Author Archive

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–March 2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

You can follow @skmurphy to get these hot off the mojo wire or wait until they are collected in a blog post at the end of each month. Enter your E-mail address if you would like have new blog posts sent to you.

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“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”
John Dryden

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“Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.”
T. S. Eliot

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“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?”
Henry David Thoreau

Other versions of this exist but this version is taken from Thoreau’s letter to his friend, H.G.O. Blake, on 16 November 1857.
h/t The Henry D.Thoreau Mis-Quotation Page at Walden.org

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“It is not enough to tolerate dissent: sometimes you have to demand it.”
Jack Galvin

h/t Brad Pierce in a comment in “Terry Frazier on How to Do Real Competitive Analysis

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“Society functions in a way much more interesting than the multiple-choice pattern we have been rewarded for succeeding at in school. Success in life comes not from the ability to choose between the four presented answers, but from the rather more difficult and painfully acquired ability to formulate the questions.”
David Mamet in The Secret Knowledge

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“Design is creativity with a strategy.”
Rob Curedale

h/t Expa.com (@Expa) also found at Quotes on Design, a great resource for design quotes.

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It’s not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them.
T. S. Eliot

In an interview with Donald Hall in the Paris Review “T. S. Eliot, the Art of Poetry No. 1” Eliot said:

“I wanted to get to learn the technique of the theater so well that I could then forget about it. I always feel it’s not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them.” T. S. Eliot

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“Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack.”
George S. Patton

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“My capital is time, not money”
Marcel Duchamp

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“Anytime we see a line, the product in question is underpriced.”
Naval Ravikant (@naval) in “The Bitcoin Model for Crowdfunding

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“Opportunity is sometimes hard to recognize if you’re only looking for a lucky break.”
Monta Crane

h/t Gerald Weinberg (@JerryWeinberg)

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“If thou art a writer, write as if thy time were short, for it is.”
Henry David Thoreau

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“How can so many things I’ve no more use for still have so much meaning for me.”
Ashleigh Brilliant

I feel this sensation most strongly when I look through boxes in my garage that store items I kept from old jobs and old startups. I regret loss of things I threw away: pictures and printouts I posted on the walls of my office or cubicle, chip plots, trade show posters, etc…

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“Execution focus yields a prioritized network of interdependent tasks;
exploration yields a portfolio of risks and options.”
Sean Murphy

I have been helping Patrick Steyaert on a new version of his Discovery Kanban talk. This sentence was my attempt at crystallizing the difference between execution and exploration.

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“Sometimes you come to an edge that just breaks off.”
Anne Carson

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“I know the price of success; dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”
Frank Lloyd Wright

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“Luck cannot be duplicated.”
Richard Kostelanetz

h/t James  Geary
Used as a the opening quote for Feeling Lucky is Not a Strategy

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“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
Benjamin Franklin

Used as the closing quote for Feeling Lucky is Not a Strategy

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“We work to become, not to acquire.”
Elbert Hubbard

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“A focus on revenue is core to bootstrapping but often at odds with the ‘venture lifestyle business.’”
Sean Murphy

In reply to a tweet by Rashaun P. Sourles (@rashaunps) “@skmurphy: Though my last startup failed, I’ve never forgotten the lessons you taught me about hustling early revenue. Just wish I had listened!”

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“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”
John Buchan

I think there are similarities to the early sales process. I can recall once waiting in a conference room with two founders staring at a speaker phone waiting for a scheduled call to start and feeling an eerie similarity to standing at the edge  of a pond with other boys holding our fishing poles with our lines in the water. It led me to write one of my “details as they..” tag lines:

“Details as they stand poised in an expectant silence, like runners before a starting gun, old men waiting for the fish to bite, or a sales team clustered around a speakerphone waiting for the prospect to call back.”

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“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
Max De Pree

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“Patience is a most necessary qualification for business; many a man would rather you heard his story than granted his request.”
Lord Chesterfield

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“Don’t take business advice from people with bad personal lives.”
Frank Chimero “Some Lessons I Learned in 2013

Used as the opening quote for “Building a Business Requires Building Trust.”

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“The wise speak only of what they know”
J.R.R. Tolkien

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 ”Fame is something that must be won.
Honor is something that must not be lost.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

Used as closing quote for ”Building a Business Requires Building Trust.”

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“You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”
Neil Gaiman

h/t Neil Gaiman’s Advice to Aspiring Writers

Gaiman has offered at least two variations on the importance of learning from finishing:

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from  a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”
Neil Gaiman during “Question Time” section of “An evening of awesome with Hank and John Green” (Jan 15 2013) [transcript]

and

“Personally, I think you learn more from finishing things, from seeing them in print, wincing, and then figuring out what you did wrong, than you could ever do from eternally rewriting the same thing.”
Neil Gaiman in “No longer the blog without giraffes

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“The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change.”
Edwin H. Friedman

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“The quality I most admire in a man is steadfastness.”
David Mamet

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“There is nothing so fatal to character as half-finished tasks.”
David Lloyd George

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“I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.”
William Stafford

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“Delivering value is a pre-requisite for sustainably capturing value i.e. getting paid.”
Ash Maurya (@ashmaurya)

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“An MVP is about delivering real value to customers for the purposes of maximizing validated learning.”
Shardul Mehta in “A Case Study in Defining an MVP

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“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
George Eliot

Update April 2: this appears to be incorrectly sourced to Eliot and is in fact a quote from Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo Sun-Oct-22-1882

“For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together. ”
Vincent Van Gogh

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“Sometimes one pays the most for things one gets for nothing.”
Albert Einstein  in “What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck” published in ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ on October 26, 1929

h/t Quoteyard

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“When you’re more susceptible to interruption, you do more out of the box thinking.”
Don Norman (found at  Quotes on Design)

Seems to be based on the last sentence in this paragraph from “Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better

Affect makes us smart, that’s the lesson of my current research into the role of affect. This is because affect is always passing judgments, presenting us with immediate information about the world: here is potential danger, there is potential comfort. This is nice, that bad. The affective signals work through neurochemicals, bathing the relevant brain centers and changing the way we perceive, decide, and react. These neurochemicals change the parameters of thought, adjusting such things as whether reason is primarily depth first (focused, not easily distracted) or breadth first (creative, out of the box thinking, but easily distractible).

