To make effective use of your advisory board you have to provide them written material in advance that offers context on your situation and the questions you want to explore with them.
If you missed The Nitty Gritty of Setting Up Customer Discovery Meetings by David Telleen-Lawton at The Lean Startup Conference 2015, he shared the down and dirty details of setting up meetings for Customer Discovery. Having set hundreds of B2B and B2C discovery meetings over the years, Telleen-Lawton tells how to reach out and set these meetings.
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.
There are broadly three categories of challenges a new product must address: it has to be feasible, it has to be desirable and it has to be profitable. Below is a simple checklist to help you evaluate product ideas.
We help founders find leads and close deals; our focus is on early customers and early revenue for technology and expertise-enabled products and services. We specialize in complex and orchestrated sales to businesses.
A collection of humorous tools that generate buzzword compliant business models.
Web Economy Bullshit Generators
Then Stavros the WonderChicken (@wonderchicken)–no I cannot find his real name–did the “Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator™” noting that “Profits for your Web 2.0 company are not guaranteed.” It’s funny how that has not changed with firms like Box and Dropbox competing in some oddly configured on-line potlatch designed to provided services at a loss in exchange for new investment at ever increasing valuations.
Parodies of Web 2.0 Business Models
Stavros later lamented in “Lomans not Shamans” at what the Web had become: “My god, it’s full of ads!” Here I think his anxiety was misplaced: most new media is advertising supported; the original newspapers were simply classified ads that gradually added news items to differentiate themselves. Stavros references “What Puts the ‘2’ in Web 2.0” by Brandon Schauer who was inspired by “Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software(2005)” by Tim O’Reilly and John Batelle. They followed up in 2009 at the Web 2.0 Summit with “Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On” (see also the white paper: “Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On” [PDF]).
“Plan Cruncher creates a standard one-page summary of a business plan for a start-up company that is looking for external investment. You do this by choosing icons that represent some of the standard answers that a business plan must provide.
Why investors want entrepreneurs to use Plan Cruncher: Plan Cruncher saves investors’ time. To investors, business plans all look more or less the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and they are always too long, which is. Before an investor decides to wade into your ten or twenty-page document, he wants straight answers to a few basic questions about your plan.
Plan Cruncher generates a standard one-page summary that investors can use to screen business plans and compare them to each other.”
I don’t believe Plan Cruncher is a parody site, I listed in in my roundup of Business Model Canvas tools.
And in 2012 Norman Clarke (@compay) has launched Bullshit 3.0: Bleeding Edge Bullshit Generation in the Cloud which embeds the ability to launch a Google search for your tagline to see if it’s already real.
Strategy Statement MadLibs
Alexander Fiore offers what may be either high value strategic consulting or unintentional parody in his HBR blog post “How To Execute a 15 Word Strategy” [Registration Required]
Once upon a time there was (insert a name who exemplifies your target customer/consumer) …. . Every day he/she (insert here his/her frustration or job to be done) …. . One day we developed (insert here the product/solution and what are actually the 2-3 things we offer or not) … . Until finally (insert here the end result for the customer/consumer compared to competition) … .
The most recent example is Simon Wardley’s “A Quick Route to Building a Strategy” which is purely a parody.
Our strategy is [..]. We will lead a [..] effort of the market through our use of [..] and [..] to build a [..]. By being both [..] and [..], our [..] approach will drive [..] throughout the organisation. Synergies between our [..] and [..] will enable us to capture the upside by becoming [..] in a [..] world. These transformations combined with [..] due to our [..] will create a [..] through [..] and [..].
Wardley’s template has been implemented by Bill West as a web tool at http://strategy-madlibs.herokuapp.com/ Reload the page to get a new strategy. West might be able to charge for a version of Fiore’s.
Clue Train is Not Bullshit
I still find the 1999 Clue Train Manifesto a useful guide to marketing: it’s argument for real conversation between individuals is as compelling now as it was 15 years ago. Business models have changed with the advent of new technologies and many of these sites are parodying two real needs that every entrepreneur must satisfy: a succinct and comprehensible explanation of their product benefits to customers and a compelling description of their business model to investors.
