Fred Brooks wrote “No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering” in 1987, 12 years after his “Mythical Man Month.” Both offer realistic perspectives on programming in particular and knowledge work in general.
In 2006 Eben Moglen gave the keynote address at the Plone Conference 2006 that traced the evolution of economies from steel to software to collaboration. Here are some key excerpts with commentary.
Getting better at customer discovery conversations requires preparation, practice, note taking, and follow-up. It can also be tremendously helpful if you can arrange for a partner who can observe, contribute, take notes, and de-brief with you. Even if you are a solo entrepreneur “trade interviews” with another entrepreneur: agree to help them with one of their interviews if they will help you with one of yours. Here is a recent exchange I had during an office hours edited for clarity.
One of the most common questions I hear in conversations with entrepreneurs at a Bootstrapper Breakfasts, in Office Hours calls, or with clients–and not infrequently from myself when comparing notes with peers–is, “Am I making a fool of myself?” Here are some questions you can use to clarify your situation when you are starting to feel like a fool.
In Chapter 9 of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert Pirsig goes into an extended explanation of the Scientific Method using the metaphor of motorcycle repair. He stresses the value of an experiment log, explaining how to organize it so that you don’t become lost in exploring for solutions to a problem. I have excerpted it below and intermixed some commentary about applying it to early market exploring and debugging new product introduction problems.
It’s masturbation to calculate the exit value of idea that has not been reduced to practice and achieved some level of traction. The real question is how much time and effort to invest to achieve a level of traction that would allow place a value on the business that leverages the ideas. Often it’s not a single investment but a sequence of affordable loss bets–perhaps escalating in size.
It’s OK to solve your own problem first, to be the first customer. This at a minimum gets the idea out of your head and reduced to practice where it can be tested. The trick is to use this basic product to spark further discussions about the problem you solved, no your solution.
Ash Maurya rebooted his blog as “The Space Between“–experimental format where he is exploring the space between ideas–and has offered a number of short reflective posts. Here are excerpts from three where he explores the value of planning and reflection, and the need to prioritize learning over the illusion of progress.
Q: Should I tap my 401K to bootstrap my startup? I had a conversation with the CEO of another firm and he and his partners did this to bootstrap. They started a C corporation and set up a corporate retirement account, the partners then rolled existing retirement accounts into the corporate plan and invested the money in the company’s stock. I did a little research and found these articles:
Much has been written about a startup making a pivot in direction after Eric Ries first coined the term
in a 2009 blog post “Pivot don’t Jump to a New Vision.” The word pivot has attracted almost as much wordplay as the word lean. What follows is a short list of good and bad reasons to pivot.
With the 2016 school year getting ready to start in the next six to eight weeks at most colleges and universities I have had several conversations with student entrepreneur organizations about how I might be able to help them.
I have developed content and given talks and webinars over the last five years that may provide student entrepreneurs help to get oriented to many of the basics of customer development, innovation, and new market exploration.
Theodore Zeldin gave a series of six lectures on conversation that were collected in slim book called “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives.” I found it offered a number of insights on what is needed for a serious conversation. And since serious conversation is one of the primary tools for early market exploration and customer development; I have curated a list of nine excerpts I think entrepreneurs will find useful.
What seems natural, artificial, or supernatural is a function of familiarity. Nature is the background or context for innovation. The challenge is that we live in a world and culture formed by millennia of innovation so that some incredibly advanced technologies seem natural. The difference between technology and magic is not that one works more reliably than the other but that technology is part of the adjacent possible–seemingly impossible but comprehensible. Magic breaks our existing paradigm and is initially incomprehensible. As entrepreneurs we need to present our innovations as technology not magic.
3D printing is overhyped and its implications are not well understood. It will be twenty plus years before there is a 3D printer in most homes due to limitations of the cost of the machine, material, obtaining software and learning how to use the software. Other fundamentally problem that prevent 3D printers being adapted by the public are to understanding of design, physics, and material science and a change of behavior of making things at home.
Q: We have a product for bloggers but I am having a lot of trouble getting leads. I have met bloggers from popular media companies at events, I have cold called them, e-mailed them, and e-mailed to on-line groups that I am a member of. None of this has worked. How do I interest people in my product?
I have a couple of suggestions:
Customer discovery interviews are essential to testing key B2B product hypotheses and understanding your target customers’ needs. Broadly there are five ways that you can reach out to potential customers for a discovery conversation. All of them assume that you have a clear picture of who your target is and a few key questions that they will be willing and able to answer that will indicate they have a problem or need your solution may address.
Michael Fern, Edith Harbaugh, Steve Hogan, and Sean Murphy discuss the Innovator’s DNA experimenting skill.