Sean Murphy Interview with Etienne Garbugli for the LeanB2B Podcast

Sean Murphy was interviewed by Etienne Garbugli on “Working Capital: It Takes More Than Money” for the March 9, 2021 LeanB2B Podcast.

Sean Murphy Interview with Etienne Garbugli for the LeanB2B Podcast


Etienne Garbugli interviewed me for his LeanB2B podcast in March of 2021; he asked me a number of thought-provoking questions.

I had just finished reading Etienne’s latest book, “Solving Product,” which is a well-researched survey of lean thinking for B2B firms. The book is probably most useful for established firms in their growth or renewal phases, but it offers a lot of value for startups. Garbugli has a good eye for quotes: he curates a rich selection from a variety of entrepreneurs and lean practitioners that crystallize a particular insight or lesson learned. Solving Product offers a mix of practical techniques for customer research complemented by a wealth of case studies.  I liked his parting words in the book because they stress the importance of learning:

“I hope you go on to create a company that relentlessly learns from its customers and makes every interaction count:
(1) your customers’ satisfaction increases
(2) your business fends off stagnation
(3) growth accelerates.”
Etienne Garbugli in “Solving Product

When you are interviewed by someone who has done their homework and given a lot of thought to the topic it always raises your game. This is an edited version of our conversation with hyperlinks added for clarity; I hope you find it useful.

Edited Transcript from My Interview with Etienne Garbugli

Etienne Garbugli: My guest today is Sean Murphy. Sean is the CEO and founder of SKMurphy, a consultancy helping clients find early customers build early revenue. Sean is a sales and customer development expert focused on B2B. Recently, Sean also published a new book, part of a series of three, called Working Capital: It takes more than money.  Sean, welcome to the podcast.

Sean K Murphy: Thanks for inviting me.

New Book Out — Working Capital: It Takes More Than Money

Working Capital Vol1Etienne Garbugli: Maybe as a first question, I read your book over the weekend. What was your goal in writing Working Capital?

Sean K Murphy: I wanted entrepreneurs to understand that there are three kinds of working capital–in addition to financial capital, there is also intellectual capital and social capital–and to appreciate how they operate. This understanding will allow founders to be more effective  at establishing a viable startup and turning it into a growing business.

Etienne Garbugli: Specifically, I really liked your analogy for these three kinds of capital. They’re a little bit like three legs of a stool: they’re all important in order to achieve success in business. So, if we were to zoom out a bit, thinking through this, when would you say someone is ready to be an entrepreneur? Is there even such a thing?

Sean K Murphy: I’ll give you the flip answer: after you’ve had your second business failure. Then you’re really ready. In my experience, entrepreneurship is very hard. I believe that people are either born entrepreneurs or they’re forced into entrepreneurship.

When you are starting out, I think you’re much better served to work for a successful firm so that you can learn systems and processes that are effective. I would learn as much as you can before you go out on your own because learning on somebody else’s nickel is substantially cheaper than making your own mistakes.

I would also try and pick an industry or an area with customers that you want to work with. Now, discovering what customers you want to serve may take much of your twenties to figure out or even some of your thirties. I don’t think you necessarily have to go right out there and fail on your own right away.

Entrepreneurship is a Mindset That Complements Domain Expertise and Customer Insight

Etienne Garbugli: So, should people who aspire to be entrepreneurs decide on their career earlier on, based on their ambitions to be entrepreneurs, or should they consider that?

Sean K Murphy: That’s a good question. I think entrepreneurship is a mindset that can be applied to a variety of domains. I think you need to develop domain expertise–intellectual capital–so that you have a vehicle for your entrepreneurial ambitions. And I think you’ve got to develop an understanding of the customers you’re going to serve before you form a startup. So I think entrepreneurship is a mindset that complements domain expertise and relies on a deep understanding of customer needs for focus.

I think you can be entrepreneurial inside of companies as well. You can look for ways to improve services by improving internal processes to create more value for the customer. That’s another way to experiment or move down the learning curve in terms of what it takes to learn how to introduce and sell change.

Etienne Garbugli: So, say someone has failed a few times, has built some form of career, what kinds of business opportunities do you feel that they should be prioritizing?

Sean K Murphy: You’ve got to look for places where your know-how and your existing business relationships provide you with a significant competitive advantage. It’s not enough to have energy and enthusiasm. You’ve got to bring distinctive competence–an ability to deliver results–and some knowledge of and affinity for the people you’re going to serve.

