Archive for July, 2012

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–July 2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

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“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Soren Kierkegaard

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“He who never hurries is always on time.”
Mikhail Bulgakov

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“Shhh! I’m listening to reason.”
Pee-wee to Francis in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

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“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our questioning.”
Werner Heisenberg

Closing quote for “Q: Is Building The Wrong Product A Waste of Time?

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“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”
Alasdair Gray

This closing quote for Independence Day 2012 (and a repeat from March 2009) is engraved on the Canongate wall in the Scottish Parliament. Gray credits his inspiration for the quote (which has appeared in his books in several slightly different forms) to this couplet from Dennis Lee‘s “Civil Elegies”:

And best of all is finding a place to be
in the early days of a better civilization.

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“The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art  of Motorcycle Maintenance

Used in “Debugging Your Startup Requires Peace of Mind

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“To understand a new idea break an old habit.”
Jean Toomer

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“One enterprise’s intrapreneur is often another startup’s earlyvangelist.”
Sean Murphy

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“Everybody talks about a new world in the morning.
New world in the morning never comes.”
Roger Whittaker

Added as a closing quote to “Uncle’s Day.” One of my memories of my time with my Uncle John was stopping in a diner on a fishing trip and listening to “New World In the Morning” on the jukebox.

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“Between being able to and actually doing something lies an ocean, and on its bottom rests all too often the wreck of willpower.”
Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach

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“We are a product of our families, schools, and churches. Without the liberty and rule of law that characterize America, entrepreneurship would indeed be impossible. Any successful American who is not a patriot is a rank ingrate.”
Rich Lowry in “Statism vs. The Self-Made Man

Stockpiled here for use in a future 4th of July post. The full article is worth reading as an analysis of “If you’ve got a business–you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

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“I think two of the hardest challenges that a startup faces are hiring the right people and winning the early deals that establish credibility. Both of these problems are ultimately the CEO’s responsibility.”
Moe Arnaiz in “Case Study: eMOBUS Experience with SKMurphy

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“The last thing anyone would be likely to entertain is an unfamiliar thought.”
Francis Bacon

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“Working yourself to death is a highly regarded form of suicide.”
Frans Hiddema

I used this as opening quote for “Working Day and Night.”

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“The right track takes detours.”
Frans Hiddema

I used this as closing quote for “Working Day and Night.”

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“Choose the life that is the most useful and habit will make it the most agreeable.”
Francis Bacon

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“In restless dreams I walked alone,
Narrow streets of cobblestone.”
Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sounds of Silence”

Used as opening quote for “You Tried. It’s OK to Make a Change.” to capture the restless discontent that can proceed double loop learning

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“Surprise is the beginning of wisdom.”
David Gelernter

A pithy quote that encapsulate a rule of thumb for customer development I have explored in several blog posts:

Customer Development Requires a Willingness to be Surprised

And by “surprised” I mean:

  • able to admit that your assumptions are wrong
  • open to new insights from prospects
  • willing to change your plans for your product or your startup
  • willing begin again with a better frame of reference

Customer Interviews: Allow Yourself to be Surprised

You can be surprised in a conversation and improvise additional questions or even your own new answers to unanticipated questions from a prospect. Surprise means you are learning.

Pictures are to Words as Conversations are to Surveys

One conversation is worth between 100 and 10,000 survey responses, provided that you are listening and prepared to be surprised.

Draper University of Heroes Takes Holistic Approach to Teaching Entrepreneurship

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, Funding, skmurphy

Tim Draper, founder of the VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson,  is taking a holistic approach to entrepreneurial education with his “Draper University for Heroes” in San Mateo. Here is a promo video from the school’s website.

[vimeo clip_id="45872530" width="400" height="300" frameborder="0"]

In a planning document submitted to the City of San Mateo on March 16, 2012 Draper made the following representations for his plan for the University:

The proposal is to provide a school for entrepreneurs, ages 21-24 with a few exceptions, who will come from all over the World. The school generally will teach fundamentals in business combined with creative encouragement.

lt is expected that the school will have regular guest speakers (successful entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants, bankers, real estate brokers, headhunters, investment bankers, venture capitalists, scientists, artists) from industry and a steady stream of events connecting the students with the entrepreneurial world of the Silicon Valley.

