Matt Perez on How Nearsoft Leverages Yammer

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 5 Scaling Up Stage, Consulting Business, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

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.

Articles, Ideas, and Books That Have Changed My Life As an Entrepreneur

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

This is a start articulating a set of resources for entrepreneurs that are for the most part not yet widely appreciated as applicable to entrepreneurship but that have had a significant impact on my perspective. I welcome any suggestions or lists from readers for what has influenced you, and opened you to new perspectives on your entrepreneurial journey.

What follows are my two year old answers, in no particular order to a question on Hacker News:  Articles, Ideas, Books and/or Concepts that have changed your life.

I developed the list thinking about my approach to business and entrepreneurship, which is narrower than “life” and accounts for a lack of spiritual, marital, self-mastery, and personal improvement books and ideas.

  • Myers-Briggs Model for Personality
  • Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank
  • John Boyd’s OODA Loop as a model for competitive decision making
  • Decision Analysis techniques: in particular
    • decision trees,
    • expected value of perfect information,
    • “good decision, bad outcome.”
  • BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) concept for negotiation planning
  • Secrets of Consulting” by Gerald M. Weinberg
  • Bionomics: Economy as Ecosystem” by Michael Rothschild
  • SimCity computer game
  • Analysis of Competing Hypotheses methodology
  • wiki (social process) model for small team collaborative document development
  • community of practice model for knowledge management
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein (in particular TANSTAAFL)
  • activation energy, catalyst, and phase change concepts from physics/chemistry
  • Amplify Positive Deviance model from Jerry Sternin (Save the Children)
  • The Empowered Manager” by Peter Block, in particular his trust vs. agreement matrix
  • Crossing the Chasm” & “Inside the Tornado” by Geoffrey Moore
  • Maneuver Warfare Handbook” by William Lind
  • “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” by Daniel Amen
  • Micromotives and Macrobehavior” by Thomas Schelling
  • Appreciative Inquiry Techniques

Here are a few more techniques or perspectives that I have added upon some further reflection.

August-16 2014: Two more after more reflection

  • TacOps computer game – you provide doctrine and guidelines to units with limited intelligence of overall situation but cannot micromanage.
  • Johari Window especially the blind spot and facade.

Wed-June-24 2015 Another triggered by a post by Valdis Krebs (@orgnet)

Three Useful Search Tools: Keskese, Surf Canyon, and WhosTalkin

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy, Tools for Startups

I have been using three tools on a regular basis that I think complement Google:

  • WhosTalkin searches a variety of conversations including twitter and blog feeds. It’s handy, quick and claims “Our search and sorting algorithms combine data taken from over 60 of the Internet’s most popular social media gateways.”
  • SearchCanyon is useful if you really want to drill down on a topic, you can click on intermediate results that were useful to refine your search. I find this approach to be more useful than Clusty.
  • Keskese searches Google, Bing, and Yahoo in parallel, it’s lightning fast, and overlays a set of suggestion keywords to help you to continue to refine your search. I think it’s more useful for “mapping out” a search, where SearchCanyon allows you to drill in much more deeply once you know what you are looking for.

SKMurphy Featured In Case Study For Central Desktop

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Consulting Business, Rules of Thumb, Tools for Startups

SKMurphy was interviewed and selected as one of a dozen case studies on Document Management Solutions for Consulting Groups by Central Desktop. Read about our innovative approach at “Document Management Solution helps SKMurphy Consulting Group Increase Productivity.

We make some strong claims in the case study:

  • Increased productivity – approximately 5 to 10 times more productive
  • Significantly sped up decision making time on projects
  • Eliminated version control issues for faster review cycles

The baseline is E-Mailing documents and phone tag. We rely on the edit lock that Central Desktop show to prevent you from editing the same file at the same time as someone else (this happens more than you might think as you get close to a deadline) and find that setting update notification for two hours encourages other members of the team to contribute.

