Getting More Customers Workshop on March 25, 2014

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage, Events, skmurphy, Workshop

Getting More CustomersLet’s face it, finding customers can be quite a challenge. In this interactive workshop, we will cover a variety of proven marketing techniques for growing your business: attendees will select one or two that fit their style and develop a plan to implement them in their business in the next 90 days.

  • Speaking – small groups, large groups, conferences, …
  • Writing – blogging, newsletters, articles, …
  • What Other People Say About You – referrals, testimonials, case studies, …
  • Getting Found When and Where Prospects are Looking: adwords, Craigslist, trade shows, SEO/SEM, …

March 25, 2014 9am-12:30pm
Sunnyvale, CA
$90 includes lunch

Register Now

“This workshop provided great material to bounce off of. SKMurphy created a fertile space for me to think about my business and plan a concrete step forward. Thank you.” Paul Konasewich, President at Connect Leadership

Are You Using Realtime Shared Document Edit Tools? Let’s Compare Notes

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

We have been using PrimaryPad, an EtherPad derivative,  in our practice for about two years. The MVP Clinics I have done with John Smith rely on it for real time interaction with the audience. This is a parallel approach to conference call plus chat or conference call plus chat plus wiki in that the realtime shared edit (like EtherPad or GoogleDocs) avoids the “I go, you go” needed for write access to a wiki.

Here are the four MVP Clinics I have done with John Smith:

If you are using it in your practice I would like to schedule a phone call or skype call to compare notes.  If you are aware of a forum or an E-mail list for users, not developers, please leave a comment. with any suggestions.

I am very interested in talking with other folks in sales or business development who are using EtherPad or shared edit documents as part of negotiation planning, during negotiation, and de-brief. i find it more useful than text chat because it supports more complex structures. I use it both with prospects I am negotiating with and other team members during concalls, webinars, etc..

I welcome any suggestions for places I can compare notes and exchange ideas on techniques for notational shorthand, methods and conventions  for four or five people in the same conversation to document it in parallel, and other lessons learned from people using it in their business (vs. teaching or tutoring).

Related blog posts (primarily about chat in parallel with a conference call)


BeamWise Demo at BIOS Conference 2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Clients in the News, skmurphy

Here is the extended booth demo we developed for BeamWise at the BIOS Conference, February 1st and 2nd, 2014. The three use cases that seemed to be of the most interest to folks who dropped by the booth:

  • System level design exploration of mechanical and optical layout options both for research teams designing new equipment, instrument manufacturers, and support teams at component companies (e.g. laser and filter manufacturers)  who work with customer designing their component into new equipment.
  • Component catalog providers who wanted to enable rapid exploration of component options in a system context.
  • Other design automation tool vendors with complementary offerings for detailed mechanical modeling or optical simulation.

I  had not really appreciated how large, varied, and complex optical systems had become and the number of distinct industries–e.g. communications, medical, industrial processing–where they were applied. One engineer who had experience in both electrical and optical design characterized BeamWise as a “schematic capture tool at a system level for rapid prototyping of optical systems” which I think is as good a description as any.

Building on more than two decades of production deployments of design++ based systems gives us an advantage in terms of the scale of the rule sets–e.g. thousands to tens of thousands of rules–we can manage. In other industries design++ applications have been integrated with specialized simulation applications, both internal and commercially available and often support libraries of thousands of components. I think we will be able to incorporate these same extensions into BeamWise as appropriate for optical and biophotonic systems.

I have blogged about BeamWise™ in

Real Prospects, the Simplest Functionality They Will Pay For, and Team Members Who Can Help

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage

Q:  I have worked as a manager in corporate IT for many years, saved my money, and now have an idea for a new product. I need a plan to go from essentially nothing but the idea to building an organization that can support a service-first or  concierge MVP and the metrics in place to enable migration to a full product and profitable business.  Getting off zero seems to be my problem.

A: There is a temptation given you have a good idea and money to last for a while to go into execution mode: writing code and hiring staff. but there is probably very little risk that you cannot get the code developed and if you have some experience in hiring to bring reasonably talented people on board. The risk is in building–or offering in the case of a service-first MVP–something that people will pay for.

At a subconscious level this may be why you are having trouble getting off zero. It’s also possible that after many years in corporate IT you may be more energized by a career than a startup: in either event you should pay attention to your lack of energy.

I would suggest that you do not force yourself too far into execution mode until you were confident that you had identified a problem that people would pay you to solve and that you knew how to find people or firms with the problem.

One way to start, which you can do without quitting your day job, is to make a list of a dozen to three dozen people you can talk to about the problem you plan to solve and contact them.

See if they have the problem, what their view on what a solution might look like, and what the value of the solution would be to them.

Mastering the mechanics of starting a company don’t represent a risk reducing milestone; here are three critical near term risks to focus on instead:

  1. Finding real prospects who acknowledge they have the problem, want to talk about it, and believe that it’s a critical business issue for them.
  2. Finding early team members who are energized by the problem and not a paycheck and can contribute relevant skills and/or domain knowledge.
  3. Understanding the minimum functionality or result you need to deliver to get paid.

You can work on all three of these without quitting your day job. Keep saving your money, you’ll need it once you start bootstrapping. And managing the conflicting priorities of a day job and a bootstrapped startup will be good practice for managing the conflicting requests from early customers and early prospects.

Four Questions We Use To Help Improve Our Practice

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Consulting Business, skmurphy

“It requires troublesome work to undertake the alteration of old beliefs.”
John Dewey in “How We Think

We do a lot of initial consultation calls where we walk around an issue or a challenge a startup is facing. The calls typically focus on lead generation, sales process, new product introduction, or practical tips for managing the challenges of bootstrapping a new firm or product. For the last several years we have been sending the following four question survey, sometimes with a fifth question specific to the session, to everyone who took part.

Please take five minutes and help us improve our process

Please reflect on our conversation and take a few minutes to write  a one sentence answer to four questions to help us improve our process:

  1. What was the most useful question or suggestion that you heard?
  2. What was the least useful?
  3. What, if anything, did I fail to do that you expected me to do?
  4. What else can I do to improve my process?

We get better than an 80% response rate and have learned a lot. Many small subtle things that people have been kind enough to suggest we stop doing. And a some significant additions or alterations as well.

I will start with a few simple phrases I have–almost–trained myself to avoid as a result of feedback:

  • “Now don’t take this the wrong way…”
    whatever comes next also needs to be rephrased to reflect the entrepreneur’s perspective not mine.
  • “Normally when an entrepreneur tells me they are selling to small business it means they don’t know their target market.”
    Now I try and probe for more specific attributes and skip the insult. For example: “Small business covers a broad category of firms. Is there a particular type of small business that would benefit the most or would make a decision more rapidly.”
  • “You know what IRS calls a business that does not make a profit? A hobby.”
    Again gratuitously insulting, so I now try to probe more for the plan for break-even operation and see if they have determined what their remaining runway is so that they can find a graceful exit if need be before some very bad outcomes.

