7 Years & 1226 Blog Posts: Lessons Learned So Far

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, skmurphy

“If you’re going to be a writer, the first essential is just to write.  Do not wait for an idea. Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.”
Louis L’Amour

This is my 1,226th post since my “Welcome Entrepreneurs” on Oct 1, 2006. I started SKMurphy in March 2003 when I took a leave of absence from Cisco, fully committing when I incorporated in August and decided not to return to Cisco. This is not my ten year anniversary lessons learned from consulting and entrepreneurship post–and at my current rate of progress on finishing that one it may be titled “Eleven Years of Customer Development Consulting” unless I can finish sooner and come up with something more clever.

This is a “professional blog” not a lifestream or journal., although it is more personal from time to time.

“Authenticity is the new bullshit.”
Hugh MacLeod

I try to write as I speak and think, only better because I can revise. I still have over 700 drafts of partially complete posts, a testament to my commitment or quality, perfectionism, or inability to finish something beyond the initial rush of enthusiasm and distraction of newer and more alluring projects.

For the most part I write a blog in response to:

  •  a question from a client, or a prospective client
  • a question in an on-line forum (and will often post my first draft as an answer there),
  • a new insight into a past experience,
  • a remark or conversation from a Bootstrapper Breakfast,
  • another article or blog post (and will often post a comment there that serves as a first draft)
  • a talk or event I attended.

I try and write from a perspective of a skeptical entrepreneur who has an engineering or scientific background and is looking to make sense of a situation that may recur, is trying to discern trends and forces at work they need to factor in to plans for the business, or is looking for a useful reference or practical how-to for skills that they need to hone (e.g. interviewing customers, selling, negotiating,…).

“This stuff is hard. That’s why it’s interesting.”
Hugh MacLeod

When I came home after my first year of college I told my father that I wanted to become a writer. I had written stories in high school, won a partial scholarship from Washington University for an essay “The Search for Reality and Identity in the Writings of Phillip K. Dick” (which I declined because I wanted to get out of St. Louis for college), worked as a reporter for my high school and college newspapers, and had a wall littered with rejections for short stories I had submitted to magazines ranging from Boys Life to Harpers.

He told me,”It’s time you stopped having these illusions about yourself: devote yourself full time to writing this summer and see what you learn.” Mixed encouragement but for six weeks I woke up every morning, went down to the basement (much cooler in the St. Louis summer down there) and wrote using an electric typewriter. I still have some of the drafts I produced from my efforts. I got a job as a cook’s helper and another as a furniture mover and kept busy moving heavy, hot, or sharp objects without getting hurt for the rest of the summer. In hindsight I think I am better at analyzing and making sense of real events and situations than writing fiction and I didn’t have enough of a stock of experiences I could draw on to sustain my effort.

But in a very real sense I continue to work as a writer. I make my living writing for our clients, often either by giving them the first “bad version” that unlocks their ability to revise (or scrap and restart) or helping them to craft e-mails or presentations. Writing about a topic allows me to be more fluent improvising remarks in negotiations or in response to questions. I think if you approach it  with that in mind then the revising allows you to clarify your thoughts in a way that can be harder in a conversation.

“A man of genius may sometimes suffer a miserable sterility; but at other times he will feel himself the magician of thought. Luminous ideas will dart from the intellectual firmament, just as if the stars were falling around him; sometimes he must think by mental moonlight, but sometimes his ideas reflect the solar splendour.”
John Foster  Journal

It has not gotten any easier, in the sense that some posts come quickly in a rush and most take a while to percolate. Deadlines help in this regard, as do collaborators. When I write a few hundred words in fifteen or twenty minutes I feel like a genius. Often the last hour before a deadline (or the first hour after a deadline–preliminary deadlines help in this regard) releases a flow of insight. Other times I need to write using  the “morning pages” technique just to unlock a post. Drafting it as a e-mail to a particular client can help.

I jot down phrases, sentences, and passages I find well written and insightful and use them as points of departure or closing quotes for posts.

One of the significant differences between my blog posts and a conversation is that I will often sketch one or more diagrams to model a situation or elaborate on a point or concept. I have not found an easy way to do this with my blog posts…yet.

It’s helpful sometimes to give a blog post as a talk first, and then transcribe and refine. The act of speaking forces a level of coherence and organization that is sometimes difficult to achieve facing a blank screen.

I am inspired by authors like George Higgins, William Feather, Raymond Chandler, Peter Drucker, Gary Klein, James Lileks, Gerald Weinberg, Glenn Reynolds, Clayton Christensen, and Seth Godin, to name a few. I enjoy the sensation of reading an author who is  trying to make sense of a situation by looking at data and historical precedent, informed by their experience and expertise, and who maintain their intellectual integrity by acknowledging facts that contradict their suggestions or conclusions.

“We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.”
Somerset Maugham


If you have a topic or question related to entrepreneurship you would like to see me address, or better to collaborate on, please contact me directly.

Update Nov-25-2013 Steve Wasiura commented “One doesn’t realize how difficult it is to write a blog post, especially a good one, until you try it, and find yourself staring into the glaring pixels of a blank white form. It can be even more depressing when you look at your visitor statistics and realize no one is reading your painfully crafted blog posts, especially in the early days. I’ll refer back to this when I need motivation to continue.”

I think the trick is to make blogging a follow on from other activities: e-mails that you are writing, forum responses, notes from a conversation. This way a post flows from time and thinking already invested in problems you know that you are wrestling with or that energize you.

