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Archive for September, 2013
Join us next Saturday October 5 at 1:45 for the “Working for Equity Startup CEO Panel,” an exploration of what’s really involved in getting a technology startup off the ground. We have four entrepreneurs, an artist, an athlete, a scientist, and a community organizer, who will share lessons learned and take questions from the audience.
Q: We are preparing to enter a B2B market where the potential buyers are high-value but relatively few in number and close-knit. I am concerned that they will have a low tolerance for a minimum viable product (MVP) approach; much less pre-MVP research that misses the mark. How do we preserve our credibility but take a scientific approach?
We work primarily with bootstrappers who have deep domain knowledge, typically a team of 2-5 engineers, scientists, or other experts. Our focus is on B2B markets with a hundred to a few thousand thousand firms. If you are solving a hard enough problem or just talking about a need that’s a real pain point they are more than willing to have a conversation and consider an your MVP. Here are a few rules of thumb for preserving your social capital in B2B niche markets:
- Actively Manage Expectations With Clear Communications
- Always Assume Everything You Do Will Become Public
- Listen For What Isn’t Being Said
- Predictable Behavior Inspires Trust
- Trust Doesn’t Scale, It’s Knit by Aligning Actions With Prior Commitments
One example of a product we are helping a team launch is BeamWise, a design and simulation too for biophotonic systems that may have a total market of a 250-500 organizations that might purchase it.
I like these markets because they often have an expertise barrier that makes them harder to penetrate. If you act in a trustworthy manner, are easy to do business with, and deliver value these customers tend to be loyal–they don’t treat your offering like a commodity but look at you more as a partner than a supplier.
These niche B2B markets require more discipline that consumer markets. You have to approach each customer in a way that you preserve your ability to do business with them: you cannot do anything that communicates a lack of respect or indicates you are merely using them as an experimental subject or “target practice.” People in these markets know each other, reference each other’s purchase decisions, and a poor reputation can travel faster than your ability to message.
This does not mean that your product has to be perfect, only that you are committed to acting with integrity and providing value. Seth Godin had a great blog post on “A Hierarchy of Failure” that’s relevant to your market exploration and MVP strategies. Here is his hierarchy:
- FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.
- FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.
- FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.
- FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.
- FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.
I think he gets it exactly correct. And I think a number of entrepreneurs, in particular in the early market, get it almost exactly backward by
- Putting up a landing page that promises a capability or extra feature that doesn’t exist.
- Focusing more on a potential solution when talking with prospects–using them to prototype– instead of ensuring that they really understand the prospect’s perspective on the problem.
- Looking for funding before they look for customers, using investor interest as validation for their business concept.
Most organizations do precisely the opposite…They rarely take the pro-active steps necessary to fail quietly, and often, in private, in advance, when there’s still time to make things better.
Better to have a difficult conversation now than a failed customer interaction later.
The foundation of a successful business is the ability to make and meet commitments to customers, partners, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders. If you inform them in advance, “we are going to try the following experiment” they may or may not take part, but they can offer informed consent. I see too many instances where founders undervalue a relationship with a customer based on mutual trust and commitment.
Here are some related posts on managing trust and expertise:
We use this definition in our “Engineering Your Sales” and “Validating Your MVP” workshops and our MVP clinics. Our focus is on developing and selling products to businesses so that biases the definition a little bit but it’s important to remember what’s under your control in crafting your MVP:
- The particular type of customer: you can select who are you targeting and messaging. In many B2B markets the best message is a dog whistle: highly appealing to your target and of little interest to those who are not.
- The specific problem or need your focus on: it’s better to pick a very narrow pain point initially so that you maximize your chances of providing value.
- What you provide: the feature set and packaging of your offering.
These are normally the three areas that you tinker with during marketing exploration and MVP introduction. It’s also important to understand what’s not under your control:
- The customer decides if the need is important enough, or the problem severe enough, to devote any time to conversation or learning more about your offering.