We use Central Desktop to work with all of our clients and have found that it allows us to respond with drafts much more quickly and to achieve a working consensus in a few hours to a day or two. We use it to rapidly prototype the content for key E-Mails, presentation outlines, datasheets, backgrounders, and other content or documents that are used in the sales or customer engagement process by our clients. Each of our clients has their own password protected workspace, as well as any attendee at a workshop who wants one. We also use them for projects with our partners.

We think this approach offers them the following benefits:

  • The workspaces are searchable and both the wiki pages and attached files are under version control so they good visibility and control over our joint work product, whether it is in planning stages, in process, or had been delivered.
  • Meetings and conference calls are more productive. We use the same wiki page can be used the agenda, notes in process during the meeting, and for minutes and action items afterward. There is one place to look for anything about a meeting and it can have hyperlinks to other content that was discussed. This is an order of magnitude more productive than reconciling a stream of E-Mails for agenda and minutes.
  • The workspace is the first place to look and it’s more easily organized than anyone’s inbox. It’s not uncommon for us to run a Skype text chat session for conference calls and append that to the meeting page as well. This is a lightweight approach to making meetings more productive and because things get documented immediately you have more of a complete archive as you add folks to the team or want to look back in two or three months to see what was decided.
  • We normally include the cost of Central Desktop in our engagement fees but have turned over the workspace to clients at the end of an assignment. One client we worked with in 2006 through 2008 had more than 550 pages and attached files in the workspace.

We have been working in wikis since we started in 2003. We chose Central Desktop in 2006 and phased other wiki platforms out except where a customer is already using one. We have more than a hundred distinct workspaces (some are archived) that have been used with clients, workshop attendees, partner projects, and internal projects.

We are happy to have a phone conversation if you are interested in trying to incorporate them into your business: Sean has given a number of talks on them as well if you would like a briefing or presentation for your group or event. We do not resell Central Desktop and we were not compensated by them for the case study: we agreed to talk about it because we have been satisfied customers for more than three years.

Related blog posts on wikis:

20 Ways To Generate Leads

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Customer Development, Tools for Startups

Most entrepreneurs we talk to these days is asking “how can I bring more customers into my business?”

There are no quick or easy answers here. Just some encouragement to try a new technique or two. You will need to develop a multi-pronged approach for your business. Sometime it takes thinking of creative ways to expand your current techniques. There are many ways to generate new leads, none are right or wrong. It is very personal – which will work for you, and the people you are trying to reach.

Which one of these are you not doing that you should try next?

  1. Referrals (also see Discount for Referral and What Can I Do to Build Referrals)
  2. Website
  3. Brochures/ Flyers
  4. Direct Mail Letters or Cards
  5. Seminars
  6. Give A Talk
  7. Blog (also see Getting Started and Good Blogging is Good Linking)
  8. Strategic Partnerships
  9. Google Adwords
  10. Craigslist
  11. Newsletters
  12. Press Releases
  13. Articles and White Papers
  14. Keep In Touch With Past Clients and Nurture Prospects
    1. Phone Calls
    2. Invite To Lunch
    3. Letters
    4. E-Mail
    5. Invite Them To Attend An Event With You
  15. On-line Business Directories
  16. Networking Meetings
  17. Post Purchases Follow Up
  18. Joint Ventures
  19. Warm Call
  20. Trade Shows

Public Domain Images for Presentations and Websites

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Tools for Startups

Here’s a couple of sources for free public domain photo, clipart, cartoons and images. They are royalty free, not copy-righted and available for personal and commercial use. These stock photos are high resolution and high enough quality for print and websites.

However, keep in mind:

  • You can not copyright the material yourself.
  • If a person is recognizable in the image, for commercial purposes a model release must be obtained.
  • Products and logo in the images may have their own copyright.

There are a number of sites that sell high-quality artwork at a low cost they may serve your needs just fine. These sites have a large volume of material available at low cost.

Spellr.us Is So Good That I Want To Pay For It

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy, Tools for Startups

I sent Kevin Garber an E-Mail yesterday afternoon “I love the product, I would like to pay for it.” I had spent about twenty hours in the last week cleaning up typo’s on www.skmurphy.com and www.bootstrappersbreakfast.com (first of all who knew that there were so many different ways to spell bootstrapper and entrepreneur, to name two of the more embarrassingly frequent offenders). A couple of reasons why spellr.us is an outstanding product and definitely worth paying for.