Entrepreneurship is a Team Sport

Etienne Garbugli: Is there one of these facets that’s more important or more critical? Is there one that’s fully essential that you can’t start without?

Sean K Murphy: We think entrepreneurship is a team sport. We like to see teams come together. The team really benefits from having at least one person who has worked with or understands what it’s like to be the customer or the people you’re trying to sell to. It doesn’t have to be everybody on the team.

And there are advantages to having some people without direct industry experience. They tend to bring new ideas from adjacent fields which is also important. And you’ve got to have some insights and some ability to solve a problem in a better way than what’s already out there.

Etienne Garbugli: So, in a way, one person that has a profile, at least partly a domain expert or at least has some domain expertise?

Sean K Murphy: Right. I think without that, you can achieve what’s called the negative strategic surprise. You just don’t know something about the domain that turns out to be fairly essential. There’s a category of information that’s not written down, and if you haven’t worked in the industry or worked with people and supported them or been part of that, it’s hard to get knowledge.

I mean, I can read ten books on the Apollo Program or what it’s like to be an astronaut, but that’s very different from the guy who’s sitting at mission control in front of the panel or the guy who’s sitting in the pilot chair of the shuttle or whatever. But I can have read a lot of books about it. It’s two different kinds of knowledge.

Getting In Over Your Head Sparks Your Creativity

Etienne Garbugli: So, what you’re saying a little bit is that this might mean that you run into a challenge that you didn’t anticipate, but that actually may be deadly to your business?

Sean K Murphy: Yes. There’s this guy, Albert Hirschman who says creativity is the result of finding yourself in a very challenging situation. So I think that it’s fine to bring people from the outside. It’s good to have a diverse team that is coming from different places. But if you don’t have anybody, if you don’t have Tonto, you don’t have somebody who knows what it’s like to travel the Badlands or get through the desert, then, yeah, you may discover some things that you wish you had known before you started.

Etienne Garbugli: So, in that sense, like I have this experience, I’m an entrepreneur, I’ve had certain domain expertise. I’ve worked in different types of organizations. How would you recommend that that person starts thinking about markets, audiences? Like, what kind of entry market should that person be looking for?

Look for Secrets That Confer Unfair Advantage

Binoculars: a metaphor for foresightSean K Murphy: I really like Peter Thiel’s formulation in Zero to One of secrets: you should have determined something that you believe is true or you have confirmed is true, which is contrary to commonly accepted wisdom. So, you can be early, you can be different, but if you’re proceeding just based on common sense and the ability to execute, it’s really hard to outperform incumbents unless you’ve got some kind of geographic separation or there’s some other kind of separation from people that have been in that industry for a while.

I think you’ve got to have something which is going to give you an unfair advantage. It’s okay to study and definitely not quit your day job until you’ve got a very clear idea of what’s going to make you different.

Etienne Garbugli: How sustainable should that distinction or is that difference or that ability to differentiate on the market be? How long-lasting should it be?

Sean K Murphy: I think it’s got to be at least three to five years. I think it takes a while for you to figure that out. I remember talking to a friend of mine who was working at Arthur Andersen in like 1998 at that point.

There was thing back then called Y2K. And I asked him how it was going. And he said, “Well, we’re not really hunting for any more Y2K problems. That’s now off strategy for us.” I said, “Well, that’s amazing. It seems like there are tremendous opportunities.” He goes, “Yes, but they’re all only going to last another 18 months.” I hope that helps.

A Strong Desire to Make Money Is Not Sufficient–and May Inhibit Learning

Etienne Garbugli: In that case, what types of problems should those businesses be considering within the market and how should they best frame those problems to be able to align their business?

Sean K Murphy: Most people that we work with don’t ask me these questions. So, I’m just being candid. Most people that we work with have a burning desire to solve this particular problem, or to take this technology–which they believe is going to make a difference–and find a place to apply it.

I think larger firms ask the kind of questions that you’re asking, where we’ve got these resources, what’s the best way to deploy it? But for the early-stage entrepreneurs I work with, they want to go do it. We’re trying to help them make it succeed. So, it’s a little different.

The people we try and deter would be somebody who says, “I’ve never worked in cleantech, but I hear there are huge opportunities. I’d like to go do something there.” We suggest that they would be well served to find who will join the team who knows a lot about cleantech–or biotech or pick your favorite domain because a strong desire to make money, in and of itself, is not enough. Worse, a desire to make a lot of money quickly often works against a willingness to experiment and to learn.

Should Entrepreneurs Look for a Problem to Solve or a Job to be Done?

