Archive for January, 2012

Quotes for Entrepreneurs–January 2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

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“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background but motivation, perseverance, and desire — the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”
Ellen Ochoa

I think entrepreneurship requires not only the motivation to discover your own strengths but also the perseverance to discover opportunities  in the marketplace that these strengths enable you to capitalize on.

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“Don’t just follow your passion unless your passion produces something other people will pay for.”
Tim Berry in “Lessons Learned from 22 Years of  Successful Bootstrapping

It’s  not enough to make something that people want, they have to need it and be willing to pay for it. See also “Solve Real Problems That People Will Pay For Where You Add Unique Value.

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“A hamlet with a church becomes a village. A town with a cathedral becomes a city. And, a Google search with ADHD becomes a morning.”
Merlin Mann

It’s a matter of “I always Google too long” vs. “I always Google too late.

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“If you board the wrong train, it’s no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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“When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark, and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”
Edna O’Brien

I think this also matches the character of many successful entrepreneurs who are not Irish as well.

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“If you see a line get in it, because you’re going to want what’s at the end.”
USSR aphorism

and too often the basis for a poor launch message. Too many “viral launch” strategies require a prospective user or customer to tweet or e-mail friends or post a badge on their blog before they have had a chance to experience any aspect of the service.  This reminds me of a joke from the USSR era:

Two women walk by a long line of people on a Moscow street.  They reach the end and one says, “Let’s get in it!” “Why”, asks the other, “I cannot tell where it ends.” So they ask the last person in line, “What are you in line for?” He answers, “I am not sure but with a line this long it must be something good!”

Update April 17, 2012: I used this as the first half of “Focus on Delighting Your Early Customers Over Accumulating Followers

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“A new broom sweeps clean but an old broom knows the corners.”
Irish aphorism

See also:

Mentoring at Startup Weekend San Jose Jan 27-29 2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events

We have had a number of attendees at Bootstrapper Breakfasts talk about the value of a StartupWeekend as a way to see the early process of forming a startup team and exploring a market in a very compressed time frame. This allowed them to get to know other potential co-founders or partners in their community and to get a better perspective on some of the stresses and strains that every new team goes through in forming and storming on the way to performing.

I was delighted when Tristan Kromer, one of the organizers of the San Jose Startup Weekend for January 27 to 29, invited me to attend as a mentor for teams that are focused on solving business problems. It promises to be an interesting and educational experience.

Customer Development Is Not Just For Startups

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

We have Fortune 500 clients who are launching new products and who want to take advantage of customer development methodologies (or have come to the conclusion that they need a framework to revisit assumptions that are not working).

There are broadly two types of situations where a large company is launching  a new product:

  • It’s a new product that they can sell to current customers through established channels and/or a direct sales force
  • It’s a new product that they want to sell to new customers and are uncertain if established channels will work (or know that they won’t, don’t want to de-focus their message).

Each comes with different challenges.

In the first you can get a false positive. I spoke to a product manager at a networking company that had introduced a video phone booth. It was after a talk on customer development; she expressed the opinion that customer development model might be useful for startups but was less applicable to established firms with effective sales forces like hers. They had just launched the product and had already collected several hundred orders (for systems that would cost more than 100K each). They had provided special incentives to the field to close evaluation units. Given the size of the total quota or book of business a sales team might be carrying with a major customer I suggested a better test than initial orders would be how many re-orders. She called me a few months later looking for customer development assistance: the special incentive had expired and the field had moved on to selling existing products that customers were requesting and new products that now had special incentives. There had been almost no re-orders or system expansions. No one wanted to admit that they had made a 100K mistake so the systems were in token use, but no one could justify buying any more. When startups hire a “closer” sales person for their new product they run the risk of leveraging pre-existing relationships such that they close the sale but don’t uncover the real needs of their customers or the real problems with their offering.