One suggestion for improvement a few years ago lead me to rethink some of the ways that I had focused too much on my own time efficiency:

I would  have appreciated your starting our conversation by asking me  to tell our story. That way we could have started from a ‘shared base of understanding’ of what we have tried so far. (Perhaps  you felt you knew enough from the brief I sent you in advance? Or in your experience doing that makes the sessions too long?)

This triggered a fair amount of reflection and led me to write the following answer

This is a fair point: I need to avoid the “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” prescription that does not seem to be rooted in an extraction of symptoms from a case history, a diagnosis or differentials. Probably the two most important aspects in a brief consult are

  1. Why you, why now? what is your evidence of need and why are you qualified to solve this problem. The “Business English” as an outgrowth of global teams I took as a given. It may not explain your lack of traction in China for example but to a first order anyone who wants to engage in global business needs to speak / write English effectively. And your credentials were established in my review of the website.
  2. What have you tried that has worked?  Where is there even a weak signal for success). In your case we uncovered two things that you can build on pretty quickly and spent some time walking around what that might look like  at the next level of scale.

But your question made me realize two of the shortcomings, or at least risks, to asking you to write down “the story so far.” While it is more time efficient for my review and gives you more time to compose your thoughts and revise/reflect on it:

  • it’s not the same as voicing it and having it heard. I can hear the emotion in your voice in a way that is distilled out of the writing.
  • And you are not sure that I have actually read what you send. (I did).

But I had not considered that. I should probably have done a brief recap that established I saw a need for your offering and believed that you had the ability to deliver it and that the challenge appeared to be more in targeting and initial engagement scaling to a relationship  than in determining if there was a need.

Because the need for the service was pretty clear, at least to me, and your team’s background supported your  ability to develop and deliver it I did not dig in the way that I might when someone proposes a novel product or service (particularly when I cannot see a need for it, or I can see a need but I cannot see how their prior experience qualifies them to offer a competitive, much less distinctive, offering). I didn’t have any qualms about your ability to develop and deliver. I was confident that you could organize an approach that would  work once you had a clearer picture of target and triggers.

There is a risk in asking people to recount all the ways that they have failed or all of the good ideas that they have had that have not borne fruit is that it anchors the subsequent conversation in what has not worked and why instead of a theory of the need, your current  hypotheses for how you can add value, and what a successes to date we can build on to continue the market exploration.

But it’s a fair point that entrepreneurs benefit from recounting their journey. My intent was to  offer you  some specific suggestions for how you could refine your message, your target customer criteria, and help you simplify your offering to get some initial traction. But you have to see that as rooted in your specific situation and not some generic checklist of options or canned answers.

Thanks for taking the time to send a detailed response and some suggestions for how I can improve.

We still ask for a written overview in advance so that I can start  with some context. We also believe it helps a team prepare correlate their experiences and come to a rough consensus on at least what the key challenges or constraints are.  But we try keep learning and make new mistakes.

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Update Mon-Feb-17 Jeremy Heap (?@JeremyHeap) tweeted a link to the article with a nice one line summary

Four Questions We Use To Help Improve Our Practice -
In short learn from every engagement with a client or customer

Content Creation for Thought Leadership and Lead Generation

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Lead Generation, Thought Leadership

SKMurphy develops highly relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage customers. We help our clients organize and clearly articulate their experiences and insights in ways that generate inquires. We develop an editorial calendar that  complements SEO strategy and ecosystem partner relationships. We always consider audio, video, and animation options in addition leveraging public speaking events.

Here are a couple of articles that we developed:

And here is some example videos



Daniel Pink: Entrepreneurs Need Problem Finding Not Just Problem Solving Skills

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Demos, skmurphy

Daniel Pink highlights the need for discovery skills in this interview with Leigh Buchanan in Inc.

Q: What sales traits are crucial for entrepreneurs?

This principle of clarity. Entrepreneurs are moving from a world of problem-solving to a world of problem-finding. The very best ones are able to uncover problems people didn’t realize that they had. Today if the customer knows precisely what their problem is they will probably be able to find a solution on their own. The entrepreneur is more valuable in cases where [customers] don’t know what their problem is or they are wrong about their problem. So surfacing latent problems, anticipating new problems, is really powerful for entrepreneurs.

As you may know we partner with Peter Cohan to offer open enrollment workshops in Silicon Valley  for his “Great Demo” workshop. In the last two years he has added a much more content on discovery and diagnosis as key elements of the sales process. A software demo is just one component of the customer discovery and validation challenges that founders must navigate; a demo can be used early in the process to offer a vision of a solution or later to provide technical proof of a a software product’s capabilities. But without a clear understanding of the prospect’s needs a demo will often miss the mark, hence the need for discovery and diagnosis.

Peter normally works with larger software organizations on-site at a sales all hands meeting but three times a year we partner with him so that startups and smaller software firms can attend a multi-firm workshop in San Jose.  Our next Great Demo! Public Workshop is scheduled for March 5-6 in San Jose, California; register at

It’s a day and a half well spent: first day focuses the core Great Demo! concepts and the morning of the second day addresses advanced topics and techniques.  We also have one coming up May 21-22:

I have blogged about Daniel Pink twice before:

  • Entrepreneurs, Luck, and Silicon Valley
  • Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation Worth Revisiting which highlighted his 7 Laws (my three favorites are bolded)
    Law 1: Independence is the best hedge against a downturn.
    Law 2: When times get tougher, quality counts.
    Law 3: Free to be you and me? We’ve got to be you and me.
    Law 4: You’re on the line. Where else would you want to be?
    Law 5: Up isn’t the only direction.
    Law 6: Bigger isn’t better. Better is better.
    Law 7: Forget survival of the fittest. Think Golden Rule.

Work Is A Beautiful Thing

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

I found this video produced by Walmart for their American Jobs program very moving. The narration by Mike Rowe was spot on and consistent with his “Dirty Jobs” program and his current “Profoundly Disconnected” initiative

I Am a Factory

At one time,
I made things.
And I took pride
In the things I made.
And my belts whirred
and my engines cranked.
I opened my doors to all.
And together,
We filled pallets and trucks.
I was mighty.
And then one day,
The gears stopped turning.

But I am still here.
And I believe I will rise again.
We will build things
And build families.
And build dreams.
It’s time to get back
To what America does best.

Because work is a beautiful thing.

Here are two related videos: “Lights On” and “Working Man”

No voiceover for this: “actions speak louder than words.”

Audio track is “Working Man” by Rush.

I get up at seven, yeah,
And I go to work at nine.
I got no time for livin’.
Yes, I’m workin’ all the time.

It seems to me
I could live my life
A lot better than I think I am.
I guess that’s why they call me,
They call me the workin’ man.

They call me the workin’ man.
I guess that’s what I am.

Is Your Health and Fitness Application or Appliance Really a Medical Device?

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in skmurphy

The last few years have seen the rise of Quantified Self movement and increasing demand for solutions for the Home Health market as the US population continues to age. Many startups are also offering new and very popular personal fitness applications. As a result we are seeing a lot of new products aimed at the personal health and fitness market as well as the medical device market proper. Some entrepreneurs who think they are building a personal fitness device are in fact building a medical device.