The school will be boarding, both single and double occupancy with a capacity of about 150 [...]

The school will have 4 ten-week sessions that ideally coordinate with the Stanford quarterly system, and we expect to be a good fit for top students who want to take a quarter off to try something different. We expect to be able to give students academic credit for their work, but that has not yet been arranged. [...]

We expect to easily recruit top students from China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Russia, Brazil, Vietnam, Korea, India, Pakistan, Europe, as well as the US, because we have strong relationships with people who are well connected with universities in each of those countries. [...]

The final two weeks of class will be dedicated to applying everything the students have learned toward creating a business plan. At the end of the ten week period, students will have the opportunity to present business plans to venture capitalists in bullet sessions and follow up with them in a Q&A forum.

The school will also feature an online option for students who fall outside the age group or are not admitted to the boarding school, but still want to participate in the curriculum, the discussions, and the speakers.

It’s interesting that the focus will be on developing a business plan not a working demo for presentation. This is a departure from the focus of a number of recently formed Web 2.0 oriented accelerators and incubators but will allow students to focus on a broader set of entrepreneurial opportunities than web and mobile apps. It’s interesting that the video shows students touring the Tesla plant, a manufacturing/hardware oriented venture.

An announcement in the April 2, 2012 digest for the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES) reads

DFJ Draper University | Students/interns

Monday, June 4th-Friday, June 29th | Ben Franklin Hotel, San Mateo

Draper University is looking for student/interns 18-24 (exceptions up to 29) to come to our pilot entrepreneurial experience from June 4th to June 29th. Interns will have an immersive experience boarding at the Ben Franklin Hotel in San Mateo. They will learn basics of finance, marketing, production, as well as some unusual classes like “future,” yoga, painting, speed reading, public speaking, negotiation, game theory and practice, and hydroponic gardening. There will be a four day offsite for team building and survival training, and there will be a week of business planning and mentoring. The final day will include a pitch to a panel of venture capitalists. Since this is a pilot program, we will not be charging tuition, but will ask the student interns for feedback. Contact Theresa Johnson if interested.

To the extent that innovation requires making connections with people and between diverse bits of  know-how and that successful entrepreneurship requires an ongoing commitment to self-improvement, creative expression, and stress management this is probably as useful a curriculum as any and perhaps better than most traditional MBA school or more recent accelerator programs.

The San Mateo County Times profiled Draper’s efforts June 25 as “Unconventional University Takes Shape in San Mateo

“I hope that when in their travels the students come to a fork in the road, the pledge will help guide them to make the right choices,” he said in an email.

Draper, who already owns the Benjamin Franklin and a former bank on Fourth Avenue, recently purchased a third building in downtown San Mateo. He paid $6.75 million for the Tudor-style edifice on Third Avenue across from the hotel, bringing his total investment in downtown real estate to $15.15, plus more than $1 million in renovations to the Benjamin Franklin.

“With the town’s support,” he said, “we hope to open what we expect to become the premier entrepreneurial development school and environment in the world.”

Draper has pursued a career in in venture capital like his father and grandfather before him. I get a clear sense of his carrying the family business, especially in the closing scenes of the promo video that highlight a conversation with his grandfather. I think this commitment will enable him to persevere with this holistic approach to fostering entrepreneurship until it achieves his goal:  “teaching students the importance of doing well while also doing good.”


h/t to Peggy Aycinena for pointing out Draper’s new initiative.

You Tried: It’s OK To Make a Change

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage

“In restless dreams I walked alone,
Narrow streets of cobblestone.”
Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sounds of Silence”

Nothing new ever works, but doing the same thing over and over again without variation or detecting and correcting mistakes is insanity (or at least bureaucracy). So many startup overnight success stories that stress the importance of passion and persistence leave that part out.

