Archive for October, 2010

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–October 2010

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

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“No one is invincible. Finding and managing flaws is the secret to survival.”
Chris Kappler

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“I became increasingly convinced that it is not knowledge, but the means of gaining knowledge, which I have to teach.”
Arnold of Rugby

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“Social tools aren’t interesting until the technology becomes boring. The social effects are more important than how the technology works.”
Clay Shirky in an Apr-3-2008 interview with Stephen Colbert

Hat Tip to Jeff Nolan’s “The Technology Doesn’t Matter

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“Take notes on the spot; a note is worth a cartload of recollection.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have written about the value of jotting your thoughts on 3×5 cards, but Emerson’s quote offers more encouragement

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“The greatest risk is not in the development of new products, but the development of customers and markets.”
Steve Blank in “The Four Steps to the Epiphany”

It’s the front quotation in Ash Maurya‘s new “Running Lean” book.

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“Thoughts only become decisions with action.”
Chris Hopf

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“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

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“An unconference is to a conference what Wikipedia is to an encyclopedia.”
Dan Haugen in “Saving Innovation

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“A startup turns you into both the lab rat struggling desperately to survive and the lab scientist standing back and measuring his performance. It gives you less patience with the ideologues telling you what the rat should have done.”
Glen Kelman “The Crazy Woman Speaks

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“The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”
Charles DuBois

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“Happiness, I have discovered, is nearly always a rebound from hard work.”
David Grayson (pen name for Ray Stannard Baker)

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“Too much information” is freedom from necessity creating a surplus of free attention.” Michael O’Malley

Full quote from “Attention and Information” by Michael O’Malley

So what appears to us as “too much infor­ma­tion” could just be the free­dom from necessity. I don’t have to worry about find­ing and cut­ting and stor­ing fire­wood: I don’t even have to man­age a coal fur­nace. That atten­tion has been freed up for other things. What we see as “too much infor­ma­tion” is prob­a­bly some­thing more like “a sur­plus of free attention.”

Knowledge That Is Not Written Down, Yet

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

There are categories of knowledge that are not written down, yet. They include observations that have not been curated but drive intuition-based decisions, first hand stories of events–successes and failures–that have not been filtered and sanitized but still offer insight and explanatory power. They are important because they are sources of competitive advantage.

Knowledge That Is Not Written Down, Yet

I blogged about “Information That’s Not Written Down” :

There is a category of information that hasn’t been written down (yet). You might try more reflection and focus on serious conversation to regain your balance. Ultimately gathering all of this information has to be used for a purpose beyond maintaining situational awareness. What kind of know-how do you want to develop? What is the problem you are trying to solve?

And  earlier as well in “Continuing Education in Entrepreneurship

I was sitting in one of the nice conference rooms over at Fenwick & West earlier this year […] and I had a strong sense of deja vu for freshman year in college. Normally when I dream of being back in college I am in an exam for a course I haven’t really studied for–although in my case these are more accurately termed “recovered memories”–but this felt like freshman year again, where I slept spent a lot of time in a large lecture halls.

I had this epiphany that I had spent the last dozen years or so […] in this ad hoc program in continuing entrepreneurial education. Books are valuable, and not enough entrepreneurs do enough reading, but there is also a category of knowledge that hasn’t been written down yet. And you can gain wisdom from listening to someone who has played the game–even if it’s just their mistakes–that you would otherwise have to gain from your mistakes experience.

Tacit Knowledge Often Becomes Explicit First in Dialog and Small Group Conversation

Sketching KnowledgePursuit of this kind of knowledge was one of the things that led me to start facilitating the “Bootstrapper Breakfasts” because it’s often only exposed in small group discussions.  In his advertisement for YCombinator entitled “What Happens at Ycombinator” Paul Graham makes the same discovery:

I didn’t consciously realize how much speakers at more public events censored themselves till I was able to compare the same people speaking off the record at YC dinners and on the record at Startup School. YC dinner talks are much more useful, because the details people omit in more public talks tend to be the most interesting parts of their stories. About half the interesting things I know about famous startups, I learned at YC dinners. […]

It’s a shame the only record of all the YC talks over the years is in the memories and notes of founders who heard them. It seems inefficient that only the founders in that specific batch and a handful of alumni guests get to hear each talk. We often think about this problem but there seems no way around it. If we broadcast or even recorded the talks, the speakers would clam up.