Etienne Garbugli: So, let me put some meat on that then. I do feel personally, that the concept of a problem is quite subjective, both in the way it’s understood as well as in the way it’s expressed between people.

So, what do you feel is the relationship between, for example, the problem that a company that comes to you guys is addressing versus the job to be done behind it? What’s the relationship between jobs to be done and problems specifically?

Sean K Murphy: I really like the jobs to be done formulation. I like the idea that you’re hiring a product to solve a problem. So, I think there’s a couple of things. Let me unpack a little bit of what you’re talking about. I think there’s a couple of things going on here.

The first is that it’s much better if the people you’re calling on realize they have a problem or at least acknowledge that they have symptoms, and better, that they have a problem. If you’ve got to convince them they’ve got the problem, it’s a much harder path to proceed.

So, it has to be a recognized problem.

For your solution, our rule of thumb is I have to be able to come in and within two hours, working from information that’s readily available to you, tell you something that’s relevant to your business you didn’t know. So, the best case is in a “long demo,” I could show you something that says I can make that problem better.

The backup step is, “Okay. You’ll agree to let me take some data away or some aspect of this problem away, and I’ll come back within five working days. I’ll come back a week later and I’ll be able to demonstrate something to you.” So, if you don’t have that level of kind of time to value, I think it gets much harder to sell.

I think, as a startup where you’re already in kind of a one-down position with not much credibility, you have to offer, not only a compelling before and after, but a fairly quick time to solution. Maybe not time to fully deploy throughout the enterprise, but you’ve got to show them something that says, “We can solve this problem. We can solve your problem working from your particular information, data, situation, etc.. We can make it better.”

You Must Offer At Least a Glimpse of a Solution to a Critical Business Need

Etienne Garbugli: So, you’re trying to sell the relationship between what things are today and what they could be tomorrow with a clear time horizon of how you actually get from A to B?

Sean K Murphy: I’m trying to demo to them the solution or an aspect of a solution that they’re going to find compelling. It has to be a business-critical issue. It has to be a problem that the customer is willing to spend money to solve — some kind of goal or objective or career is at risk.

People who are in a lot of pain will accept partial solutions. You don’t have to make the problem go away, but you’ve got to deliver some significant quantum of benefit that makes it noticeably better.

You Need a Batcave to be Effective, But You Also Need to Get Out of the Batcave to Be Effective

Etienne Garbugli: How do you make sure that both your understanding and the prospect’s or the customer’s understanding of the problem and maybe your team members’ understanding of the problem all sync up so you’re sure that you’re all solving the same problem?

Sean K Murphy: This is very hard and it involves a fair amount of trial and error. So, Batman’s got the Batcave where he develops all of his tools and all of his techniques, but he has to leave the Batcave to fight crime. I mean, without the Batcave, he’s not as effective as a crime fighter. But you actually have to get out of the Batcave and you have to go engage with customers.

And many times, it’s kind of like the “dogs watching television” effect. They look at you and they go, “Yeah, I don’t have that problem.” Sometimes you propose a solution and they’re like, “Well, I’ve got these constraints or these requirements that mean that your solution is completely unsatisfactory.” You have to engage and it’s somewhat of a trial and error process.

Start Where You Are Energized: Problem, Solution, Technology, Customer, …

Etienne Garbugli: So, coming back to the previous question; would it make sense to first define the job to be done, then figure out what the problems are or can you do the reverse?

Sean K Murphy: We work with many teams who have a technology that has uses in many areas. And sometimes you explore multiple areas in parallel and they get traction at a particular place. They’re typically all related in some overall industry, but you don’t always know where it’s going to work best.

Sometimes you’ve got a problem and it turns out that you bring together three or four existing techniques in a novel methodology or a novel way to solve it in a way that’s much better than what’s out there.

So, I’ve seen it work both ways. Sometimes you start with a technology or solution; sometimes you start with a problem. I don’t have a dog in that fight. There’s a whole bunch of jobs to be done.

Time to Revenue Measured From First Customer Conversation
To Customer Payment Because You Delivered Value In Their Business

Etienne Garbugli: So, in the book, you talk about the importance of time to revenue. I’ve seen this framed as well as time to product-market fit. I think it’s a really interesting concept. So, how do you feel time to revenue should impact a business or a founder’s decision-making process?

Sean K Murphy: I say time to revenue and I have to be careful because when many people hear that, they think about how long does it take to get paid once you bill them. And that’s a consideration, but what I’m really talking about is how long does it take to get paid once you’ve had that first conversation and you believe that you can provide them with value?