Walt Maclay, president of Voler Systems, wrote “Are You Making a Medical Device?” to some practical guidance on how to determine if you are risk for regulatory review and oversight, or substantially more review and oversight than a consumer oriented personal health device would face. Here is an excerpt but you should read the entire article if you are working on a personal health and fitness application or appliance to make sure it’s not really a medical device:

There are lot of exciting and innovative advances in the fitness and healthcare space today. Startups and established firms have introduced thousands of new software and hardware solutions–and more are being developed every day. But some of these companies may think they are making a fitness or home health device when they are actually introducing a medical device without realizing it. If you make a medical device and don’t register it with the FDA, you risk getting a letter from the FDA with an injunction and a notice to stop selling your product.  To be ready to register with the FDA can take tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of regulatory work for a simple device. Read more

Wynton Marsalis on Humility, Self-Mastery, and Learning

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Wynton Marsalis collected ten of his letters in “To a Young Jazz Musician” in 2005. He opens the book with:

Phone conversation is one thing; a letter lasts. I love the intimacy of letters, the warm communication that flows between two people who take the time to write. It reminds me of dialogue on the bandstand. What better way to talk to a young jazz musician? Words frozen on paper like a recording.

I see a number of parallels between playing jazz and creating a new business. Both involve a need to understand “the rules” that historical success imply, the need to collaborate in an improvisational way with co-workers in real time to please customers, and the need to master a complex set of skills to compete with others who are watching and learning from your performance as you start to succeed.

Marsalis’ first letter, dated June 4, 2003 is titled “The Humble Self.” Here are some excerpts that address humility, self-mastery, and learning. Topics I believe are as relevant to entrepreneurs as they are jazz musicians.

“Humility is the doorway to truth and clarity of objectives, it’s the doorway to learning.”

Humility allows you to question what you are working on and why. It enables you to understand what it is you really want your business to accomplish. If you can codify and articulate your objectives it will enable you to connect more deeply with what energizes you and sustain the effort necessary to persevere in building a new business.

 The first level of mastery occurs over self. And the first test of mastery over one’s self is humility. True humility. [...] Do you know how you can tell when someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve. They don’t assume “I know the way.”

This is a tough challenge for any entrepreneur. Because at some level you have to assume you will find a way, and that you have a pretty good idea of where it is already. You have to have the courage of your convictions in starting a new business, but you have to be alert to what you can learn by observing and listening to prospects, customers, partners, competitors, employees, and others.

We tend to think of the powerful person as a self-confident speaker at the front of the room or being interviewed or holding forth in a small cluster at a networking event. But the most effective sales people sell with their ears, they listen carefully to diagnose and understand so that their subsequent words are effective and on target.

The effective entrepreneur is always alert to the possibility that there is a better way, not from a lack of confidence in their current approach, but because they always allow for the possibility of improvement. Even if it means having to admit to their team–and themselves–not so much that they were “wrong” before but that they have now learned a better way.

Humility engenders learning because it beats back the arrogance that puts blinders on. It leaves you open for truths to reveal themselves. You don’t stand in your own way.

Perhaps you have closed some early deals, or some large deals, or convinced investors to bet on you. It’s tempting to fall into a pure execution mode. And there is value in “working the plan” and meeting your commitments. But complex skills–and entrepreneurial expertise is a mix of complex skills–require more than the memorization of certain rules like “buy low, sell high”  or “a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.” They require you to push yourself to the limits of what you know and are good at. To do things that don’t scale so that you can learn how to scale your business in new directions.

You have to become the center of your education. Once you accept that, you’ll  understand that learning means figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to be.

I had a terrible realization in my second computer science class. My programs were getting complex that I couldn’t show them to a friend who could immediately point out my mistake, or even in a few minutes. There was a lot of value of forcing myself to explain my approach, and in fact preparing for the explanation could often unlock my understanding of where I had made a mistake. I had stopped looking for “bugs in the compiler” and had to continually debug my assumptions and my understanding.

When I started to freelance it took me a while to realize that most of my mistakes were not in execution–the code worked fine as far as my understanding went–but in starting before I had made sure I fully understood the real results that my customers wanted and the real constraints they wanted me to observe in delivering those results. This required me to take my skills in an entirely new direction than my classes had led me: it was no longer a question of delivering a project against clear requirements, well defined deadlines, and instructor supplied test sets. Now there was considerable ambiguity in the requirements, deadlines, and how it was be tested by my customer’s customers.

It wasn’t just a shift from being given an equation or set of equations to solve to a “word problem.” It was dealing with confused narrators in a hurry who were figuring out their real needs as they went along or as their customers brought them new or even contradictory requirements.

Freelancing required almost none of the skills I had mastered to pass the standardized admissions tests for college (PSAT/SAT) or graduate school (GMAT). I had to unlearn my instincts to give an answer immediately– or commit to a date or functionality–without walking around the situation two or three times and asking some basic questions, even at the risk of appearing stupid, so that I could be relatively certain I had a fix on the customer’s problem.  These skills of discovery and diagnosis are ones that I still work at mastering today.

Here are some other blog posts that talk about the importance of humility for entrepreneurs:

Leonard Smith 1927-2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

I didn’t know Leonard Smith but I was forwarded a link by John McKenna two days ago to his obituary (originally published in GreenwichTime on Jan. 26, 2014) and I thought it captured the essential personality of people who bring change to organizations in trouble and often start new ones.

Here are some excerpts but it’s worth reading the whole thing (I have bolded a few sentences that highlight key aspects of the entrepreneurial personality):

Leonard Mason Smith, 86, a veteran of World War II and Korea and longtime resident of Pine Island, Florida passed away on November 27th, 2013.

Leonard Smith was a very private man. If you wanted to know his cause of death, he would have told you that it was none of your business. If you asked Penny, his beloved wife, she would tell you that he had cancer, but not to tell anyone. Although his prognosis was dire, he battled on, lived his life and survived several years beyond the experts’ expectations. He did not want his obituary to suggest that he lost a long battle with cancer. By his reckoning, cancer could not win, and could only hope for a draw. And so it was. Leonard Smith hated losing.


He matriculated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was president of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity and earned an engineering degree. He joined the Army Air Corps after his first term at M.I.T., and attained the rank of colonel, but only on the telephone when facilitating personnel discharges and equipment requisitions. He was discharged as a private. After his graduation from M.I.T., he enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War, and served in Japan and the Philippines. After the war, he began a career as a management executive. He worked for Bamberg Rayon Company, American Enka, Union Carbide, General Dynamics, Cognitronics and Computer Transceiver Systems Incorporated. By virtue of his education, training and temperament, his assignments tended to be companies and divisions that were experiencing financial or operational deficiencies. He liked the challenge.

He was married to Penelope Self on December 4, 1953 in Asheville, North Carolina. They were married for 58 years until her death in 2012. They raised five children together, living in New Rochelle and Greenwich, Connecticut.  After retirement, they resided in Asheville and Pine Island, where they were active with local church groups and charities.


