Archive for February, 2013

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–February 2013

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

You can follow @skmurphy to get these hot off the mojo wire or wait until these quotes for entrepreneurs are collected in a blog post at the end of each month. Enter your E-mail if you would like Feedburner to deliver new blog posts to your inbox.

+ + +

“Don’t explain why it works; explain how you use it.”
Steven Brust

+ + +

“Before strongly desiring anything, we should examine the happiness of those who already possess it.”
Francois duc de La Rochefoucauld

+ + +

“Design is thinking made visual.”
Saul Bass

+ + +

“Make it a point to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea has to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are currently working on.”
Thomas Edison

+ + +

“The ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”
Arie P. de Geus in “Planning as Learning” from Harvard Business Review March-April 1988

Used as opening quote for Startups Where “We Are All In This Together” Learn Faster

+ + +

“It is not so hard to be original, what is hard, is to be original with continuity.”
Andres Segovia

+ + +

“We are all part of interlocking partially overlapping groups, networks and communities. We can really only prosper if other folks in our group, network, or community also prosper. Not that there isn’t competition, and fierce competition in a downturn, but few other firms are your direct competitor, and many can be partners of varying levels of engagement.”
Sean Murphy

This is the concluding paragraph to my blog post “Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation Worth Revisiting” from Nov-18-2008

+ + +

“If your prospects repeatedly show interest in something unrelated to what you are validating – swerve & follow what’s really bothering them.”
Asif Khan Mandozai @asifmandozai

+ + +

“Thinking is drawing in your head”
Alan Fletcher from “The Art of Looking Sideways

+ + +

“Our greatest weariness comes from work not done.”
Eric Hoffer

+ + +

“Limiting yourself to one side of a 3×5 card is a good way to craft a message or prioritize your objectives.”
Sean Murphy

See “3×5 Cards” for an elaboration and “Nuts, Bolts, and Jolts by Richard Moran” for some good business rules of thumb that fit on a 3×5 card.

+ + +

“Unless ideas are massaged into reality they evaporate.”
George Nelson

+ + +

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context– a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
Eliel Saarinen

See also

+ + +

“It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”
Edgar Allan Poe

+ + +

“Every tool carries with it the spirit by which it has been created.”
Werner Heisenberg

+ + +

“I’ve got a great ambition to die of exhaustion rather than boredom.”
Thomas Carlyle

+ + +

“Be wary of relying on a ramjet for early growth.”
Sean Murphy

Used as title for “Be Wary of Relying on a Ramjet for Early Growth.” Included here due to a tweet by Milan Vrekic. A ramjet requires that the plane is already moving at a high fraction of the speed of sound and cannot be used for take-off or the early climb to cruising speed.

+ + +

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

Used as a closing quote for “Continuing Education in Entrepreneurship

+ + +

Three Sales Pitches That Never Really Work

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, skmurphy

Here are three sales pitches that never really work with some suggestions for how to improve them.

strikeThree Sales Pitches That Never Really Work


  • Poor: “we are almost out of money, can you please help us to continue so we can meet payroll and keep our office open.”
  • Better: “Here’s the return (value, timeframe) we think you will see from your investment.”

Joint Marketing  / Joint Sales

  • Poor: We don’t have any customers yet, we have this really cool technology, can you please introduce use to some of your major customers?
  • Better: “Here are internal benchmarks, do you have any customers with this problem? We think we can help.”
  • Best:  “Here are testimonials about us  from two of your customers, here are two ways we think our firms can collaborate more effectively to create more value for our customers in common.”

Approaching Early Customers

  • Poor: “Would you like to play with this?”
  • Poor:  “Would you like to use this?”
  • Poor:  “Would you feel bad if our free product was discontinued?”
  • Poor:  “You would be really stupid not to try our product.”
  • Better:  “Do you have these symptoms? Here is the problem we think you have and here is how we can help you solve it.”

Challenges in Analysing Market Structure and Competitive Landscape

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

This is a laundry list (not prioritized) for a set of challenges we currently wrestle with in helping clients monitor their external environment and craft strategies for new market creation and new product introduction into an existing market. I welcome any suggestions for resources or tools.