A Great Comment Can Brighten Your Whole Day

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, skmurphy

I have been really encouraged by comments I have received on some recent blog posts:

  • Fantastic textual content and additionally a great web site.
  • Your authored material is stylish.
  • You are wonderful! Thanks!
  • WOW just what I was looking for.
  • I truly like your way of blogging.
  • Thank you for another excellent post.

It’s a shame that they ended up in my spam folder. Apparently folks who sell pharmaceuticals, toner ink, and mortgage refinancing, not to mention site owners who host a wide variety of video clips all really really appreciate this blog.

As for you,  my fifteen readers, please let me know what I can do to improve your reading experience.


Update–later that same night–A real comment from Will Sargent that did make my day:

I read your blog and appreciate how to the point you are. You have a good healthy balance between practical discussion and idealistic views. Your blog is an example to others.

Refine and Curate Your Thoughts as FAQs, Articles, and Talks

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage, Blogging, Consulting Business, Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

Prospects gain an appreciation for your expertise and ability to understand and to solve their problems through what you write, what you say, and what your customers’ say about you. You should have a plan for developing referrals and testimonials, but I want to focus writing and public speaking as opportunities to demonstrate your expertise and give prospects a reason to believe that you can assist them. These outbound messaging strategies will complement your referral program and are essential to attracting new customers and cultivating valuable long-term business relationships.

Here are some suggestions for practices that will help you routinely refine and curate your thoughts.

Written content:

  1. Collect Good Questions & Your Good Answers: When you get a good question from a prospect or a customer take the time to write up a succinct answer in a follow up e-mail (even if you have answered it in a phone call or face to face meeting).
  2. Refine & Generalize Your Good Answers: save your e-mail in a special folder for “good answers” and set aside time every week or month to reviewing and refining it so that it becomes a more general answer that’s applicable to more than just the person you initially answered it for.
  3. Start a FAQ on your website: If you don’t have one it’s worth considering starting a “Frequently Asked Questions” list. If a particular question indicates you have a defect in our standard presentation or marketing materials it’s more appropriate to fix the source of the question instead.
  4. Reformat Your Generalized Good Answers: Convert good answers into articles or blog posts.

Talks

  1. Make the Time to Rehearse: Always leave time to rehearse in front of at least one other person before you give the live talk.
  2. Record Your Talks: Record at least the audio for your talks and listen to both your presentation and any Q&A. Listen to it again a few days later and a month or two later.
  3. Consider Writing an Article: either as a leave behind instead of your slides or as another blog post.
  4. Never Give a Talk Only Once:  Considering the cost in time to develop and rehearse a good talk, you want to find at least three opportunities to give a talk or variations on it.
  5. Videotape A Good Talk In Front Of An Audience: Once you have given a talk two or three times live either do a video recording of it or arrange to have later versions videotaped. You will look and sound much better in front of a live audience with a talk you are comfortable giving and this will come through on the video. Consider editing it into a couple of 5-10 minute chunks if you can to use as teasers,  summaries, or good stand-alone content.

Book Club: Discussion on Seth Godin’s Texting while working

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Blogging, Books, Events

FREE recorded discussion on Seth’s blog article. The panelist share how they manage their tasks and make sure they are focused the important items that differentiates their offering.
Panelist:

View recorded session

Seth Godin Blog

Texting while working

by Seth Godin

A thought provoking blog article by one of our must read bloggers, Seth Godin. We will discuss topic Seth raises like being “in flow” and raising the stakes.

READ NOW

Related Resources:

  • http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6496.html
  • http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5170.html

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Leave a comment below

  • What do you think of the topic?
  • Do you have a question about this topic?
  • How did impact your business?

Additional Book Reviews


Moore's Darwin and the Demon HRB article
Dan Roam's Back of the Napkin You Need To Be A Little Crazy
The Lean Startup

A Recap of My 2010 Entrepreneurial Engineer Posts on EE Times

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA

In my “Maiden Voyage” post on Jul-30-2010 for my Entrepreneurial Engineer blog on EE Times  I said that I would focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in the broader electronic systems design ecosystem. I hoped to provide insights in the following areas:

  1. Perspective on technology innovation.
  2. Analysis of business strategy for emerging markets.
  3. New models for global teams and multi-firm collaboration that are predicated on incessant collaboration among experts.
  4. Perspective on the impact of communication and pervasive connectivity in creating new business models.
  5. Insights from pioneering engineers on how new computing paradigms are enabling new models for how they invent.
  6. Interviews with entrepreneurs sharing lessons learned from their successes and their setbacks.

I am going to continue to focus on these areas for 2011 as well.

I have another ten posts in various stages of completion and plan to post one a week at least for the first quarter of 2011. If you would like to be interviewed or have some insights you would like to share about areas 3 and 4 in particular please contact me.

Most Powerful Insights are Simple

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging

“Little by little, one travels far”
J.R.R. Tolkien

Theresa Shafer, one of my partners in SKMurphy, advised me recently that “most powerful insights are simple.”  It was by way of encouragement to simplify and focus my blog posts.

She continued her critique:  “If you can’t get your point across in a hundred or two hundred words why do you think another thousand and a half dozen hyperlinks is going to make it any clearer?”

You have to take your inspiration where you can find it. I plan to keep my blog posts more succinct in 2011 than years past.

5 Reasons We Welcome Guest Authors Our Blogs

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Blogging

Writing a blog takes time and can be difficult as you get busy. We often invite guest writers to contribute content. Besides giving us a break from having to write everything ourselves, they also:

  1. Bring fresh content
  2. Bring fresh perspective
  3. Infuse their passion
  4. Build trust
  5. Bring new audiences

So thank you to our guest writers.  We love you.

