Archive for March, 2011

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–March 2011

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

You can follow @skmurphy to get them hot off the mojo wire or wait until the end of the month when these quotes for entrepreneurs are collected on the blog. Enter your E-mail if you would like Feedburner to deliver new blog posts to your inbox.

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“Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.”
Joseph Conrad

I used this as the closing quote for “Getting Unstuck.”

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“Beware of the panacea peddlers: just because you wind up naked doesn’t make you an emperor.”
Michael A Padlipsky

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“Cover what you do what you do best, and link to the rest.”
Jeff Jarvis

hat tip to Eric Santos (@ericsantos)

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“The Army’s After Action Review (AAR) is arguably one of the most successful organization learning methods yet devised.”
Peter Senge

hat tip to Lean Library (@leanlibrary)

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“Avoidance of failure has greater evolutionary advantage than imitation of success.”
Dave Snowden in “Rendering Knowledge

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“We must beat the iron while it is hot, but we may polish it at leisure.”
John Dryden

Taken from the Dedication to his translation of the Aeneid.

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“Since little or nothing is known about the principle of magneto reluctance, diagnosing faults can be a problem.”
Mike Kraft

One of many funny lines in various Retro-Encabulator and Turbo-Encabulator videos. Googling encabulator will waste at least 20 minutes of your time.

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“The three indispensables of genius are understanding, feeling, and perseverance. ”
Robert Southey

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“We cannot predict the spark, but we can say when a forest has accumulated dangerous levels of kindling.” Marten Scheffer quoted in “I Predict a Riot: Where the Next Dictator Will Fall

More excerpts  from the New Scientist article, the final one includes more context for the quote:

Complex systems with many interrelated variables, such as ecosystems or societies, can accumulate stresses while showing no obvious change – until they reach a point where a small stress can trigger a sudden shift to another stable state. For example, forests accumulate kindling until a spark ignites a fire.

The key to predicting regime shifts, says Marten Scheffer of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, is to look beyond individual behaviour to seek simple laws that describe a population’s collective behaviour. […] “All complex systems exhibit certain symptoms before a regime shift, including slower responses to small changes, and a tendency for all players to behave similarly.”

In the past, Scheffer says, analysts focused on the trigger that sparks change, rather than the underlying system. “We cannot predict the spark,” he says, “but we can say when a forest has accumulated dangerous levels of kindling.” Repressing revolution is not the way to achieve stability, he adds. It would be like preventing small forest fires, allowing kindling to accumulate until a big fire breaks out. But uncovering the symptoms of instability may warn societies to reform themselves before revolution happens.

Scheffer elaborates on this concept in Chapter 4 “Emergent patterns in Complex Systems” of his book “Critical Transitions in Nature and Society

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“Japanese does not have a word for excessive preparation.”
Patrick Mckenzie in “Some Perspective On The Japan Earthquake

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“The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
William James

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“Death did not come with the thunderous gallop of a pale horse nor the wicked song of a blackened scythe hissing through the air. His was a quiet and patient arrival cloaked in the subtle hesitation that turns hopeful tomorrows into regretful yesterdays.”
Kep Pump

Used as opening quote for “Failure to Thrive

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“Focus primarily on making everyone around you succeed.”
Yishan Wong “The Secret to Career Success

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“We can never have enough startups that are pursuing unique solutions to important problems.”
Chris Yeh in “Can We Ever Have Too Many Startups?

More context (emphasis added to highlight quote):

Startups are a force for good because they have proven over time to be the best vehicle for pursuing innovation. But not all startups are innovative. We can never have enough startups that are pursuing unique solutions to important problems. But a profusion of “me-too” startups can actually damage the startup ecosystem by consuming the sunlight (funding, engineers) that would otherwise go to more unique and innovative startups.

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*Update March 17, 2011: I mistakenly attributed this quote in my “Life Is Too Short” post to James Michener:

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well.”
Lawrence Pearsall Jacks “Education through Recreation” (1932), p. 1

The “master in the art of living” quote is actually by Lawrence Pearsall Jacks See Quote Investigator on “Master” for more details. Hat tip to Caterina Fake for “Lawrence Pearsall Jacks On Work” which triggered my efforts to verify the true author.