[...] Positive affect broadens the thought processes, making it more easily distractible. When the problem requires focus, this is bad, but when the problem is best addressed through creative, out-of-the-box thinking, then this is precisely what is needed.

 

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“Calvin: I’m a misunderstood genius.”
“Hobbes: What’s misunderstood?”
“Calvin: Nobody thinks I’m a genius.”
Bill Watterson

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“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself.
Longest way round is the shortest way home.”
James JoyceUlysses

h/t Shaun Moran (@ShaunM_Dub) offered as a response to Einstein quote: ”Sometimes one pays the most for things one gets for nothing.”

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If you think lemons are bitter try some of that fruit from the bin labelled “experience.”
Sean Murphy

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“Change careers like Tarzan: don’t let go of the old until the new supports you, but don’t lose momentum.”
Derek Sivers (@sivers) in “Change Careers Like Tarzan

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“The shortcut that’s sure to work, every time: take the long way. Do the hard work, consistently and with generosity and transparency. And then you won’t waste time doing it over.”

Seth Godin in “The Certain Shortcut

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Building a Business Requires Building Trust

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage, Sales, skmurphy

“Don’t take business advice from people with bad personal lives.”
Frank Chimero “Some Lessons I Learned in 2013

One of the hallmarks for success in a business-to-business market is the ability to form personal relationships as well as professional business relationships. I am always dismayed when I read advice that advocates bait and switch or other forms of con games that erode trust and make it difficult for any startup to build relationships.

Anyone who always puts themselves first ends up with bad personal life. Startups that are only clear on their own needs rarely outrun the same fate. It’s the difference between a focus on funding or an “exit” and a focus on building a business.

Working with bootstrappers sometimes puts us on teams that are in desperate circumstances. Where they are able to translate time pressure and resource starvation into a bias for action from a change in perspective they often succeed–or at least move beyond the current crisis: success, like the horizon, is an imaginary line you can approach but never seen to cross. But where they use it as an excuse to take shortcuts that abuse prospects trust we sometimes have to part company. It does not happen very often, and it hasn’t happened in more than a year, but perhaps three or four times in the last decade we have had to walk away from a sales or marketing strategy we didn’t feel was in the long term best interest of the startup or their prospects.

“Fame is something that must be won.
Honor is something that must not be lost.”
Arthur Schopenhauer

Related posts

  • Treat Social Capital With The Same Care as Cash
  • De Tocqueville on Concept of “Self Interest Rightly Understood”
    You meet people who have a clear understanding of their own needs and seem to spend no time on anything else. But the deals that they make seem to based only on fear and threat. To create real opportunities in your own business requires that you explore and understand the needs and aspirations of your current and potential customers. To bring them ideas that will improve their lives and businesses requires that they trust you have their interests at heart when they talk about current problems that may expose their weaknesses and shortcomings
  • Keeping Your Customers’ Trust [Includes a Recap of Weinberg's 11 Laws of Trust]
    I think B2B software is often purchased by firms hoping to achieve–or avoid–some sort of change. Like consulting, software is the promise of an ongoing business relationship.  The two essentials in a mutually satisfactory business relationship are trust and an exchange of value.
  • Sustaining Is More Important Than Starting
  • David Foster Wallace: The Only Choice We Get is What to Worship especially this section from Wallace’s talk:
    But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.
  • Honesty in Negotiations
    One of the key tasks we help early stage teams with preparing for and executing successful negotiations.  There is a belief among some engineers that the best marketing and sales people are the most accomplished liars. In my experience nothing could be further from the truth. Most negotiations have long term consequences and involve interacting with people that you will encounter again and who know others you will encounter in the future.  I always assume that at some point in the future the folks I am negotiating will know the full truth of the situation and that very few secrets remain that way for long. In George Higgins‘ novel “Dreamland” a character remarks “I never forget and I always find out. ” I assume that about anyone that I am negotiating with.

Great Demo Workshop Attendee: “Holy Crap! My Demos Have Too Much Detail”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Demos, Sales, skmurphy, Testimonial, Workshop

After every Great Demo! workshop we contact the attendees with a short E-Mail that reads in part:

I want to check-in to see how you have been doing using the ideas and skills we covered in our Great Demo! Workshop three months ago.  Specifically, I’d like to hear:

  1. What have been the results so far?
  2. Do you have any success stories to report or share?
  3. Any questions or new situations you’d like to discuss?

What follows is a redacted e-mail from a real attendee at a recent Great Demo workshop. We have his permission to post it, but he asked that we remove identifying information because of his candor about his approach to demos before he came to the workshop.

Hello Peter,

I would like to tell you that your workshop has had a positive impact not only on my demos, but also on my customer meetings in general.

The key message I took away, “Do the last thing first,” has proven very effective at increasing customer engagement in our demos. Our product is a sophisticated one with a long history–what are prospects sometimes describe as “very complex” or “arcane” even “confusing.” We sometimes present modules that–in hindsight–were of no of interest to the customer. This can not only turn a demo into a waste of everyone’s time but also convert a hot prospect into a lukewarm one.