Leonard Smith hated pointless bureaucracy, thoughtless inefficiency and bad ideas born of good intentions. He loved his wife, admired and respected his children and liked just about every dog he ever met. He will be greatly missed by those he loved and those who loved him. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you cancel your subscription to The New York Times.

Leonard Smith would have thought that this obituary was about three paragraphs too long.

Essential traits:

  • Willing to take on long odds and challenges.
  • Understands how to navigate and negotiate around bureaucracy.
  • Not afraid to address financial challenges and operational deficiencies–growing companies break what’s working as often as mature firms are faced with the need to address changes in their environment.
  • Guided as much by outcomes as intentions.
  • Interested in more than business: committed to family and active in the community.
  • In writing, get to the point quickly.

Quotes for Entrepreneurs–January 2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

You can follow @skmurphy to get these hot off the mojo wire or wait until they are collected in a blog post at the end of each month. Enter your E-mail address if you would like have new blog posts sent to you.

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“It is never too late to become what you might have been.”
George Eliot

Used as opening quote for “Welcome to 2014

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“Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it.”

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“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”
Willa Cather

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“Talent develops in tranquility, character in the full current of human life.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“The Information Age should be defined by the scarcity of context as much as it is the abundance of information.”
Andrew Sliwinski (@thisandagain)

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“It’s not enough to provide some positive benefit. It’s also important to ask whether there are other, better, less expensive and resource-intensive ways of achieving the same goal.”
Peter Suderman (@petersuderman) in “No, ObamaCare Won’t Reduce Emergency Room Usage

Inspired by study results “Having Medicaid increases emergency room visits

Adults who are covered by Medicaid use emergency rooms 40 percent more than those in similar circumstances who do not have health insurance, according to a unique new study, co-authored by an MIT economist, that sheds empirical light on the inner workings of health care in the U.S.

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“In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.”
G. K. Chesterton

h/t “Discover Chesterton: Quotes

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“All of us know the rules for getting ahead, but most of us think that our case is important enough to justify a few exceptions.”
William Feather

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“With laws shall our land be built up but with lawlessness laid waste.”
Njal’s Saga

From the translation by Magnus Magnusson and Herman Palsson, originally quoted in “We Started With Two Empty Hands.” I was reminded of this when I re-read Njal’s Saga over the Christmas holidays.

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“In the quiet hours when we are alone with ourselves and there is nobody to tell us what fine fellows we are, we come sometimes upon a weak moment in which we wonder, not how much money we are earning, nor how famous we are becoming, but what good we are doing.”
A. A. Milne, in “Our Learned Friends” from Not That It Matters

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“I hate vacations. There’s nothing to do.”
David Mamet

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“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.
Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment intuition.”

h/t My Small Boat

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“The search for a scalable business model does not have a finish line. All businesses must revisit this challenge periodically.”
Sean Murphy in “Product Market Fit Metrics”

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“In the margin for error lies all our room for maneuver.”
James Geary in “My Aphorisms

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“Once we know our weaknesses they cease to do us any harm.”
George Lichtenberg

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“Use, use your powers: what now costs you effort will in the end become mechanical.”
Georg Lichtenberg

Used as closing quote for “Welcome to 2014

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“To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”
Nicolaus Copernicus

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“Tactic is an algorithm.
Strategy is a structure.”
Roman Porotnikov (@deepcode)

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“To pursue the happiness within our reach, we do best to pour ourselves into faith, family, community and meaningful work.”
Arthur C. Brooks in “A Formula for Happiness

Used a closing quote for “The Intelligent Pursuit of Happiness.

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“Complex environments often call for simple decision rules. That is because these rules are more robust to ignorance.”
Andrew G Haldane

h/t @StatFact

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“To an ant, gravity is nothing, but surface tension is a powerful force. When you change scale, you play by different rules.”
Waldo Jaquith (@waldojaquith)

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“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
Franklin Roosevelt

h/t  Arthur C. BrooksA Formula for Happiness“ used as a section head in ”The Intelligent Pursuit of Happiness.

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“No one makes history: one doesn’t see it happen, any more than we see the grass grow.”
Boris Pasternak

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“Money never starts an idea; it is the idea that starts the money.”
William J. Cameron

I think this is a key principle of entrepreneurship that bootstrappers understand implicitly.

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“Orientation is the Schwerpunkt. It shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.”
John Boyd in his “Organic Design” presentation

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“I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine.”
Caskie Stinnett

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1. Make Lists
2. Carry a Notebook Everywhere
3. Try Free Writing
9. Listen to New Music
12. Get Feedback
13. Collaborate
16. Allow Mistakes
18. Count Your Blessings
24. Create a Framework
29. Finish Something

Paul Zappia (@PaulZii) in “29 Ways to Stay Creative.”

These ten were the basis for “Ten from Paul Zappia’s ’29 Ways to Stay Creative.’”

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“An entrepreneur has more ideas than resources”
Conor Neill (@cuchullainn) in “What is an Entrepreneur?

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“It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning.”
Claude Bernard

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“We can only connect the dots that we collect.”
Amanda Palmer

h/t @StatFact (more at BrainPicking’s “Amanda Palmer on Creativity as Connecting the Dots“)

+ + +

“Learn to listen. Opportunity could be knocking at your door very softly.”
Reg Saddler (@zaibatsu)

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“If you want to get rid of somebody, just tell’em something for their own good.”
Kin Hubbard

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“It’s only after you fail once or twice and learn to rely equally on thought, analysis, and anticipation–in addition to speed, talent, and execution–that you can really call yourself an entrepreneur. ”
Barry Moltz in “You Need to Be a Little Crazy

Used as closing quote in ‘The Likely Consequences of Entrepreneurship Require Perseverance.”
Originally cited in “You Need to Be a Little Crazy.”

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“Sooner or later I am going to die, but I’m not going to retire.”
Margaret Mead

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“What you don’t know may not hurt you,
but what you don’t remember always does.”
Gerald Weinberg (@JerryWeinberg) in “Secrets of Consulting”

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“People will listen a great deal more patiently while you explain your mistakes than when you explain your successes.”
Wilbur N. Nesbit

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“One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.”
James Russell Lowell

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“A hypothesis is what is being tested explicitly by an experiment. An assumption is tested implicitly. By making your assumptions as well as your hypotheses explicit you increase the clarity of your approach and the chance for learning.”
Sean Murphy in “Difference Between a Hypothesis and an Assumption

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“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. Scientists made a great invention by calling their activities hypotheses and experiments. They made it permissible to fail repeatedly until in the end they got the results they wanted.”
Edwin Land

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“Surprise exists in the map, not in the territory. There are no surprising facts, only models that are surprised by facts.”
Eliezer Yudkowsky in “Think Like Reality

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“This is the fundamental thing to realize about undergraduate education, that students are judged by how closely they resemble professors. Excellence in other ways is ignored. It is an incredibly wasteful system. ”
Seth Roberts in “Berkeley Undergraduates and Professors: Then and Now

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“We build up whole cultural patterns based on past ‘facts’ which are extremely selective. When a new fact comes in that does not fit the pattern we don’t throw out the pattern. We throw out the fact.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

Used in “Discerning the Future

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Being good means judging yourself in the context “compared to what?”
Gregory Sullivan in “Nails

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Discerning the Future

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

Robert Pirsig in his afterward to the tenth anniversary edition of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

This book has a lot to say about Ancient Greek perspectives and their meaning but there is one perspective it misses. That is their view of time. They saw the future as something that came upon them from behind their backs with the past receding away before their eyes.