Retry, Vary, Or Make a Change

In the early going especially you are always wrestling with whether to:

  • Retry without variation: persevere using the same methods to achieve the same near term goals.
    • This is the absence of learning.
    • Retry without variation (not wasting any time trying to learn) is an anti-pattern beyond third or fourth iteration. Unless you are playing a slot machine or are in a similar situation where you can either make one move or not play
  • Retry with variation: adjust your methods but keep aiming for the same near term results.
    • This is single loop learning. Also called Plan-Do-Check-Act or Build-Measure-Learn or “being in flow.”
    • Here the challenge is more complex: how to recognize the limits of a particular approach and try a different one. It’s easy to switch between strategies or techniques that you are comfortable with, but it cam be intensely uncomfortable to learn a new approach and incorporate it into your repertoire. Starting over as a novice can be daunting.
    • the goal is not achievable or there are better near term goals given your current resources and knowledge.
  • Play a different game: challenge your assumptions, change your goals, give up or defer one or more current objectives and abandoning some or much of your current approach.
    • This is double loop learning. Also called “lateral thinking” by Edward DeBono or associating in Innovator’s DNA.
    • Here the challenge is to determine if another technique or strategy–one that you may be unfamiliar with or have little expertise with–will allow you to reach your goal, or if you need to adjust your goals to something that’s feasible.

Chris Argyris developed the concept of single loop and double loop learning. In his “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” he outlines a set of attitudes that work well to foster single loop learning but create a “doom loop” when a change in goals (double loop learning) is required.

There seems to be a universal human tendency to design one’s actions consistently according to four basic values:

  1. To remain in unilateral control;
  2. To maximize ‘‘winning’’ and minimize ‘‘losing’’;
  3. To suppress negative feelings; and
  4. To be as ‘‘rational’’as possible—by which people mean defining clear objectives and evaluating their behavior in terms of whether or not they have achieved them.

The purpose of all these values is to avoid embarrassment or threat, feeling vulnerable or incompetent.

Four Approaches That Minimize Learning: Make a Change

If these four rules are your working default it is very difficult to engage in double loop learning.

  • unilateral control: works against getting a broader perspective from others, asking for help and advice.
  • minimize losing: you have to admit to yourself that your current approach is not working if you are going to question your assumptions and change goals and/or methods.
  • suppress negative feelings: sometimes it’s necessary to feel bad to develop the willingness to change and improve.
  • clear objectives and pass/fail thinking: innovation requires a willingness to tolerate ambiguity, allow for evolving objectives that are fuzzy, and say better or worse not pass or fail.

I don’t think it’s a matter of “getting comfortable with failure” as much as “getting comfortable at getting better” instead of holding yourself to a standard of perfection. I think it’s less about “failing fast‘ and more about “failing well” or “failing safely.” Single loop learning is being in flow, double loop often requires a period of discomfort, uncertainty, and restless dreams.

Related Blog Posts

Innovative, Robust, Seamless, Disruptive, and Patented

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

I am always puzzled when companies use adjectives like:

  • Innovative
  • Robust
  • Disruptive
  • Seamless
  • Patented

in their product descriptions, brochures, datasheets, website, marketing and sales decks, videos, trade show booth signage, presentations, etc…

These are not adjectives that are on a prospect’s “nice to have” checklist, much less their “should have” or “must have” lists.

These are adjectives that marketeers use to characterize a technology.  Sprinkling these and other “buzzword bingo” adjectives  all over your messaging will do nothing either to attract prospects or to convince them to buy.

Describe the problems that your prospects face in plain English using words that they use.

Describe the benefits that your offering will provide the same way.


I realized after I wrote this that Peter Cohan had developed a Content Free Buzzword Compliant Vocabulary List that also contained robust and seamless and another dozen that I had overlooked:

  1. Robust
  2. Powerful
  3. Flexible
  4. Integrated
  5. Seamless
  6. Extensible
  7. Scalable
  8. Interoperable
  9. Easy-to-use
  10. Intuitive
  11. User-friendly
  12. Comprehensive
  13. Best-of-breed
  14. World-class

Peter Cohan’s next Great Demo Workshop in Silicon Valley is October 10-11, 2012.