I have to say first off that they have not announced their pricing, and I am not privy to it, so I am assuming that they will offer some plans in the $10-$50/month range that are appropriate for a firm like ours.

  1. It’s clearly been in production use for a while. It performed very well and there were a number of features that were the result of serious use.
  2. It’s very good at detecting misspellings, it can show you what it suspects by highlighting it in the original page, or in the HTML view if that’s necessary (some misspellings can be triggered by splitting a word inserting an HTML tag in the middle, this can be caused, for example by bolding a word in two passes or not linking the entire word.)
  3. It allows you to build a custom dictionary that’s all your own. Because of the great number of personal names we mention on this blog, plus a fair amount of obscure but valid nomenclature, I ended up creating a 1200 word custom dictionary that can be re-used when I scan this blog.
  4. It’s fast, the scan takes 1-2 seconds per page. It’s designed to be useful immediately and to run on a schedule to detect new mistakes you have added.

If you have a website of any size, I would encourage you to give it a try. It’s proven so useful for me that I will be happy to pay for it just to be able to rely on it (and to prevent them from deleting my dictionary).

Update Feb-16: Pricing plans posted, free for 20 pages, $24 for 2,000 pages, $47 for 5,000 pages, $267 for 15,000 pages.

Fantastic On-Line Workshop on Wikis at CPSquare in January 2009

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

I attended a workshop put on by CPSquare in 2003 on Communities of Practice that had a profound impact on my worldview. I met folks from around the US who helped to foster communities of practice in corporate, education, government, and non-profit settings and was surprised at how common the both the challenges and methodologies for overcoming them were.

I had a chance to spend a day with Doug Engelbart, we ended up sitting at the same table and did a number of small group activities together. His concept of bootstrapping as an improvement of an improvement activity was an inspiration for our Bootstrapper Breakfasts, an effort to harness the collective IQ of a group of entrepreneurs who are each trying to get better to assist one another in getting better faster. Doug also demonstrated a version of his Open Hyperdocument System that has given me a model to aim for as we continue to improve the infrastructure for the delivery of our services: individual consulting, workshops, partner coordination, and collaboration as a part of the startup team to reach a working consensus on both strategy and the supporting materials to execute them.

I decided to take part in CPSquare workshop that just started yesterday, and I would encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about wikis and other modes of on-line and face to face collaboration to consider joining. It’s going to run for the next few weeks, blending conference calls with on-line forum interaction and a number of very interesting case studies. I have been asked to present some cases on how we leverage a number of on-line tools, wikis in particular, but I am only one of many folks detailing their practice.

We had a very good conference call to kick things off yesterday and I thought I would blog and encourage entrepreneurs who want to get better at combining a number of different modes of collaboration, both on-line and face to face, to sign up. It’s that good. The calls are taped and you will have access to the on-line examples so you haven’t missed very much at all if you sign up now.  You can register here: http://cpsquare.org/conferences/

The benefits: if you don’t learn how to be more effective in on-line collaboration, including techniques for global teams, and how to blend on-line and face to face collaboration to improve the quality of team meetings and decisions, then you are not paying attention. Our clients, while they are still primarily Silicon Valley firms, now include teams in Denmark, China, Australia, Sweden, India, and England. And watching how this international group has coordinated on this workshop has given me a number of new tools and techniques to improve how we work at a distance.
It’s not my workshop so I am not bragging about anything you will learn from me, but it’s a diverse and creative group of folks who are pushing the state of the art in collaboration. It includes Ward Cunningham who invented wikis and Etienne Wenger who helped to formalize the concept of a community of practice, a well as many other less famous but equally insightful folks.

SaaS, wikis, blogs are all more than a decade old: I think the next ten years may be as much about enhancing our understanding of how to leverage what’s already been invented as it is to invent new things. This will offer you an opportunity to start thinking hard about what that might entail in the way that you organize your work and your team.