It’s seems obvious now, but getting right to the point and then working backwards based on the customer’s level of  interest (“Peeling back the onion”) has triggered a lot more questions and demos that end in clearly defined next steps instead of “you’ve given us a lot to think about, please let us get back to you.”

The example that really punched me in the gut when I realized what I had been doing was your hyperkinetic  impersonation of someone doing a demo of Microsoft Word. Your first answer to  the question, “Can you print?” seemed  reasonable: you opened the print dialog box and walked through all the print options in detail–portrait or landscape, single or double-sided printing; color or black and white, number of copies, print quality, etc…

But when you did the second take and said “Yes, would you like to see it?” and clicked the print icon I had this terrible sinking feeling.

“Holy Crap! My demos have too much detail,” I said to myself.

Change is hard, but the three of us who attended your class took the “Great Demo” approach back and have seen a difference in the number of demos that now lead to sales that are progressing.

You may be in the same predicament if your approach demos involves one or more of the following:

  • You include a multi-slide corporate overview whether the prospect requests it or not.
  • Demos are viewed as an opportunity to provide training on your product.
  • It’s not uncommon for a demo to end with prospects sitting in stunned silence or murmuring, “let us think about this and get back to you” instead of asking questions.

We have two Great Demo! workshops on on the calendar for 2014 in San Jose

May 21&22, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA Register Now
October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA Register Now

Learn How to Market Your Expertise March 25 in Sunnyvale

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

Getting More CustomersWhether you are a software startup or a consultant you have to convince prospects that you have the expertise to solve their problems by what you say, what you write, and what others say about you. This three hour workshop will outline a mix of proven marketing techniques for generating leads for your business. Attendees will select one or two that best fit their style, present them in a roundtable discussion format for refinement, and leave with a ninety-day action plan for incorporating them into their business.

When/Where:  March 25, 2014 9am-12:30pm in Sunnyvale, CA
Cost: $90 includes lunch

Register Now

Office Hours: Schedule Time To Walk Around Your MVP

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Lead Generation, Sales, skmurphy

Office Hours ButtonIf you are looking for advice on lead generation or closing deals consider scheduling “office hours” to walk around your current sales process or a particular opportunity you are trying to close. SKMurphy functions as a startup advisor to help you understand the process of building a business. We understand the challenges of selecting an advisor–and advising entrepreneurs–and have blogged about it a few times:

We offer a no-cost, no-obligation MVP Readiness Assessment.
Request a consultation at https://skmtest.wufoo.com/forms/skmurphy-office-hours/

Without A Revenue Hypothesis Your Business Model Is a List of User Activities

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

Q: I am building an app that helps people build nearby interest groups (e.g. local model railroaders, quilters in your town, etc…). I am trying to establish a baseline for my value hypothesis testing and am considering the following metrics:

  • Registration rate of those who come to landing page
  • Rate of registered users who join or create an interest group
  • Rate of interest group members who interact (post etc) in a group
  • Rate of interest group members who log in again after a month

Even if I estimate the each of these rates at 50% I cannot tell what this would mean in terms of validating my business. Also I cannot determine how to use these metrics to determine the features to put in my MVP.

Any advice for where to start in a minimum set of metrics and features for an MVP for this service?

A: For the sake of an initial model let’s accept your estimate of a 50% rate for those four metrics. There are two key sets of hypotheses that you are missing:

  1. What are your hypotheses for how you generate revenue? What will your customers pay for and why? 
  2. What are your hypotheses for the cost of acquiring and servicing a paying customer? How much will it cost to get them to the landing page and to maintain the service?

Your answers to these two sets of hypotheses interact to tell you how long you can stay in business.

Q: Those are great questions but I feel like they are related to growth, something I think I should explore once I have figured out the value testing.

A: Getting paid is proof of your value hypothesis. You need to map your path to revenue. Once you can do that then planning how to do it in a repeatable scalable way is your growth hypothesis. Given that you are zero revenue you need to grow to at least break even to keep running experiments.

Q: OK I understand the importance of the monetization strategy in the hypothesis testing, but I don’t think it’s relevant to my original question. Suppose I added a another metric:

  • Rate of interest group members who convert to a premium account (e.g. for unlimited messaging)

And I assume it costs me $1 to get new visitors to my landing page. So now I have six hypotheses:

  • It costs $1 to get a visitor to the landing page
  • 50% of visitors register
  • 50% of registered users join or create an interest group.
  • 50% of interest group members interact in a group.
  • 50% of interactive group members login after a month.
  • 50% of persistent interactive group members upgrade to a premium account

What does that tell me? I still cannot tell if I have a  good starting point.

A: I think it makes all of the difference in the world, now you are optimizing for revenue in your experiments. The others are all vanity metrics if you don’t have hypotheses for their relationship to revenue and impact on cost.

You can enter whatever you think your conversions will be a priori, and now you can construct a hypothetical business that is profitable.

Without that you don’t have a (profitable) hypothetical business, you have a list of activities that users are engaging in.

Discovery Kanban Helps You Manage Risks and Options In Your Product Roadmap

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, Lean Startup, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

I came across this presentation from LLKD13 (#LLKD13  / storify) by Patrick Steyaert (@PatrickSteyaert) of Okaloa on Discovery Kanban after following some links off a Kanban discussion group last year:

Slides

Video

It’s a complex and challenging presentation that connects a number of different concepts–including fitness landscape models, the Cynefin framework  and its concept of probes, the OODA loop, optionality–into a coherent synthesis: Kanban models can be used not only for managing execution or delivery flow by minimizing the amount of work in progress, but also for managing the discovery process of curating a portfolio of risks and options.

At a high level an execution focus yields a prioritized network of interdependent tasks; exploration yields a portfolio of risks and options.