Sometimes people approach us about being a guest blogger but we also actively look.  A couple of places we look for guest authors

  • Partners
  • Advisors
  • Thought leaders (anyone with something interesting to say)
  • Customers
  • Potential Partners

We welcome contributed content that’s appropriate for an audience of entrepreneurs either on the SKMurphy blog or the Bootstrapper Breakfast blog.

So…What’s Your Story?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, skmurphy

We’re all born late. We’re born into history that is well under way. We’re born into cultures, nations and languages that we didn’t choose.

Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.

David Brooks “The Rush to Therapy

I have blogged before that you need to be careful how you tell yourself  “the story so far.” I was reminded of it as I spent time today  editing some interviews for my “Entrepreneurial Engineer” column in EE Times. I think a good story has key components that can be presented in several different sequences:

  • The Past: where you have come from, what led you to start your company and what about your background prepared you to be effective at solving this particular problem for your customers.
  • The Present: what have you accomplished to date and more importantly, what have you learned from your journey so far.
  • The Near Future: what you are actively working on, what you plan to accomplish in the near term, how you will demonstrate traction if your audience asks you “how is it going” in three to six months.
  • Who You Are: why do you have an interest in the problem or field that you are focused on, what are the values and the passions that you bring to working on it.
  • The Future: what you ultimately hope to accomplish, a vision of a better world you are working to bring about.

Pay close attention the next time you tell someone you have just met the story of your entrepreneurial journey.

Fall Back 2

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, skmurphy

“The time will come when Winter will ask you what you were doing all Summer.”
Henry Clay

I took the extra hour I had today and  made a list of  a few key things I want to accomplish before the end of the year. Many of these I can use your help or feedback on, please feel free to contact me.

Warning Dates in Calendar Are Closer Than They Appear

There are slightly less than eight weeks left in 2010–given that Thanksgiving and Christmas take place in two of them it’s more like six work weeks–so it’s time for a kick finish if you need to catch up.

Read Mark Zimmerman’s Zhurnaly to Renew Your Gumption

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, Quotes, skmurphy

Mark Zimmerman’s Zhurnaly (“Russian for Journal”) ) is food for the soul. The wiki format allows him to blend a journal, a runner’s diary, a commonplace book, and short essays. I enjoy his insights and his exploration Zen and ongoing self-improvement. It’s worth reading whenever you want to renew your gumption.

In “Welcome to 2009” I mentioned that I had read Zimmerman’s zhurnaly:

“I recommend it wholeheartedly for entrepreneurs even though it’s written by a physicist with a Zen frame of mind who has taken up marathon running in his 50’s. He is thoroughly committed to mindfulness and self-improvement, two goals any entrepreneur should strive for.”

Here he is on “How To Succeed

  • Help other people help you. Don’t struggle alone; we’re all in this together. Did somebody assign you an impossible mission? Maybe they meant to request something different. The situation may have changed since you began. You may have taken a wrong turn. Ask early and often for clarification, suggestions, feedback, …
  • Fail for a good reason. It’s OK to crash and burn if you took a well-calculated risk and it didn’t work out. It’s fine to let a higher priority (e.g., family, health, spiritual obligation, etc.) preempt a task. But there’s no honor in “I forgot” or “The time just slipped away from me” or …

And “On Failure

“Fail. Fail again. Fail better.”

This advice was reportedly posted on Samuel Beckett’s wall beside his desk. Any worthwhile pursuit — gardening, cooking, drawing, writing, thinking, teaching, learning, … — is never done to perfection. There is always room for improvement, a shortfall to correct, an error to identify and fix.

That’s precisely what makes something worthwhile: inevitable failure, plus the golden chance to try again, and to do better next time. Living is like that.

And finally two excerpts from “Arnold Bennett on Life” that has a number of thought provoking passages from the 1923 Arnold Bennett book “How to Make the Best of Life” (Gutenberg has many of his works but not this one.)

  • “I am far off old age, but old age is approaching daily. The terrors of old age are solitude, neglect, boredom, lack of suitable activity, utter dependence on others, and the consciousness of wasted opportunities, of having achieved less than one might have achieved. What am I doing now to destroy those terrors, or even to minimise them? Am I sufficiently providing for the final years? Am I keeping my old friendships in repair and constructing new ones? Am I, in the intervals of satisfying my greatest interest, creating minor interests which will serve me later? Am I digging my groove so deep that I shall never be able to climb out of it? Am I slacking?”
  • “No corner of the field is too small to occupy. No effort is too humble to produce an effect worth producing. No effort is wasted. And there will never be any millennium, you know! The millennium is a chimera. A millennium involves perfection. A hundred centuries hence the citizens of those days-to-come, regarding us of the twentieth century somewhat as we regard the inhabitants of the stone age, will still be yearning towards the millennium and still be shocked by the scandalous imperfections of their humanity and the inefficiency of their communities. There can be no finality except death. The dream of a millennium is a device of nature’s, and a very effective and agreeable device, for encouraging us to be persistent.”

See also these posts for other quotes from Mark Zimmerman’s Zhurnaly

For more on gumption (and sisu)  see

Entrepreneurs Still Welcome: 700 Blog Posts In Four Years

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

This is my 700th blog post since my first post “Welcome Entrepreneurs!” on October 1, 2006 which opened with:

This blog is dedicated to entrepreneurs at any stage of their journey.  As individuals, in teams, and collectively, we all hope to create a better world for our customers, our employees, our stakeholders, and our children.

