Archive for December, 2012

Quotes For Entrepreneurs–December 2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, skmurphy

You can follow @skmurphy to get these 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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“The hero is known for achievements, the celebrity for well-knownness. The hero reveals the possibilities of human nature. The celebrity reveals the possibilities of the press and the media. Celebrities are people who make news, but heroes are people who make history. Time makes heroes but dissolves celebrities.”
Daniel Boorstin in “Who Are Our Heroes?

I later used this in “Memorial Day 2014

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“Embrace exploration, discovery, and the hunt for something great”
Stacey Gutman

I heard her say this at the “Lean in the Enterprise” workshop at the Lean Startup Conference 2012.

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“We live in a moment of history
where change is so speeded up
that we begin to see the present
only when it is disappearing.”
R. D. Laing

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“Vocation is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
Frederick Buechner

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“Live deep instead of fast.”
Henry Seidel Canby

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“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving, but does not make any progress.”
Alfred A. Montapert

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“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
Henry David Thoreau

h/t Jim Flowers @startwithmoxie

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“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’
Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.”
Charles M. Schulz

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“Presidential ambition is a disease that can only be cured by embalming fluid.”
Estes Kefauver

I think this is also true of entrepreneurship, it may subside for a year or two but flare up again without warning.

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“Expect problems and eat them for breakfast.”
Alfred A. Montapert

We were not aware of this quote when we promised that you could “join other entrepreneurs who eat problems for breakfast”® at a Bootstrappers Breakfast® but clearly we agree that this great advice for entrepreneurs.

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“There is a trap that some entrepreneurs fall into: they look at prospects they are interviewing as a consumable–somewhat akin to the way a scientist might budget for lab rats–instead of potential customers who will require several conversations of escalating mutual disclosure to establish a business relationship with.”
Sean Murphy in “A Conversation With An Bootstrapping EdTech Startup on Customer Interviews

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“Having worked on ad-supported online businesses on and off since 1996, I think 90% of the people who talk about their startups as ad-supported are just fooling themselves. This turns up a lot at the Lean Startup Machine events. Many people avoid thinking about business models, and one way to do that is to say, “We’ll run ads!” And then they go back to dreaming about the product.”
William Pietri (@WilliamPietri) on a recent thread on the Lean Startup Circle

Used as opening quote for “Five Tests For Your We’ll Run Ads Business Model

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“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
Charles Dickens in “A Christmas Carol

Christmas Day 2012 entry

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“It is called a Customer Interview, not a Solution Monologue.”
David J Bland @davidjbland

Too true! Also avoid the Feature Travelog & Prospect Interrogation. Discovery Conversation may be better metaphor, one I have added to my Tips for B2B Customer Interviews

It’s should really be a dialog not an interview. If you are not asking questions it can become a feature travelog (it doesn’t count if you end a five minute explanation of your view of their problem or your view of the benefits of your solution with “What do you think?”) and if you are not hearing questions then it can become an interrogation.
Why: If you are not hearing any questions from the prospect then they have little or no interest in working with you.

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“The calm before the storm is always riddled with assumptions.”
Asif Khan Mandozai @asifmandozai

I like this, it reminds me of Gerald Weinberg’s “What looks like a crisis is only the end of an illusion.”

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“Above all, innovation is not invention. It is a term of economics rather than of technology.”
Peter Drucker

h/t The Lean Library @theleanlibrary

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“Invention is concerned with things and ideas, innovation is all about people and relationships.”
Sean Murphy

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“There are some people I’d like to follow, but don’t. I’m interested in what they think but don’t give a shit where they are every 5 minutes. ”
Ed Weissman @edw519

I need to find some better tools to separate the wheat from the chaff in twitter and other feeds.

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“If I had more skill in what I’m attempting, I wouldn’t need so much courage.”
Ashleigh Brilliant

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“There’s no secret to success. Did you ever know a successful man who didn’t tell you all about it?”
Kin Hubbard

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“The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.”
John E. Southard

Added as a closing quote to “Thanksgiving 2012

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“The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“The maintainability you’re looking for in a startup is your relationship with the customer.”
Daniel B. Markham (HN: DanielBMarkham )

From his full answer to “Should you TDD an MVP?” (emphasis in original):

The question here is really “what’s the test?” You have to realize the MVP is the test.