Competitive Landscape

  • maintaining shared situational awareness at at team level on the external environment
  • understanding who prospective customers view as status quo / alternatives / competitive offerings to your product or service
  • monitoring emerging technology spaces for new entrants that may come into your space
  • monitoring your target market space for new entrants: especially discerning weak signals of a new competitor
  • counter-surveillance – staying off of competitor’s radar as long as possible (stealth is just one strategy here)
  • finding and monitoring forums where prospects are talking about current challenges and shortcomings of existing alternatives
  • identifying early adopters / earlyvangelists who are unsatisfied with an existing partner
  • understanding customer’s perception of the value proposition for competitive alternatives
  • using analysis of competitive hypotheses to discern competitor’s strategy from deceptive and ambiguous moves (by definition stealth or camouflaged moves are not detected, if they are they represent revealed strategy)
  • designing business wargames to explore complex ambiguous competitive situations and foster team alignment on strategy

Market Structure Analysis

  • modeling markets that don’t exist (yet)
  • creating markets where you have the potential to remain viable
  • developing segmentation strategies for existing markets
  • anticipating when a niche market may dissolve a larger category (either to your detriment or advantage)
  • cataloging all of the different descriptions and keywords for the same problem from different perspective in an early market
  • crafting and negotiating partnerships with incumbent players in an existing market
  • defining value chain and minimum viable footprint for a new offering (for more on these concepts see “The Wide Lens” by Ron Adner

Update Nov-26-2013: We continue to use and refine this list. One challenge that startups face (and established firms entering markets that are new to them) is that an existing firm has customer insights that they can more easily access and a value chain that has stake in their success which can provide peripheral vision and insights. Startups lack these assets and as competitors are much harder to spot.

The initial challenges are less about generating insights about new market opportunities and potential competitors and much more about curating the evidence and crafting a narrative that gets a team on board for common action. It’s also possible to fool yourself so looking for disconfirming evidence (e.g. analysis of competing hypotheses) helps to avoid self-deception and/or groupthink.

Startups Where “We Are All In This Together” Learn Faster

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

“The ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”
Arie P. de Geus in “Planning as Learning” in HBR March-April 1988

In “Planning as Learning” Arie P. de Geus offers an interesting contrast between two bird species–titmouse and robin–based on an article by Jeff S. Wyles, Joseph G. Kunkel, and Allan C. Wilson, “Birds, Behavior and Anatomical Evolution,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, July 1983.

Human beings aren’t the only ones whose learning ability is directly related to their ability to convey information. As a species, birds have great potential to learn, but there are important differences among them. Titmice, for example, move in flocks and mix freely, while robins live in well-defined parts of the garden and for the most part communicate antagonistically across the borders of their territories.

Virtually all the titmice in the U.K. quickly learned how to pierce the seals of milk bottles left at doorsteps. But robins as a group will never learn to do this (though individual birds may) because their capacity for institutional learning is low; one bird’s knowledge does not spread.

The same phenomenon occurs in management teams that work by mandate. The best learning takes place in teams that accept that the whole is larger than the sum of the parts, that there is a good that transcends the individual.

Related Blog Posts

Ilya Semin of Datanyze on Value of Great Demo Workshop

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Demos, skmurphy

We reach out to past attendees of the Great Demo workshop and ask them how they have applied the principles and techniques covered and what the impact has been on their business. Ilya Semin, the founder of software startup Datanyze, attended a Great Demo workshop in 2012 and sent us this detailed response. It is reproduced here with his permission.

Ilya Semin of Datanyze on Value of Great Demo Workshop

My name is Ilya Semin. I’m the founder of Datanyze ( Our product provides competitive intelligence for certain types of companies (Web analytics, Widgets, CDN, DNS, etc). It helps answer questions like “Who are the biggest customers of my competitor?” or “Who of my customers is currently evaluating one of my competitors?” The tool is very powerful and the best way to prove that is to demonstrate it to our potential customers.

My background is Computer Science and I’m used to dealing with computers, not humans. Perhaps that’s why sales is not something that I’m comfortable with, but as a founder of a small start-up I have to be involved in sales almost every day.

When it comes to demonstrating a product most people present it in a very fuzzy, unclear way. I’ve seen that so many times but I did not have the answer on how to make this process better. What I’ve learned during the Workshop completely changed the way I demonstrate our product.

Peter gave a very clear explanation and lots of examples on why traditional demos don’t work. What I really liked about the workshop is that not only it gives you a theoretical knowledge about why some demos are more efficient that the others, but it also provides a clear process for organizing demos and forces you to work on your own demo and make it better during the day. We were working in pairs to improve our pitches and everyone had a chance to present their products.  I really learned a lot from this workshop, I feel like it will be useful for everyone who is in sales, no matter what their level. We had some very experienced folks in the group and people like me who just started to practice it and I feel like everyone was very excited at the end of the day.

Update-Jan-20-2014: DataNyze profiled in VentureBeat: “This Startup Tells You When Companies Try Your Competitor’s Software.

Related Blog Posts

 Great Demo! Public Workshop October 15-16, 2014

October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA Register Now

Our next public Great Demo! Workshop is scheduled to take place October 15-16 in San Jose, California.

This is an excellent opportunity for individuals, small groups or for teams that have new hires.