Our focus is helping startups find early customers for emerging technologies. This is very different from the traditional sales and marketing at established firms. Correctly identifying early customers who can be references to others is key to introducing emerging technologies.

Although emerging technologies change the rules and often enable far reaching growth most early adopters are focused on near term risks and benefits, and it is to those concerns entrepreneurial teams need to speak to get a foothold. The decision to act as a “beta” software site or early user of new software tools often resembles a hiring decision (does the prospective customer want to “hire the team”) more closely than a technology adoption decision.

Emerging technology marketing is a distinct domain from classical product marketing, most of the traditional market assessment techniques are not effective: focus groups, surveys, etc… Emerging markets require a strong commitment by the founding team to

  • appreciating the prospective customer and customer’s view,
  • rapidly evolving the product specification in response to feedback and customer experience,
  • ongoing refinement and delivery of customer focused solutions.

Not everything I have written since has held up as well as these paragraphs. I believe that they still offer a good high level overview of the new product introduction problem as it applies to new technologies.

DAC 2010 Blog Coverage Roundup

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA

We have been using our EDA Knowledge Portal to track DAC related stories, it’s now available on a subscription basis you are are interested.

You can also follow the #47DAC hashtag on twitter for breaking announcements during the conference. Last year’s roundup is available a DAC 2009 Blog Coverage Roundup.

Preparing For DAC 2010

Sunday Events
Note: I am worried that the default DAC website links will break in less than a year, they are tied to the top level DAC site not a DAC 2010 encoding. If anyone knows the permalinks for the DAC sessions please let me know. If you look at the DAC 2009 Blog Roundup the 2009 DAC sessions had a year encoded in the URL and they all still work.

Monday Events

Tuesday Events

Wednesday Events

Thursday Events

Recaps

Current count: 81 posts.

Original intro: If you write a blog post that reviews an event, a day, or DAC 2010 as a whole with some substantive commentary before the end of July I will include a link to it. Please leave a comment or contact me to let me know if I have overlooked or incorrectly categorized anything.

How Can I Improve This Blog?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging

Please use my contact form to let me know  “What Should I Do To Improve the SKMurphy Blog?” and enter enter your name and E-mail if you are open to answering my questions about your suggestion.

Update June 28: Dave Concannon really made my day with this tweet

Sean Murphy’s blog is fantastic, check it out if you haven’t already.

But I am still interested in how I can improve this blog for you.

Do You Use a Wiki to Deliver Services or Develop Content?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, skmurphy

I would be interested in talking with other consulting or professional service firms that are using Central Desktop or other wiki systems to collaborate with clients or deliver services. For example, when we give workshops we also put the text of the relevant workbook into a custom workspace for each attendee. Also, as a part of our ongoing support for their customer development efforts we give each client their own workspace to keep our e-mail inboxes from becoming a default document repository.

I am also interested in talking to anyone who is using Central Desktop or other wiki system to develop / refine content for a book or larger document. I am working on converting a series of blog posts into a book and using a Central Desktop workspace as a refinery to review existing content and add new and linking material.

I would be happy to set up a conference call to compare notes on lessons learned and best practices. This is not a prelude to a solicitation for services or competitive intelligence gathering, it’s a an honest attempt to compare notes with other firms or authors wrestling with the same issues that we are. You can reach me at 408-252-9676 or skmurphy@skmurphy.com if a few folks are interested I will set up a telcon, happy to compare notes just pairwise as well.

Use Wikis for Team Projects

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

  1. Wikis dissolve voice and authorship. Use them where there are rewards and incentives at a team level, where a team is being held accountable for a result.
  2. Blogs and forums preserve voice and authorship. Use them where knowing who said what is important.
  3. Start with frequently updated information that is also frequently accessed:
    • Meeting agendas and minutes (avoiding the bottleneck of the designated note taker and/or overlapping amendments in different e-mails that then have to be reconciled),
    • Early and still evolving specifications
    • Project status in a dynamic environment
  4. Projects end, products are shipped and end of life, problems get solved. At some point in the business world many wikis must be congealed into a document or document set and either archived, frozen as a static HTML tree, or transferred to a content management system where more formal revision and change control methods are more appropriate. Unlike Internet wikis, older project or product wikis are often better preserved as read only archives.
  5. Wikipedia anchors a lot of expectations in a use case that is rarely appropriate to a team that is not building an encyclopedia. Hope that useful content will be curated in a general purpose wiki is unlikely to be satisfied.
    • Use many small team level wikis, each for a distinct project or purpose, where the team membership is clear and there are shared incentives for cooperation and success.

Sean Murphy – I Don’t Read Him Regularly, But I Hear That I Should

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, Customer Development, skmurphy

In a long and somewhat rambling blog post “Customer Development and the Lean Startup,” that contains a long laundry list of resources for entrepreneurs on Customer Development and Lean Startup resources, Yury Tsukerman lists “the key players” and drops this short comment

Sean Murphy – I don’t read him regularly, but I hear that I should.

Not since Techdirt used me in a promotional picture (see “Born with a Face Made for Podcasting“) have I felt such a sense of warm endorsement. So here is a tip for my 15 readers on how to deal with your 285 nano-centuries of fame: add a nice comment to the bottom of the blog. Which I did:

I think a post that describe how you have applied a subset of these principles and what you have learned would be very useful, it’s clear that you have your own insights on these topics.

There is a good conversation going on in the Lean Startup Circle, it would be great to see you take part.

I have a blog category devoted to Customer Development if you are interested.