Speaking at Startup Sales Circle Thu-Aug-9 at GroundFloorSV

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

I have been invited to help re-launch the Startup Sales Circle Meetup, we will be meeting August 9th at GroundFloorSV.  I will be making some brief remarks on debugging your sales process to cut time to revenue and then there will be open conversation on startup sales challenges.

Bring any (or all!) of the following with you:

  1. A gnarly sales opportunity with an active prospect where you’d like some help;
  2. A prospect that you’d like to pull into a sales process but haven’t figured out how to crack;
  3. How and when to offer special pricing;
  4. How to maximize your product demos;
  5. How to identify and work purchasing committees;
  6. Or any old sales question that you have…

When: Thursday August 9th, 6:30 to 7:45pm
Where GroundFloorSV 2030 Duane Avenue, Santa Clara, CA
Cost: Free
Register: http://www.meetup.com/Startup-Sales-Circle-SF-Silicon-Valley/events/74324172/

Working Day and Night

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

“Working yourself to death is a highly regarded form of suicide.”
Frans Hiddema

I took the day off. I read Paolo Bacigalupi‘s “The Windup Girl” and had a couple of long phone calls with folks I hadn’t spoken with in a while. The Bacigalupi’s novel has a complex plot with a rich set of believable characters. It is set in a coherent dystopian future, one that I found plausible but unlikely, but very thought provoking. He has other short stories set in the same future, collected in “Pump Six and Other Stories” that I had read earlier.  I picked up both books last weekend on my first foray into a real bookstore–made of out of brick and mortar with wood bookshelves–in more than a year.

There are different ways to take a break:

  • get a good night’s sleep
  • take a nap
  • meditate/pray
  • take a vacation
  • read a good book
  • volunteer your time

Working with technology startups in a global firm is incessant: someone is always up, sending e-mail, and your computer is always ready to work. When I worked as a furniture mover, picking up heavy objects and moving them without getting hurt, I was physically tired at the end of the day and even with an overtime assignment no one expected me to work more than ten or eleven hours a day. But mental work, knowledge work, collaborating with people, leaves me tired in a different way.

I am not sure how to develop an internal circuit breaker, I used to simply work until I became sick. As I have gotten older I no longer pull all nighters and now make a point of taking a short walk every hour or two to get a break from sitting and staring at my PC. But fundamentally there are few days when I feel like I have done enough.

Strangely, today was one such day, even though I did almost no work.

“The right track takes detours.”
Frans Hiddema

5 Promotional Ideas I got from Startup Digest

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Events, Promotion

Promotion often makes the difference between business success and failure. A recent email from Startup Digest gave me some great ideas.

  1. Develop checklists and top 10 lists.
  2. Tie your news story to recent events.
  3. Get in the email inbox.
  4. Celebrate the holidays with discount or special offer.
  5. Always include a list of upcoming events.

Upcoming SKMurphy Events

Upcoming Bootstrappers Breakfast Events

Case Study: eMOBUS Experience With SKMurphy

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

We normally we work with a team of two to five engineers or scientists who have working technology and deep domain knowledge but who need help identifying and exploring opportunities for scaling up their business based on building long term customer relationships that provide recurring revenue. The eMOBUS team knew how to sell and had deep domain knowledge for cellular spend management, they wanted practical insight into how to incorporate software technology into their service offering in a way that aligned both with customer needs and larger technology trends.

Moe Arnaiz, CEO of eMOBUS co-founded the company in 2005 to bring stability to the fragmented world of mobility management. Under Arnaiz’s direction, eMOBUS has grown from an idea into a rapidly growing cloud computing company – providing web services and licensing its platform to various VAR’s and consulting companies. eMOBUS is the only mobility management platform to take a preventative cost containment approach, which has earned the respect of industry leaders such as Netsuite, Johnny Rockets, Master Halco and Swinerton Builders. Moe honored as one of “40 under 40″ to watch by San Diego Metropolitan Magazine in 2010.

