Join the ACM & Improve Your Peripheral Vision

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

I have been a member of the ACM since 1994. I enjoy reading Communications of the ACM and Queue. I find that they help my peripheral vision–as Steven Wright once joked, “I am a peripheral visionary, I can see the future but it’s way off to one side–for technical developments that, although they arise in technical domains that I am not actively following, may have applicability to the technology areas that our firm focuses on. The QueueNews and TechNews article roundups in my inbox: they do a good job of scanning the horizon and pointing out a number of interesting developments. It’s a kind of Science News (another good publication) that’s focused on software and computing.

I think cultivating peripheral vision is increasingly important for startups. A serious competitor is more likely to blindside you if they don’t come directly from the same technology sources and cultures that you are drawing from, but can solve the same problem. They may offer slightly different benefits, but you are more likely to be surprised by a competitor who “cuts their teeth” on a distant but related problem. The flip side is also true. You may be more successful if you can offer a novel application of a proven technology, provided you can find some early customers to help get you oriented to the new problem area. This is one of the rules of thumb for innovation–this one is taken from the “Innovator’s Dilemma“–that I will be cover in my “Crucial Marketing Concepts for Technology Introduction” this Wednesday, November 14 at the SF BAY ACM meeting (there is no charge for the event and it’s only $10 to join SF Bay ACM for a year).

I Have an Idea for a Software Product, How Do I Get Started?

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

Q: I have an idea for a software product, how do I get started?

Our answer is a series of twenty questions that will help you develop and refine your software product idea. See below for the first seven. We also cover these in our workshop Idea to Revenue, that gives you the time and tools to develop and leave with a one page plan.

Q1 What is the product or service?

  • What is the problem you solve?
  • What benefits do you offer?
  • Do you help save cost, save cycle time, save material, improve quality, reduce non-value-add people time?

Q2 Who is the customer? What is the size of the market?

  • Who is the buyer who makes the final decision? What are they responsible for ? How are they measured?
  • Who else has to approve or has influence?
  • Who actually uses it?
  • What kind of company, in what industry? Are there are other key attributes?
  • What pain, problem, or need does the buyer have? What problem do you solve?
  • What are the symptoms or characteristics to look for in a company that would indicate pain or a strong need?

Q3 What are the “must have” features? (Primary Buying Criteria)

  • What are basic features that you must have to participate in the market
  • What are differentiated (leadership) features that set you apart from existing solutions
  • What features do you need to minimize the switchover costs associated with using your offering: can they use your product or service in parallel with existing solutions and go back?

Q4 What are the “should have” features? (Secondary Buying Criteria)

  • What features would provide further differentiation but are not worth slipping the release for.
  • Ideally there are just a few “should have” features and these define what the develop team should focus on if they cannot assist with a must have feature.

Q5 What are the “nice to have” features? (Emerging Buying Criteria)

  • These are roadmap features that are clearly “below the line” for the current release but can be communicated to customers as part of a roadmap or statement of direction.
  • Ideally there are just a few key “nice to have” features and these define key elements of a roadmap.
  • These features should not be worked on unless the developer cannot in any way contribute to the “must have” or “should have” list.

Q6 How does the customer find out about the product/service?

  • What sales channels do you contemplate: direct, distributors, value added resellers, other?
  • What magazines and trade journals do your prospect rely on to learn about offerings like yours?
  • What websites, blogs, and on-line groups do prospects routinely visit, read, or take part in?
  • What tradeshows and events would prospects normally attend?
  • What consultants, recommenders, and buying guides would they consult to get information on an offering like yours?
  • What open source projects are related to your offering, they may be a source of ideas and early feedback?

Q7 How has the customer done without this product/service so far?

  • Are you eliminating or reducing and existing cost stream?
  • Have they tried to solve this problem on their own? Have they spent time or money on a partial solution?
  • Are they currently spending cycle time or non-value add people time to work around it?
  • Can you reduce errors, error rates, or iteration counts?
  • Do you enable them to access new markets or opportunities currently unavailable to them?
  • What are you specifically obsoleting or replacing?

Free Small Business eNewsletter From IRS

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

e-News for Small Businesses is a free electronic mail service designed to provide tax information for small business owners and self-employed individuals. Subscribers receive information about important upcoming tax dates for SB/SE customers, what’s new for small businesses on the IRS Web site, reminders and tips to assist small businesses and self-employed taxpayers with tax compliance issues, IRS News Releases and special IRS announcements that pertain to SB/SE customers.

If you haven’t found an accountant for your business taxes now is the time to get your files in order and interview a few based on other business owner recommendations. If you are based in Silicon Valley and are interested in our advice, talk to Ogden Lilly at Boitano Sargent and Lilly.