I had the good fortune to meet Arlette Vercammen of Okaloa a the Lean Startup Conference 2013 and we had a conversation that has sparked an ongoing collaboration around helping Okaloa evolve their Discovery Kanban model both for startups and change agents in larger firms.

Patrick will be providing an updated version of the presentation June 16 in Leuven, Belgium:  ”More Agility and Predictability with Visual Management and Kanban.”

Related blog posts and articles

Q: Should I Persevere With My Product Or Get A Job?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage

Q:  I can’t get people to use my service. For the last 9 months or so I been trying to get it going, trying to validate the idea, but I can’t get people to use it, and I’ve iterated and improved the product multiple times.  I can get people to click on ads  and visit the service but no one will even sign up much less use the service.  

A:  Whom have you talked to about the service? Have you talked to potential customers?

Q:  Up until now, I’ve only really gotten feedback from my family and friends. I thought that marketing would be enough to explain the idea and convert visitors into customers, but it’s not working, and I’ve tried different methods and messages.  

A: How did you come up with the idea for the service?

Q: I got the idea from my Dad almost two years ago and developed the idea into what it is now.  I have been into technology for as long as I can remember and I am constantly dreaming of tons of amazing ideas, but most of them are too complicated to create myself:  when my Dad came along with the idea I saw it as a chance to start fulfilling my dreams. At the time I thought that idea was simple enough to develop into a product. But I was wrong; it was much much harder than I had anticipated.  

A: As Paul Saffo advises, “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.” I can sympathize with the challenges of having too many ideas and ideas that are too complex to make viable. It doesn’t hurt to write them down and in the case of the more complex ones also try to break them into phases or steps and see if you can create a building block that might then enable a second step etc..  How long have you been working on this particular idea?

Q: I took me about a year to develop a minimum viable product; About half way through I dropped out of college to focus on it full time. It has been rough but I have finished developing it.  I don’t know what to do and I can’t keep wasting my time and money on something that’s not working. My parents were supportive at first, but now they are saying I need to get a job. So, any advice on the service  or what I should do would be great.  

A:  A year ago if your parents had said we will support you for a year but if you have no customers then you have to go back to college or get a job would you have agreed? If not, how much time would you have asked for?

You have to treat the friends and family who are supporting you just as you would an investor and give them visibility into your plans and results. It’s also not fair to ask for a blank check: you have to have a stopping rule.

Experienced investors, whether Angel or VC, will impose one on you. But friends and family may find it harder. That’s why you have to agree up front on the limit of investment you are asking for.

You don’t have to give up on your vision, but you need to either earn enough to become self-sufficient to pursue it on your own, or go back to college to finish your education. Here are a few questions you can use to measure your progress and navigate your way forward:

  • What have you learned in the last six months that’s made you more effective as an entrepreneur?
  • In the last three months?
  • What do you hope to learn in another three that will allow you to gain customers?
  • Before you start a new project you need to define your stopping rule or you risk going bankrupt or you force the people who are supporting you to define it for you–or you bankrupt them as well.

Here are “Three Questions to Ask Before Quitting” from pages 66-71 of Seth Godin’s “The Dip

  1. Am I Panicking? Decide in advance when you are going to quit.
  2. Who Am I Trying to Influence? A person or a market? Markets value persistence far more than an individual.
  3. What Sort of Measurable Progress am I Making?

Q: What do you think of the advice a friend gave me: ”You’ll never fail if you don’t give up.”

Be very careful of this advice:  if you keep doing the same thing expecting different results you won’t succeed either. Take a long-term view for a moment. Looking back from 30 or 35 or 40 it’s unlikely you would regret finishing college and perhaps even working for five or ten years to get some real world experience before starting a company.

If your goal is to be an effective entrepreneur then you may learn faster in other situations than by continuing full time on your startup today. Despite what you read on TechCrunch and similar sites very little success is overnight.

Related

Feeling Lucky Is Not a Strategy

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

“Luck cannot be duplicated.” Richard Kostelanetz

Riffing on a Nov-2-2013 TechCrunch post by Cowboy VenturesAileen Lee (@aileenlee) “Welcome To The Unicorn Club: Learning From Billion-Dollar Startups” Ryan Hoover suggests that you should ”Forget What You Know: There is No Right Way to Start Up”[1][2]

“They didn’t talk to people. They didn’t do market research. They didn’t create a landing page to see if people would enter their email. They just built it. For the past year, they invested in the team and technology to prioritize speed of iteration with disregard to traditional methods of customer development and company building.”
Ryan Hoover in “Forget What You Know: There is No Right Way to Start Up”

This is not a methodology, it’s hoping to get lucky. The article cites several startups that may have gotten lucky as proof of…I am not sure, I guess that it’s possible to get lucky.

“Lean methodology and the startup community at large, espouses customer interviews, landing page tests, concierge experiments, and other tactics for testing hypotheses and measuring demand before building a product. In many cases, this is good advice but sometimes it’s a waste of time or worse, directs entrepreneurs away from something truly great.”
Ryan Hoover in “Forget What You Know: There is No Right Way to Start Up”

For every team that gets lucky I wonder how many thousands run through their savings in search of the truly great without talking to customers or testing their hypotheses. Perhaps a more careful and detailed analysis will uncover ways to duplicate the success of some of these startups but I worry that it may be like trying to select the winning lottery ticket: the fact that some people do it does not change the fact that on average it’s a terrible investment strategy.