We’ve found that these events are most productive when there are two or more participants from each organization (singletons are also fine). This helps to mimic real-life interactions as much as possible, both when preparing demos and delivering them in the role-play sessions.

Chris Kane: Great Demo’s Impact On The VendorRisk Sales Presentation

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Demos, Events, skmurphy

We reach out to past attendees of the Great Demo workshop and ask them how they have applied the principles and techniques covered and what the impact has been on their business. Chris Kane of VendorRisk attended a workshop in 2012 and sent us this detailed response. It is reproduced here with his permission.

Great Demo’s Impact On The VendorRisk Sales Presentation

Software demos are the cornerstone of our sales process. We had successfully demonstrated our service to many prospects and closed a number of deals before we attended the Great Demo workshop, but we still felt that there was room for improvement.

One of the big changes we have made in putting the Great Demo methods into practice has been to cut the running time of our demo from an hour and 15 minutes or even two hours down to about 30 or 35 minutes. VendorRisk is a SaaS app, so our demos involve setting up the story, showing a few screenshots, and switching to the live app depending upon the prospect’s areas of interest.

Looking back we tended to bounce from topic to topic and feature to feature using a training model as our structure. Now we use a progression of simple to complex stories and use cases. As a result, our prospects more easily connect with how they can use the software for the commonly occurring–and then the less commonly occurring–situations that come up in managing vendor contracts.

We have also introduced a 15-minute phone conversation in advance of the main demo to help better understand a prospect’s critical business issues before we start the first demonstration. This has been very well received: our newer customers have told us that they feel like we’ve really listened to their needs and are showing them a demo tailored specifically for them–despite the fact that almost all our customers have the exact same issues! It’s increased our confidence going into the demo because we have fewer surprise issues or areas of concern.

We have seen the benefits of this preparation and change in delivery style in an increase in the percentage of prospects who become customers.

Chris Kane, Partner, VendorRisk

Related Blog Posts

 Great Demo! Public Workshop October 15-16, 2014

October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA Register Now

Our next public Great Demo! Workshop is scheduled to take place October 15-16 in San Jose, California.

This is an excellent opportunity for individuals, small groups or for teams that have new hires.

We’ve found that these events are most productive when there are two or more participants from each organization (singletons are also fine). This helps to mimic real-life interactions as much as possible, both when preparing demos and delivering them in the role-play sessions.

Good Fortune

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

My mother was born in 1927 in rural Missouri, she is the youngest of eleven children and the only one left alive today. Four of her brothers and sisters didn’t live to see ten. Before antibiotics and vaccines, childhood mortality rates were much higher, and many parents could anticipate burying at least one child.

You don’t think that seeing your grandparents die or your parents die is good fortune, but you would be wrong.

The Friday before Christmas of last year I caught up with friend for a coffee break. He was enmeshed in a major project at work that had been keeping him busy six and sometimes seven days a week. We took an hour to catch up  and at 5pm he went back to work. He was looking forward to seeing his son the following week, who was in his senior year of college and soon to be home for the holidays.

The following Friday I got a brief e-mail from him: in the week after Christmas his son had collapsed playing catch with some friends and experienced a seizure for a few minutes. This was the first time their son had experienced a seizure so they called 911. A CT scan indicated some bleeding and a “structure” and an MRI indicated a “mass.” The neurosurgeon provided a range of possibilities for what this could be, starting with a “cavernous malformation” which is a set of veins which leak blood forming some pressure on the brain, through to benign and/or malignant tumors.

The son was put on anti-seizure medication and scheduled for exploratory brain surgery for a week later.  His symptoms didn’t recur so they discharged him the next day.  I reassured myself that if they let him out of the hospital and scheduled the surgery for a week later that the doctors rated the probability of malignancy as very low.

I was reminded of a breakfast meeting in the early 90’s when I got a call from my brother. His wife, nervous about a wet cough their three month old daughter had developed, had taken the daughter to see her pediatrician the afternoon before. As she was in the waiting room a doctor heard the cough and came over immediately, he listened to her breathing with his stethoscope for a few minutes and said “we are going to the ER right now.” She was in congestive heart failure and scheduled for heart surgery. I was shocked, “Don’t you think you should get a second opinion, this seems all very sudden.”

“You don’t understand,” he replied, “there is no time. She will be dead by tomorrow if they can’t fix this, she has a developmental defect in one of her cardiac arteries. This has to happen today.” I suddenly felt very very cold. It had been unthinkable his daughter could die, but I could hear in his voice that it was a very real possibility. I called my father; he was fatalistic about her chances, in his mind there was no way an three month old child could survive heart surgery.

But my niece survived her surgery and recently graduated from college.

My friend’s son survived his surgery but is unlikely to graduate from college. The biopsy results stunned the surgeons, uncovering a high grade advanced stage astroctytoma much more likely to be found in a man in his forties or fifties than one barely in his twenties.