If you are having trouble finding time to read my blog here are five posts that I believe represent the range of my writing. Clearly I need to take a page out of the Venture Hacks notebook and create an index for the 550 posts I have written over the last four years.

But it’s been a few weeks and I am not closer to my master index so I would appreciate your help. Let me know which of my blog posts you found especially useful (or an old one now desperately in need of a re-write/update) and any areas or topics you would like to see me address.


Notes

  1. “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 people” Momus (Nick Currie) in “Pop Stars Neine Danke
  2. One handy conversion factor to remember is Tom Duff’s “Pi seconds is a nanocentury.
  3. “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutesAndy Warhol 
  4. Fewer footnotes probably not a bad idea either.

Tips For A Startup’s Early Press Releases

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

We use eReleases which distributes over PR newswire for about half the price ($400). See http://www.ereleases.com/submit.html for details, we have been working with them for more than two years and been very pleased.

Press releases are not appropriate for every startup’s marketing communication: you need to make sure that you have the right message before you broadcast it widely. One of the advantage of doing individual interviews in the customer discovery and validation phases is that you can tweak your message between each conversation.

You will need to experiment and understand what keywords in the title and the first paragraph make them more likely to get picked up by relevant publications. It’s also more compelling to include a quote from a third party (typically a customer) who can validate/substantiate one or more of the statements you are making. You can think of them as larger and more expensive Adword ads.

We have seen excellent results (increased SEO, direct sales inquires) from well written press releases. But, like an adword, the lack of a compelling title or poor first sentence can have them fall flat.

I would not send press releases to bloggers (who have not signed up for press release distribution through one of the services) but work with them on an individual basis. Identify blogs who address an audience you are trying to reach and leave substantial comments: not “look at this link” but one to three sentences of relevant content that responds meaningfully to the blog post you are commenting on. You can also approach bloggers to see if they are interested in a short interview or Q&A with one of your team.

If you are bootstrapping your startup you need to focus on where your efforts will do the most good: analyze what publications or websites are most likely to attract the audience that you want to reach and laser your efforts towards them. Relationships take time to build so plan your efforts for a set of activities you can sustain. If you are in the early customer discovery phase there are almost certainly bloggers who knowledgeable about the market you are targeting and who would be willing to give you ten to twenty minutes on the phone to give you feedback on your product idea.

Good Marketing is Good Content

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage, Blogging

This week I have been developing content for a client’s website. We are helping them formulate a message that is intended to explain both their knowledge of their customers’ problems and how they are able to help.

Good marketing is really just good content.

It focuses on your customers’ problems and how they will benefit from your offering. It is not about your product features. It answers all of the questions–or at least all of the common questions–a customer will have they have as they consider buying your product or services.

Good marketing material should be useful, interesting, and even funny to your customers. Material should be clear and concise, it should be use the language that your customers normally use to talk about their challenges and their needs.
Here are a couple of examples we have worked with our clients on over the last year:

DAC 2009 Blog Coverage Roundup

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA, Events, skmurphy

See DAC 2010 Blog Coverage Roundup for 2010 Roundup.

Sunday Events

Monday Events

Tuesday Events

Wednesday Events

Thursday Events

Recaps


Please leave a comment or contact me to let me know if I have overlooked or incorrectly categorized anything. I will update this list for posts in August that offer substantive coverage of events at Design Automation Conference 2009 (see also “DAC46 in the News” for pre-conference coverage).

Update Mon-Aug-3: As I mentioned in my comments to John McGeHee below:

If you write a blog post that reviews an event, a day, or DAC as a whole with some substantive commentary I will include a link to it. I assume that more reports will come in until the end of August, so go ahead and take the time to write up your impressions and insights.

Update Tue-Aug-4: Continuing to refine structure by adding subcategories to day by day and conference recap organization.

Update Sat-Aug-8: More updates, Mike Demler‘s daily recaps are detailed, he has also made them available upon request as a single PDF. Kevin Morris analyzes attendance and other data from the last half a dozen DAC’s in “Dueling DACs.

Update Sat-Aug-22: More updates, list now covers more than 110 posts by more than 50 authors. Please let me know if I have overlooked any, I will continue to update this list until the end of August.

Update Mon-Dec-29: Richard Goering included this post in his “Notable EDA Blog Posts For 2009” roundup. It’s a good list, and worth reading if you found the list below useful.

A Conversation with Ed Lee on the Changing Media Landscape for EDA

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA, skmurphy

Ed Lee and I have been talking about the role that bloggers play in the EDA Industry since we put together the Blogging Birds of a Feather at ICCAD in November 2008. In the last week we decided to formalize some of our conversation and blog about it. We wanted to share our current assessment of a complex and evolving situation and invite both comments and further dialog.

From Ed’s perspective, bloggers are a near-unknown entity to the PR people in EDA. Compared to the traditional journalists and publishers, bloggers are perplexing as to their intentions and motives for blogging. What follows is Ed and I ruminating about bloggers and their role in EDA, in light of the gradual disappearance of the old-line journalists, market researchers, and financial analysts covering the industry.

Ed and I have known one another since our VLSI Technology days together in the mid-1980s. He went on to various public relations firms – and worked for EDA clients such as Valid, Mentor, ECAD – and at Cadence before opening his own shop in the early 1990s. Since opening Lee PR, his firm has worked primarily with EDA and IP clients such as Chronologic, Compass, Cooper & Chyan, Epic, IBM EDA, Nassda.

