Archive for January, 2014

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 these quotes for entrepreneurs 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 these study results

“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.”
Having Medicaid increases emergency room visits

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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)

echoes “On Being the Right Size” (1928) by J. B. S. Haldane


You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.

An insect, therefore, is not afraid of gravity; it can fall without danger, and can cling to the ceiling with remarkably little trouble. It can go in for elegant and fantastic forms of support like that of the daddy-longlegs. But there is a force which is as formidable to an insect as gravitation to a mammal. This is surface tension. A man coming out of a bath carries with him a film of water of about one-fiftieth of an inch in thickness. This weighs roughly a pound. A wet mouse has to carry about its own weight of water. A wet fly has to lift many times its own weight and, as everyone knows, a fly once wetted by water or any other liquid is in a very serious position indeed.
On Being the Right Size” by J. B. S. Haldane

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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“)

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“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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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:

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

The difference between a hypothesis and an assumption is that the first is normally explicit and the second implicit. 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.

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.  Semifore 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, Stratum 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.

Entrepreneurship Requires Perseverance

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 cash flow  more than cash flow 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:

Ten From Paul Zappia’s “29 Ways To Stay Creative”

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

Paul Zii's 29 Ways To Stay CreativePaul Zappia  (@PaulZii) aka “Paul Zii” blogged a great list of “29 Ways to Stay Creative.” Here are my top 10 from his list (shown at left) with some comments added.

1. Make Lists. To Do Lists, Shopping Lists, Things to Try, Experiments to Run. If only for the pleasure of crossing items off you complete.
2. Carry a Notebook Everywhere. Or at least a stack of 3×5 cards.
3. Try Free Writing. This is also called “Morning Pages” it’s a way of overcoming perfectionism and writer’s block by writing for ten or twenty minutes every day.
9, Listen to New Music. I find music can unlock my creative juices, but I would add read new authors, especially in long form–books and magazine articles–to provide more new ideas.
12. Get Feedback. Ask for written feedback, thank folks when they provide it and act on it.
13. Collaborate. I have increased my output and quality of results in the last two years by finding “creative workout buddies” to work on projects.
16. Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes. Varying your approach allows you to stumble on to the “adjacent possible” instead getting stuck in a rut.
18. Count Your Blessings. Helps me get my mind off of what I don’t have, and reminds me to thank folks I have enjoyed collaborating with in the past.
24. Create a Framework. I try to take a systematic approach to projects and plan for recycling or remixing intermediate building blocks between projects.
29. Finish Something. Probably the hardest thing for me to do these days.


Here is a video of Paul Zappia’s list created by To-Fu Design (@tofu_design)

For more on Paul Zappia see

Semifore Execs Share Bootstrapping Lessons and 2014 Scaling Up Plans at Jan-17-2014 MVP Clinic

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

Semifore , Inc. was founded in 2006 by Richard Weber based on his system design experience at several startups and some larger systems firms. All of them struggled with the need for  tools and methods to keep the hardware architecture in sync with software architecture and to ensure that the development and customer documentation was up to date. He developed an application that worked from a common specification to generate high level hardware description language specifications, software source code, and human readable documentation for the memory maps and configuration/control register behavior. Semifore has bootstrapped growth since 2006 and has seen their offering adopted at a number of major semiconductor firms. and system houses.

  • What: Semifore Execs Share Bootstrapping Lessons and 2014 Scaling Plans
  • MVP Clinic Format: Webinar with shared note taking in a PrimaryPad
  • When: Fri-Jan-17-2014 10am PST
  • Cost: No Charge
  • Register:
Register Now

We have two members of the Semifore executive team joining us 10AM PST on Fri-Jan-17-2014 for a discussion of what they have learned about their success so far as a niche player in the Electronic Design Automation space and their plans to scale up in 2014. You can register to take part in the conversation at