When you think about it, that’s a more accurate metaphor than our present one. Who really can face the future? All you can do is project from the past, even when the past shows that such projections are often wrong. And who really can forget the past? What else is there to know?

Ten years after the publication of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the Ancient Greek perspective is certainly appropriate. What sort of future is coming up from behind I don’t really know. But the past, spread out ahead, dominates everything in sight.

I feel a sense of “the future coming up from behind” more and more.  When I worked in semiconductors and later networking I used to be able to rely on Moore’s Law to see at least a decade into the future. For the last thirty years Moore’s Law has always had ten years of life left in it; we will probably be saying that on the other side of the Singularity. But now it’s hard to see what trends can be relied on to continue.  I spend more time now trying to discern the likely trajectories of various technologies and businesses but I have much less clarity.

“We build up whole cultural patterns based on past ‘facts’ which are extremely selective. When a new fact comes in that does not fit the pattern we don’t throw out the pattern. We throw out the fact.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It’s also hard to separate the harbingers from the outliers and to compensate for blind spots. That’s why they are called blind spots. Rejecting disconfirming evidence is another way that blind spots are preserved.  When I started this business I knew that I was going to focus on Silicon Valley startups and work primarily face to face with clients. In the first year that I started I handed my card to an entrepreneur and he said, “You need a Skype address on this card.” I didn’t agree.

Of course I was dead wrong.  Today more than 1/3 of our clients are “out of region.” And while we meet and work face to face with many clients, most of our interactions, even with Silicon Valley clients, are on-line in Skype, wikis, shared edit documents, and other virtual collaboration environments.

“A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.


The gumption-filling process occurs when one is quiet long enough to see and hear and feel the real universe, not just one’s own stale opinions about it. But it’s nothing exotic. That’s why I like the word.

You see it often in people who return from long, quiet fishing trips. Often they’re a little defensive about having put so much time to “no account” because there’s no intellectual justification for what they’ve been doing. But the returned fisherman usually has a peculiar abundance of gumption, usually for the very same things he was sick to death of a few weeks before.

He hasn’t been wasting time. It’s only our limited cultural viewpoint that makes it seem so.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

So if I can’t see what’s coming how do I maintain my gumption? I focus more on conversation and real time collaboration, to reacting intelligently to events, and to spending more time making sense of recent events–facts–rather than trying to predict. I spend more time trying to cultivate peace of mind to prevent overreaction: I find meditation, fasting, reading all very helpful in maintaining perspective.

“Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial, really. It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good maintenance; that which disturbs it is poor maintenance. What we call workability of the machine is just an objectification of this peace of mind. The ultimate test’s always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

Serenity as a ground state allows you to react more rapidly and more intelligently: first because you overlook less and second because you are less likely to overreact.

“The ultimate test is always your own serenity. If you don’t have this when you start and maintain it while you’re working you’re likely to build your personal problems right into the machine itself.”
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

I guess one thing I have gotten better at compared to a decade ago is admitting mistakes–to myself and to others–more quickly. Self-deception is an “own goal” that blocks debugging a situation. And prevents you from seeing the recurring problems you are causing yourself and others.

“Sometime look at a novice workman or a bad workman and compare his expression with that of a craftsman whose work you know is excellent and you’ll see the difference. The craftsman isn’t ever following a single line of instruction. He’s making decisions as he goes along. For that reason he’ll be absorbed and attentive to what he’s doing even though he doesn’t deliberately contrive this. His motions and the machine are in a kind of harmony. “
Robert Pirsig in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

It may be as useful to determine what’s not likely to change, what will still be true in five or seven or ten years as what will be different.

Four years ago I speculated that the twenty teens were going to be less about new inventions and more about changing the design of jobs, business processes, and business models to take full advantage of what’s already been invented. I am not saying that we don’t need more innovation, just that we have not adjusted our business practices to take advantage of what’s already here.

Getting Unstuck

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche

I had a conversation today with a good friend I had not seen in a while. Normally cheerful, he was feeling “stuck” in his startup

I have started several businesses,  tried to start quite a few more, changed direction more often than I ever planned and shut down more than a few–sometimes even before they really got off the ground. I am familiar with a sense of getting stuck, of things not working.  It’s hard to discern and harder to admit what is working and what is not. But at some point I had to acknowledge the need for change and tinker with my approach.

I gave him three suggestions that I have worked for me when I find myself stuck:

  • “Put one foot in front of the other” for two to three weeks: close out small tasks, don’t look at the big picture but schedule a time to look at it candidly and let your subconscious work on it.
  • Find a way to dramatically break the pattern of your day: fast for a day, volunteer somewhere for a day, go along an all day hike, spend a day at a museum or art gallery, etc…It’s not about getting away from the challenge as much as finding a way to get some emotional distance on the constraints you are wrestling with
  • Make a list of what you have accomplished in your life and the people you have enjoyed working with. Often when I have a setback I forget what I have done and tend to focus on the things I have screwed up.

I wrote about “Bouncing Back” a few years ago and suggested

Exercise and a break from the computer are both a good idea.

I think you have to reflect on what happened but with some emotional distance.

Remember Thurber’s observation that “humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility” and write down your lessons learned once you can laugh about it (at least a little) so that you are not just re-opening wounds.

Some amount of lateral drift (reading books, seeing folks you’ve neglected as your firm was failing, etc..) can also give you perspective on what to do differently next time.

Update Thu-Jan-30 I guess I like this title, I have used it once already. In 2011 I wrote about “Getting Unstuck” that focused on perfectionism and an inability to let go of stalled opportunities to nurture new ones. An excerpt:

Sometimes I don’t want to take the next step because I can’t face the downside: I would rather live with the possibility of an outcome than take the necessary steps to determine if it’s actually going to happen. When I was younger I would sometimes hold off on selling a stock that had dropped because “it’s not a loss until I sell it.”

When I had a business in the mid-90?s I was slow to prune my sales funnel of prospects that had stalled, I see this same behavior in clients now. Once you do you realize that you have to generate more leads and that often forces you to explore new options or approaches you have hesitated on because the pipeline looks full.

Perfectionism is a very dangerous trait in a startup founder. Two ways that we address it in both our own operations and in our client engagements is to use wikis and shared calendars. Every draft of a plan or document goes into the wiki from the beginning: everyone’s drafts and progress (or lack of progress) are visible to everyone else on the team. But because we are on the same team we can help each other out. Shared calendars and gives team members permission to help with phone calls and meetings you are avoiding scheduling.