SKMurphy has helped us with several key transitions in our business over the last four years. The impact on our business has been to move from a carrier reseller model under increasing margin pressure and shrinking differentiation from other resellers to a fast growing technology enabled service organization who offers a platform that is so compelling that we are licensing our technology to other providers in addition to continuing to use it to power our own business.

From the beginning Sean challenged us to change our perspective from acting as an agent for the carrier to an advocate and trusted advisor for our customers. This resulted in a shift in our focus from procurement and transactions that migrated a customer onto a different carrier to a monthly service that monitored their business needs and current billing,  making adjustments as necessary to get them the most cost effective configuration with either their current carrier or a new one.

As we continued to work with SKMurphy they helped us to identify and explore opportunities where software-enabled solutions not only allowed us to scale the business but allowed us to focus on building long term relationships with our customers that provided recurring revenue.

They were also helpful in recruiting our CTO, who has migrated our business from Excel and Quickbase to a cloud solution that is scalable to the needs of our growth plans. This migration to the cloud has also enabled us to offer a platform as a service to telecom expense management firms who wanted to add a mobility management component to their offering. Through out the process, SKMurphy provide insight into the technology trends that we should leverage.

I think two of the hardest challenges that a startup faces are hiring the right people and winning the early deals that establish credibility. Both of these problems are ultimately the CEO’s responsibility. Sean was available as needed, working nights and weekends when we did. What was surprising was that each new level of deal required us to learn a new way of selling.

We have other advisors whose sales, financial operations, and technology insights we value, I think where Sean has been most helpful was in thinking through and then executing the switch to a software-enabled services firm selling subscriptions from a rep firm focused on the next sales transaction.

As the CEO I have gathered a team of talented advisors because I want to make effective decisions. Their value is in the questions that they ask that force me to look at the problem from a variety of perspectives.

The Unfortunate Return of the Mainframe IT Mindset

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 5 Scaling Up Stage

“Software developers and users come from very different perspectives, software developers always see an update as a good thing. We’re biased, because we have an emotional attachment to our own work, towards thinking that the next update is going to be the greatest thing ever. I wish developers throughout the industry would recognize the cost that we inflict upon users because of our obsession with constant change.”

Jono Xia quoted in a Computerworld article “Ex-Mozilla worker rails against developers’ love of constant change, frequent updates” July 16, 2012. He was answering questions related to two blog posts

In “Everybody hates Firefox updates” he offers three reasons why users hate updates:

  1. The download/restart takes forever and interrupts your work with a bunch of intrusive dialog boxes.
  2. The update may break stuff that you counted on, either by removing features you were using, or by breaking compatibility with other software you use. Maybe the developers never tested your use case, or worse – they tested for it but decided it didn’t matter because only 2% of users used it. Tough luck to you if you’re one of those 2%.
  3. If they changed the interface, your productivity will be lower than usual until you’ve spent a bunch of time learning a new interface. Even if the new interface is “better”, in some theoretical way, to some hypothetical average user, re-training yourself to use it is nothing but a time sink.

It is almost as if SaaS vendors are mimicking the behavior of mainframe IT groups from the 1980′s:

  • We can only support one system.
  • We make upgrades when it is convenient for the system administrators.
  • We don’t have time to plan for a rollback, it’s faster just to flash cut to the new system and continue patching and updating to fix the consequences.

The reality is that your customers have complex workflows that are not entirely under your control but dependent upon your software. Much has been made about the cost savings of supporting only one version but I think that is less important than the cost you can impose on customers with interface incompatibilities and forced updates. One model to consider is supporting at least three releases in parallel:

  • old and reliable: the devil you know, but obviously with fewer features.
  • current production version: more features and some bugs
  • new or beta: more features and more bugs

Also develop the capability to roll back a change if it’s clear in the first 48 hours that there are serious problems. With on premises software your customers will take this upon themselves to run several versions in parallel, but SaaS offerings for business customers need to consider allowing concurrent version in use at the same customer. This allows you to tell when a new feature is actually useful because customers choose to adopt it.