- The customer decides if your solution offers enough of a difference over the status quo and other alternatives available to them to actively consider. Value is in the customer’s mind and it’s created in the customer’s business when they successfully deploy your offering. Your MVP is not valuable in the abstract; it must always be evaluated in the context of a particular customer. It does not matter how much time and expense you have invested in creating it, it’s the effect it will have on the customer’s business.
- The customer decides the nature and size of the initial purchase. You can decide not to pursue an opportunity that is “too small” but if the customer wants to pilot in a team or one department before deploying your solution more widely it’s often better to take that deal and get started than continue to argue for a larger initial deal. Breaking your offering into phases and smaller components will always make it easier to digest.
The following chalk talk illustrates this last point in more detail:
See “Chalk Talk on Technology Adoption” for a transcript.
Q: I want to make maximum effective use of my time. I have an hour of commute most days and have been listening to podcasts but I have been considering using the time to make customer discovery or sales calls. Do you have an recommendations on the best way to do this?
I think it’s a not a good idea to initiate a customer discovery conversation when you cannot be fully present and cannot take notes. That does not mean that you have to be face to face (although you learn a lot more from a face to face conversation) but I think it’s difficult to catch the nuance of the conversation when you are driving–even it you are just waiting for the light to change.
If you have a purely informational message and are looking for a simple yes/no/number answer (e.g. calling your spouse to ask if you need to pick up anything at the store on the way home) then a quick call saves everyone time and disappointment. But I can see this calling while driving approach going awry quickly if you get a new question from a prospect that you cannot give your attention to because someone is trying to change lanes in front of you or a pedestrian may or may be about to step off the curb or there may be a child chasing that ball that bounced across the road two seconds ago.
In my experience B2B sales conversations are expensive to arrange and difficult to “do over” if you don’t fully engage. You often hear about how it’s a numbers game but most markets are small towns where there are not that many folks you can call at a given time that are ripe for making a change. It can be difficult to recover from a poor first impression; if you follow up when they are considering making a change.
For any successful and most educational–and by educational I mean “those things which hurt also teach”–discovery calls I am taking notes contemporaneously. I understand how a headset can make the conversation hands free but how do you take notes about important issues, questions, or commitments that you need to address in a follow up?
Seth Godin offered this advice in “Texting While Working”
You’re competing against people in a state of flow, people who are truly committed, people who care deeply about the outcome. You can’t merely wing it and expect to keep up with them. Setting aside all the safety valves and pleasant distractions is the first way to send yourself the message that you’re playing for keeps
If you are competing against a team that’s not making calls while they are driving, who is more likely to learn something and to win the business?
If someone I am already doing business with calls with a quick update while driving that’s one kind of communication, but if someone I don’t know is clearly calling from a car or appears distracted or disinterested (whether or not I can tell they are driving) it’s much less likely I am going to go forward to explore a potential business relationship.
Don’t fall into a common trap of an entrepreneurs focusing on trying to save time at trust building activities and not focusing on increasing their chance for success. Even though sales can be a “numbers game” thinking about it purely in those terms tends to minimize the amount of learning that takes place (trying the same tactics and approaches over and over again because everyone knows its a “numbers game”) and lessens the focus on building rapport and listening carefully to questions and objections (looking instead for “smarter prospects” by talking to more people because its a “numbers game”).”
The paradox of B2B selling is that it’s about people and relationships, not numbers. People think of consumer markets as more personal than business, but it’s the reverse. If you cannot make the time for a phone call when you are at your desk or somewhere that you can be fully present in the conversation, calling prospects from your car is unlikely to be well received.
We explored the implications of “Texting While Working” in a panel discussion with three entrepreneurs
Also “Talking On Your Cell Phone While Driving May Be Hazardous to Your Close Relationships” offers some additional reasons why a cell phone conversation while driving may work against improving trust in a relationship. Summaries available at
PATCA is a non-profit organization created in 1975 specifically to help connect businesses and independent consultants. I was invited to take part in a PACA panel on “The Consulting Landscape: Forward Looking Skills and Practices” on Thursday June 13, 2013. It offered me a chance to clarify my thinking on the future of professional consulting and to have it critiqued by seasoned professional consultants.