Difference Between a Hypothesis and an Assumption

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage

Q: What are the key hypotheses you need to address first getting your startup off the ground? What is the difference between an assumption and hypothesis?

When you are looking for early customers the value hypothesis is critical. You may reach them using non-scalable methods that don’t address your first real growth hypothesis.

My take on the distinction between hypothesis and assumption, your mileage may vary:

A hypothesis is what is being tested explicitly by an experiment. An assumption is tested implicitly. By making your assumptions as well as your hypotheses explicit you increase the clarity of your approach and the chance for learning.

The two things that can trip you up most often is an unconscious assumption that masks a problem with your hypothesis or an unconscious bias in who you are testing the value hypothesis on.

See also

Update Wed-Jan-29-2014: Tim Allen left a great comment that elaborated on the need to focus on value first even if your methods don’t scale:

There was a bit of a light-bulb moment for me what I read the line:

“When you are looking for early customers the value hypothesis is critical. You may reach them using non-scalable methods that don’t address your first real growth hypothesis.”

I feel this is so often forgotten, especially in the situation of legacy systems and trying to execute lean product design within larger organizations. One example that I have been involved in, and which I regret not pushing back harder, was a requirement to use some legacy data services.

This meant that we couldn’t initially execute a hand-cranked, non-scalable solution to data storage and retrieval that our product required, which would have been better as it would have enabled us to get to customer quicker and get real learnings about how they are using our product.

At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal, but in the end it was, and continues to be an issue and an impediment in getting to the customer quicker. Likewise, any real growth hypothesis, results will most likely be skewed by the performance of systems that are not in your control.

I want to thank Tim for offering a practical story that elaborates on the principle of confirm the value before worrying about scaling. When I was at Cisco the focus was always on “will it scale,” as in we shouldn’t do something because “it won’t scale.” This sometimes led to us releasing a product that could have been more valuable if we had proceeded a little more thoughtfully and incorporated early feedback before rushing to launch. Techniques that work “in the small” to gather insight have their place even inside of large firms.

Q: How To Pull The Trigger On A Pricing Model

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 2 Open for Business Stage, skmurphy

The following is an e-mail exchange from 2013 recast as a Q&A with a start team launching a new service. Some identifying information has been altered. I have included an analysis at the end.

Startup: We have  a complex pricing challenge for a new B2B service we launched 8 months ago that will be sold on a subscription basis to several distinct categories of business customer. We offer alerts to events based on keywords. Here is a chart we came up with to identify options, cost drivers, and concerns.

Options for pricing/tiering:
  • Number of alerts
  • Number of entities followed
  • Weighting of entities followed based on member count and/or total events they generate
  • Number of users receiving alerts
Cost drivers:
  • Setup cost for tracking a new entity
  • Verifying feed for any event types an entity generates
  • Operating costs are very low compared to setup
Our concerns:
  • It’s a new type of service in a new market.
  • Possible customers range in size from individuals to small firms to large enterprises to non-profits to government agencies
  • Plan to follow a wide range of events and entities

But we seem to be all over the map in internal discussions and cannot decide how to proceed. We have some grant money but need to transition to a business model to keep going.

Sean:  I  would start with a detailed analysis of the value to each of the different types of customers you have identified.

  • What action will your customer take as a result of your notification or review of search results?
  • What costs or risks do you help them reduce?
  • What opportunities will you enable them to identify and take advantage of?
  • What they are doing three minutes before they decide to add a keyword search request to your service?
  • What result are they actually paying for? Is there valuing in knowing a keyword (or perhaps a synonym set) does not appear?

I think you have focused too much on what you can do and what your costs are, not enough on what customer is actually paying for.

Q: We agree, this is largely a value-based pricing question. We have many trial users that tested the service and originally said yes to certain pricing. But we are now covering more than 500 entities and several thousand events. Also we are selling a basic service now but believe we will have a long runway  to increase the delivery of valuable data and insights over the lifetime of the relationship: getting relationships is key. Put another way, we believe we are in a “land grab” situation where getting the relationship is key and extracting value is really a secondary issue.

Sean: It’s a secondary issue until the grant money runs out. Also, there is a very big distinction between asking a free user to agree to certain pricing and actually getting them to pay. Either asking them if they will pay or how much they will pay typically has very little predictive value of conversation rate or price point validity.

Q: So if asking them if they will pay or how much they will pay does not work, what should we do instead?

Sean: Make them an offer and see if they do pay. If you are doing a “freemium model” now where you are giving away the service you need to either time limit access (e.g. a two week or 30 day or 60 day trial) or remove certain features and make them accessible only if they pay. In your situation it might be that some entities are free and the rest cost and/or some event types are free and others cost.

You should ask them what they are doing now and what it’s costing them in time, effort, dollars, opportunity cost, risk, etc… That’s factual. And from their answers you should be able to infer a value for your offering if it satisfies their needs and their constraints on a solution.

Q: We are still having trouble assigning a value (or a  price), in part because we have several different customer types who we believe will gain very different value–or have very different ability or willingness to pay–from our service.  We think the range might be as much as four times for the same subscription. We are not sure we want them to see each other’s pricing but are not sure how to hide it.

A: It sounds like your are more worried about leaving money on the table than getting people to pay. Normally your risk is that people don’t pay, not that you pick a price that’s too low and too many people sign up. It’s usually the case that  there are other features the “high value” customers want and are willing to pay extra for. The trick is to engage and get them to pay something so that you can continue to work with them to refine and improve the service.

In addition to tiering pricing based on features or capacity customers are comfortable with different pricing for the same service based on other objective criteria: in particular enterprise customers accept that non-profits, schools, and students may pay less  for the same service.

Q: We have an MVP, a good team that built our software, and a lot of interested customers but no pricing strategy. We have built a ton of models for various options and approaches but we are still struggling to go to the next step.

At some level setting a price, making an offer, and seeing of it’s accepted–or at least countered–trumps continuing to do more  detailed analysis. As long as you have a theory for the value you are creating for your customer: your cost model is important to determining business viability but much less a factor in your pricing. You can make these offers individually or privately,

The negotiation can be more important than the opening offer especially for early customers where you are simply trying to move them from free to paid.

Here are some alternatives that are more in the nature of fixed configuration instead of user configurable you may want to consider:

  • it may be easier for you to curate lists of keywords than to put the onus on the customer to define what keyword they want searched. This will also simplify your setup and testing.
  • There may also be a value in selling a report with a set of common searches that address a certain fixed set of entities.
  • There is probably a higher value letting the customer define a unique set of searches so that only they are notified, but less total revenue than a standard report.
  • There may be value in indexing archives going back five or ten years to sell reports/briefings on trends and to provide a context for the last few times the same event was detected. This archive could also act as a training set to develop a taxonomy or ontology of key concepts.

Q: Thanks, we have decided to continue with our current open and free approach and negotiate individually with people who ask for new features.

Analysis: the fear of making a mistake can often paralyze a team. This seems to affect some teams more than others but all of us are affected to some degree. Early financing based on winning contests, grants, generous relatives, understanding spouses, or anything that does not come from a paying customer can de-focus a team from the need to develop a clear value proposition and business model. With money in the bank they can be distracted  from making firm offers that may actually convert their “free users” into paying customers.