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:
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
- Patrick Steyaert “Discovery and the Whole Systems Kanban“
- Patrick Steyaert “Using Cynefin to Make Sense of Projects“
- Patrick Steyaert “Cynefin, Panarchy, PCDA, OODA, and Value Creation Curves“
- David Anderson “Understanding Process Knowledge Discovery“
- David Snowden and Mary Boone (HBR / registration required) “Cynefin: A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making“
- David Snowden and Cynthia Kurtz: “Strategy and Sensemaking in a Complex and Complicated World” [PDF]
There are a number of forms packages now available for entrepreneurs that provide templates for incorporation, investment term sheets, hiring employees and contractors, etc.. And there are several business model canvas tools that are designed to facilitate useful discussions among founders and advisors (and potential investors) about a new startup. But Nathan Beckord‘s Foundersuite is the first to offer not only forms but facilitate workflows and communication among founders, advisors, prospects, investors, and other interested parties.
I used the idea validation module for the BeamWise planning and launch and found it helpful. Nathan is a friend but I am not an investor or otherwise affiliated with Foundersuite. I think it can make you think and save you time if you are in the early market exploration stages of your new startup.
Dear LinkedIn: I am not looking for a job or other full time employment. I have a business account that I pay for every month so you don’t need to try and make money by showing me ads that I don’t want to see. By the way, I don’t want to see any ads, but find the following particularly annoying because they take up screen space on things I have no interest in at all.
Today many change initiatives (and new software sales almost always involve the key elements of a change initiative) rely on interviews and replicating the results from an existing “manual system.” Processes mining tools and techniques will play an important role here.
I have been exploring the use of several analysis applications that could access my LinkedIn account, my twitter account, and my GMAIL account. They want to help me leverage private information that requires my account password.
So far so good, except that LinkedIn, Twitter, and Gmail don’t appear to have any provision for just granting read only access.
MyPermissions: Checks for third party application access to your Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Instagram, and Flickr accounts.
SocialMention: Allows you to do keyword and phrase search across more than one hundred social media sites including Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google, etc…
I was rummaging around in Mr. Google’s basement–you can get lost done there in a maze of bright and shiny objects if you are not careful–and I came across this quote by Justin Rosenstein in “How is Asana’s Beta Going” (I am not using nor contemplating using Asana but it’s the next part you should pay attention to):
While getting there sometimes requires a learning curve, once users fully adopt Asana, they really love it, use it every day, devote a stable browser tab to it alongside their email and calendars, and are very disgruntled if it goes down even briefly. We’ve taken this as strong validation for the product’s vision and early direction.
I think that’s a great test for a category of product: does it become so important that you launch it when you start your browser and leave it logged in all day. Here are my stable browser tabs:
- Central Desktop
- Webex Office
What are yours?
From time to time I run into a business card that makes me think. Here’s one that I will model as I update my own cards. Also check out some cool business cards from last year.
To ensure that conversations and requests for help were productive, Anthony Scampavia kept a question at the top of his whiteboard in his various offices at Cisco for more than a dozen years:
What is the problem you are trying to solve?
Here are three problems we have identified and capabilities we plan to develop this year to manage them:
Problem: Rich audio, video, and other multi-media are clearly emerging as a requirement for effective business communication. We will need to learn and deploy new systems to specify, create, edit, and manage a richer set of content than our current text oriented systems can support. It also means we need to develop a much deeper understanding of how to leverage media for effective business communication.
Solution: We need to develop a complex set of new capabilities, but will attack different aspects with different methods:
- Partner for technical creation and editing capabilities. Already active–and delighted–with DreamSimplicity and LectureMaker, we will likely add one or two more partners that have audio and animation capabilities.
- Systems for managing both finished audio and video pieces but also building blocks that are reusable assets.
- Develop internal expertise in specifying content requirements.
Problem: As a consulting organization we are delivering our value primarily as a direct service, whether it’s scripted or improvisation. This puts a lower bound on what we can charge to help our clients and makes it difficult to impact the many bootstrapping startups who might benefit from our tools and methods.
Solution: Develop knowledge products such as e-books, simulation models, interactive planning tools, and other simple applications to assist startups in customer development and scaling their business. Near term objective is half a dozen e-books that collect content from blog and workshops with checklists and other material to make them useful stand-alone. We continue to evaluate other customer development applications and would be happy to leverage those that are appropriate for B2B markets. Please contact us if you have something you feel we could incorporate into our practice.
Problem: the Bootstrapper Breakfasts® work very well as platform for early stage entrepreneurs to compare notes–to “eat problems for breakfast®” to coin a phrase–on their technology businesses as they wrestle with the challenges of organic growth. The breakfasts’ unconference format allows for anyone to drop in as they need and has fostered a number of business partnerships and co-founder relationships. But they don’t work well to support focused execution and provide ongoing support from a small group of trusted peers.