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” Benjamin Franklin


Ryan’s essay also appeared on LinkedIn and TheNextWeb:

I don’t think this “Forget What You Know” post is representative of the quality of Ryan’s insights. Here are three blog posts by him that I have found very useful and recommend reading:

 

Video from Lean Innovation 101 Talk at SF Bay ACM Nov-20-2013

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, Events, Lean Startup, skmurphy, Video

The video from my “What is Lean–Lean Innovation 101” talk is up:

Here is the description for the talk

“Lean” provides a scientific approach for creating a product and developing new businesses. Teams can iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers by adopting a combination of customer development, business-hypothesis-driven experimentation and iterative product releases. This talk covers:

  • Why more and more companies are using Lean
  • What is Lean, what it is not
  • Key concepts
  • Get Out Of Your BatCave
  • Use an initial product (MVP) as a probe to explore the market
  • Build-Measure-Learn
  • When and how to pivot
  • Rules of thumb for successful lean innovation

I want to thank Alex Sokolsky for his outstanding effort on behalf of SF Bay ACM doing the video capture and editing.

IEEE-CNSV Panel Explores Engineering in Japan vs Silicon Valley Mon-Mar-3

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, Events, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

I am helping to moderate a panel 7pm Mon-Mar-3 at IEEE-CNSV on “Innovation: Work and Life of the Engineer in Japan and Silicon Valley” The event takes place at Agilent Technologies, Inc. in the Aristotle Room, Bldg. 5 located at 5301 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara, CA 95051. There is no charge to attend and the event is open to the public.

The event is organized by Takahide Inoue, the Global Outreach Director for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society at UC Berkeley.

The panel members are:

  • Takashi Yoshimori, Toshiba Semiconductor
  • Laura Smoliar, Independent Consultant, Signal Lake Venture Capital
  • Tom Coughlin, IEEE Region Six Director-Elect, CNSV member and Independent Consultant
  • Kim Parnell, Past Chair, IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section, CNSV member and Independent Consultant
  • Brian Berg, Past Chair, IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section, CNSV member and Independent Consultant

Here are some of the questions I hope the panel is able to address:

  • What are innovation lessons from Silicon Valley?
  • How does Silicon Valley do so many innovations?
  • What are innovation lessons from Japan?
  • How do Japanese engineers sustain their interest in a topic to achieve mastery instead of moving on to the “new hot thing” or next “bright shiny object?”
  • What makes an innovative culture? What can other areas do to create an innovative culture?
  • In Silicon Valley, we tend to celebrate the individual over the group. For Silicon Valley engineers how do you give back to your  community?
  • The Japanese say that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” For Japanese engineers, how do you disagree constructively with your peers to foster innovation?
  • What advice do you have for engineers for finding an idea that can inspire them to work on for several years before it becomes a reality?
  • How do you see the work of the engineer changing in the next five to ten years?

I hope you can join us tomorrow night. Here are some background material on Silicon Valley’s innovation culture you may find relevant.

Here are five related blog posts about Silicon Valley it’s entrepreneurial culture

Finally Tom Wolfe wrote “The Tinkering’s of Robert Noyce” about the founding and early culture at Fairchild and Intel for Esquire in December of 1983 and updated it for Forbes ASAP fourteen years later as “Robert Noyce and his Congregation.” (Aug-25-1997).


The text of California Historical Marker 836:

PIONEER ELECTRONICS RESEARCH LABORATORY – This is the original site of the laboratory and factory of Federal Telegraph Company, founded in 1909 by Cyril F. Elwell. Here, Dr. Lee de Forest, inventor of the three-element radio vacuum tube, devised the first vacuum tube amplifier and oscillator in 1911-13. Worldwide developments based on this research led to modern radio communication, television, and the electronics age…California Registered Historical Landmark No. 836..Plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the City of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Historical Association, May 2, 1970

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–February 2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

You can follow @skmurphy to get these hot off the mojo wire or wait until they are collected in a blog post at the end of each month. Enter your E-mail address if you would like have new blog posts sent to you.

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“I am old enough to see how little I have done in so much time, and how much I have to do in so little.”
Sheila Kaye-Smith

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“Observation is a passive science, experimentation an active science.”
Claude Bernard

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“One always has a better book in one’s mind than one can manage to get onto paper.”
Michael Cunningham

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“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
Marcus Aurelius in Meditations

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“You always have prior information before you do an experiment, because something motivated you to do the experiment.”
John D. Cook (@StatFact)

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“Bad hires are by definition great interviewees. Think on that.”
Dave Cheney (@davecheney)

h/t Benjamin Sullivan (@bjns)

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“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning

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“The humble improve.”
Wynton Marsalis in ”To a Young Jazz Musician: Letters from the Road” first letter is “The Humble Self

Originally used in “Applying the Agile Manifesto to Software Startups” The ”The Humble Self” was the spine for “Wynton Marsalis on Humility, Self-Mastery, and Learning

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“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.”
LL Cool JMama Said Knock You Out

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“Life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or just standing still.”
Lou Erickson

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“There are two great rules of life: never tell everything at once.”
Ken Venturi

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“If you are not part of the solution you are part of the precipitate.”
Steven Wright

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“For fast acting relief, try slowing down.”
Lily Tomlin

h/t “Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 166) Lily Tomlin

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“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Used as closing quote for “Four Questions We Use to Help Improve Our Practice

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“It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs.”
John Dewey in “How We Think (Revised Edition)

Used as opening quote for “Four Questions We Use to Help Improve Our Practice

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“Theory can blind observation.”
Carol Gilligan

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“Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge.”
Don Henley

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“Nick: You want to be your own boss but the trouble with that is you don’t pay yourself anything.”
Herb Gardner in “A Thousand Clowns

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“Fate is being kind to me. Fate doesn’t want me to be too famous too young.”
Duke Ellington

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“If you want to learn about an organization, try to change it.”
Kurt Lewin