Here is the overview for the panel
Change happens. In the present it comes more rapidly than in the past. Are you prepared to steer your business and the services you provide to clients through the changes that will impact your consulting business?
This panel of three experienced consultants will look at trends and potential disruptions that will affect how you run your consulting business and what your clients expect from you. They will examine client business practices, economic trends and uncertainties, and technology that affect how we do business.
Future of Professional Consulting
I have included my remarks and some of the questions, both edited for brevity. Here are the bullets from the five slides I presented:
Skills Still Valuable in 2020
- Face-to-Face and Phone Conversation
- Written Communication – E-Mail, Blog
- Text Chat
- Webinar / Screen Share
- Negotiation and Sales Skills
Key Service Parameters
- Outputs – What does the client get? What problem do firms hire you to solve?
- End Time – How long will it take?
- Cost: How much will it cost?
- Inputs – What do you need to get started?
- Controls / Interim Observations – How will we jointly manage the project and our mutual expectations?
- Start Time – When can you start?
- Inside the Black Box: questions not normally asked:
What do you do?
What is your process (beyond how do we jointly manage)?
How do you do it?
Skills That Will Become More Important In 2020
- Service Innovation
- Podcasting and Audio Production
- Video Presentation / Production – Video is the New HTML
- Task and Project Management Systems
- Stop E-mailing status and attachments
- Don’t Let Discussions Get Buried in Inbox
- Synchronous Docs Complement Conversations
Trends and Technologies to Watch
- Non-Billable Hour or “Value” Models
- “Flipped Classroom” Models
- Continuous – Connected – Transparent
- Global Practice
- Diagnostic & Service Configuration Tools
About SKMurphy, Inc
- We Are Customer Development Consultants
- Our Focus is on Technology Entrepreneurs
- We Help Them Find Leads & Close Deals
- Early Customers
- Early Revenue
- Early References
Partial Transcript of Edited Remarks
What can you negotiate and sell is as important as what you can do.
The half life of skills seems to be shrinking, this means that you have to be strategic in the capabilities that you choose to develop and you need to continually invest in renewing those skills that offer competitive differentiation.
Service innovation is becoming increasingly important: how do you raise the bar not only by how you package your offering but also by adding new features or capabilities. Decomposing what you can do into building blocks that you can knit together with other partners is one way to increase your rate of innovation.
Continuing to increase your differentiation is going to become more important. Whether you face Silicon Valley competitors or global competitors, they are going to go to school on you if you win business.
Challenge as a consultant is to build trust. Voice presentations help to do that. Consulting websites are going to include a lot more audio and video because production costs have plummeted and done right it’s more compelling and helps to build trust more rapidly than print content alone.
Synchronous documents that several people can edit at once are becoming more important. If you are in the same room with someone we are used to collaborating on a white board or sheet of paper. Combining these synchronous docs with chat and a phone call makes distance collaboration much more effective.
We even use synchronous docs in a face-to-face meeting because it’s a much better model than one person taking minute or each person taking their own notes. The synchronous document is shared and persistent, you end the meeting with something everyone feels some ownership of, and it surfaces misunderstanding much more rapidly.
Involving your customer in co-creation–this is the natural evolution of passing people taking turns drawing on the same napkin or piece of graph paper–is something to consider.
If part of your value has been to deliver training, the flipped classroom model where the information is available beforehand–think MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and Kahn Academy–is going to put a lot of pressure on traditional classroom lecture models.
Question: why change if what you are doing now is working?
If you believe that these trends are at work and your current billing and service delivery models are going to be impacted, you may compress the need for a lot of change in a short amount of time if you let your competition move down the learning curve before you take the first step.
Another challenge is to start to be explicit about your intake, diagnosis and service configuration. Whether is going to a Jiffy Lube or an ER, the intake process is very efficient and follows explicit protocols for problem identification. I think consultants need to look at automating aspects of both their diagnosis and service delivery.