Solution: offer one or more Mastermind Groups aimed at early stage technology businesses. There are a number of models that work well for CEO’s of larger firms, typically involving one four hour meeting a month with a dozen other members, where each members is the focus once per year. But smaller firms are operating with less structure and in comparatively more dynamic situations. So shorter, more frequent, interactions that leverage a mix of face to face and on-line environments are probably more appropriate for their needs. We will continue to support and expand the Bootstrapper Breakfast program as it’s meeting the needs of very early stage entrepreneurs, but will explore adding Mastermind Groups to complement it.
Please contact us if you have any suggestions or questions on any of this. Details as they unfold.
I mentioned Scampavia’s whiteboard in “Ben Yoskovitz: Start With Passion For Solving a Problem.”
Just a quick reminder that I will be presenting on “Feed Readers De-Mystified: Tips for Keeping Informed” this Thursday, September 23, 12:00-12:45 PM PDT. If you are not using feeds and alerts to track your competition, stay on top of developments at major customers, and keep abreast of significant developments in your industry, then you are missing out on low cost–and often free–methods for keeping informed.
Register here: People On the Go’s Free Lunchtime Webinar “Tips For Keeping Informed“
I will be giving a short presentation on “Feed Readers De-Mystified–Tips For Keeping Informed” at the September 23 Lunch & Learn Webinar hosted by People on the Go.
- Cost: No Charge
- When: Thursday, September 23, 2010 12:00 PM – 12:45 PM PDT
- Register: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/151449787
I will outline some important ways to monitor information about your business and industry on the web. The web has become the primary medium of business communication and information gathering: it is imperative that you learn to monitor new developments and relevant events for your job or business. We will explore a range of tools and time saving tips to keep abreast within your industry of clients, competitors, and relevant developments. This session will explore:
- Popular Feed Readers
- How they can help you stay current
- Limitations and Shortcomings
- Demo of the tools including
Some related blog posts:
- Theresa Shafer’s “Survey of Personalized News Aggregators“
- SKMurphy’s EDA Knowledge Portal Announcement
- Dorai Thodla on “Information and Intelligence“
This is a great overview by Dorai, I like his his five phase model for intelligence gathering and will address the first two–discovery and tracking–in my presentation:
There are about five stages in this process. This is a spiral model where you continuously enhance/refine every step based on what you learn from other steps.
- Discovery – Discovering Relevant sources of Information
- Tracking – Continuously monitoring these sources and discovering more in the process.
- Filtering – Filtering the noise and gaining the information most relevant to your business
- Extracting – Transforming information from free form into some kind of useful structure to distribute internally.
- Sharing – Sharing information at different levels of granularity, refining it and deriving actionable intelligence.
Jenna Wortham’s “Fraternity of the Wired Works in the Wee Hours” in the New York Times on July 25 highlighted an interesting new trend in co-working: the 10pm to 4am shift. Profiling the “New York Nightowls” (tagline “New York Nightowls is a late night co-working club for professionals”) she opens with: (hyperlinks added)
After college, most people do their best to avoid having to pull any more all-nighters. But for some, even after graduation, the wee hours of the morning are the most productive.
That is what led Amber Lambke and Allan Grinshtein to start a group called the New York Nightowls, a sort of study hall for entrepreneurs, freelancers and software developers who gather at 10 every Tuesday night and stay as late as 4 a.m.
“The goal is to come, get inspired, meet new people and get work done,” said Ms. Lambke, a creative consultant. “It’s six hours of uninterrupted, productive time where you’re surrounded by other creative people doing awesome things.”
It’s an interesting concept and complementary to Bootstrapper Breakfasts that start at 7:30am (although it’s hard to imagine much in the way of a common attendees). One of Cecily Drucker’s Startup Secrets was to “embrace the fertile void of sleepless nights. Lots of creativity can occur then.” I blogged about it in “Productive Larks and Creative Owls” inspired by Tim Berry’s observation: “As a morning person, I’m generally more productive. As a night person, I’m generally more creative.”
Also folks that are part of global teams may be up at this hour if it’s part of the workday for the bulk of their team. The New York Nightowls have met weekly for at least the last 17 weeks according to their Meetup site http://www.meetup.com/NY-Nightowls/ and groups have sprung up in a number of other cities:
- Boston Nightowls
- Los Angeles Nightowls
- Melbourne Nightowls
- San Francisco Nightowls
- Stockholm Nightowls
- Tel Aviv Nightowls
I think there are interesting implications for co-working facilities, running a second and third shift in some locations might appeal to not only to natural nightowls but also members of global teams who are working time shifted.