You’ve essentially got a qualified prospect. The key question is how quickly can you go from, we’ve qualified that we’ve got somebody who fits our target customer profile and has a problem we can solve. Then how quickly can we demonstrate value in their business and get paid? We normally encourage startups to align when they get paid to when the customer sees value because this significantly reduces the customer’s perception of the risk in this purchase or the risk in this deal.

And frankly, early customers are not going to cut you a lot of slack until you’ve demonstrated some real value. So, I think this question of how quickly you can produce value in their business is always a strategic consideration for startups.

Etienne Garbugli: So, the question the other question I’m adding there; in that case, if you’re bootstrapping versus you’re a venture-backed startup, should your idea of the time to revenue change and should it, in that case, mean that the type of value you’re trying to provide will be different?

Sean K Murphy: Okay. There are two drivers on this. We do some work with venture-backed folks. Typically, it’s after they spent the invested funds and have discovered the joys of bootstrapping. The reason why you want to focus on the customer paying you is because that’s unambiguous proof that you’ve delivered value.

For the most part, a business will not pay you or will not do a reorder until you’ve delivered value. And that is the crucible. The whole cluster of hypotheses you’ve been carrying around, actually get marked to market: it tells you if this works or it doesn’t.

So, to me, the time to revenue is the clock speed or the clock cycle on how quickly you can run experiments that you can iterate. Now, I know in the very beginning, people may pay you with their attention. So, you try a message and you get paid with attention. That’s necessary, but that’s not sufficient.

And then it’s will they give you some of their data or give you a specific problem you can solve to demonstrate you can do something. That’s a form of payment, again, that’s necessary, but not sufficient.

So, the reason why I focus so much on time to revenue is that’s when you get unambiguous proof that you’ve actually delivered value. So, I think venture guys should do it as well as bootstrappers.

Revenue From a Reorder is Unambiguous Proof of Value

Etienne Garbugli: I think they probably somewhat tried to do it based on their pitch decks and how much money they feel they need to raise to reach certain milestones, but yeah, they probably don’t do it the same way for sure. That’s partly why I think it’s super interesting. And it’s really interesting in the book that you talk about as well, the time that it takes to get paid, which is a really critical consideration, especially for people who have maybe never managed a business because actual money matters if you want to keep the business engines going.

Sean K Murphy: Right. And I think it’s possible to work nights and weekends and do a certain amount during lunch hours and outside of ordinary work hours. Not chasing customers that your current employer also wants or at least solving the same problem. I don’t think you should compete with your current employer.

The other thing that the venture-backed guys sometimes get into… I did some business once with an early-stage startup and I said, “Look, I’d like to buy a seat.” And they say, “Well, we’re trying to prove our business model, and selling to you is going to be off strategy for us.” And I’m like, “Well, how many people have paid for the product?” “Well, no one.”Well, gosh, I’d like to use it and see what I can do” They were very committed to their model. I guess I was off-strategy.

If I had been on the other side of the table, I would have found a way to take my money and work with me because it would say something. If I already had 10 paying customers, then I might be less willing to explore. But at the very beginning, all you’ve got is a hypothesis about how it’s going to move. You don’t actually know.

Tinker Often Based on Feedback

Etienne Garbugli: Yeah. And it’s interesting when people self-select, to some extent, as you were kind of doing in that case. You were thinking, “Oh wait, this could be interesting for that.” So, it’s probably very important to still be open to these unplanned outcomes a little bit because they can open up doors that are very interesting.

In the book, you talk about the importance of letting go of bad product ideas and knowing when to pivot. What are some of the signs or signals that typically indicate the need for a pivot or a change of strategy?

Sean K Murphy: Some people talk about pivots as if it’s not a big deal. And at least as I look at it, it’s typically somewhat painful. It’s always hard. So, first of all, I think you’ve got to talk to enough of your target customers who have the problem and know that you’re not providing value. So, you’ve got to have explored.

And that number, for me, is somewhere between 10 and 30 if you’re listening carefully. And it can be less if you’ve got a very strong signal, but to me, that’s kind of the range. I also make a distinction between pivoting and tinkering. I think you’re tinkering a lot.

I think you’re making a lot of small adjustments. You’re making a lot of fine adjustments. The other thing is I think when the team forms, they need to say, “Look at us, look at our capabilities. Let’s make a plan B and a plan C now.” Because one of the other things that makes pivoting hard is, should we keep doing this or do something else? I don’t know what that something else is. And that unknown actually makes people persist on a bad plan when they should have pivoted. And I have worked with and had the privilege to hear a number of serial entrepreneurs talk about this at the Bootstrappers breakfast.