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“I’m more interested in what I discover than what I invent.”
Paul Simon

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“The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.”
Duke Ellington

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“Unlikely adventures require unlikely tools.”
Zack Helm

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A truly creative person rids himself of all self-imposed limitations.”
Gerald Jampolsky

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“If we do not plant knowledge when young, it will give us no shade when we are old.”
Lord Chesterfield

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“Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.”
Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

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“Somewhere along the line all of us must learn this lesson: it costs something to be what we are.”
Clarence Day

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“It is not impossibilities that fill us with despair, but possibilities which we have failed to realize.”
Robert Mallett

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“Refrain from following the example of those whose craving is for attention, not their own improvement.”
Seneca “Letter from a Stoic”

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“A good leader takes care of those in their charge.
A bad leader takes charge of those in their care.”
Simon Sinek (@simonsinek)

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“An accrual accounting perspective has too much parallax from a bootstrapper’s actual cash position and offers a false sense of security. Do cashflow based planning and management.”
Sean Murphy in “5 Serious Financial Mistakes Bootstrappers Can Avoid.

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Make the Transition to Sales: Two Workshops For Entrepreneurs in March

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy, Workshop

I think the most difficult challenge in sales is maintaining an appropriate perspective and emotional distance from deals: balancing fear, greed, and frustration to maintain empathy and a clear understanding of business objectives.

Some of the technologies employed in the sales process are changing rapidly but they impact the tactics, not the substance. Selling for entrepreneurs is about establishing rapport, project management, and acting as a change agent. The need to listen, communicate clearly, and build trust over time  has not changed.

I have been selling my expertise since I started a photography business when I was 16. But I have always looked at myself as an entrepreneur not a salesperson or a consultant…or an employee for that matter –in my own mind I was getting training to be more effective as an entrepreneur in my own business.

To a first order sales people worry about making quota, entrepreneurs worry about making payroll. It’s a different mindset.

We have two workshops on offer in March, one that’s focused on discovery driven sales and one about lead generation–getting the phone to ring. We have offered both for more than 7 years now and they have each undergone considerable change and improvement.

But what hasn’t changed is that entrepreneurs need to generate leads and close deals if they want to build a business.

Sold Out Improve your Sales Pitch with Cohan’s Great Demo! Workshop
March 5&6, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA
Register Now Getting More Customers Workshop
March 25, 2014 9am-12:30pm Sunnyvale, CA

Update Wed-Feb-26  Great Demo Mar 5-6 has sold out.

Please register for May 21-22 workshop
Register Now

Q: Resources For A Lean Approach to Sales, In Particular New Product Introduction

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, Sales, skmurphy, Workshop

Q: We have started selling and are looking for resources for a lean approach to sales, in particular for new product introduction.

Scott Sambucci and I presented a workshop at Lean Startup 2012 on “Engineering Your Sales Process.”
The deck is posted at http://www.slideshare.net/SalesQualia/engineering-your-sales-process

About 70% of the workshop is interaction with attendee on their specific early sales challenges so it’s not something that we video record.

Scott Sambucci has two books out that address early sales issues:

Here are two articles that offer useful overviews of what’s needed to define a sales process:

In addition here are some other books you may find helpful:

Here is a long interview I gave to Gabriel Weinberg on early stage B2B sales that many entrepreneurs have found useful: Sean Murphy on the first six enterprise customers

All of these resources talk about a systematic approach to selling for new products.  I continue to offer “Engineering Your Sales Process”® as a workshop for early stage teams. Please contact me if you would like to arrange for a workshop.

Legal Advice: Start With a Plain English Agreement That Covers Key Deal Points

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb

I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice.

Back when i had a real job at Cisco a few years ago I managed a webmaster who asked me to debug a problem with javascript embedded in the HTML for a page they had written. As we dug into about 30 lines of javascript it became clear that it was three sections from different programs with inconsistent variables names that had been glued together. The webmaster understood how to write good content and basic HTML and had viewed the javascript like a poem, assembling different stanzas from other pages in the hope they would form a coherent whole.

True story.

When I tell software engineers this story they often laugh. And then they realize that I am telling them the story because they have assembled a contract from different legalese they have found on the Internet in hopes of creating a legally binding and coherent whole.

I have seen firms give away the rights to their software because they didn’t understand the legal meaning of certain phrases they copied from a contract they found on the Internet.–this a true story that happened to a client a few years ago. The other side was happy to sign because they understood what “work for hire” meant, and happy to enforce it later.

Nobody likes spending money on attorneys, entrepreneurs are not alone in this regard. But you can always put a budget on their efforts (one rule of thumb is to spend 1% of the contract value on a legal review if you are bootstrapping) and ask an attorney to give you a prioritized list of risks. Many of the things that large firms pay attorneys to worry about are not worth spending attorney time on for an early stage startup.

Focus on key risks, not every risk. Also understand that to some attorneys ‘doing nothing’ can represent the least risk, but to a bootstrapper doing nothing means your runway keeps getting shorter. Doing nothing and taking no risks for long enough gives you the opportunity to ask for your old job back.

Find an attorney who is comfortable working with bootstrappers. Ask other bootstrappers who they use if need be.

Start with a plain English agreement that enables a meeting of the minds: it can just be a bulleted list of key points. If you are not an attorney do not attempt to write “legalese.” It just sets you up for signing a contract that you have drafted but don’t really understand.

A plain English document affords the layperson (non-attorney) substantially more protection and is always more useful as a starting point. Even if the other side starts with a contract take the time to reach agreement on key points in plain English so that you can tell whether you are negotiating substance or style when you involve your own attorney.