I think we are going to see expert services embedded and intermingled of these emerging communications infrastructure: tables, smartphones, and VoIP models.
Q: what about things that are “off the radar” like innovative materials and quantum computing? How much attention should you pay to these things and incorporate them in your planning?
Bill Buxton, the original inventor of the multi-touch interface, wrote a great article in Business Week called “the long nose of innovation.” The time constant from lab demonstration to successful mainstream adoption of an innovation seems to be 30 years, and that lag doesn’t seem to be changing. 3D printers are 30 years old for example. The science fiction author William Gibson observed more than a decade ago that “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”
The things that will affect you in the next five years you will be able to see instances of today. They won’t come out of nowhere; somebody is already doing it now.
But the clock cycle for distance collaboration has sped up considerably in the last 30 years. We have moved from Fedex for overnight delivery to Internet downloads available in a few seconds. Understanding how to work with global teams is increasingly important.
My perspective is that I am going to be consulting into the 2030’s. This is what I want to be doing: so I have a long term planning horizon.
That means that I try and cultivate relationships with people who are in their 20’s and 30’s as part of a talent spotting exercise so when they are in positions of authority they remember me as that SOB who helped them out.
I think too often we focus on “how do I get to the decision maker?” This used to be someone older than us, and is now someone our age, and pretty soon will be someone younger than us.
You have to be planting acorns every year if you have long term ambitions to be a consultant. So that’s one strategy: talent spotting to support a twenty year planning horizon.
I think the consulting model is going to become more pervasive. There is a great book by Michael Malone called “The Future Arrived Yesterday” (which was initially titled the “Protean Corporation”) where he looks at employment relationships becoming much shorter term and more contingent. So I think there will be a lot more people working as consultants.
I started this firm in 2003 in the middle of what was nuclear winter in Silicon Valley. Total employment in Silicon Valley has yet to recover to the number of jobs that we had here in 2001. It was very hard.
Our first two clients were consultants who were trying to make mortgage payments to hold onto their houses. It was an interesting time–kind of like the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times.”
I realized a few years in, if I can actually make it in this climate I could probably do OK when things turn around. The fact that I made it through that and it’s ten years later taught me that it was important to have a long term vision and willingness to see it through.
You need to think about how you are going to plan acorns, whether it’s with relationships or with capabilities that you develop.
More on the unevenly distributed future from Rob Rodin in “Free, Perfect, and Now”
The problem is that, in reality, the future can be hard to recognize. It’s not evenly distributed; it’s hidden in corners. While there is no shortage of clues, they are buried beneath a crush of information. Radical adaptation to shifting customer demand is the first law of business survival today, but how can you learn what you need to know in order to anticipate those shifts?
h/t to Brian Dear for this citation. I blogged about Rodin’s book in “Tangible Costs, Time, and Pricing to Value.‘ I was fortunate to have Rob Rodin on a panel at the 1995 Design Automation Conference that addressed “The Impact of the World Wide Web on Electronic Design and EDA.” He talked about several the principles he was using to transform Marshall to leverage the Web, his experiences there formed the basis for “Free, Perfect, and Now.”
I saw some very cool stuff at the Inside 3D Printing Conference yesterday. Here are some pictures of a few of my favorites.
But not everything was hard and stiff – check out this personalized rubber shoe sole.
My favorite – electric guitar –
Okay this was not printed a home computer, this printer from 3D Systems was priced at $300k.
I saw some exciting software and tools. Having trouble drawing? 3D Systems’ recent acquisition, SensAble can help.
About Inside 3D Printing Conference: Inside 3D Printing is the largest professional 3D printing and additive manufacturing event worldwide. Inside 3D Printing provides exhibitors with a schedule of trade shows and companion conferences in major cities all around the world over a calendar year. As a conference attendee, you’ll explore the business applications of 3D printing through conference sessions led by industry experts, demonstrations of the latest 3D printers and services, and programming for designers, artists, and makers. Join us on our world tour and see how 3D printing is revolutionizing industries including manufacturing, jewelry, medicine, architecture, aerospace, and more.