This conversation was originally published in two parts on Ed’s blog “What’s PR Got To Do With It?” with an introduction from his perspective:

I have added hyperlinks to provide more context. Ed and I first talked about some common questions that we have heard from other PR people:

Sean: What’s your perspective on the role blogger community plays in informing potential users about current and new EDA offerings?

Ed: This is the big question. We’re in a period of tumult and transition. The old-line journalists are disappearing and the ones who survive are blogging themselves. What bloggers bring to the EDA industry is perspective and personal opinion that’s informed by their individual focus, interests, and the span of their information gathering. But it seems to me that bloggers are more like newspaper columnists than reporters. Where will the basic reporting come from? What will provide a basis or a context for these bloggers/columnists to wax prolific?

Sean: I see bloggers as more of a blend of columnists and reporters. They often write about product announcements, report their observations and issues. Usually they have a wide set of resources both on-line and in-person. Good blogs take a lot of reading and gathering information. But you are right, good blogging is also good linking and bloggers will link to other bloggers, perhaps who have either firsthand knowledge of events or deep technical knowledge. Because of the links, bloggers are often more transparent on their sources than traditional news sources sometimes are.

Ed: Who are the bloggers?  I see them as a mix of indies,  those employed by  EDA and IP vendors and editors who write for industry publications. As with the industry press,  we need to know the specific focus of each blogger. But now, we have a second need to know: who signs their paycheck. The bloggers seem to me to be very transparent on that count.  So that helps us  understand how to work with a blogger’s area of interest AND consider that blogger’s perspective.

Sean: Most bloggers are industry evangelists. I was surprised at the BoF how many many bloggers had a customer facing role (e.g. marketing or customer support) in their company. Another large segment of bloggers are independent consultants who are looking for more visibility–trying to get better known and find a job. Often blogs are started to provide pointers to other helpful resources, share perspectives, and to learn from others who share a common interest. Some bloggers use their blog as a repository or chronicle of an issue: these can be useful for a community of interest that can leverage proven approaches or explore new ones to solve common problems or issues. Reading about approaches that others have tried is extremely valuable to the community and usually these types of blogs are not written by marketing folks but evangelists or other experts like independent consultants.

Ed: So the next question is: how to work with the bloggers in EDA and IP?  One thing I wrestle with is when does it make sense in time and money to reach out to bloggers for coverage. And how to do it effectively. Do we separate the old-line press from the bloggers? Consider them all part of one group? So we invite them all to one meeting or hold two? For sure, we don’t want to blast press releases to bloggers.

Sean: I think it definitely makes sense to reach out to bloggers who are providing a valuable service to a community you are interested in reaching. This doesn’t necessarily mean the blogs with the highest traffic, especially when you have a niche product; it’s blogs that are read by your prospects. One effective way to reach out to bloggers is to leave well written, informative, and germane comments on their blog. You can include a one or two line signature that links back to your website if people are interested in more information. I agree with you: one of the least effective ways to reach bloggers is to send them press releases.

Ed: So how do these independent bloggers monetize their blogs? What are the incentives and potential conflicts?

Sean: I think most bloggers are building social capital and don’t really have a plan to monetize their blog directly. I do think independent bloggers are often promoting their expertise and want to build influence within their network. Employers or current clients are going to bias the blogger at least as far as self-censorship.

Ed: Clearly, the bloggers will play – if they’re not already – an increasingly influential role. But are they a separate and new community onto themselves? After all, they’ve got their own room at DAC this year. So either DAC isn’t giving them press badges or they want to be seen as a separate and distinct community.

Sean: Brian Bailey has an interesting perspective on what the bloggers may become. He wrote an interesting blog post at the end of March on “Unintended Consequences.

“Will the independent EDA consultants, like myself, be the only source of impartial information about what the EDA companies are up to, and if the claims they make are true? But even consultants rely on the trade press to bring things to our attention. It could also mean a lot more work now for us to keep up with the tool introductions and developments.”

By the way, our first conversation got picked up on Twitter. Take a look at what Paul Lindemann wrote on http://twitter.com/plindemann/statuses/2230457756 — “Promising Ed Lee blog on #pr/#eda – post with @skmurphy on “Bloggers in EDA

Ed: No, I didn’t see that tweet, but thanks for pointing it out. Yeah, that’s my concern. There needs to be basic reporting being done by someone. From that basic reporting, the opinion makers can analyze, comment, criticize, vent. Who’s going to do that basic reporting now? The bloggers? Of course, this dilemma isn’t limited to us. The New York Times is the only newspaper that staffs a full bureau in Iraq. If or when it shuts down, then how do we or any commentators – say on the Huffington Post – get our basic news?

Sean: It may be a matter of function. I agree with you that the basic reporting function may not be the role of the bloggers. However, I agree with Brian Bailey that many good blogs are written by independent consultants. Many of these bloggers blog to promote their expertise. So bloggers don’t blog to provide news, so to speak. For bloggers, their blog content is a way for them to demonstrate their expertise and draw visitors to their site. Just looking at the website traffic for one client, over 30% of the visitors entered on the main blog page, and then more than 80% of blog visitors clicked deeper into the blog or the website pages.

Ed: All well and good, but the question remains: who’s going to report the news, give us context and insight? The vendors can easily distribute all manner of announcements. Will the bloggers pick up the role that Richard Goering used to play at EE Times, and fitfully, at SCDSource? I suspect not. We seem to agree that bloggers are basically columnists, opinion makers for their specific audiences. So they do demonstrate their expertise…but what’s their role in molding industry wide pubic opinion…beyond their specific target audiences?