For a startup, customers are how you pass the test. Anything else is a red light. So in the most important way possible, as long as you have no customers, you have a test which is failing.

This is important because the maintainability you’re looking for in a startup is your relationship with the customer. Manage that and the rest takes care of itself. If you are already in a business, yes, “maintainability” means writing code that will last. But if you’ve just got an idea or a dream, you’ve got nothing worth maintaining. Nor will you ever.

Put differently, your technical debt can never exceed the economic value of your code, which in a startup is extremely likely to be zero. (Different scenario entirely for project-based work for ongoing businesses, which is why TDD makes so much sense in that scenario).

A Conversation With A Bootstrapping EdTech Startup On Customer Interviews

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, Customer Development, Design of Experiments, Lean Startup, skmurphy

What follows is a sequence of E-mails with an entrepreneur bootstrapping an EdTech startup around the challenges of doing customer interviews that have been recast as a conversation, with the original content edited for length and clarity.

Entrepreneur (E): I am working with a couple of friends–we all have day jobs–on an idea for helping students improve their completion of on-line courses, for example from or We have a persona for our target student, whom we call Hazel. Hazel is in college and very motivated to learn programming techniques that she aims to integrate into her current degree and later employment. She has taken several on-line courses but has had poor completion.

Sean Murphy (SKM): For Hazel to be willing to talk to you–much less try out your offering–she will need to recognize that she has a problem and believe you have a potential solution. What is her perspective on how well she is doing in her courses?

E: Hazel has enrolled in about half a dozen courses in the last nine months (since Spring Quarter of last year, mainly over the summer) but has completed only one. She feel badly about her lack of progress and has tried a few things to improve her consistency but so far nothing has worked.

SKM: Does she believe he has a problem or need to improve? Why?

E: She is painfully aware of her drop out rate, when she talks to her friends she complains about having to study alone compared to study groups she is able to take part in with her regular college courses.

SKM: What key capability is she looking for to improve her performance?

E: She wants the accountability and peer support she enjoys in her regular college classes.

SKM: I understand what you mean by “accountability and peer support” but are there some specific symptoms of poor performance that she would recognize and acknowledge that you can probe for to get an interview?

E: Have you registered for more than three on-line courses and failed to complete them? Do you take part in informal study groups for your college classes?

SKM: Those sound like good probes using the same language that a student would. I worry that since you are bootstrapping you might want to target folks who have more money or motivation than college students. You want your customers to get more value out of on-line courses; I would be tempted to target people who are already employed who are adding to skills to get a promotion or a new job.

E: We have another persona, Edward, who looks like that but we have decided to start with Hazel. We will ultimately interview people who fit both personas.

SKM: What are your challenges trying to find students who match Hazel?

E: Because we are all working it’s hard to schedule interviews with college students; do you think they need to be face to face?

SKM: I think you will learn a lot more in a synchronous conversation: face to face will tell you the most but a phone call or a Skype call also works, even a chat session is often more useful than an exchange of emails. My last choice would be a survey.  How have you been reaching out to folks to interview?

E: We have been posting in the on-line course forums when we see someone post something that looks like they are having trouble completing the course:

“I read your message <Title> on <Forum> at <URL> and I’m very interested your take on <Course> in particular and your experience with on-line learning in general. Do you have 15 minutes for a Skype call to share your opinion on online courses? A few friends and I, after having some problems with a course we took together, started working on something we believe will improve online learning and we’d love to hear your take on it. If you don’t have the time for a call, would you be willing to share your insight over email? We also have this survey <URL> that only takes 3 minutes to complete if you’d prefer.”

SKM: 15 minutes is a big ask for a stranger and you don’t offer any specifics in your e-mail as to how you may be able to help or enable them to do some self-diagnosis to see if your solution may be something that they are looking for. It’s not clear how they will benefit from the conversation.