Peter Cohan has a very insightful new article out, “Stunningly Awful vs. Truly Terrific Competitive Differentiation – What, When, and How“, that outlines how to use discovery conversations to enable effective product differentiation. What follows are some excerpts with additional commentary but the entire article is worth reading.
Register for “How to Invent” for free Udemy course at http://www.udemy.com/how-to-invent/
“How To Invent” is a step-by-step guide for non-inventors to start inventing. It is organized as screencast lectures, practice sessions, and quizzes. It offers process for capturing on paper key ideas in your head that you want to document as intellectual property and possibly protect as inventions by patenting them. This on-line workshop is a great way to learn more about Bill Meade insights and teaching style.
Don’t Miss Bill Meade’s Hands On Silicon Valley Workshop
He is also offering a live workshop “Capturing Intellectual Property” in Sunnyvale, CA on Sat-October-19-2013. Bill normally only offers private workshops for larger firms but this one is open to anyone with ideas that they want to document. This hands-on workshop will cover:
- What is intellectual property (IP)
- The forms and functions of legal IP protections
- The IP system and its functioning (on one slide)
- Capturing an invention
- Checking the invention for enablement
- How to capture invention if you work in a big company
Who should attend:
- Engineers who have never filled out an invention disclosure form.
- Section managers/Scrum Masters who are interested in learning what types and quantities of IP they should be seeing from their product development efforts.
- Patent agents and attorneys who are not “seeing enough” IP from their project teams and would like to capture more.
Bill Meade is an intellectual property consultant at BasicIP. In addition to capturing inventions, Bill has substantial experience in disclosure evaluation, IP portfolio management, business side of litigating patents, and licensing patents. He is the former patent portfolio manger for HP’s LaserJet group, has run over 200 invention workshops across US and around world. Bill has a Ph.D. in marketing and has taught college courses since 1990.
I interviewed Bill on “Inventors and IP Management” in 2010 for the EE Times “Entrepreneurial Engineer” column.
Many of us in Silicon Valley seek either to found or to be an early employee at a technology startup. If you aspire to create a startup come take part in a conversation with four startup founders about what’s really involved in leaving your day job and striking out on your own or with partners. The startup founders range from serial entrepreneurs to first-time CEOs, they will share their vision, drive and passion as they discuss the nuts and bolts of following their dreams to building something that will change the world.
Please Register for Silicon Valley Code Camp and indicate your interest in the session, this determines the size of room we will be in. We have had some great discussions not only among the panelists but with the audience–more than half the time for the session is allocated to questions from the audience–so please let us know if you plan attend so we will have room for you. There is also a Mobile Session Viewer And Planner.
While I think our panel is one of the better reasons to attend Code Camp there are another 232 sessions offered by experts and practitioners that cover a broad range of topics of interest to software engineers. Code Camp takes place all day Saturday October 5 and Sunday October 6 on the Foothill College campus at 12345 El Monte Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA. The “Working for Equity” panel takes place on Saturday October Oct 5 at 1:45.
For more information on earlier “Working for Equity Sessions” see
- Recap of Working For Equity CEO Panel at SVCC 2012
- Slides from Working for Equity Panel at SVCC 2011
- Sean Murphy to Moderate Panel on “Working For Equity – The World of Startups” at Silicon Valley Code Camp 2010
- Work For Equity Panel Set For SVCC 2010
The following announcement went out this morning: Biophotonic System Design Optimized Through New Technology BeamWise from Design Parametrics, Kinetic River, and Plan Energy I have added some additional hyperlinks for clarity. Giacomo Vacca will include a brief overview of BeamWise in his talk at the Bio2Devices Group on Sep-24-2013, “New Tools for Cancer Research: Probing Cellular Processes at High Throughput,” and describe how it contributed to the design of an innovative flow cytometer currently in use for research.