Social Networks for Running your Business

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, Tools for Startups

Here are the social networks I participate in. I find them a good source for practical advice for running my business.

Check me out, my screen name is tshafer.

Office 2.0 Opportunities and Challenges

Written by Francis Adanza. Posted in Events, Tools for Startups

Today, while at the Software 2007 conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center, I attended a great Breakout Session on Office 2.0: Opportunities and Challenges. The session was comprised of four CEO’s, one moderator and three panelist. Below is my summary of the presentation.

Question to the panel: What is Office 2.0?

Ken Rudin, CEO of LucidEra
Office 2.0 is not only about collaboration but it is a shift from IT control. Now employees can purchase software and tools without IT’s permission.

Mark Suster, CEO of Koral (acquired by Salesforce.com)
I believe office 2.0 is a combination of usability, participation, and user control. The issue is to make things more beneficial for the end user vs. the economic buyer. We are trying to make software easier for the end user. IT has a list of benefits that the product has to meet before they buy. Because of this, IT usually over specs the product. Most users only use about half of the features IT requires.

Steve Papermaster, CEO of BSG Alliance
Office 2.0 is about simplicity. The users are not technologist, so we need to design products that are straight forward and easy to use. People get too carried away with the technology and forget that the software is primarily a tool used to fill a need.

Audience Question to the Panel: Is it important for the application to work offline?

Ken Rudin, CEO of LucidEra
For the most part, the only people who want offline access are airplane travelers. Until a customer asks for it, it will not be in our roadmap.

Mark Suster, CEO of Koral (acquired by Salesforce.com)
I believe the product should work offline because a majority of the people still work on their PC’s. We want to make the transition to hosted as easy as possible for the users. Silicon Valley is very different from the rest of the world. Most people in business work pervasively offline.

Steve Papermaster, CEO of BSG Alliance
Even with the amount of mobility we have today, I cannot get connectivity all the time. The issue is not whether or not the application works online or offline. The problem is do I have access to the data when I need it? It does not matter if I am online or offline, all I care about is having access to the information when I need it.

Question to the panel: Is the enterprise ready for Office 2.0?

Steve Papermaster, CEO of BSG Alliance
The enterprise is not ready for Office 2.0 because of compliance. With Sarbanes Oxley, it will be difficult to justify user restrictions and security issues with applications outside the firewall.

3 Things I Learned at WIC Tech Talk

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

I enjoyed the latest WIC (Women In Consulting) South Bay lunch today. Denise Brosseau from Brosseau & Associates talked about tools that she or clients use to run their business. Her talk, “Play Like the Big Guys: How To Use New Web Tools To Easily Build Your Company” was full of ideas and useful tools. Here’s three that I think are worth sharing:

1. Denise used Yahoo Small Business to create her website. It was easily to use and flexible. Her 20 page website took about 2 weekends to create.

2. She loves AVG for virus software.

3. She uses Meeting Wizard to schedule meetings with multiple people.

Questions That Sell By Paul Cherry

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

I had promised to check out and report back on “Questions That Sell: The Powerful Process For Discovering What Your Customers Really Want” by Paul Cherry, which was recommended by Jennifer Vessels at Next Step’s workshop “How to Sell the Real Value of Your Solution” on Thursday, November 7, 2006.
This is a good book, with useful advice on how to have better conversations with your prospects. Three of better ideas for me were:

  1. Ask “Expansion Questions”
  2. Understand Your Prospect’s Perception of Risks and Rewards
  3. Understand Your Prospect’s Internal Customers, External Customers, and Competitors.

I will go into a little bit of detail on “Expansion Questions.” They are conversation openers that ask a prospect to share their perspective with you. They begin with phrases like “Describe for me…”, “Walk me through…”, “Can you please explain…” that don’t admit of simple yes, no, name, or number answers. The following three questions

  • What are the criteria for making this purchasing decision?
  • What is the time frame or deadline for the decision?
  • Who owns the decision and who is involved in making it?

can just as easily be captured by “Can you please walk me through the decision making process?” which is a nice way to uncover issues that more pointed questions might not elicit. At 180 pages the book is a quick read with a number of thought provoking suggestions for improving your ability to have a conversation with prospects and customers. There are a number of useful short articles on Cherry’s Performance Based Results site that will give you a flavor for the practical approach the book outlines.

Building Communities using Search Co-op

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

We have added Google’s Search Co-op to our Resources page. As an entrepreneur, you need to dabble in so many fields. Some areas of expertise an startup needs are legal, accounting, funding, marketing, sales, public relations, recruiting, hiring, partners, and advisers. We work with some great experts and partners and you can take advantage of their best practices, checklist and templates. If you need help with Learning the Business Side of Consulting, Growing My Software Startup, or Developing a Product, take a look at the resources we have gathered together.