E: People can be pretty eager to tell you what they think about something they care about so I thought that in itself might be enough of a driver. But we have had a low response rate when we asked just for a Skype call. We have more people either giving us a short reply over e-mail or taking the survey. Would it be better to drop the other options and just suggest a Skype call?

SKM: I would offer Skype and E-mail. An exchange of E-mail can lead to a Skype conversation; I think it’s harder to move from a survey to a conversation.  You might consider blogging about ways to improve your performance/results/learning from an on-line course: outlining methods or techniques that would complement your solution. This would offer some credibility that you can help students and give you something to point to in the offer letter.

E: Blogging sounds like it would take a lot of time, and time is a pretty big constraint for us. How high would you rank blogging compared to other activities related to customer interviews? How about offering a gift card? $20 for a gift card is totally worth an hour of my time to author a decent blog post. I understand a blog post might have less perishable value in the long run.

SKM: You can share the same “decent blog post” with many people who may each value it and who can each share it with friends they think it may help. A gift card is proof that you value their time but does not substantiate any expertise or offer direct assistance in addressing the problem or need your solution is targeting.

Let me suggest another way to look at your question. Would you rather interview?

  1. Ten college students for 5 minutes who read your blog post “10 tips for finishing an on-line course” and are interested in talking to you about their challenges in completing on-line courses
  2. Ten college students for 15 minutes who heard that you were giving away $20 gift cards as a reward for an interview.

I think many in the first group may talk to you for more than five minutes if they don’t feel that the first five was a waste of their time. It may be hard to talk to few in the second group without promising another gift card.  Because I work primarily in B2B niche markets and have to cherish any prospects I come across I don’t look at informational interviews as transactions but the start of a potential business relationship.

There is a trap that some entrepreneurs fall into: they look at prospects they are interviewing as a consumable–somewhat akin to the way a scientist might budget for lab rats–instead of potential customers who will require several conversations of escalating mutual disclosure to establish a business relationship with.

E: I understand your point, but it seems that it may be worth it in some circumstances to shortcut that process. I wouldn’t think that one blog post with some useful tips would be enough to repay the person for the time I’m asking for. Yes, it’s certainly better than nothing, but does it really help to move the needle? I can see that providing great content and supporting Hazel could help me to understand her needs better and led to us doing business. But is trying to close her and get her to become a customer the goal here?

SKM: I work in niche markets and cannot afford to look at any potential relationship as disposable. Try both, pay some people and see if you can write something that offers enough insight that folks feel like giving you five minutes of their time. What you do in that five minutes may encourage them to give you another five minutes. That’s how relationships are built. Not everyone you talk to turns out to be a fit and many of those that are don’t care to continue the conversation. But I like to engage in a way that does not preclude further conversation.

E: I know I don’t have a lot of experience yet doing interviews so I’m looking for guidance. But on paper it would seem worthwhile to try and get some feedback as quickly as possible on the potential validity of the idea and then start to build some more “content” and stronger relationships. Where is the risk in that approach?

SKM: If you are in a hurry it can work against empathy and appreciative inquiry, both of which are critical to forming a deep understanding of a prospect’s situation and needs.

E: One of our values as a business is to be grateful to anyone who tries to help us and to treat them with respect. And even though it can hurt when people decide not to have a conversation, it’s still a useful signal so we respect that decision as well. We don’t treat anyone as a lab rat and try to help him or her as best we can, but this doesn’t seem to preclude the possibility of an initial shallow conversation. Now whether that lack of depth is an issue in building my business or not that I’m not really sure.

SKM: I had two additional thoughts for you:

  1. I don’t think Hazel views her problem as an inability to finish on-line courses. She is signing up for those courses to meet some need or to enable an opportunity. I would dig a little deeper into what she will do once she finishes the course.
  2. An on-line class provider may view their “dropout rate” as a problem and they may be the real customer.

[We adjourned for two weeks and then had a second shorter exchange.]