In the second case you can get a false negative. A few years ago we helped a recently acquired division of a software company whose new parent that had a dominant market position in their primary market. The division was at best fifth in its market but the legal department was forcing them to take negotiating positions on contract terms that were both inappropriate to the product line and unwinnable due to their lack of bargaining power. Their prospects for this new product had many viable options where the parent company’s prospects had few if any viable alternative vendors they could buy from. Launching a new product into a new market requires everyone to revisit what the total product has to be, and this is especially painful when many of their current practices are what have made them profitable–if not loved by their customers–in their primary market. Failure to comprehend that a new type of customer may have different needs–even in ancillary areas–may cause a good product to fail to gain traction.

It’s probably easier to introduce customer development methods either as part of a risk assessment phase, where it’s acceptable to revisit a product team’s optimism, or in a turn around situation where it’s clear that the initial approach has not borne fruit but it’s too early to give up.

Three Useful Tools: MyPermissions, SocialMention, HackerFollow

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Funding, skmurphy, Startups, Tools for Startups

MyPermissions: Checks for third party application access to your Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Instagram, and Flickr accounts.

SocialMention: Allows you to do keyword and phrase search across more than one hundred social media sites including Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google, etc…

HackerFollow: follow comments and posts by your favorite Hacker News contributors

Record to Remember, Pause to Reflect

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb

“We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of our defects.”
Alexis de Tocqueville

My New Year’s resolutions for 2012:

  1. Record to Remember
    • Return to writing Morning Pages.
    • Keep my Done list up to date.
  2. Pause to Reflect
    • Quarterly Crows Nest meetings with our partners and advisors
    • Take a break from work every hour or two.

Return to writing “Morning Pages.” Based on a technique outlined in Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way at Work” I mentioned in “Maintaining Perspective on the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster

One technique you can use to maintain perspective is the “Morning Pages” approach concept from “The Artist’s Way at Work” Write three pages in longhand first thing in the morning every day. It can be stream of consciousness, a journal, a story, or even “I don’t know what to write” over and over. There are a number of good techniques in the book, but this is the best one to start with. If, like me, your handwriting skills have deteriorated to the point that writing out more than a 3×5 card is both painful and illegible you can use a typewriter or a computer, but do it in a way that it stands out from your regular work location. Write in a coffee shop or at the breakfast table or a place you can associate with this activity distinct from work. You can also do it in the afternoon or late in the day if that’s a “dead spot” but you have to do it in a way that it represents a clear break from work.

Keep my Done list up to date. I believe it’s as important as a To Do list for maintaining your gumption.  Ford Harding describes it as an Accomplishments list in “To Do Lists vs. Accomplishment Lists

I recommended he create an accomplishments list.  This starts as a sheet of paper with the word, Accomplishments, at the top and the date and nothing else. Lars is to add business development activities to the list as he completes them.  He has agreed to add no fewer than one accomplishment each day.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing everything that’s still to be done and focus on what’s not been accomplished and how far you are from your major goals. I see merit in taking time once a day to feel good about what’s been accomplished. Many times a set of activities are like drip irrigation, small accomplishments accumulates every day and over the course of a quarter or a year put you in a fundamentally different place.  If you can’t enjoy the journey and celebrate small victories along the way, why are you on it?

Do quarterly “Crows Nest” meetings with our partners and advisors as a vehicle for focused review and reflection. We have been doing this once a year for the last five years or so but opened up the format in 2011 for a longer meeting in a conference room instead of a long lunch at Chef Chu’s.  It’s as much a sense-making and agenda setting exercise as an effort to foster more effective coordination and collaboration around emerging opportunities. The working consensus was that the objective was good but it would be more effective as a shorter meeting on a quarterly basis. The real value is in the preparation and follow up for the conversation, which acts a crucible for identifying opportunities and refining plans to prosecute them.

Take a break from work every hour or two. Stand up and take a short walk.  Get up and move for a few minutes. Get my mind off myself and my work. Call, E-Mail, write, or visit a friend. Sit in a different chair and read for pleasure. Shift gears so that I can restart with a fresh perspective.  This was inspired both for health reasons and Tony Schwartz’s “Energy Project” findings (see for example “How to Accomplish More by Doing Less“).

“When in doubt, choose to go deeper rather than faster. Accept the idea that reflection and understanding your own nature, including the dark side, is the key to effective action.”
Peter Block in “The Answer to How is Yes

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