Eric Ries shares his frustration with many of the public version of founder’s stories in “Stop Lying on Stage

Entrepreneurs crave information about successful startups, and they should. Most of the received wisdom about business and entrepreneurship is simply wrong. Many journalists and conference organizers attempt to fill this demand by giving successful entrepreneurs the opportunity to tell their stories: in magazines, on blogs, and on stage. And yet, most of the time, those opportunities are wasted, because the protagonists tell lies. And while this may sound like a harmless phenomenon – after all, most of these are simple lies of omission – I think the consequences are quite harmful.

To his credit, when Eric spoke at a Bootstrapper Breakfast in February 2009 he was very candid about his mistakes and failures as an entrepreneur as well as his successes. As are the other entrepreneurs who offer to share lessons learned.

While I can appreciate his frustration at some of the crap that is offered as wisdom (such as ask your girlfriend how she would feel if she couldn’t see you anymore to test the strength of your relationship customer how disappointed they would feel if they could not use your product) many folks on stage in front of a reasonable sized audience are selling something (I say this as a frequent speaker). Or the audience is in fact the product, their attention is being sold to event sponsors.

I don’t say this to be cynical but to acknowledge the realities of the incentives that flow from the economics of putting on events. Other incentives affect knowledge sharing, as the knowledge management folks have discovered, in particular knowledge sharing is much more of a transaction between people than a download of a slide deck or video from a server. It normally takes place in some kind of group, team, or community context.

So if you want to learn about what hasn’t been written down, yet, you need to join groups or take part in events where the incentives favor candor.  Focusing on failures and lessons learned is often more instructive than success stories.  Trying to glean the path to success in a particular market, technology, or geography is always challenging because where it was historically is based on a set of competitive equilibria that may have shifted significantly or even dissolved.  But stories that are “here is what we did and here is what happened” are more useful than “do it this way.”

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E-Mail Is Not a Conversation

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

E-mail is not a conversation. I have to remind myself of that from time to time.

When I am deadlocked with someone and tempted to send one more e-mail to clarify or I find myself getting angrier I have to remember to take a five minute walk around the building and pick up the phone.

When a team member or a client does not seem to understand, much less agree, with something that seems obvious and immediately necessary I have to remember that a third reply to the same thread probably won’t clarify the situation. I need to pick up the phone, put on my skype headset, or ask them for a face to face meeting.

I mentioned this passage by Soren Kierkegaard in “Kierkegaard on the Art of Helping Others to Understand” it’s good advice for preparing for a difficult conversation.

The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.

Related posts:

Forming and Leading a Team of Experts at EL-SIG Oct 21

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events

I have been invited to speak at the SDForum Engineering Leadership SIG next Thursday, October 21st. I will suggest methods for “Forming and Leading a Team of Experts”

How can teams become more effective at making decisions quickly and reaching a working consensus? How can we as managers foster effective collaboration on teams made up of several experts. Join us as we explore team decision making, the challenges in blending human expertise, and the use of software tools to maintain a shared situational awareness and improve the timeliness and quality of decisions. This talk explores problems that engineering teams and startups wrestle with as they move from hunches to working technology to product to repeatable, scalable processes. This talk will cover how groups make decisions and how to systemically approach the management of exploration and verification cycles in product and customer development situations. Whether you are a talented engineer, an engineering manager, or an engineering executive you will learn some practical tips for building and leading teams of experts.

Where: 6:30 to 9:00pm Thursday October 21st

Where: SAP – Southern Cross Room, 3410 Hillview Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94304

Cost: $15 at the door for non-SDForum members; No charge for SDForum members.