E: We decided to opt for the “blog post” option. We also managed to go to some evening Meetups and tried to add value for people right there while talking to them. That worked surprisingly well. Hopefully it’ll continue that way. I still feel like there’s a place for the paid interviews, maybe even as an intermediary step between face to face interviews and flat out surveys.

SKM: When you can find a way for your discovery conversations to offer value to a prospect, then they are more likely to share information and more willing to agree to continue the conversation or agree to a second conversation. One test for interest is that it becomes less of an interview (or worse an interrogation where you are asking all of the questions) and more of a dialog where you are both asking questions of each other.

E: As far as your additional thoughts, we now believe that you were correct on both accounts and based on the last few rounds of interviews we have a better idea of Hazel’s reasons for not finishing the course. We are now trying to determine how that intersects with the course provider’s perception of that problem: the course provider is interested in drop out rate but Hazel is not really focused on dropping out.

We are now trying to get a better understanding of Hazel’s goals in taking the course so that we have a shot at helping her succeed. In parallel we are trying to figure out how to have some conversations with the course providers. If we decided that selling to the course providers was the way to monetize this, would you talk to them first? Even if we are not sure we can find a way to help Hazel improve her odds of finishing the course?

SKM: If you plan to sell to course providers I would try and gain a better appreciation for their perspective and their business model: e.g. what are cost and revenue drivers; what do they view as the key risks in launching a new course or making a profit on a course.

One possibility to consider is that they may be less interested in helping Hazel and more interested in how to predict who will complete the course, in particular at or before signup, and how to attract more of those students. In other words: if the course provider is your customer I would figure out if they would pay me to help Hazel complete the course before I invested effort figuring out how to help Hazel complete the course.

If Hazel is the paying customer then you have to determine if she would pay you something to help her complete a “free” course: again I would focus on this question before trying to dig too deeply into how to help her complete the course. Prospects are often more interested in outcomes, costs, and timeframes than the details of your solution. One good book on this is “Great Demo” by Peter Cohan, who suggests that you open very quickly with the “ta da” or final result and see if the prospect wants it before diving into the details.

Founders Must Engage in Customer Discovery Conversations To Close Early Sales

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

Technical founders are tempted to look for a channel partner or hire an experienced sales person to make their early sales. This is often problematic for several reasons.

It’s hard to assess/develop a channel without a clear picture of your target customer and the value proposition that your solution offers. Developing that clear picture requires customer discovery conversations.

It’s very hard to use a commissioned sales force to do customer discovery conversations:

  1. They have a strong temptation to move into “objection handling” instead of “problem/need discovery” because those skills are what normally close deals when they are selling a product with a proven value proposition.
  2. Customer discovery is sales, but it stresses the discovery skills that can atrophy in a sales force that does not require them for a well understood product  in an existing market.

Customer discovery is sales but many technical founders don’t associate it with sales because they consider sales to be about “making the pitch” and “ABC – always be closing,” not realizing that you also  “sell with your ears” by “ABCD – always be collecting data.”

Five Tests For Your “We’ll Run Ads” Business Model

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

“Having worked on ad-supported online businesses on and off since 1996, I think 90% of the people who talk about their startups as ad-supported are just fooling themselves. This turns up a lot at the Lean Startup Machine events. Many people avoid thinking about business models, and one way to do that is to say, “We’ll run ads!” And then they go back to dreaming about the product.”
William Pietri (@WilliamPietri) on a recent thread on the Lean Startup Circle

Here are five tests you should be able to pass when your team decides “We’ll run ads” is your business model:

  1. Someone on your team has sold ads before.
  2. You know who will value the audience you are collecting.
  3. You know how much they will pay for the attention of the audience you are collecting.
  4. You have run the numbers against a other models (e.g. subscription) and believe ad supported is superior because (show your work).
  5. You can acquire an audience for less than you will earn selling their attention to your customers.