Remembering 9-11: I found this video very moving because it focused on the people and not the destruction.
h/t Victory Girls
Take ten minutes to reflect on Sep-11-2001, a watershed event for the US in the 21st century that I have come to believe is a harbinger and not an outlier. Last year I hoped that “our children can live in less interesting times.” It’s clear to me now that it will not be possible for them or our grandchildren to do so.
9-11 Related Posts
- Take a Moment to Recall 8 Years Ago
It’s hard to remember a state of complete confusion. I had dropped my boys off at school and was listening to one of least funny morning comedy routines that I had heard in a while. Something about the airport but I couldn’t make any sense of it. We were scheduled to fly to St. Louis tomorrow to attend a high school re-union. I called my wife and said “I think something has happened, I am not sure if we will be able to fly out of SFO tomorrow.”
- Lesser Sons of Greater Fathers
There was a mindfulness in Silicon Valley after 9/11 and the dotcom crash that I miss. I don’t miss the terrible turmoil and the anxiety and the 25% contraction in employment, but I do miss the mindfulness.
- Take a Moment to Recall 9 Years Ago
I am old enough to remember what I was doing when I learned that John Kennedy had been assassinated. I was in kindergarten playing at a friend’s house when his Mother sent me home. My Mother accused me of misbehaving until I convinced her to turn on the television with my wild story of an assassination.
I suppose I will always remember the morning of September 11, 2001 as well.
- Take a Moment to Recall 9 Years Ago, Part 2
“Remember. But move forward, too. Light a candle, yes. But also drive a rivet.”
- Remembering What Happened
At first we didn’t know what to call it, so we called it what happened. “Do you believe what happened?” “They think he died in what happened.” It was weeks before we called it 9/11. Sometimes tragedy takes time to find a name.
- “The Planes All Came Down” by James Lileks.
I will return to regular topics of bootstrapping, innovation, new product introduction shortly, but I don’t think it hurts to pop up out of the Silicon Valley tech bubble to reflect on larger issues a few times a year.
“I not only bow to the inevitable, I am fortified by it.”
Paul Spaan worked as a mechanical engineer for more than two decades at major Silicon Valley technology firms before launching Spaan Enterprises to explore his long term interest in 3D printing. On Friday May 24, he shared lessons learned from the installation and bringup of two 3D printers and some examples of prototypes he has designed and printed at the Bootstrapper Breakfast in Mountain View.
Here is the edited audio from the session that also captures many of the audience questions:
It’s also available for download directly : SpaanBB130524b
3D Printing Definition and Timeline
Paul provided the following definition and timeline:
3D printing–also known as additive manufacturing or positive manufacturing–is a process of making a three dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model.
- 70’s Stereo Lithography (SLA) laser cured liquid photo polymer (3D Systems / NYSE:DDD)
- 80’s Fusion Deposition Modeling (FDM) melting plastic filament (Stratasys Inc / NASDAQ:SSYS)
- 80’s Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) for metal, ceramics, or plastics, etc…
- 90’s Rapid Prototyping service bureaus became available: Raychem,Quickparts, SolidConcepts, etc…
- 2007 Reprap homegrown (FDM) “self-replicating” printer hits open source maker movement (See RepRap Family Tree)
- 2012 consumer level printers hit the mainstream media
- 2013 MakerBot makes the Today Show, 3D Systems “Cube” sold at Staples.
Related Articles and Blog Posts
- Paul Spaan has posted the handout he provided at the breakfast on http://www.spaanenterprises.com/Additive_Mfg_3Dprinting_May2013.pdf
- Marta Barretoni, our coordinator for the Silicon Valley Bootstrapper Breakfasts, has written a great blog post about “3D Printing, a quick guide to how to get started.“
Lisa Solomon says that an effective meeting can do one–and only one–of 3 things: build a common understanding, or generate options or make decisions. In this talk on “Designing Time: Make Meaning” she elaborates on this and challenges the person calling the meeting to work backward from the end of the meeting and define: what has happened as a result of this conversation and what use was delivered to each participant.