“Innovation is not what innovators do but what customers adopt.”
Michael Schrage

“Working For Equity” Panel Session Returns to Silicon Valley Code Camp For Third Year

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Founder Story, skmurphy

I am moderating a panel at Silicon Valley Code Camp 2012 on “Working For Equity.” Here is the session description:

Panel discussion with three software startup CEOs offering their perspective on the practical realities of starting and growing a company. This session is for both aspiring and active entrepreneurs, it will outline important tips and issues to consider if you are investing your time in a startup. Each panelist will give a 5 minute lightning talk on background and lessons learned, followed by a group Q&A session with the audience.

This will be the third year I have moderated this panel; the last two years it’s been very popular and we normally have a great conversation with the audience after some brief introductory remarks by each panel member.

Silicon Valley Code Camp is an amazing experience that has improved each of the five years that I have attended. It’s held at Foothill College (12345 El Monte Road,  Los Altos Hills, CA 94022) and this year will convent the weekend of Saturday October 6th and Sunday October 7th.

Register your interest in attending Code Camp at http://www.siliconvalley-codecamp.com/Register.aspx

Register your interest in attending the “Working for Equity” session at
http://www.siliconvalley-codecamp.com/Sessions.aspx?sessionid=942


Here are blog posts about the panel sessions from 2011 and 2010

Debugging Your Startup Requires Peace of Mind

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Books, Quotes, Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

I remember reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig in high school and being profoundly affected by it. I didn’t realize how deeply some of the ideas had affected me until I started to re-read it years later and it was still deeply familiar. Here are some excerpts on the importance of  peace of mind for solving problems.

“Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind.”

This quote from a Japanese bicycle manual seems at first to be a poor translation, but Pirsig riffs on it as expressing a deeper Zen truth.

“The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”

I think entrepreneurs also build their shortcomings into their startups:

  • Low trust and a desire for control leads to an inability to delegate effectively or high quality people, resulting in very low limits on the size of the business that can be grown. The paradox is that “trust but verify” and “attention to detail” are also essential to success in a small bootstrapped firm, the challenge is knowing how to establish mutual trust to enable effective delegation.
  • Greed and impatience lead to a willingness to cut corners and customers feeling taken advantage of. Again the challenge is balancing dissatisfaction with the status quo and a legitimate desire to make a profit from delivering value with a commitment to creating real value for your customers and the patience to continue to improve our offering.
  • A desire to embrace novel solutions can mask an attention span that’s too short to persevere through the boring but necessary work of refining your offering, innovating only where it truly differentiates your product.

“Sometime look at a novice workman or a bad workman and compare his expression with that of a craftsman whose work you know is excellent and you’ll see the difference. The craftsman isn’t ever following a single line of instruction. He’s making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he’ll be absorbed and attentive to what he’s doing even though he doesn’t deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. “

There is a lot of hunger for “recipes for success” and surefire methods for global market domination. But markets are served by complex ecosystems that require an ability to see things as they are now, not just look for patterns that match a famous entrepreneur’s autobiography or a Harvard Business Review article.

The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together.

Startups require a full immersion in your customer’s operating reality and a willingness to harmonize your vision with their real needs.  Unfortunately this always seems to require more changes on the entrepreneur’s part than the customers, which means that they have to be viewed more as a self-improvement process than a customer education project. Here are some related blog posts on entrepreneurial success requiring ongoing self-improvement to be sustained:

“Shhh! I’m listening to reason.”
Pee-wee to Francis in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

The Early Bird Already Has The Worm

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

The last question in”The First Seven Questions Any Product Plan Should Answer” is What Are You Replacing?

Every Product Has Competition

But after careful experimentation we learned that most entrepreneurs would instinctively cast themselves in the role of the early bird who gets the worm and say “Nothing. We are brand new!” So we re-phrased it this way:

Q7 How has the customer done without this product/service so far?