Gone are the days when you could read a couple of journals and get a good idea of what is going on in an industry. Today, the number of great sources has exploded.
The challenge is to manage all of these sources, fortunately almost all of them now provide a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed. Tools called feed aggregators merge the information from a set of RSS feeds into a single page that is, in effect, a “personalized newspaper.” This newspaper is always up to date from the latest blog posts and articles, reducing the time and effort needed to check for new information from websites, blogs, and news sites.
Once subscribed to a feed, an aggregator is able to check for new content at user-determined intervals and retrieve the update. One of the problems with news aggregators is that the volume of articles can be overwhelming. As a solution, many feed readers allow users to tag each feed with one or more keywords which can be used to sort and filter the available articles into easily navigable categories.
I want to share my experience with using these familiar innovative news aggregators tools which allows me to build a collection of “industry-specific personalized newspapers”.
There are a number of simple tools like Google reader, Netvibes, FeedDemon, or Bloglines. These feed aggregators are good at monitoring known RSS feeds. These tools offer very little assistance in finding new sources of information. Also, they quickly fall apart when sorting through news items like press releases where duplicate copies show up on many different sources. Sorting through duplicates is a waste of time and it makes it more likely for you to miss unique pieces of news.
These simple readers can be configured to display headlines, summaries, or the entire article. And, they may be configured as to how many articles to display. They don’t act like actual newspapers in that they will display the news for a given blog regardless whether the reader has seen it before. For example one of my Google reader pages, still shows news from 2006, because that was the last time that blog was updated. I have seen the article a hundred of times but Google reader does not remove it. Between the duplicate article issue and the lack of real-time updates of latest information, I have moved away from using Google reader type functionality.
Aggregators which offer enhanced functionality
Tools like iMorph’s InfoMinder offer more functionality to assist with duplicate article issue and focuses on real-time updates. Imorph’s InfoMinder is a hosted subscription service that allows you to track changes of web pages, blogs, RSS feeds and wikis.
I use InfoMinder because it combines Google Reader functionality with Google Alerts functionality to follow hundreds of vertical industry sources. Each day it sends me an email digest of all changes for the sites I am tracking. I can click through to a version of any of those pages to see all the changes since my last visit if needed.
Another tool that I use is Eqentia. Like Google reader, Eqentia allows me to consolidate RSS feeds. And like InfoMinder, Eqentia sends me a single email digest. Eqentia does a good job eliminating duplicate articles. Additionally, it has a knowledge portal that extracts key elements like company, people, subject, issues and regions. Filter and drilling down allows you to quickly find the latest news on a particular person, company or subject you are in search of.
Imorph’s InfoMinder consolidates multiple website and blog search tracking into a single email digest and continues to notify me of the latest updates of each site. Equentia forwards a single email digest, eliminates the same (duplicate) articles produced by multiple streams, and provides additional knowledge settings which I set up to get specific information needed.
By using these specialized news aggregators, I now have gathered a large collection of “industry-specific personalized newspapers” and can quickly manage thousands of informative sites. This collection of personalized newspapers allows me to search for specific knowledge tracking, competitive intelligence, media monitoring and enhancing SEO quickly. I use the tools to track industries and maintain thought leadership.
- Great Video by CommonCraft that explains RSS very well http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0klgLsSxGsU
I met Matt Perez in 2003 just as I was starting SKMurphy. It was the tail end of nuclear winter in Silicon Valley and folks were trying to figure out what was next. We kept running into one another at various networking events and as we got to know one another realized that we both had a passion for technology and innovation.
After I facilitated the Conversation Central roundtables on “Global Teams” at the 2009 Design Automation Conference I decided that a significant shift was underway where not only were teams in larger firms more often global but startups and small technology firms were going global much earlier in their life cycle than had been the case in the 1990’s. One of the enablers for this is a host of low cost collaboration tools. Some that are synchronous like Skype and real time dashboards, and others that are “quasi-synchronous” like wikis, distributed source code management and Yammer. These tools enable faster decision making because the team is able to maintain a “shared situational awareness.”
After a lunch with Matt in December where we had discussed this trend he agreed to share some of the ways that his firm, Nearsoft, was using Yammer and other collaboration tools to enable them to keep distributed teams providing development services and ongoing support in sync.
Q: Can talk you a little bit about what your firm does? I understand that your focused is on outsourced product development.