Address A Problem An Industry Promotes In Satisfying A Major Need

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

I had lunch two weeks with two old friends and when I mentioned that we were working with a new company, TTM, helping them to exhibit and present at Semi-Therm last week and one of them told me an interesting story.

He writes microcode and debugs complex system design issues for a storage area network company.  He is comfortable with both hardware and software and for some reason he didn’t elaborate on  he had swapped a CPU from his son’s PC with the one in his. He detached the heat sink to be able to remove it from his son’s computer.  Just as he touched the power on button on his PC he realized that he had forgotten to re-attach if after installing it in his computer.  Alas, before he could even take his finger off the button smoke was coming out of the computer: it died instantly.

Needless to say designing the thermal network that protects a chip, a system, an LED lighting system (which these days can be an overhead light, a streetlamp, or even a television screen), or an electric vehicle is more important than ever.

I think there is another lesson for entrepreneurs in this, so often we look at the primary driver for system performance:

  • transistor size
  • microprocessor clock speed
  • miles per gallon
  • zero to 60 in N seconds

that we overlook when secondary constraints start to become as or more important:

  • battery life for portable devices
  • memory bus width or instruction word length (E.g. VLIW) so that the same cycle does more work
  • switching to hybrid power trains
  • 60 to zero: highway crash survivability

Christensen addressed how performance overshoot enables new markets in “The Innovator’s Dilemma” I think there is another category of opportunity that’s “the hill behind the hill” or addressing the problem that an industry has promoted when they have solved a primary problem.

Human Nature As Applied to Software Development

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

In his introduction to his  interview with Fred Brooks, John Cook has another great passage.

The shelf life of software development books is typically two or three years, maybe five or ten years for a “classic.” Frederick Brooks, however, wrote a book on software development in 1975 that remains a best-seller: The Mythical Man-Month. His book has remained popular because he wrote about human nature as applied to software development, not the hottest APIs and development fads from the 1970’s.

The implications of human nature in constraining software development, whether at an individual or team level, is probably the least appreciated challenge in doing a software startup, second only to the need to find a paying customer.

As  entrepreneurs we have to change before we can change the world. If we want to take our customers beyond their current limits, we must map and respect our own personal limits, and those of their co-founders and team. Plans that don’t recognize reality, in particular acknowledging and respecting our limits as well as leveraging our strengths, don’t come to fruition.

Connecting Technical Know-How With Customer Needs

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, skmurphy

John Cook routinely offers great insights on his blog, “The Endeavor.” He was interviewed by Vincent Tan in the March 2011 issue[PDF] of Singularity Magazine

Actually applying math is hard work. It requires knowing the limits of your abstractions. It may require writing software or writing English prose. It requires skills outside of mathematics in order to connect the mathematics to the problem. It’s messy and it’s fascinating.

I think this neatly summarizes the key challenges of most technology startups, at root the need to connect the mathematics to the customer needs. I think the connection comes from listening to their stories and telling a few of our own.  In particular,  I think it’s very important to explain who you are and why the particular problem you have chosen to address is important for you to solve. Finally you have to make sure that the “limits of your abstraction” are close enough to representing the customer’s problem that you can address it with your technology.

Edith Harbaugh: It’s Your Execution Not Your Idea

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, skmurphy

This is a guest post by Edith Harbaugh. She moderates the Lean Startup Circle mailing list but doesn’t have a blog of her own, so I have offered her mine because I was impressed by her insights and writing.

It’s Your Execution Not Your Idea

An initially dispiriting thing to hear from a customer is “I had that idea years ago”, or “I built a version of that”.

What?  You mean our product is not completely unique?

The more I heard “Years ago I had that idea” though, the more I realized that it was GOOD that customers had thought of this need, and had not been able to build it or buy it previously.  People who said this were a built-in market ready to buy.

Our advantage was in executing on the idea and bringing it to market, not in the idea itself.

Effective Execution Starts With a Clear Picture Of Your Customer

Do you have a clear picture in your mind of what your customer looks like?  Who they are?