2008: Year-End Review of Client Metrics

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Tools for Startups

I am doing end of the year status for clients. I thought it would useful to share the best case numbers as well as the worst case numbers. We had a fun year working in the areas of banking & financial services, cloud computing, consulting, EDA, health care services, medical devices & services, search & text analytics, solar & renewable energy and team productivity tools.

Best Case Worst Case
Lead Generation
Mailing List Growth 593% 22%
Mails to List 55 1
Website Visits 120% 15%
Web Presence in Google 182% 27%
Inbound Links 8100% 40%
Website Grades 17 to 63 74 to 76
Press Releases 5 1
New Partners & Advisors 3 0
Joint Partner Announcements 43 2
Events 6 0
Marketing Material
Whitepapers, articles, blog post, website pages, success stories 17 3
Revenue $723K $0 – not a full year$8K

Three Software Startup News Aggregators: Hacker News, Techmeme, Alltop

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Tools for Startups, Uncategorized

Here are three startup feeds that I use at last weekly (I am skmurphy on Hackers News and may check there two or three times a day) that represent three different models to generate a stream of topical links for folks in software startups.

What are your favorite sites for tracking news and developments related to software startups and entrepreneurship?

Update Nov-24: Two folks wrote in to suggest two free services for tracking EDA startup news

Both of these services are free and don’t require a registration to access.

Four Startups at Office 2.0 Worth a Second Look

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Tools for Startups

We plan to take a closer look at four services that exhibited at Office 2.0 last week. They each have one or more compelling features that may fill gap in our current set of productivity tools.

Vyew

  • It’s a zero configuration (100% browser based, provided you have Flash and Java installed) conferencing service that makes it easy to initiate a web conference.
  • We will try it for white board collaboration on flowcharts and block diagrams.

Sliderocket

  • It can import PowerPoint and make each slide editable in a slide tray paradigm. This could be very useful when you are collaborating on a new pitch and want to play mix and match from what you have.
  • Collaborating on PowerPoint is a real problem for us. Today we are left emailing PowerPoint documents around.
  • PowerPoint output and stand-alone presentation tool also look interesting.

Empressr

  • The most speculative of the four. Worth exploring as we need to move beyond slide-based presentations to animation and multi-media in the next two to three years.
  • It can also import PowerPoint and make each slide editable in a slide tray paradigm.

Officescape

  • Combining on-demand meeting rooms and office space with SaaS productivity tools is a very compelling concept.
    • Our real challenge is to move away from PowerPoint toward an HTML/CSS solution that would allow us to create wiki pages, word output, and presentations from a common source.

    SKMurphy’s Startup Resource Center at SDWest 2008

    Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Events, Startups, Tools for Startups

    If you missed us at SDWest last week, here are pointers to firms and organizations we had in the Startup Resource Center.

    Jotspot Emerges From The Bowels of Google

    Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy, Startups, Tools for Startups

    Rob Hof notes–hat tip to Ross Mayfield–tonight in “Jotspot Returns as Google Sites: Wiki Style Collaboration” (emphasis added):

    Ever since Google bought the wiki-based online application startup Jotspot in late 2006, people have been wondering if it had disappeared forever inside the bowels of the search giant. Tonight, Google’s launching Google Sites, using Jotspot’s technology to create a free group collaboration service that will be part of its online software suite Google Apps.

    Like many things that come in one end and go out the other, it seems to bear little resemblance to it’s former self. TechCrunch observes in “It Took 16 Months, But Google Relaunches Jotspot” (emphasis added)

    Google Sites looks absolutely nothing like Jotspot, other than the fact that both are hosted wikis. All of the structured data templates launched by Jotspot in July 2006 have been stripped out. Users now have a choice between just four basic templates – a standard wiki, a dashboard where google gadgets can be embedded, a blog-like template for announcements, a file cabinet for file uploads, and a page for lists of items. Instead of creating structured templates, users will now simply embed spreadsheets, presentations and word documents from Google Docs, as well as Google Calendars, YouTube Videos and Picasa Albums.