It’s OK to leave money on the table. In the beginning having a few customers pay something is an enormous risk reduction in your viability. Once you have established that at least a few people are wiling to pay something you can raise prices to where you actually make a profit on the offers that get accepted and achieve, or at least start moving toward, breakeven cash flow. It’s as important to plan for customer reference as much the cash value of the deal when you are getting started.

You can grandfather  a small number of early customers with low pricing for a long time provided you are increasing prices for new customers and are on the path to breakeven cash flow.

It’s normally a good idea to be slow to raise prices on your early adopters: this recognizes the risks they took to embrace your offering early and the time they invested to help you refine  your features and your sales and support processes. Instead of raising price ask for case studies, testimonials, and referrals once they are satisfied with our product. You can also negotiate on price in parallel with the level of reference and other terms and conditions.

You can continue to  increase pricing over time as you add customers you can talk about, which reduces the perceived risk of your offering to new prospects, and as you move down the learning curve on onboarding and support so that can make firm promise sabout the impact of your offering on their business and how long it will take to achieve. Adding new features based on customer request and your deeper understanding of their needs also allows you to further differentiate and charge more, if only for a subset of your total customer base.

Recap Semifore MVP Clinic: Selling To A Team of Diverse Experts

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage, Audio, skmurphy

Series profile
Thinking about this using an OODA loop model – — Observe -> Orient -> Decide ->  Act

  • Orient part is sensemaking — its own kind of fast learning
  • Often takes a long time in a complex situation (e.g., all situations where learning is involved); subject to error because it’s “culture bound”
  • What we do
    • Asking what you see
    • Asking what are interactions (including between people, process, platform, and practices)
    • focused on  asking good questions / suggesting questions to research;  avoid giving advice
  • Audience: other entrepreneurs


Presenter profiles (see extensive write up a “Semifore Execs Share Bootstrapping Lessons and 2014 Scaling Up Plans at Jan-17-2014 MVP Clinic) 

  • Robert Callahan, COO Semifore, Inc.
  • Herb Winsted VP Business Development and Customer Care, Semifore, Inc.
  •  Semifore, Inc: niche software player in Electronic Design Automation founded in 2006 with a focus on tools for memory map management

Initial questions

  • How do we scale and grow the business
  • What strengths or accomplishments will you build on
  • What existing or constructed vantage-points (data-collection opportunities) have been or will be most useful?
  • What capabilities need to be developed
  • What’s the primary barrier or key challenges you need to overcome
  • talk about product and challenges -    cross functional nature
  • talk about what you have learned – making sense of current experience
  • look ahead 2014 talk about plans

Problem profile

  • complex sales environment
  • education / learning involved
  • many prospective clients have rolled their own
  • side issues = standards, interaction with purchasing
  • Usually find a pre-existing culture / product team /  team
  • more complex sales and adoption problem
    • touches hardware team (e.g. system architect, RTL developers)
    • software developers
    • documentation specialists
    • documentation consumers – e.g. verification and validation team
    • plus “team in larger team or org issues”

This is a mid-course correction conversation. We have a viable product that’s now robust

How do you scale the business?
Competitors are “in-house” solutions – first generation build out.  Smifore product replaces spreadsheets and in-house Perl scripts that represent a career path for internal tool developer

Questions from Audience 
Q: How many employees does Semifore have?
A: five direct plus some other outsource teams we draw on for specialized resources

Q: Do you monitor feature usage and see which ones are used and which ones are not? Do you remove unused features?
A: it’s on-premises software, there is no monitoring except in conversation with customer. Will be deleting some obsolete standards but have to provide a lot of legacy support and backward compatibility

John observed: consider inserting learning & feedback loops here.

Q: Do you have any services revenue?
A: We have  a hybrid license. basic level charge, tiers of users (groups of 10). we sell licenses in batches of 10 with a decreasing cost per incremental seat even as total site license fees go up. We have some project support service fees; there are also fees for “global license”

Q: Tips for growing from small groups to more users in the companies.  How to encourage spread inside customer
A: We believe the following have been key to our success:

  • spend face time with customers
  • dealing with the internal script-writers “who can do stuff.”
  • sales opportunity: when the script-writer leaves

Q: What percentage of customers did you have pre-existing relationships with (from Magma, as an ex-employee of that company, etc.)?
A: really only first customer, most of the rest were “cold starts”

Q: Also, is the tool compelling to any functional area as is, or is it compelling primarily because there’s a lack of resources for the previous internal approach?
A: a bit of both.  solutions exist in organizations that are not visible to management.

Notes from Live Session

Walking around the issues –

Rob: in the Valley back when disk drives looked like washing machines.  Finance roles, then managing channel and tech support.  EDA for last 15 years.  External advisor to Semifore, joined the firm a couple years ago.  growing the business from boutique to a real business.

Herb: business development VP — customer facing activities. started in the electronics business back in the ’70s. Projects in Europe, Japan, US, involved with Semifore since 2008. Semifore is the “right size” for connecting directly to customers.

Have both survived and added customers.  Tool crosses several different disciplines,  enabled by high level

Some standards IPXACT and System RDL but for the most part replacing either custom scripts or Excel input based techniques.
Rich Weber drew on experience at SGI, Cisco, Sttratum One to create cross-compiler
selling to sw, firmware, and documentation teams proliferating from early beach heads

Respond to customers quickly. agile response.  Keeping customers.

Initial sell to a small team.  from 10 users to 100 in the same company. tool goes viral.  education challenges to begin using the tool.  Support requests are often enhancements to connect with their local requirements.

How to proliferate. Getting information early in the design / development process. Measure speed.  Perceiving the activity outside “my silo.”  It’s a blazingly fast product once it’s in place.

Q: does tool help to measure design cycle impact?
A: It’s really a technology driven company working with engineers who focus primarily on technology, but our customers live in a business environment. more recently customers are coming in and asking for automation of the creation of these architectural descriptions. Once the tool is adopted there is a shift from create the “perfect document” to ‘good enough distributed widely’.
Semifore enables a start from a terse description that can be elaborated.  EDA Process Workshop in Monterrey – need a good plan more than a good tool

Herbie: Making the transition from supporting a wide variety of design styles to a smaller subset that the industry as a whole seems to be converging on.
Sean: similar to what happened in networking where there was a convergence from “multi-protocol” to IP and Ethernet.

As an introduction strategy Semifore offers a sandbox model.

John: have you thought about a user conference where you can share lessons learned and foster “viral process”?

  • Rob: good idea, we could do it in the Valley
  • Herbie: one challenge is a lot of our customers are direct competitors and don’t allow us to talk a lot about what they are doing or even that they are using it.
  • John: breakfast at Coco’s might actually kick this off; talk about failure as much as glossy success. provides access to design ideas and source of marketing insights.
  • Sean: first Verilog user group was very low key.  It was at Denny’s.

Rob: engineer to engineer conversations have been of great benefit, but we have trouble translating that into business impact.