 

Are You Using Realtime Shared Document Edit Tools? Let’s Compare Notes

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

We have been using PrimaryPad, an EtherPad derivative,  in our practice for about two years. The MVP Clinics I have done with John Smith rely on it for real time interaction with the audience. This is a parallel approach to conference call plus chat or conference call plus chat plus wiki in that the realtime shared edit (like EtherPad or GoogleDocs) avoids the “I go, you go” needed for write access to a wiki.

Here are the four MVP Clinics I have done with John Smith:

If you are using it in your practice I would like to schedule a phone call or skype call to compare notes.  If you are aware of a forum or an E-mail list for users, not developers, please leave a comment. with any suggestions.

I am very interested in talking with other folks in sales or business development who are using EtherPad or shared edit documents as part of negotiation planning, during negotiation, and de-brief. i find it more useful than text chat because it supports more complex structures. I use it both with prospects I am negotiating with and other team members during concalls, webinars, etc..

I welcome any suggestions for places I can compare notes and exchange ideas on techniques for notational shorthand, methods and conventions  for four or five people in the same conversation to document it in parallel, and other lessons learned from people using it in their business (vs. teaching or tutoring).

Related blog posts (primarily about chat in parallel with a conference call)

 

BeamWise Demo at BIOS Conference 2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Clients in the News, skmurphy

Here is the extended booth demo we developed for BeamWise at the BIOS Conference, February 1st and 2nd, 2014. The three use cases that seemed to be of the most interest to folks who dropped by the booth:

  • System level design exploration of mechanical and optical layout options both for research teams designing new equipment, instrument manufacturers, and support teams at component companies (e.g. laser and filter manufacturers)  who work with customer designing their component into new equipment.
  • Component catalog providers who wanted to enable rapid exploration of component options in a system context.
  • Other design automation tool vendors with complementary offerings for detailed mechanical modeling or optical simulation.

I  had not really appreciated how large, varied, and complex optical systems had become and the number of distinct industries–e.g. communications, medical, industrial processing–where they were applied. One engineer who had experience in both electrical and optical design characterized BeamWise as a “schematic capture tool at a system level for rapid prototyping of optical systems” which I think is as good a description as any.

Building on more than two decades of production deployments of design++ based systems gives us an advantage in terms of the scale of the rule sets–e.g. thousands to tens of thousands of rules–we can manage. In other industries design++ applications have been integrated with specialized simulation applications, both internal and commercially available and often support libraries of thousands of components. I think we will be able to incorporate these same extensions into BeamWise as appropriate for optical and biophotonic systems.

I have blogged about BeamWise™ in

Real Prospects, the Simplest Functionality They Will Pay For, and Team Members Who Can Help

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

Q:  I have worked as a manager in corporate IT for many years, saved my money, and now have an idea for a new product. I need a plan to go from essentially nothing but the idea to building an organization that can support a service-first or  concierge MVP and the metrics in place to enable migration to a full product and profitable business.  Getting off zero seems to be my problem.

A: There is a temptation given you have a good idea and money to last for a while to go into execution mode: writing code and hiring staff. but there is probably very little risk that you cannot get the code developed and if you have some experience in hiring to bring reasonably talented people on board. The risk is in building–or offering in the case of a service-first MVP–something that people will pay for.

At a subconscious level this may be why you are having trouble getting off zero. It’s also possible that after many years in corporate IT you may be more energized by a career than a startup: in either event you should pay attention to your lack of energy.

I would suggest that you do not force yourself too far into execution mode until you were confident that you had identified a problem that people would pay you to solve and that you knew how to find people or firms with the problem.

One way to start, which you can do without quitting your day job, is to make a list of a dozen to three dozen people you can talk to about the problem you plan to solve and contact them.

See if they have the problem, what their view on what a solution might look like, and what the value of the solution would be to them.

Mastering the mechanics of starting a company don’t represent a risk reducing milestone; here are three critical near term risks to focus on instead:

  1. Finding real prospects who acknowledge they have the problem, want to talk about it, and believe that it’s a critical business issue for them.
  2. Finding early team members who are energized by the problem and not a paycheck and can contribute relevant skills and/or domain knowledge.
  3. Understanding the minimum functionality or result you need to deliver to get paid.

You can work on all three of these without quitting your day job. Keep saving your money, you’ll need it once you start bootstrapping. And managing the conflicting priorities of a day job and a bootstrapped startup will be good practice for managing the conflicting requests from early customers and early prospects.

Four Questions We Use To Help Improve Our Practice

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Consulting Business, skmurphy

“It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs.”
John Dewey in “How We Think

We do a lot of initial consultation calls where we walk around an issue or a challenge a startup is facing. The calls typically focus on lead generation, sales process, new product introduction, or practical tips for managing the challenges of bootstrapping a new firm or product. For the last several years we have been sending the following four question survey, sometimes with a fifth question specific to the session, to everyone who took part.


Please take five minutes and help us improve our process

Please reflect on our conversation and take a few minutes to write  a one sentence answer to four questions to help us improve our process:

  1. What was the most useful question or suggestion that you heard?
  2. What was the least useful?
  3. What, if anything, did I fail to do that you expected me to do?
  4. What else can I do to improve my process?

We get better than an 80% response rate and have learned a lot. Many small subtle things that people have been kind enough to suggest we stop doing. And a some significant additions or alterations as well.

I will start with a few simple phrases I have–almost–trained myself to avoid as a result of feedback:

  • “Now don’t take this the wrong way…”
    whatever comes next also needs to be rephrased to reflect the entrepreneur’s perspective not mine.
  • “Normally when an entrepreneur tells me they are selling to small business it means they don’t know their target market.”
    Now I try and probe for more specific attributes and skip the insult. For example: “Small business covers a broad category of firms. Is there a particular type of small business that would benefit the most or would make a decision more rapidly.”
  • “You know what IRS calls a business that does not make a profit? A hobby.”
    Again gratuitously insulting, so I now try to probe more for the plan for break-even operation and see if they have determined what their remaining runway is so that they can find a graceful exit if need be before some very bad outcomes.