    I had blogged about the Jotspot acquisition in “Jotspot Dissolves into Google Business Model” and later speculated that the “Dodgeball Duo Departure a Harbinger for Jotspot Wunderkinder” (although the earn out period still probably has eight months to run so this may still prove accurate). If Joe Kraus’ picture and his son’s lego creations weren’t splashed across one of the demo sites, it would require a vivid imagination to associate this new offering in any way with Jotspot.

    The acquisition–and Google’s putting any further sites on stun and current sites into limbo–triggered our search for a new wiki/workspace provider. We’ve been pleased with our selection of Central Desktop and have built more than 100 private workspaces for use with customers since we converted. We’ve blogged about them in several different contexts and have them listed as a partner because they have become an intrinsic platform for our business. We probably don’t say enough good things about them.

    Other coverage:

    Three Features For A Webinar Or Conference Call

    Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy, Tools for Startups

    We have resisted doing webinar or phone versions of our workshops because there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to facilitate the pair discussions and highly interactive nature of the conversation in the room. I would like to see an integration between (VoIP/POTS) telephony and chat such that we could do the following during a conference call or webinar that has a related chat window:

    1. Let Someone Raise Their Hand and Speak: an attendee who wants to speak or ask a question can “raise their hand” in the chat window and then have their connection patched into the voice stream back to all attendees. This might require passing out a serialized password to each attendee (or on an 800 dial-in recognizing the number, or leverage Caller ID to determine who is who). This can be done on the honor system in a group that knows each other or is otherwise well-behaved, by using the chat window to control the queue to the mike, but often you would like to mute everyone but one or two speakers. Inspired by Clay Shirky‘s wiki+chat+phone pattern (see below).
    2. Break a Larger Group Into Small Groups and Then Reconvene: as an example break a group of 12 into six pairs or three groups of four and then have them join back into a single audio stream. Their status could either be communicated via the chat window (which should now be restricted to “just those in their small group”). This was suggested by an observation that John Smith made in 2004 that “what would really make our CPSquare class conference call effective is the ability to break into small groups and then come back.”
    3. Automatically Manage The “Queue for the Microphone” during the Q&A segment: offer a simple way to “get in the line for the mike” that allows everyone to see the backlog of questions.

    I welcome any feedback or suggestions on systems that already support this, or other ideas for how to go beyond the POTS conference call model.

    We currently follow the wiki+chat+phone pattern that Clay Shirky identified in “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy” with client meetings but this is normally less than 6 people

    “But since conference calls are so lousy on their own, I’m going to bring up a chat window at the same time.” And then, in the first meeting, I think it was Pete Kaminski said “Well, I’ve also opened up a wiki, and here’s the URL.” And he posted it in the chat window. And people can start annotating things. People can start adding bookmarks; here are the lists.

    So, suddenly you’ve got this meeting, which is going on in three separate modes at the same time, two in real-time and one annotated. So you can have the conference call going on, and you know how conference calls are. Either one or two people dominate it, or everyone’s like “Oh, can I — no, but –“, everyone interrupting and cutting each other off.

    It’s very difficult to coordinate a conference call, because people can’t see one another, which makes it hard to manage the interrupt logic. In Joi’s conference call, the interrupt logic got moved to the chat room. People would type “Hand,” and the moderator of the conference call will then type “You’re speaking next,” in the chat. So the conference call flowed incredibly smoothly.

    Meanwhile, in the chat, people are annotating what people are saying. “Oh, that reminds me of So-and-so’s work.” Or “You should look at this URL…you should look at that ISBN number.” In a conference call, to read out a URL, you have to spell it out — “No, no, no, it’s w w w dot net dash…” In a chat window, you get it and you can click on it right there. You can say, in the conference call or the chat: “Go over to the wiki and look at this.”

    This is a broadband conference call, but it isn’t a giant thing. It’s just three little pieces of software laid next to each other and held together with a little bit of social glue. This is an incredibly powerful pattern.