Sean: So your question may be, are we heading into an era where bloggers will have an increasing role in molding industry opinion? I think Karen Bartleson’s “Standards Game” blog on EDA standards has changed perception of Accellera, and standards efforts in general, as a vital part of our ability to make progress. With her “Ten Commandments of Standards” series I think she has offered some excellent suggestions for how to take part effectively in standards efforts–and how to interpret, by comparison, other developments in the standards arena.

So that’s an anecdote, one data point, I am not sure what it looks like in another two to four years. In the last year we’ve transitioned from about 60 bloggers writing on EDA-related topics to what looks like perhaps 200. A year ago I thought we would get to 500 in three years (2011). Now that may be there next year if this trend continues.

Ed: But of those 200, perhaps a dozen or so are frequent.

Sean: To be honest we are still crunching the numbers. Out of approximately 100 that we have analyzed in some detail, we found at least 50 that posted on average once every two weeks between March and May of this year, and of those 27 who posted once a week on average, and of those about a dozen who posted at least twice a week on average. The final counts may perhaps double in each category. There are about a half dozen “press release aggregation blogs” that merely re-post EDA press releases as blog post, I didn’t include those in my frequency statistics.

Ed: How do we quantify the bloggers’ audience and influence?

Sean: That’s a hard question to answer, the size of audience and influence of each blogger. Most have traffic levels that are in the noise level for tools/websites designed to track mainstream consumer websites.

Ed: Exactly! Example, I was shocked when you said some bloggers got only three comments a month. I simply did not believe you! Until I looked myself. So, any blogger who got three comments a month…Would I be able to sell as an influential opinion maker to client? It’s tough enough to sell the bloggers conceptually right now.

Sean: One calculation that would be useful for your clients would be the posting frequency and amount of original material. Quality of writing is certainly important, as well as expertise. Another model you see in other industries that I don’t yet see in EDA are “link logs” where someone takes the time to find relevant material on other blogs or cites and point it out. Instapundit is certainly one popular example, where probably 75-90% of his content are links and quotes from other blogs but from a very large spectrum of blogs.

Ed: Well, re: frequency, I do see these folks as more or less 1) weekly or more (Bartleson, Goering, McLellan); twice monthly (a lot of them); monthly (Aycinena and several others) and some who haven’t blogged since January.

Sean: But without a “publishing schedule” it’s still useful to assign a frequency.

Ed: I agree re: frequency…but how do we determine eyeballs that see their blogs? I was just saying that that is how I categorize seriousness of blogging intent, since I don’t see statistics on eyeballs. Bartleson is obviously serious. The twice per month folks are also as are the once monthly folks. After that, it gets tough to justify spending client cycles on cultivating them. Having said that, I think its important, maybe imperative that we do so.

Sean: This is a good question. I think it’s complex but doable. The complexity comes from a calculation of incentives. Bloggers don’t have a “news hole” to file in the way that print publication does. Also, I think in the same way that an EDA firm uses application engineers (or technical marketing folks) to support and interact with customers it may make sense to encourage many of them to also start blogging to interact with other “independent” bloggers. That seems to be what Cadence and Mentor have done in the last six months or so, there are dozens of new bloggers at each of those firms posting in their public forums. I also wouldn’t underestimate the impact of open forums like the Verification Guild, where a number of serious technical issues get raised and addressed.

Ed: What’s your take on EDA and IP vendors’ acceptance of bloggers? I think vendors are starting to take note, but there’s still a need to justify the cultivation.

Sean: What’s to justify? Or what’s the alternative?

Ed: I have to justify the influence of each blogger to the client. A blogger with three comments in a month wouldn’t fly because the client would say, not worth my time. Shortsighted? yes. Even the good editors or reporters at second or third tier publications…we tell clients, “ya never know when he or she ends up at Business Week.” Witness Sarah Lacy.

Sean: I think some bloggers with few monthly comments may become more popular…those who have a very serious approach. Comments are not always a proxy for influence. But I do think we will see certain bloggers essentially initiate ad hoc forums with their posts. One of the things that have been holding that back I think has been that the high traffic blogs associated with publications, or what I am assuming are high traffic blogs, have poor comment entry and management systems. McClellan is posting several times a week–I counted more than 60 posts in March, April, and May which works out to daily if you let him take Saturdays and Sundays off–and he normally gets a few comments on many of his entries. But the comment system EDN has is wretched and not designed to encourage participation but to filter spam out. If they would supply his readers with the right infrastructure I think there would be a much larger community there already.

Ed: I know that. But my problem is how to prove that.

Sean: Fair enough. I think it may be something that’s hard to get good numbers on. One of the reasons that you have been able to get good numbers that were independently verified for the publications was that it was at the root of their business model: they used those same numbers to sell advertising. I don’t think we will see that model work except for a handful of bloggers.

Ed: So how do the bloggers get a higher profile among the corporate executives, the ones who authorize marketing cultivation efforts?

Sean: Presence on industry forums and portals such as DAC’s. I can’t figure out how DAC picked the bloggers they highlight on their home page. I think the publications still have huge traffic compared to independent bloggers.

Ed: So how do we get numbers, any numbers? Karen Bartleson’s possibly got the highest number of eyeballs based on her topic and longevity, don’t you think?

Sean: I don’t know what Karen Bartleson’s numbers are. My sense is that Paul McClellan, at least on the “business of EDA” side, may be getting a lot of interest just because he is posting frequently. But when I asked him at the EDP workshop in April in Monterey, he said that EDN doesn’t share any statistics with him. That would be an interesting session, comparing google analytics results.

Ed: So somehow, we need numbers of some sort to figure out influence, and then to justify blogger coverage, right?