One suggestion for improvement a few years ago lead me to rethink some of the ways that I had focused too much on my own time efficiency:

I would  have appreciated your starting our conversation by asking me  to tell our story. That way we could have started from a ‘shared base of understanding’ of what we have tried so far. (Perhaps  you felt you knew enough from the brief I sent you in advance? Or in your experience doing that makes the sessions too long?)

This triggered a fair amount of reflection and led me to write the following answer


This is a fair point: I need to avoid the “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” prescription that does not seem to be rooted in an extraction of symptoms from a case history, a diagnosis or differentials. Probably the two most important aspects in a brief consult are

  1. Why you, why now? what is your evidence of need and why are you qualified to solve this problem. The “Business English” as an outgrowth of global teams I took as a given. It may not explain your lack of traction in China for example but to a first order anyone who wants to engage in global business needs to speak / write English effectively. And your credentials were established in my review of the website.
  2. What have you tried that has worked?  Where is there even a weak signal for success). In your case we uncovered two things that you can build on pretty quickly and spent some time walking around what that might look like  at the next level of scale.

But your question made me realize two of the shortcomings, or at least risks, to asking you to write down “the story so far.” While it is more time efficient for my review and gives you more time to compose your thoughts and revise/reflect on it:

  • it’s not the same as voicing it and having it heard. I can hear the emotion in your voice in a way that is distilled out of the writing.
  • And you are not sure that I have actually read what you send. (I did).

But I had not considered that. I should probably have done a brief recap that established I saw a need for your offering and believed that you had the ability to deliver it and that the challenge appeared to be more in targeting and initial engagement scaling to a relationship  than in determining if there was a need.

Because the need for the service was pretty clear, at least to me, and your team’s background supported your  ability to develop and deliver it I did not dig in the way that I might when someone proposes a novel product or service (particularly when I cannot see a need for it, or I can see a need but I cannot see how their prior experience qualifies them to offer a competitive, much less distinctive, offering). I didn’t have any qualms about your ability to develop and deliver. I was confident that you could organize an approach that would  work once you had a clearer picture of target and triggers.

There is a risk in asking people to recount all the ways that they have failed or all of the good ideas that they have had that have not borne fruit is that it anchors the subsequent conversation in what has not worked and why instead of a theory of the need, your current  hypotheses for how you can add value, and what a successes to date we can build on to continue the market exploration.

But it’s a fair point that entrepreneurs benefit from recounting their journey. My intent was to  offer you  some specific suggestions for how you could refine your message, your target customer criteria, and help you simplify your offering to get some initial traction. But you have to see that as rooted in your specific situation and not some generic checklist of options or canned answers.

Thanks for taking the time to send a detailed response and some suggestions for how I can improve.


We still ask for a written overview in advance so that I can start  with some context. We also believe it helps a team prepare correlate their experiences and come to a rough consensus on at least what the key challenges or constraints are.  But we try keep learning and make new mistakes.

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh


Update Mon-Feb-17 Jeremy Heap (?@JeremyHeap) tweeted a link to the article with a nice one line summary

Four Questions We Use To Help Improve Our Practice -
In short learn from every engagement with a client or customer

Daniel Pink: Entrepreneurs Need Problem Finding Not Just Problem Solving Skills

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Demos, skmurphy

Daniel Pink highlights the need for discovery skills in this interview with Leigh Buchanan in Inc.

Q: What sales traits are crucial for entrepreneurs?

This principle of clarity. Entrepreneurs are moving from a world of problem-solving to a world of problem-finding. The very best ones are able to uncover problems people didn’t realize that they had. Today if the customer knows precisely what their problem is they will probably be able to find a solution on their own. The entrepreneur is more valuable in cases where [customers] don’t know what their problem is or they are wrong about their problem. So surfacing latent problems, anticipating new problems, is really powerful for entrepreneurs.

As you may know we partner with Peter Cohan to offer open enrollment workshops in Silicon Valley  for his “Great Demo” workshop. In the last two years he has added a much more content on discovery and diagnosis as key elements of the sales process. A software demo is just one component of the customer discovery and validation challenges that founders must navigate; a demo can be used early in the process to offer a vision of a solution or later to provide technical proof of a a software product’s capabilities. But without a clear understanding of the prospect’s needs a demo will often miss the mark, hence the need for discovery and diagnosis.

Peter normally works with larger software organizations on-site at a sales all hands meeting but three times a year we partner with him so that startups and smaller software firms can attend a multi-firm workshop in San Jose.  Our next Great Demo! Public Workshop is scheduled for March 5-6 in San Jose, California; register at http://skmcohan140305-cohan.eventbrite.com.

It’s a day and a half well spent: first day focuses the core Great Demo! concepts and the morning of the second day addresses advanced topics and techniques.  We also have one coming up May 21-22: http://skmcohan140521.eventbrite.com/


I have blogged about Daniel Pink twice before:

  • Entrepreneurs, Luck, and Silicon Valley
  • Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation Worth Revisiting which highlighted his 7 Laws (my three favorites are bolded)
    Law 1: Independence is the best hedge against a downturn.
    Law 2: When times get tougher, quality counts.
    Law 3: Free to be you and me? We’ve got to be you and me.
    Law 4: You’re on the line. Where else would you want to be?
    Law 5: Up isn’t the only direction.
    Law 6: Bigger isn’t better. Better is better.
    Law 7: Forget survival of the fittest. Think Golden Rule.

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