  • Are you eliminating or reducing an existing cost stream?
  • Have they tried to solve this problem on their own? Have they spent time or money on a partial solution?
  • Are they currently spending cycle time or non-value add people time to work around it?
  • Can you reduce errors, error rates, or iteration counts?
  • Do you enable them to access new markets or opportunities currently unavailable to them?
  • What are you specifically obsoleting or replacing?

It’s Called The Status Quo

There is always a status quo. The prospect has to stop spending time and money on some other activity or product to fit yours into the schedule and the budget. Always understand how they are solving the problem or meeting their need today before you tell them how good tomorrow will be.

Other names you often hear for competition

  • inertia
  • tradition
  • best practice
  • muddling through

Another risk is that you may be addressing a real need but one that is not as urgent or important as other challenges they are facing. That’s why it’s important to quantify the costs and risks and delays inherent in the status quo so that you can make informed commitments of the improvements or benefits that your product will deliver.

Independence Day 2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

I tried to pick three quotes that spanned the last thousand years or so of the move from kings and tyrants to representative government and the rule of law.

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
Magna Carta clause 40 of 1215 charter

All we have of freedom, all we use or know -
This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.
Rudyard Kipling, The Old Issue, 1899

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.
Erma Bombeck

As more of our communication and property migrate into cyberspace we will need to re-learn the hard lessons of our ancestors about privacy and security in this new world. I suspect within two or three decades we will look back with incredulity that companies like Facebook and Google were permitted to read our mail and develop more extensive dossiers on us than even the East German Stasi would have dreamed of being able to assemble, all to sell advertising.

Please consider if the work you are doing is helping to preserve and extend our privacy, security, and freedom in cyberspace or is undermining them.

“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”
Alasdair Gray

The Fact That Your App Was a Weekend Project Is Not a Feature

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, Demos, skmurphy

The fact that your new application was a weekend project is not a feature! I see announcements like

  • We just coded this up last weekend take  a look…
  • I wrote this on a Saturday afternoon check it out…
  • We built the tool (over the last few weekends)…

I don’t know if it’s Startup Weekend’s original promise of launching a startup in 54 hours (which they have walked back very carefully over the last few years) or teams taking “fail fast” too much to heart over “fail well” but I worry that prefacing the description of your offering with how little time you have spent on it is a way of rationalizing a prospect’s future rejection.  If prospects don’t like it then that’s OK because you didn’t spend much time on it. But it’s an attitude that can minimize learning.

Worse, “We just slapped something together please take a look” is not a compelling feature to highlight if you are selling a business application. Business owners and managers have no desire to QA half-finished products.

Three Things to Highlight Instead

  1. Talk about why you are committed to solving the problem.
  2. Explain how they can assess the impact on their task, job, or business. Shift your focus from what they think of your product to how they will asses it’s value.
  3. If your product has features that offer a diagnostic or analysis of a prospect’s situation or data those may be the most important to develop early, if only to help prospect’s become more aware of the extent of problems that they may have.

Bootstrappers Breakfast® Website Upgraded

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

The Bootstrappers Breakfast® website has been re-designed so that it’s wider, brighter and now has a banner full of coffee beans across the top–tea drinkers still welcome!

Please let us know what you think…

…and drop by a breakfast when it’s convenient, there are meetups in

If you would like to volunteer to start one in your city please contact us.

Q: Is Building The Wrong Product A Waste Of Time?

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

Q: Is Building The Wrong Product a Waste of Time?

Don’t assume that it’s a binary outcome, that it’s the right or the wrong product. It’s can be a range of outcomes that are a shade of gray, not black or white. More importantly, it’s an opportunity for learning more about your customers’ needs. You should plan to proceed by a sequence of prototypes that become “less wrong” over time until they are “good enough.”

Values of “less wrong” may range from 1% of the final version to 80%; the real test is if the prototype advances your understanding of customer needs by triggering additional insights through conversation. If you are not surprised you are not learning and if you are avoiding conversations for fear of failure you are learning much more slowly than you could by taking some prudent risks.

“What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our questioning.”
Werner Heisenberg

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