If you would like to suggest an additional site that we should add, please use the Contact Form to suggest it.

One Search Co-op feature I would still like is an article rating system. I would like readers to quickly rate how useful the article was for them.

What is Your Website Grade?

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Startup CEO: Question of the Day, Startups, Tools for Startups

I found an interesting little tool Website Grader which evaluates your website. It produces a score and a list of things you can do to improve it. Some of the things I don’t agree with, but most are pretty good. Last night I played with it and the best sites I looked at were 80-70/100 and the poor ones were below 20/100.

At first I thought the comments on meta-data were bogus, but it is explained better in the blog article Understanding The Magic Of Meta-Data. It points out that although search engines don’t use them exclusively, most SEO experts do recommend that websites use meta-tags. The Meta Description Tag may influence the description of your page. The Meta Keywords Tag is useful for synonyms and less common words. These tags can work in conjunction with your website text.

Also see an earlier post Philipp Lenssen’s Tips For Crafting a Linkable Blog Post.

Mark Duncan on “New Tools for Increasing Marketing Productivity”

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

Mark Duncan gave an excellent guided tour at the October 9 SDForum Marketing SIG of several web based applications that marketing teams should consider taking advantage of in addition to (or even instead of) Microsoft Office. He opened with the observation that

The applications bundled into Microsoft Office—word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, calendar, and mail–are the only software tools that many marketing professionals have learned.

Appropriately enough talk was titled “Beyond Microsoft Office: New Tools for Increasing Marketing Productivity.” His slides were done in the “beyond bullet points style” that very effectively complemented his spoken presentation but would be hard to follow without his spoken linkage and counterpoint. So he also created an article to act as the stand-alone representation of his talk (see http://www.askmar.com/Marketing/Beyond%20Office.pdf )

It’s definitely worth a read. Three good ideas I picked up from the talk:

  1. Many marketing activities and deliverables involve collaborating on a document to reach a working consensus by a deadline. While Microsoft Office applications can make you productive as an individual, they don’t help you to leverage the Internet in gathering information or facilitate review and discussion at a team level. Once there are three people involved it’s no longer clear who has the most recent version of the slides or the pitch or the datasheet. Wiki and on-line workspace tools can offer a team dramatically lower friction and the ability to operate much more rapidly against a deadline.
  2. Read Merlin Mann‘s “43 Folders” blog and the group blog at “LifeHack.Org” regularly for practical personal productivity tips and tricks (christened “life hacks” by Denny O’Brien in a famous O’Reilly Etech talk). These are a gold mine of information for knowledge worker productivity.
  3. Two good sites for low cost digital stock photography: istockphoto.com and Lucky Oliver. Mark’s slides made good use of stock photography to complement his talk.

Mark is a marketing consultant who focuses on emerging technologies, assisting companies in entering new markets and developing new business opportunities.

Office 2.0 Tools for Consultants

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

Attending Office 2.0[1] in San Francisco, we discovered some useful tools for consultants and small teams.

What is Office 2.0? Office 2.0 tools are collaboration tools that you can connect to from anywhere. They are perfect for virtual businesses or small teams. Most are sold as software as a service (SaaS) and for a low monthly fee you get web access to the tools. All that is needed on your machine is a web browser.

Here’s what I found interesting:

  • Site Kreator – pick a template and get a basic website up and running very quickly. You don’t need to get a web designer or know HTML, Java, etc. It supports wiki, blogs, and forms. Everything is click and point.
  • Another way (and the one we selected) is WordPress. We did use a web designer, Dave Horner from Silicon Ridge. But we picked a template and he quickly built our website. I can build new pages, changes pages, or add blog post without coding.
  • Invoicing might be a consultant’s least favorite thing, but it’s impossible to get paid without it; check out FreshBooks.
  • Do you need a part time admin to put together conference material? Work on your website? Virtual admins are a great way to go. They charge by the hour and can answer your phone or perform other tasks you need.
  • One area we have been hunting for quite a while is a shareable calender. Our team is virtual and scheduling appointment used to take many emails. We have been using with WebEx WebOffice and quite happy with it. It is more expensive than many we tried but it fits us the best, so far.
  • Podcast/RSS for e-newsletters or training. Podcast and voice in general allows you to make an emotional connection with your audience or prospect. This one is still under construction for us.
  • We use wikis (e.g. from Central Desktop, EditMe, Jotspot, and Socialtext among others) with all of our clients. A wiki provides a private work space which we can leave behind after our engagement is over and they cut down considerably on having to e-mail attachments. We have used it for collaborating on datasheets, web site mock-up, backgrounder and other strategy and planning documents.

[1] Update Jan-18-2011: Office 2.0 website www.office20con.com has been taken over by spammers, links deleted.

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