Sean: It’s closer to columnist coverage than journalist coverage. I think it’s more important to assess the particular “micro-audience” that a blogger delivers. It could be that group or multi-author blogs will emerge for EDA in the same that they have in other industries. A brand gets established that’s larger than the individual author, in the same way that it matters more that an article appears in EDN than who in particular authors it.

Ed: Agree, more like columnists than reporters. Clients are just now acknowledging that they need to pay attention to bloggers. But they have no problem pitching to a Ron Wilson or a Richard Goering (in his reporter days). Funny thing…the output is often the same. In truth, isn’t the act of blogging just another distribution mechanism? Reporters and editors, analysts and researchers all “blog” now.

Sean: I do think there might be ways to make for more “blogger friendly” interviews/engagements. Maybe it’s somewhat intimidating to vendors because bloggers are part of the unknown right now. However, at some level it’s useful just to point to the independent opinion/evaluation that these blogger bring to the table.

Ed: Still, there’s some legitimacy to figuring out the dynamics of the old-line journalists and the, for lack of a better term, the new line bloggers. It’s like the VHF TV channels..they’ve lost huge numbers. They’re still bigger but the UHF channels have just eaten away at those numbers by the sheer number of new channels out there.

Sean: VHF vs. UHF is a very good analogy.

Ed: So in a way, we have more new choices on UHF but we still watch VHF channels.

Notes

  • Ed and I plan to continue this dialog after DAC and include some assessments of what we saw and what we think learned.
  • It was energizing to compose a blog as a conversation and I am interested in doing this with other folks, please let me know if you would like to take part in a conversational blog post.
  • After we did this I ran across the “Absolute Power” blog that Cary Chin and Darin Hauer also write as a conversation.
  • Richard Fernandez wrote in “Left Brain, Right Brain
    “The major drivers of the democratization of the Internet have not been content providing sites like the Huffington Post, nor extensions of traditional PR activities like “accrediting” bloggers, but architecture; architecture which enables content provision. In this year of the Iranian demonstrations the Nobel Peace prize should be awarded to Twitter, Facebook and Blogger. Time magazine should consider them candidates for the Virtual Men of the Year, and put Time Magazine itself on its obituary pages.”
  • In a July 10 post entitled “Blogging” Paul McLellan wrote:
    “The biggest frustration with blogging like this is that I don’t get much feedback. All sorts of people tell me that they read EDA Graffiti when they meet me. Very few people think to email me or to leave a comment on the blog. Reed has the policy of not letting page-view data outside of the company, and since I’m not an employee I don’t get to see (maybe it’s the same for the internal people outside management, I don’t know). So I don’t know how many people read EDA Graffiti, and I don’t know what type of people read EDA Graffiti. I don’t know which entries get read the most and which get nearly ignored.”

Update July 22: There have been several blog posts about the changing media landscape.

  • Paul McClellan’s July 22 “Who are the EDA Press“  reinforces the value of press/journalists as a sense making mechanism (e.g. what’s really happening, what are the trends and the deeper significance of an event) for an industry in addition to helping its members maintain a shared situational awareness (i.e. “what’s new”)
    • “I’ve been approached by several PR agencies and marketing folk about product announcements, interviews and so on. Individual product announcements are not interesting to me, and I’m assuming you readers wouldn’t want to wade through them all anyway. There are other places for that. But product announcements in aggregate are interesting: What are the new trends? Which new areas are hot? Which new startups are interesting in those areas? What hard problems are getting cracked?
    • “Remember Bill Joy’s law: no matter where you are, the smartest people are somewhere else. You just don’t know what is going to turn out to be important, so you need to look at it all. But it is increasingly difficult to immerse yourself in the stream of raw information that might allow you to spot something. In it’s heyday, when both Richard Goering and Mike Santarini and more were there, not much happened in EDA that you’d miss if you read EEtimes each week. Now, not so much. That’s one reason that, for the time being, I think DAC remains strong. It’s the only place for that kind of serendipity.”
  • Paul’s post also pointed to a September 2007 article by Peggy Aycinena “The Future of EDA Media
  • John Blyler put out two back to back posts

I think Clay Shirky’s July 13 “It’s not An Upgrade It’s an Upheaval”  offers a useful context. He opens with

“The hard truth about the future of journalism is that nobody knows for sure what will happen; the current system is so brittle, and the alternatives are so speculative, that there’s no hope for a simple and orderly transition from State A to State B. Chaos is our lot; the best we can do is identify the various forces at work shaping various possible futures.”

The reason why I am engaged by this topic is that I believe that the fundamental challenge is an entrepreneurial one: we need new business models to support our shared awareness and sense making at both an industry and societal level. I think until you frame the problem in that context, a nostalgic discussion of what’s been lost is really just reminiscing. Shirky’s conclusions are equally pointed:

“Journalism is not a profession — no degree or certification is required to practice it, and training often comes after hiring — and it is increasingly being transformed into an activity, open to all, sometimes done well, sometimes badly, but at a volume that simply cannot be supported by a small group of full-time workers. The journalistic models that will excel in the next few years will rely on new forms of creation, some of which will be done by professionals, some by amateurs, some by crowds, and some by machines.

This will not replace the older forms journalism, but then nothing else will either; both preservation and simple replacement are off the table. The change we’re living through isn’t an upgrade, it’s a upheaval, and it will be decades before anyone can really sort out the value of what’s been lost versus what’s been gained. In the meantime, the changes in self-assembling publics and new models of subsidy will drive journalistic experimentation in ways that surprise us all.”

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