Missions focus on trust and integrity,  offering some useful guidelines for building and maintaining trust:

  1. Integrity in an organization is built by developing trust.
  2. Trust is the glue that enables a team to function well.
  3. Trust is built over time through competence, commitment, and care.
  4. Trust is built as we preserve and build the significance of others.
  5. Trust is built through bearing each others’ burdens.
  6. Trust is built through a rapid response to communication.
  7. Trust is built through humility.
  8. Trust is built through personal contact.
  9. Trust is diminished by sarcasm and criticism.
  10. Integrity means making and living up to commitments.

See also “Entrepreneurship is the Launching of Surprises” which explores George Gilder’s essay “Unleash the Mind” and contains this insight that I think I am building on in my focus on morale as the key resource in a startup:

“America’s wealth is not an inventory of goods; it is an organic entity, a fragile pulsing fabric of ideas, expectations, loyalties, moral commitments, visions.”
George Gilder

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