My friend told me, “I am trying to adjust to a horrible situation. He has been such a wonderful son. I am focused on enjoying each day we have with him. Lots of things are tertiary now.”

“Good Fortune: Grandfather Dies, Father Dies, Son Dies.”
Zen koan

Update Jul-17-2013: while the longer term prognosis remains grim a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy has triggered a remission has enabled the son to graduate from college. The party is this weekend.

“Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”
Alice Walker

Update Nov-20-2013:  Slate published an excerpt from “Cotton Tenants: Three Families” by James Agree and Walker Evans, it’s reporting from 1936 the life of tenant farmers in Alabama. Here is a passage on childhood mortality:

Of the seven children the Tingles have lost, one lived to be four, and pulled a kettle of scalding water over on him. (Such accidents, with milder results, are not infrequent in large families with distracted mothers.) One lived to be five and ate some bad bologna sausage one night and was dead before morning. The rest died within their first year. One died of colitis. From what people said of it another must have died of infantile paralysis. The rest, they don’t know what they died of, the doctor never told them.  Floyd says, “You ain’t never seen trouble till you lose a young’un.”

See also

  • A Storm Driven Sparrow
  • John Foster McKenna: 1990-2014
  • Thanksgiving 2011
  • Jerome K Jerome’s View on Groundhog Day (Replaying your life)
  • Why I Visit Hospitals My brother relates his perspective on his daughter’s hospitalization
    When my daughter was three months old, she had to have an operation to correct a coarctation of the aorta. She spent about a week in the hospital. That was a very difficult time, and a big help to getting through it was all the people who took the time to come visit us in the hospital. And I’m not taking about just family. There were a couple of close friends from work, but we got a lot of visitors from our church, and people all over the area were praying for her. I ran into our pastor and a couple of elders in the elevator of the parking garage after I dropped my wife and daughter off — they were there that fast and my first thought on seeing them was I wonder who they are visiting? Most of our visitors came after work, and we often had so many we had to move to a public area. It really helped to have people to encourage us, to share with us, and to just pass the time that crawls by in the hospital with us. Since we know what it means to have visitors, we try to visit people we know in the hospital — we aren’t always successful, and we could do a lot better. So far not one person hasn’t been happy to see us, and not one hasn’t said to us “You didn’t have to come.” No, we didn’t have to, we wanted to.

Six Tips For Writing An E-Mail To A Prospect or Potential Partner

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

“I spent some time working in the television industry, and I learned a technique that writers use. It’s called “the bad version.” When you feel that a plot solution exists, but you can’t yet imagine it, you describe instead a bad version that has no purpose other than stimulating the other writers to imagine a better version.

For example, if your character is stuck on an island, the bad version of his escape might involve monkeys crafting a helicopter out of palm fronds and coconuts. That story idea is obviously bad, but it might stimulate you to think in terms of other engineering solutions, or other monkey-related solutions. The first step in thinking of an idea that will work is to stop fixating on ideas that won’t. The bad version of an idea moves your mind to a new vantage point.”
Scott Adams in “How To Tax the Rich

Sometimes its easier to live in anticipation of a potential sale or business relationship than to initiate a conversation and risk getting rejected. If you are finding it hard to get started on an e-mail to a prospect or a potential partner here are a couple of things you can try:
  1. The Hollywood Approach: write the bad version. I realized in reading Scott Adam’s article “How To Tax the Rich” that “writing the bad version” is something that we often do just to help a team move forward with an e-mail to a prospect or potential partner.
  2. The Schoolboy Approach: write an outline. Normally shorter is better for an opening e-mail and you may be able to expand each item into a single sentence instead of a paragraph or a section and be done.
  3. Add a Middleman: call/talk someone and explain the key points you want to make. Extra points for recording it to allow for easier capture instead of breaking your flow to write it down as you go. We sometimes act as an interviewer or a proxy for the target audience to help a client unlock insights.
  4. Quit Typing:  put down the keyboard and pick up the phone (or click on Skype) and call the person you owe the e-mail and make your points directly. Extra points for making your own recording of the voicemail you leave when you cannot reach them so that you can now send a more coherent e-mail.
  5. Begin With The End In Mind: Write the e-mail you would like to get in response to your e-mail. Use that as a guide to crafting your approach (from Stephen R. Covey’s 2nd Habit: “Begin With The End In Mind”).
  6. Use Your Right Brain Instead Of Your Left: sketch out the issue or proposal on a whiteboard, a piece of graph paper, a 3×5 card, or a napkin depending upon where inspiration strikes you.

See also

Quick Links

Bootstrappers Breakfast Link Startup Stages Clients In the News Upcoming Events Office Hours Button Newsletter SignUp