    John Smith offers a well thought out set of “Conference Call Practices To Generate Knowledge and Record Learning” that refine and elaborate on Shirky’s wiki+chat+phone model. These are very applicable to any geographically dispersed team that is relying on periodic conference calls to keep a project moving forward.

    Lunch & Learn: Using Wikis for Projects

    Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

    Pierre Khawand of People-OnTheGo and I were on a panel at GABA in October of last year on “Communication Today: Blogs, E-mail and More” and we had a great conversation on blogs and wikis. He has invited me to speak on “Wiki Use Case: Managing Team Meetings: Agendas, Minutes and Tasks” at today’s Lunch & Learn webinar.

    You can sign up here at GoToMeeting.

    Here is a brief description of the topics we will be covering

    Project management tools are great for managing and presenting the highly structured elements of a project: resources, milestones, time-line, and budget. But they are not as effective for managing the unstructured information and the their inter-linkages: documents, notes, meeting agendas, and specifications. Wikis provide an on-line workspace for a project team to store and manage unstructured documents that’s browser accessible. Learn tips on how wikis can cut the time needed to reach consensus on project deliverables when a deadline looms. You will leave with a practical understanding of usage models that leverage the distinct strengths of wikis for global project teams. This session will be presented by Sean Murphy, CEO of SKMurphy Inc. (http://www.skmurphy.com).

    More background on what we will be talking about can be found in our article on “Using Blogs & Wikis for Better Collaboration.”

    Afternoon update: this was a lot of fun. I was very impressed by Pierre’s method and approach. I have listened to a number of webinars where one speaker talks for 20-30 minutes and then another one talks for 20-30 minutes and invariably each runs out of steam a few minutes into the talk, their voices become less animated and finally monotone, and you lose a sense of connection. We had a mix of Q&A, short 2-4 minute presentations on some prepared topics and then a number of questions from the audience as well as an interactive demo of Central Desktop. I still miss the non-verbal cues you get from facing your audience but this was a lot of fun. I am glad Pierre invited me to take part.

    People-OnTheGo also offers workshops on “Accomplishing More With Less” in addition to the free Lunch & Learn series.

    Late Afternoon Update: Pierre blogged about it at “Wiki Use Case: Managing Team Meetings” and slides are here: WikiPeopleOnTheGo080124.ppt

    Steve Blank on Customer Development Process for Startups

    Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, Customer Development, Events, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

    Steve Blank gave a great tutorial last August at TIE on his “Customer Development” and “Customer Validation” methodology. These are the first two steps of “Four Steps to the Epiphany,” his textbook on how high technology startups should approach the marketing and business development challenges they face. His slides are here (note that this is a PDF file) http://www.tiesv.org/TGS/EM/manageEvent/presentationDocument/471_790

    Blank outlined the default high tech startup process and key phases for engineering team

    1. Seed Stage: develop concept
    2. Product Development
    3. Alpha & Beta Test
    4. Launch – First Customer Shipment

    and then looked at how other customer facing functions contribute (note Seed Stage omitted because customer oriented typically not involved).

    Engineering Product Development Alpha / Beta Test Launch /
    First Customer Ship
    Marketing
    • Marcom Materials
    • Positioning
    • Hire PR Agency
    • Early Buzz
    • Create Demand
    • Launch Event
    • Branding
    Sales  
    • Hire VP Sales
    • Hire Sales Staff
    • Build Sales Organization
    Business
    Development
     
    • First Bus. Dev. Hire
    • Do Deals to Support FCS

    Answering his own question “What’s Wrong With This?”

    • Embeds premise of “Build it and They Will Come” that only works for life and death products like a cancer cure.
    • Ignores real risks for most new technologies
      • NOT Can we make it work?
      • Will Customers Accept it?
      • Will Markets Adopt
    • Has Everyone Chasing the First Customer Ship as the Goal
      • Sales & Marketing costs are front loaded
      • De-emphasizes Learning & Discovery to Focused on Execution
      • Execution & Hiring Predicated on Business Plan Hypotheses
    • Heavy spending hit if product launch is wrong
    • You don’t know if you’re wrong until you’re out of money.