  • Rob Callaghan, COO of Semifore Inc.
    Rob was previously  Vice President of Operations for sales and technical support at Magma Design Automation. Prior to Magma, he was Group Director of Business Development as well as Director of Sales Operations at Cadence Design Systems. He has worked with other large electronics firms such as L.M. Ericsson, Amdahl Corporation, and Memorex Corporation in the functions of Product Marketing, Field Operations, Finance and Accounting. His expertise includes strategic and operational planning, operations management, market research, and financial operations for organizations such as direct sales channels, product marketing, R&D operations, corporate business development, corporate mergers and acquisitions and strategic investments. He has a BS in Finance from the Menlo School of Business and a MBA from Golden Gate University.
  • Herbie Winsted, Vice President of Business Development and Customer Care
    Herb is a veteran of over 26 years in the EDA and Semiconductor industries. He has held positions of Director Business Development and Director IC Implementation and various individual contributor assignments at Cadence Design Systems. He has also assumed management responsibilities for CAD teams and IC layout groups at National Semi, GEC Plessey, and AMD. Herbie has also lead hundreds of multi-discipline automated layout projects in different roles at Silicon Valley Research (Silvar-Lisco) working with major Semiconductor companies worldwide. He has excelled at team building and establishing both business and personal relationships at every level of the organizations he has serviced. He has wide experience in creating marketing messaging, training, and sales collateral. He has always put customer requirements as his highest priority and excels at finding practical solutions that satisfy all parties concerned.

Background for discussion

Semifore Inc. is a software startup in Palo Alto Ca. The company provides a software product platform that automates and manages the register information for the Hardware / Software interface during the definition, specification, implementation and verification phases of the ASIC and/or FPGA design process. The company is privately held and has no external investors. It was founded in 2006 by Richard Weber who is currently the CEO of the company.

Currently the company has over a dozen paying  customers which are using the platform to deliver their chip sets to customers. Logo’s such as Altera, AMCC, Microsoft, and other large firms have embraced the tool and associated design methodology to reduce their design cycle time and improve their product functionality.

Semifore’s products are used by Systems Architects and designers, Verification Engineers, Software Development Engineers, and Technical Publications teams inside of Semiconductor companies.

The company has been funded via “bootstrapping” and is operated solely from operating cash flow. This has provided sufficient funds to get through the product development and early customer engagements that allowed Semifore to market, test, and refine the technology to a state of high reliability and functionality with low post-sales support requirements. The product does what we say it does and once it’s installed the product often goes viral.

The company has relied on trade show attendance and word of mouth to secure additional sales leads to qualify and move to a product demonstration. The customers for this product, are for the most part, currently internally developing their own solutions in this space.

Market / Customer Challenges (Lessons Learned 2006-2013)

  1. Internal solutions are viewed as “free” and they get the job done today. The cost is buried across many functions within the customer and the time hits they take are part and parcel of the “design silos” in most organizations.
  2. The teams that have “created” the internal solution often have a vested interest in keeping them alive.
  3. The currently employed internal “methodology” touches many organizations that may not be the purchasing entity or the driver for the decision or have the ability to overrule and drive a central technical solution throughout the organization. Many large customers have several different of internal solutions in this design space.
  4. This design problem is very niche and eclectic and often is not highly visible to upper engineering management. It’s noise to them. Education at all levels is required for buy in on this kind of tool.
  5. Internal solutions tend to be limited to file transforms and depend on rigid input formats to produce useful results. Very little true design intelligence for detecting correct semantics and interface capability to other tools or standards.
  6. There is considerable confusion regarding the status and capabilities of the “standards” that support this particular design methodology that adds to the tendency to “wait and see “ before making buy decisions.

Key Goals for 2014

  1. Expand the adoption by existing customers who have embraced the tools and succeeded using them in production.
  2. Build on current success to add new customers, large and small.
  3. Determine level of participation in existing standards committees and explore offering our proprietary language as a standard with endorsement from existing customers.

Update Fri-Jan-17: here is the audio for the event.

Recap From Dec-16-2013 MVP Clinic With Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI)

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Audio, skmurphy

On December 16, 2013 John Smith and I sat down with key members of the leadership team from the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) to discuss their plans for their 2014 EcoChallenge program.

The following folks took part from NWEI:

  • Mike Mercer, Executive Director
    As Executive Director, Mike has responsibility for the overall health and strategic direction of NWEI. He began his involvement with the Institute back in 1994 as a program participant and later a volunteer at the program and policy levels. Mike says, “I feel blessed to guide and learn from an organization that has had a profound impact on my life, and by extension others in my circle of relationships. I can’t imagine another place I would rather be.” Prior to joining NWEI as the Executive Director in 2007, Mike held a variety of leadership positions within the nonprofit sector including the YMCA and College Housing NW. He obtained his bachelor’s degree at Humboldt State University and sits on the board of trustees for the Rotary Club of Portland.
  • Rob Nathan, Director of Outreach and Technology
    As the Director of Outreach and Technology, Rob helps NWEI achieve its mission and foster leadership. He works with individuals and organizations across North America to implement NWEI discussion courses and the EcoChallenge. He has worked in the sustainability education field for ten years and has a deep passion for the pedagogy used by NWEI and its network. Prior to joining NWEI, Rob managed sustainability projects related to waste minimization across the Portland metro region. Rob holds a Master’s degree in Sustainability Education from Portland State University and an undergraduate degree from Prescott College. Rob also sits on the Board of Directors for our United Villages, a nonprofit community enhancement organization in North Portland.
  • Lori Davidson, Director of Marketing
    Lori is the Director of Marketing for NWEI. She joined the organization after spending many years as a marketing leader in the high tech industry in both the Bay Area and in Oregon, including professional experience in non-profit development. Lori’s vision for marketing for NWEI is very focused on telling and retelling the inspirational stories that emerge as people learn how to live sustainably. She also is eager to help higher ed professionals take advantage of the pedagogy and platform that have made NWEI a leader in enabling those “a-ha” moments. Lori believes in walking the talk, and that actions matter at least as much as words, so you will often find her looking deeply at the success of the programs and tweaking and retweaking until the results are what the organization needs. Lori is always looking to find ways to promote and connect NWEI with others, please  contact her with your good ideas. Lori holds an undergrad degree in Business and Finance from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

Background reading: “NWEI’s Our Model For Change

NWEI is a sustainability focused non-profit in Portland  OR with  two distinct lines of offerings:

  1.  a series of discussion courses designed to help people internalize, practice and share more sustainable behaviors  and
  2.  an annual EcoChallenge program  designed to help people change their habits over a two week time period in October.

NWEI just celebrated its 20th anniversary and has  logged over 140,000 participants in discussion courses and about 3000  participants in the EcoChallenge.

  • NWEI  is well positioned in this space both fiscally and  through its  mission. NWEI has earned revenue through the sales of course books, and  receives grants and support from donors.

There  is a small, regular and reasonably   predictable market for the  discussion courses, and the EcoChallenge has grown steadily since its  initiation four years ago, topping 2300 participants this year. NWEI’s change model is founded on a three step process of “Connect, Reflect, Act.” A cyclical process that provides for different entry points. The EcoChallenge typically starts at the Connect or Act stages.

The EcoChallenge is the focus for this discussion.

Some notes from Lori Davidson to frame the discussion

  • Currently,  there is little follow up with individual EcoChallenge participants,  other than Thank You and an occasional newsletter…until the invitation  for EcoChallenge n+1 goes out.
  • The current website is adequate but could stand an update and incremental features
  • There is no app, but the team wants one. There is an app  for iphone which is largely based on open source: Open Source
  • The source code of EcoChallenge was published under the GPL 3.0 and is available here:
  • The  majority of the EcoChallengers are in the Pacific Northwest, but there  is a growing community outside of Portland, largely out of student  populations.
  • The 2013 EcoChallengers are a mix of groups sponsored by their school/corporation and of individuals.
  • I  believe that nurturing and developing an ongoing conversation with an  active community of EcoChallenge participants is core to the mission of  NWEI and could yield a much broader reach – and be 100% aligned with the  mission of NWEI.
  • I would like to develop an approach for NWEI to enhance and expand that community.

Ideal outcomes:

  • EcoChallengers
    • Become engaged community members – as measured by
    • Engage in online and in person dialog advancing the mission of NWEI (inspiring people to take responsibility for the earth)
    • Current EcoChallengers are inspired to bring their friends to EcoChallenge 2014
    • Volunteer to lead discussion courses
    • Joining (and pledging) to NWEI
    • 2013 EcoChallengers step up to engage and manage a community
    • EcoChallenge 2014 has 10000 members
  • One  key success factor for NWEI is the *deeply personal* and social nature  of the program.   How can we get that element into this community?

The EcoChallenge program builds on its virtual nature and expands its reach.  Meetups? Self organized camps?

  • More higher ed and corporate sponsors to work this into their sustainability/green agendas

Session Notes

Goal: taking things to the next level.

Sean: What’s worked historically?  To take EcoChallengers from 1,000 to 2300 participants.  what things do you want to make sure you don’t break?

Rob: institutional participation, turn-key participation.  organizations and companies who can engage their networks.  Connecting with organizations drives growth.  Introduced a point system to encourage participation in the event.