Asking random people to “look at my site” is at best mildly distracting and at worst destructive to your sanity and progress.  I could look at a Fantasy Football site and give all sorts of feedback, but I’m never going to sign up for a Fantasy Football site.

Find people who you think are your customers, and ask them if they’d use your site.  If they won’t use it, ask them why not.  Listen to what they say.  You might not be able to address their concerns, but you’ll know where you’ll stand.  At that point, a simple “Thanks for your feedback, can we contact you when we make more progress?” leaves the door open for future discussions, without committing to specific actions.

How to Define The First Release

A good technique to define the first release of a product is to think about what you want a user to accomplish in the first 5 minutes of using your site.   Break your ideas into the first 30 seconds, first 2 minutes, and first 5 minutes?

  • 30 seconds: Person arrives at my site.  I have 30 seconds to convince them the site is valuable and relevant, or they’ll hit the back button.  What’s your value proposition?
  • 2 minutes: If they see the value proposition, what activity do I want them to do in the next 90 seconds? What’s my Call To Action?
  • 5 minutes: After 5 minutes, what “goodness” have I delivered to the user that they’ll come back again?

This framework makes it easier to see what are power user features vs what absolutely needs to get built first.  If you’re not delivering value to a user in the first 2 minutes, they’ll never even see or use the rest of your site!

Don’t Lose Newcomer’s Eyes

Be careful that your team can lose “newcomer’s eyes” when they have been testing for a while, and shift focus to power-user features–or edge cases-that customers will only see after using your site for half an hour, or hours!

I joined a company right before they were launching a 1.0 product.  They’d been in a private beta for 3+ months, along with employees heavily using the product.  None of the setup screens had any explanatory text, they just assumed you knew what to do (as everyone who was using the system at this point was).  The company energy was being spent on “after I’ve been using this for several weeks, I noticed this issue….”

When the product rolled out to new users, they were baffled.  At the time, we decided to focus on the first twenty minutes of delight.  Now, I think if there’s a blocker in the first minute and then another blocker, users will just give up.   Challenge yourself to delight a user within 90 seconds.

Related Blog Posts



Be Mindful of People’s Time

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Sales

Tristan Kromer covers 8 tips for getting your email read.

  1. Keep it short
  2. Who are you?
  3. What do you want?
  4. What you think is irrelevant
  5. Everyone likes numbers
  6. Easy on the attachments
  7. Include all relevant information
  8. Follow up

It’s  a great set of points that also apply to meeting someone at a networking event, a cold call, or your first meeting with a prospect.

Three Additional Suggestions For an Opening Email

These apply to a situation where you have not actually met or spoken with the person before.

  • Mention a friend in common: if you have a friend in common or someone suggested that you e-mail or call, mention that in the firs two or three sentences. And be mindful that you are now potentially spending that person’s social capital with the person you are talking to as well as your own.
  • Mention an article, blog, podcast, or video: if you liked a particular article, blog post, podcast or video they did then mention that with a link and add one sentence about what you learned from it or why you liked it.
  • If you heard them speak: if you have attended a talk they gave mention the specific date, location, sponsoring organization or event, and topic. Add one or two sentences on key insights you took away.

Three Additional Suggestions For a Follow up E-mail

  • Outline specifically where you met or spoke: date, time, event, location, any other detail that would make it particular or memorable. You want to show that you have actually met them and this is not a cold or opening email.
  • Document actions you have already taken: if they suggested that you do something or investigate something when you last spoke, outline what you have done to follow up.
  • Outline other research you have done: if you have done additional research on them mention an article, podcast or video that you reviewed and what you have learned from it.

Related Blog Posts and Articles

Video: Early Revenue For Enterprise Web Apps

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Events, skmurphy

This webinar is for SaaS firms faced with an “enterprise sales” challenge by virtue of their minimum price point or number of job boundaries, business processes, or contractual relationships that have to change to create value. The focus is on early revenue. Here is the video from my February 24 webinar with DreamSimplicity on “Early Sales for Enterprise Web Apps.”

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