Nearsoft is a software product development firm with operations in Mexico. We work best as innovation partner to ISVs, SaaS companies and consumer-facing sites. These businesses understand that software is at the core of their business and they demand to work with people who are as dedicated and serious as they are about building great software.
We specifically avoid working with businesses that treat their software as a “backroom” operation or, worse, as a necessary evil.
Q: How do you work with clients?
We work in long-term relationships with our clients. We create teams around each client, with the right skills in the appropriate technologies. As the new team learns about the client’s business, they can contribute to all aspects of it, not just the raw coding.
Short-term, project-based engagements don’t work for us and I don’t believe they work for clients, either. It may work for doing something of the side, some throw-away code. But for the core product, you want to have a stable team of people that work well together.
We invest heavily in hiring the best and brightest and have created an environment that helps attract and retain that level of talent. A big part of that is because of the opportunity to work with leading-edge companies in the Valley as part of their core team. If we had people work on little projects here and there, we would not get the good ones; or, if we got them, they would not stick around for long.
Q: What collaboration tools do you use internally and with clients to support your methodology and your engagement model?
A: The first that comes to mind is Yammer, a Twitter-like system but for private use. Our folks are used to Twitter, so using Yammer was a natural. It works great for geographically distributed teams because it helps maintain a team presence.
In the situation where everybody in a team works out of the same office, team presence is a function of being physically in the office at the same time. Without consciously checking, you know when people are “there” and when they’re not. Yammer serves a similar function in that even if I am not reading each posting individually, I get a sense of people being “there” as the stream flows through.
It’s also a casual environment where people can jump in and out without much protocol. If I am looking for somebody, I can just ask “anybody seen Joe?” and one or more people will respond. Also, if people are joking around a particular event, you can also jump in and do the water cooler thing that’s part of social cohesion of effective groups.
Besides Yammer, we use Skype a lot. For example, a group of us keep a Skype “group chat” open all the time that we use a lot like Yammer. The reason we do it on Skype is that it’s easier to switch to voice conferencing when the text chats get too convoluted.
One of our client teams uses video all the time. They use both Skype and Adobe Connect.
Of course, we also use a number of tools to keep track of open issues, source code control, etc.
Q: What has been the impact of Yammer on your ability to deliver results?
Yammer and Skype and the rest of these real-time tools give us and our clients the benefit of being in touch constantly. Little problems and misunderstanding remain “little,” they don’t snowball into big, hairy messes. One person may say, “I am going to implement X using Y” and immediately another will jump in with “No, you shouldn’t use Y for reason Z.” They may go back and forth in the text stream, clarifying things. Then switch to voice or video. Misunderstanding is cleared before any major work is wasted building the wrong solution.
Without something as immediate as Yammer or IM tools, the question may sit in somebody’s email for a day before anybody looks at it. By then, the wrong solution may be finished only to be thrown away.
BTW, that is true for the folks working physically in the same office. In many ways, it is more convenient to casually ask a question or make a comment using one of the tools than in person. You can ask your question without “imposing” on the other people to drop what they’re doing to answer your question. The other people can choose when to respond. If they glance at it and see a “Google It” question, then they can just ignore it. If it looks important, then they can direct their attention to it at their convenience.
Q: What, if anything would you do differently?
When I started the company I tried several models before settling on the way we operate today. It would have been nice if somehow I could have gone through that part of it a bit more quickly.
We’ve had a couple of startup clients that didn’t make through the crisis in 2009. I thought they were dynamite businesses and wished they could have been able to stay in business. We helped all we could but in the end they didn’t make it.
Q: What else have you learned from working internally and with customers in this fashion?
The most salient thing for me is that cultural alignment is key. Effective communications include a ton of stuff that’s never said; it literally goes without saying. There’s a lot of “you know what I mean?” in there and it would be too costly, emotionally and in time, to explain every little subtlety that goes on in a conversation. Likewise, it can very expensive when people miss out any of those subtleties. To deal with this you need to make sure that everybody in the team is aligned with the goals of the business and that they “know” what it takes to get there.
One example I can think of is when a developer is asked when he can get something “done.” If we both don’t have the same understanding of what “done” means, then we are going to end up in hot water.
Q: Thanks for your time
For some outstanding examples of how to blend humor into an explanation of a complex service I would encourage you to take a look at two of Nearsoft’s videos:
I really appreciate Matt’s willingness to talk about some of the practical challenges in working in a geographically distributed organization. If you would like to talk about lessons learned from your startup or innovative business practices that you would be willing to talk candidly about, please contact me and we can explore an interview that would be of interest to bootstrapping entrepreneurs.