Lori: don’t want to break the revenue generation.  there is no requirement – not even  a pledge. They can pledge but its not a requirement.  The program falls short of covering the costs.  a tough spot because have seen a lot of growth, but it doesn’t pay for itself.  question: how grow but not compromise the openness?

Mike: Our belief in the program is based on the belief that change is a social process mediated by stories. it’s as much about stories as numbers.

Sean: numbers, stories, diagrams, pictures

John How are those stories broadcast, curated, and “metabolized” by the emerging community?  Can you use those stories to identify barriers at an institutional level?  to help institutions understand internal barriers to change?  The entire social process should be aimed both at successful changes and understanding failure or obstacle to change.

Answer: people read stories, find them, share them on featured page.  would a client institution pay for curation in order to gain greater insights?

Sean: might be a  process to curate beyond individual story-level — gather tips or techniques into a cookbook  for institutions of a certain type or about certain kinds of problems that people would pay for?  sharing common obstacles can be energizing.  Could be revised each year?  E-book sold for $2.

Lori: challenge is: whether people would value it, or be willing to pay for it.  This is a popular area to talk about.  How differentiate it from other collections of tips & tricks that are available for free?

Sean: where is the barrier between understanding and action.  You are clearly helping bring about behavior change.  But what’s the barrier in understanding the behavior change you cause?

Lori: this program is easy to explain.  It’s good because the level of effort depends on choices you make (from easy, like not using plastic bags to more difficult not using a car for a week).  Most people believe they ought to do more on the sustainability front. This program helps them actually do more.  Why take the action? If change is a social process then an important motivator is “I will participate since my friends are participating.  and I have been asked to participate.”  Episodic element is important for awareness — I can handle more intensive involvement in my busy schedule knowing that I can relax after the challenge is over.

Sean: question of increased donations or revenue.  Normally try to align value creation and payments. Not trying to get you to charge subscribers more but to offer differentiated advice.

Lori: concern that if a pledge were mandatory (to get access to blog, tips, ideas, etc.) might loose a large number of participants (especially students).  Institutions not willing to ask participants themselves for the pledge funds.

Sean: are there auxiliary products or elements that might be part of an ecosystem?  Can this EcoChallenge translate to new habits, e.g. meet a challenge for 10 of the 14 days it raises the bar on habits and future behavior;  if you run long term then it has a decrease in participation over time.  What can we learn from “quantified self” community?

Sean: long-term participation… willing to pay for those?

Lori: moving the discussion to courses offered by NWEI. Don’t have a way to motivate the EcoChallenge community to buy the other NWEI revenue producer: discussion courses.  Since ecochallengers are already involved & interested, they are a natural market.  but haven’t figured out how to do it.

Sean: suggest free discussion courses during the ecochallenge?  Parallel events?  To help people get a sense of what’s possible. The NWEI discussion courses are self-facilitated.

John: eco challenge has a “sense making’ aspect that could be developed more, perhaps with volunteers to help curate what has happened or what has been said. consider some courses that run in parallel and others that run afterward to reflect on challenge.

How to identify groups who want to get more involved?

The existing system suffers from a labor shortage to do sense-making, identify groups who want to or could get more involved.  Big risk of trying to do a lot automatically on the web during the EcoChallenge that may benefit from human expertise.  Learning and behavior change are the metrics; need to really understand them in detail, in many different settings before automating anything.

What is pattern of subscription to discussion courses.  What is the conversion rate between ecochallenge and discussion courses?  Uptake of discussion courses.  Are there frequent fliers who might be a different market segment?

more than half of discussion courses are in higher ed. used as part of a curriculum.  Also  faith-based organizations, business, and general community.  Faith-based: Unitarian adult education programs.  Only 10% of discussion courses are through businesses.

very diverse participants in both offerings, but eco challenge population is more diverse than the courses.