  • Sean: boiled frog problem- registers grow incrementally.  complexity ….  how to trigger the epiphany that “it’s getting hot”.  how describe the environmental question about increasing complexity.
  • Rob: we see people saying “we can’t manage any more. please help”
  • Sean: need to crystallize this customer’s business insight into tools for engineer customers at other firms (including prospects) into a compelling business proposition. Problem has scaled from hundreds to tens of thousands of registers

Sean: What is one thing that would change the equation:

  • Herbie: go to next level in revenues. A potential contract on the horizon would generate more human resource.
  • Rob: finalize and accurately describe tool functions, so can present / educate people at higher levels of the organization..

Q: What is your licensing model?
A:business predicated on one year licensing deals, renewals are based on internal uptake not multi-year contractual obligations. Avoids some issues where customers wait for end of quarter/year asking for large discounts

John: your great strength is your engineering view, but is this in some ways a weakness? Could you do more to see into the customer organization w/o more revenue?
Rob: A senior VP engineering has a P&L and a business view. We are a small tool in price, it’s hard to get their attention.


  • Herbie: this session was out of our normal activity.  appreciate opportunity.  learned working inside orgs & managing projects: the reality of business situation, putting together the fifth team.
  • Rob: better mousetrap doesn’t always sell.  Semifore has good technology.  challenge is to refine the messaging.  describe “breakage is around the corner.”
  • Sean:  need to explain to prospects that they have gotten used to dealing with “broken”. I think Semifore’s challenge less in engineering more making business case to pragmatic buyers.

The Likely Consequences of Entrepreneurship Require Perseverance

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

Justin Kan (@JustinKan)wrote “Startups Don’t Die They Commit Suicide” in 2011″ (mirrored on his blog here)  reflecting on what he had observed and learned as a serial entrepreneur. It was reposted on the Philly Startup Leaders list earlier this week which led me to write the following comments mixed with excerpts from Kan’s post.

Startups die in many ways, but in the past couple of years I’ve noticed that the most common cause of death is [when] founders/management kill the company while it’s still very much breathing.

I think this is right, two key requirements for building a business are team morale–shared vision, enjoyment of working together, hope for the future–and cash flow. And morale can get you through periods of poor cashflow  more than cashflow can compensate for poor morale and team dynamics. I think a lot of teams lose their “gumption” and give up.

Long before startups get to the point of delinquent electricity bills or serious payroll cuts, they implode. The people in them give up and move on to do other things, or they realize that startups are hard and can cause a massive amount of mental and physical exhaustion — or the founders get jobs at other companies, go back to school, or simply move out of the valley and disappear.

I think bootstrappers are in some way at less risk for this because they know it’s going to be hard, although perhaps not how hard.
A lot of times the founders don’t maintain their health and energy and cannot weather a setback or analyze their situation with enough emotional distance: debugging your startup requires peace of mind

Often the root problem can be traced back to a lack of product traction — it’s rare to find people willingly quitting companies with exploding metrics. But one thing that many entrepreneurs don’t realize is that patience and iteration are critical in achieving product market fit.

Keeping a ‘captain’s log’ or other journal can give you a place to vent your frustrations–and let them cool for later analysis–jot down your fragmentary insights for later revision and recombination, and allow you to look back at earlier crises you have managed and problems solved: record to remember, pause to reflect. We have worked with a couple of Finnish teams and they have a great word “sisu” that is the Arctic version of gumption.

Overnight successes might happen fast, but they never actually happen overnight.

I think a lot of the desire for overnight success  is driven by trade press accounts of young millionaires who clean up the real story to make it seem simple and inevitable. I have met a number of entrepreneurs who think that one deal or one relationship will be the point of departure for a rocket trip to the stars. That’s always the way the success narrative is cleaned up and presented, but the reality almost always–barring a few lottery ticket winners–involved a lot more hard work and the slow accumulation of many small insights, decisions, and advantages.

On the other hand, happy people don’t normally start new companies: as Sramana Mitra has observed, startups are founded by mavericks, iconoclasts, dropouts, and misfits.  In fact, I think Barry Moltz is right: you need to be a little crazy.

Still, I think morale at an individual and team level is a key resource, and the teams that persevere seem to be more driven by the thought of proving a new idea right than proving  former co-workers, bosses, or  relatives wrong. While 0roving folks wrong can be the start–bold action coupled with frank expression has inadvertently launched many a deeply felt entrepreneurial career–it’s rarely what sustains an individual much less a team.

“It’s only after you fail once or twice and learn to rely equally on thought, analysis, and anticipation–in addition to speed, talent, and execution–that you can really call yourself an entrepreneur. ”
Barry Moltz in “You Need to Be a Little Crazy

Plant Acorns With A Customer Development Interview

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, skmurphy

A customer development interview should be treated as a conversation that may enable a future business relationship. The best outcome for an initial interview is that you can summarize what you have heard about their needs and constraints on possible solutions and they are interested in another conversation or can recommend others to talk to.

Here are some related blog posts on customer interviews and discovery conversations:


The Intelligent Pursuit of Happiness

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

An interesting talk by Arthur C. Brooks which is also summarized in a New York Times opinion column “A Formula for Happiness“ (mirrored at AEI)  He recounts research that identifies the key drivers for happiness

  1. Genetics
  2. Big life events
  3. Choices

The bad news is that first two account for about 88% of baseline happiness and are not under your control. So, what choices can you make that influence the remaining 12%? Brooks suggests:

  • Faith: thinking about the transcendental, the things that are not of this world, and incorporating them into your life.
  • Family: having solid family relationships; the things that cannot and should not go away.
  • Community: cultivating important friendships and being charitable toward others in your community.
  • Work: marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others.

What’s interesting is that money increases happiness only as it moves people out of poverty. More income after reaching the lower middle class does not seem to have a big impact on happiness, which is worth considering when you are counting on a multi-million dollar payout from an acquisition to change your life. A study of lottery winners showed them to be slightly less happy a year after winning the lottery than they were immediately prior to winning.

He elaborates in “A Formula for Happiness

Along the way, I learned that rewarding work is unbelievably important, and this is emphatically not about money. That’s what research suggests as well. Economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.

So relieving poverty brings big happiness, but income, per se, does not. Even after accounting for government transfers that support personal finances, unemployment proves catastrophic for happiness. Abstracted from money, joblessness seems to increase the rates of divorce and suicide, and the severity of disease.

Which as Brooks points out aligns with:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

This matches my experience watching a number of folks become very wealthy in the 1990-1994 time frame at Cisco. For the most part people who were happy stayed happy and people who were not found new ways to use money to become unhappy. When I hear entrepreneurs talk about how happy they will be when they cash in I am reminded of those days. If I had to pick one thing Brooks’ analysis ignores, it’s the need to invest time and effort in health and fitness so that you have the energy to be able to support and enjoy your family, take part in your community, and pursue meaningful work.

 ”To pursue the happiness within our reach, we do best to pour ourselves into faith, family, community and meaningful work.”
Arthur C. Brooks “A Formula for Happiness

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