    His prescription for the fact that most startups die from a lack of customers not a product development failure is to propose a customer development process that runs in parallel to the product development process. In fact, this is what most bootstrappers do, they focus on customers and markets from day one because they don’t have enough resources not to.

    In addition to the slides Steve has one of the best books for product development management in a startup called “Four Steps to the Epiphany” that outlines in excellent detail his customer development methodology.

    Postscript: I went to buy a couple copies of Steve’s book and found that they were $10 cheaper on CafePress, so if you are thinking of buying a copy, compare the Amazon link above with Four Steps to the Epiphany on CafePress.

    On-line Tools for Startups

    Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Startups, Tools for Startups

    I am an small business owner. We are virtual team and use many on-line tools. These are ones that we actually pay for and use everyday:

    I am looking for a good backup service and email.

    Update Dec-11-2007 Rahul Pathak commented

    Hi there,

    Thanks for posting this – it’s awesome. I used Google Apps for Your Domain at Judy’s Book for email/calendaring/etc and I’m using it again for my new startup.

    Looks like you’re fairly committed to Central Desktop, but perhaps Google Apps is worth it just for gmail.

    Cheers,

    Rahul

    Rahul: we use GMail but found the Google Apps more languid than Central Desktop. It also lacks some key features compared to Central Desktop, in particular a real wiki style linking environment and an easy ability to clone a workspace. We use a lot of workspaces (for example for all of our clients, for workshop attendees, and for partners). This gets a lot of content and communication out of the inbox and into the wiki/workspace. Because we are typically working against a deadline in the workspace, the contention management features (which many other tools ignore) make it easy to avoid losing work or having to manually reconcile overlapping edits.

    We are always interested in looking at new technology and open to upgrading, but we looked at a number of alternatives before consolidating onto Central Desktop for our workspaces. The two things we really need right now is a workspace that allows us to create content that is useful as a presentation (e.g. can output PowerPoint), can be used to create a document or workbook, and is also separate pages in a workspace. We find we need to present, hand out, and edit/update (typically in a collaborative fashion with clients/attendees) the same content. In edit/update mode it’s more useful to have the content burst into many pages, but we are then faced with turning it into a single document or slide deck.

    We Added a Second Idea to Revenue Workshop on January 19, 2008

    Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy, Tools for Startups

    To keep our workshops interactive we limit them to a dozen people. We’ve got two seats left in our Thursday December 6th “Idea to Revenue workshop” so we have added a second one Saturday January 19, 2008. This one will be held at the Moorpark Hotel in San Jose.

    We got a number of requests for a Saturday workshop so we’ve obliged. Fenwick is a great venue that we plan to return to in 2008, but we’ve also really enjoyed the ambiance and staff at the Moorpark Hotel and had great experiences there. It’s a little further south but it’s just off 280 at Saratoga and on a Saturday the traffic should be much easier to manage.

    These are real workshops for entrepreneurs who want to spend four hours developing a one page plan for 2008. Here is a partial list of the topics we cover:

    • Where Are You, What’s Going On – What’s the Situation
    • Guided Assessment on Software Startup Maturity: we’ve identified about four dozen key milestones that a software startup has to reach to be able to hit not just break even but growth. (Note: raising venture capital is not on the list but customer testimonials and a scalable sales process are).
    • How Did You Get Here? You Have You Done – Core Competencies (it’s not about “latent talents” but “have done, can do.”)
    • What are Your Key Assumptions About Your Startup
    • Turning What You “Intend to Do” next year into “Goals, Strategies, and Metrics”
    • Identifying Your Budget Constraints: Time and Money (in particular managing the tensions between consulting and developing a product).
    • Integrating Situation, Competencies, Goals, Strategies, and Metrics into a one page plan

    Update December 3: the December 6 event is now SOLD OUT, no walk-ins will be accepted, there are still seats available for the Saturday January 19, 2008 “Idea to Revenue” workshop.

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