8,000 in discussion courses (historically has been NWEI’s primary program) and 2,000 in eco challenge (people who want to “just do it” not talk about it so much.  They say, “I don’t want to talk about it, I want to do it.”   There are different demographics: eco challenge is younger, more online.  discussion courses more boomer generation, f2f.

possible innovations:

  • get own App (but don’t have $100K for development).  Could they build on an existing open source platform?
  • can they define an API for the website?
  • How would the App work with the current website, e.g. story sharing?
  • App would be good for “in the moment” participation, e.g. on a smart phone, not waiting to get home and log onto a computer.
  • thinking of the app as an extension of the website.  (Notice that there are some 500 apps listed on the quantified self website

Big question: how to make stories easier to share (and retrieve) – using tagging, voting to guide promotion without linear search

  • Provide more small steps (e.g. similar to upvote by category, or tagging, or other crowd curation models)
  • tools for organizers
  • sharing photos is not easy on the website

Lori: how cultivate people who participate (for whatever reason)?

harder to find the stories: has NWEI found good curation tools for own team?  Add that in a way so that participants can do that for NWEI.  Creates an additional role.  Tagging or up-voting would be curation tools for work groups or globally.  How many stories and story fragments?  100’s.  need to categorize and pick top 10-50.  allow people to mark them with “I found this helpful”.  50 people doing tagging.

Ability to develop new kinds of tags: e.g., “stories who met challenge 12 out of 14 days”, or “3 out of 14.”  improve understanding of “levels of success or habit formation”.  Or understanding of different areas or settings that are
challenging.Explore different contexts – settings so understand differential challenges at the office, by activity – “reducing plastic” “biking”.  How harnessing volunteer energy? how channeling it?  how keep Disneyland clean: pick up the 1st piece of trash that’s dropped, encourages people to not drop trash.   So put a lot of effort into curation at the beginning so that people will do it themselves.

Reuse stories from last year!  starting from an empty slate is not such a good starting place.  collect best 100-200 stories into that e-book.  Special books under “time-saving” a popular tag.  or focused on the most popular stories.  Sell an e-book — with stories from last year that would start the process next time around..

  • a way of asking for a donation
  • contains challenges for participants
  • possibly a way to jumpstart workplace participation
  • collect wisdom from previous years

Closing feedback from NWEI panel:

  • helpful
  • don’t have to wait — can do a discussion course
  • good things to think about for 2014
  • App as an attractive nuisance – finding partners from existing or previous participants
  • asking existing community what apps they like

Learn More at or sign up as a member at

Join Us Tonight For A Mastermind Open House To Kick Off 2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, skmurphy

We have been facilitating Mastermind groups in Silicon Valley for three years now and have  an open houses scheduled tonight in Sunnyvale from 6-8pm.

  • When: Mon-Jan-13 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM in Sunnyvale
  • Where: Tonight at Roundtable Pizza 1220 Oakmead Parkway Sunnyvale, CA 94085
  • Cost: No Charge for event but regular meetings are two hours long twice a month and cost $100/month
  • Register at

As we start the new year, we want to take stock and evaluate what will impact our bottom line. Join us tonight: bring your 2014 plans and let’s get a start on making it your best year ever!


SKMurphy Mastermind Groups SKMurphy Mastermind groups have a unique high-technology focus and are limited to eight qualified members. We guide a small group of peers to brainstorm and critique your critical business issues. Our use of ‘workout buddies’ provides a level of feedback and joint accountability that will help you to become more effective. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to present their businesses issues, share referrals, and advise one another in a confidential, supportive environment during two meetings a month.

More information

Welcome to 2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in checklist, skmurphy

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

My resolutions for 2014 are less about goals and more about habits, systems and capabilities.

Habits: I have been running a log and control chart for health related activities–walking, diet, regular sleep cycle, meditation–for several years. I have been experimenting with color coding to encourage focus on problem areas and checking some items off in advance to encourage follow through later in the day.

#1 Run a marathon not a sprint, maintain health and spirit as the keys to endurance.

Systems: the challenge is to make a number of areas of the business more explicit so that they can be delegated. I tend to have more of a project focus, in addition to being better at starting things than finishing them, this year I intend to document more tasks and be explicit about how they interact to support our business. In addition to direct client work, we are collaborating with more than two dozen people on different projects but I tend to have much more intermediate work product than final results. I think the key to changing this is to start many fewer things and become more systematic. Some attention to making these various activities more mutually reinforcing into a few larger processes is warranted.

#2 Document and reduce variation in tasks and project work. Enable delegation, clear demarks for collaboration, and a reliable level of quality.

#3 Formalize “rules of thumb” and decision rules to enable shared understanding and shared learning in complex environments.

Capabilities:  2014 will be more about building on current strengths than any new capabilities. It will be more about “deliberate practice”  than picking some new technology or methodology areas to explore.

#4 Continue to play our own game. Sharpen the saw. Experiment. Raise the bar.

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

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