See also Nate Berkopec’s “Attention Arbitrage

LSC Workshop on Engineering Your Sales Process

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Events, Sales, Startups

If you missed SKMurphy and SalesQualia at Lean Startup Conference’s workshop, Sean Murphy and Scott Sambucci led an interactive workshop on developing and debugging your repeatable and scalable B2B sales process. In the workshop, we worked a number of sales issues that the attendees from lean startups had:

  • Can’t get potential customers to call back
  • Won’t make a decision
  • Prospects like the beta, but they will not buy
  • Deals stall

Quick Summary

Engineering Your Sales Process workshop will help you learn from common sales problems by using conscious planning and experimentation. Traditional sales training stresses “every no moves you closer to a yes.” Our approach to engineering your sales process says instead, “What looks like noise is often actually data.” Designing and debugging a repeatable sales process is key to a sustainable business, and we’ll address how to diagnose common problems to determine likely root causes. You will leave with a scientific approach to understanding your customers’ needs and their buying process so that you can scale your business in harmony with it.

You can view the slides at

Also here is the link to a readable version of the sales map in mindomo

Workshop feedback

Mentors at Lean Startup 2012 Conference

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in skmurphy

There are 20 mentors listed on the Lean Startup 2012 Speakers-Mentors list. This is a companion post to my roundup of slides, videos, and related articles and blog posts from the Lean Startup 2012 Conference. My intent is to round out the map of the players in the Lean Startup ecosystem.

Lean Startup Conference 2012 Roundup

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, Events, skmurphy

This post curates content and commentary related to the 2012 Lean Startup Conference: videos, blog posts, slides, articles, etc..

Lean Startup Conference Main Program Mon-Dec-3-2012

Opening Remarks by Eric Ries

Lean Government

Running Short Experiments During a Long Product Cycle

Ten Ways to Get Out of the Building

What Is Innovation Accounting?

Bringing Lean Startup to Life at GE, One of the World’s Biggest Companies

Prototyping to Validate a Big Idea at Getaround

Fast, Cheap and In Control: Testing the Market for a New Kind of Car

I (Heart) Ugly

Secrets of Rapid Mobile App Development

On the Way to Lean Startup: Curvy and Working it Out

Failure is Great and Other Myths of the Lean Startup

How Engineers Embrace The Lean Startup

We Went to West Africa and Learned Our Key Assumptions Were Wrong

Moving Fast While Caring About Design at Hipmunk

Testing MVPs with Crowdfunding

Making Decisions By Ignoring Sales Metrics

Lean Content: Using Words To Acquire Customers

10,000 Startups

Running a Lean Startup Sales Process

Bonfire of the Vanity Metrics: Numbers You’re Still Using and Shouldn’t

Innovation Accounting in Practice

Lean Marketing

How To Run a 5 Whys (With Humans, Not Robots)

The Challenge of Sustaining Disruptive Innovation When You Meet Success

Creating a Culture of Experimentation: Ideas and Best Practices

One Year Later: Dropbox Answers Your Questions

Making the Call on a Platform Pivot

Lessons Learned Getting Out Of The Building

One Year Later: Lessons from Votizen

A Conversation with Marc Andreessen

Lean Startup Conference Ignite Talks on Sun-Dec-2-2012

Lean Startup Approach to PR

Lessons Learned Rebooting Moveline

Lean Startup in the Enterprise

Just Deploy It

Building a Lean Mean Design Team

Why Every Startup Employee Should Learn to Code

When You Are the Disruptee

Lean Your Marketing

The Psychology of Pivoting

Diagnosing Customer Problems

It’s Not What You Think (Leap of Faith Assumptions)

The I of the Storm

New York Port Authority Goes Lean

Why Big Media Companies Should Go Lean

Parallels Between Lean Startups and Lean Hospitals

Lean Startup Conference Workshops Tue-Dec-4-2012

Validate Your Learning Engines

Build Successful (and Sane) Iterative Apps

Lean Analytics: Using Data to Build a Better Startup Faster

Lean Startup in the Enterprise

The Lean Entrepreneur: Embrace the Unknown to Go Big

Engineering Your Sales Process

Lean Startup Conference Commentary and Other Roundups

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