Entrepreneurs Still Welcome: 700 Blog Posts In Four Years

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Blogging, Rules of Thumb

This is my 700th blog post since my first post “Welcome Entrepreneurs!” on October 1, 2006 which opened with:

This blog is dedicated to entrepreneurs at any stage of their journey.  As individuals, in teams, and collectively, we all hope to create a better world for our customers, our employees, our stakeholders, and our children.

Our focus is helping startups find early customers for emerging technologies. This is very different from the traditional sales and marketing at established firms. Correctly identifying early customers who can be references to others is key to introducing emerging technologies.

Although emerging technologies change the rules and often enable far reaching growth most early adopters are focused on near term risks and benefits, and it is to those concerns entrepreneurial teams need to speak to get a foothold. The decision to act as a “beta” software site or early user of new software tools often resembles a hiring decision (does the prospective customer want to “hire the team”) more closely than a technology adoption decision.

Emerging technology marketing is a distinct domain from classical product marketing, most of the traditional market assessment techniques are not effective: focus groups, surveys, etc… Emerging markets require a strong commitment by the founding team to

  • appreciating the prospective customer and customer’s view,
  • rapidly evolving the product specification in response to feedback and customer experience,
  • ongoing refinement and delivery of customer focused solutions.

Not everything I have written since has held up as well as these paragraphs. I believe that they still offer a good high level overview of the new product introduction problem as it applies to new technologies.

Ash Maurya on “Running Lean”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Books, Customer Development

Ash Maurya has released the first two chapters of his new book “Running Lean” and here are my first impressions.

His objective for the book is to define:

A systematic process for iterating your web application from Plan A to a plan that works .

His intent is to synthesize customer development, agile development methodologies, and bootstrapping into a coherent whole. He is up front about what he has done and some key beliefs:

  • If you’re ever going to charge for your service, charge from day 1.
  • You should only build and keep features that get used.
  • You should start building a significant path to customers from day 1.

He sketches out some intriguing chapters that he promises to deliver this fall:

  • Customers Don’t Care About Your Solution: Decouple The Problem From The  Solution
  • Test Pricing Early: Pricing is Part of the Product
  • Troubleshoot the Trial Period: Get Customers to Talk to You

I have been corresponding with Ash off and on for six years now. I remain impressed by the depth of his insights and his ability to articulate complex concepts and processes very clearly.  I remember hearing someone from IBM talk about what’s it like early in a new field, “we are all driving around in the dark, navigating by what we can see in our headlights; at some point the sun comes up and things become clear.” Ash is attempting to shed more light on these kinds of startups:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) applications
  • Web-based and desktop-based software
  • B2C applications
  • Freemium and Free Trial products

Need Input on the Design Automation Conference

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

Patrick Groeneveld is the CTO at Magma and the Vice Chair in 2011 of the Design Automation Conference. He also chairs the   DAC Strategy Committee for 2011 and he has asked me to take part, representing user and startup concerns in the planning process.

My objective is to foster an exploration of some of the critical issues facing the industry and to suggest some possible roles that DAC can play in addressing them.

I believe that conferences and other face to face meetings are essential for establishing the trust necessary for key stakeholders and thought leaders to collaborate on common challenges.

I think that the EDA landscape has changed significantly in the last five to ten years and DAC has yet to adjust:

  1. The rise of global teams as the default vehicle for product design and development. Designs never sleep: continuous configuration management and design dashboards are replacing face to face status meetings and Power Point decks. See also:
  2. Customers are increasingly relying on outside service firms for significant aspects of the product development process. EDA services revenue may be as large as EDA software revenue.
  3. Clearly imminent is a transition to cloud computing and SaaS models, whether at larger customers on virtualized datacenters or at smaller firms relying on third party cloud computing suppliers.

I welcome your suggestions for how DAC can assist small firms and working engineers. I am specifically interested in your opinion on:

  1. What are the significant problems or emerging issues that DAC should foster conversation and collaboration to address.
  2. What can DAC do to better serve the smaller innovative firms.
  3. What can DAC do to enable innovative engineers to compare notes on current challenges. How do we recapture the roots of the conference as a community of practice where engineers share lessons learned around real design and product development challenges.

Please use to reach me.

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See also comments left on an earlier version of this post at

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