If you look at how they go about it, typically, the team doesn’t change as much, but when the team forms, they write down a list of ideas and they work that list. And so, if the first thing doesn’t work, they go to the second one. I think first-time folks tend to get trapped in the, “I can do plan A I don’t know what I’m going to do”. And that always leads too far down the wrong track.

Write Down Plans B, C, and D in Up Front;
Don’t Let Fear of the Unknown Make You Persist with a Bad Plan A

Etienne Garbugli: And in that case, when you’re talking about plan A plan B, should those plans be ideas, or should they be markets, or should they be combinations of both?

Sean K Murphy: I think they should be written down and I think they should be plans for some way that still builds on the distinctive know-how and the social capital of the team, but may involve a different technology or may be going to a very different niche. So, we’re not going to sell to these guys. We’re going to sell these people over here.

Etienne Garbugli: So, in a way, charting these different paths that are not necessarily overlapping enough that one would negate the other one?

Sean K Murphy: Right. I think the other thing is if you can’t think of at least three things you could do with a team, then you’re probably not investigating enough alternatives. I think it’s also legitimate to explore a little bit in parallel. I think it’s sometimes useful to say, “Look, we’ve got two ideas here.” There’s a risk that if you chase two rabbits, you don’t catch either. But there’s also a benefit to being a little open to multiple possibilities.

And it could be that you discover that both are actually viable. One is small, but the time to revenue is much shorter, in which case, you use that to get in and establish a beachhead, and then from there, a base camp, and then you can scale up into B and C and D. And you should have a plan for what happens when you exhaust your primary market, but that’s a different conversation.

It’s OK to Explore Two or Three Possibilities in Parallel

Etienne Garbugli: So, say, you’re exploring the several options in parallel or a little bit in parallel and you decide to go with option B, for example. Should you, at that point, stop exploring other options and focus entirely on that one, or can you still keep other paths in your target?

Sean K Murphy: I think there’s discovery and delivery, or exploration and execution. I think, to really make it work, you’re going to have to go all-in on one opportunity for a certain amount of time. When you really get into it and you’re competing with incumbents or against other people who are also in a startup, at some point, you have to focus fully there. It doesn’t mean you can’t come back later on and reopen some of those conversations and go forward.

And you’ve got to be open to the fact that you’ve invested a lot in this effort and it’s not paying off. You’re not getting traction. You’re not getting uptake, and you’ve got to change gears.

No Fixed Formula For Success Unless You Buy a Franchise

Etienne Garbugli: Okay, great. Maybe if we take a step back a little bit more of a general question; so, you’ve been helping companies for almost two decades. You’ve seen different models. I know you work with some hardware companies, software, different types of organizations. Has your perspective on starting businesses evolved over the years? How do you see B2B entrepreneurship evolving moving forward? Where was your understanding of it before, where is it now, and where do you think it’s trending? It’s a big question.

Sean K Murphy: I guess the first thing to say is there’s no fixed formulas for success unless you want to buy a franchise, and even then, things change. So, I think you’ve got to be careful about people that are promising you a fixed formula for success.

There’s a really good article by Arie de Geus from the late eighties about Planning as Learning. And he says, “The ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” That, to me, is the core, at least for technology entrepreneurship. That means that there’s a need for ongoing exploration and discovery efforts, not only about natural phenomena and technology innovation. I wouldn’t call it basic research. I’d use Donald Stoke’s term from “Pasteur’s Quadrant” of use-inspired research, where you’re open to discovering basic principles.

I think there has to be an ongoing, intense curiosity and care on the part of everyone in the startup who touches the customer about how to create value or how to remove things that are limiting or restricting the value customers will get from the product.

I don’t know if that’s actually changed. I think that’s probably always been true. I started SKMurphy in 2003. And that aspect of it I don’t think has changed. You have to have an intense curiosity. You have to be committed to creating value and you have to be committed to ongoing learning.

Learning is Hard, Especially When Your Current Best is Not Good Enough

Etienne Garbugli: Well, in that case, what changed may be that more businesses are convinced by these ideas or maybe that the way you were able to learn or the way you were able to speed up that learning or continuously improve yourself have also improved as well? Would that be a fair assessment of maybe what’s trending or what’s changing over time?

Sean K Murphy: One of the things that you have to do at certain points to learn more is you have to let go of old ways of doing things and you have to let go of previous expertise. I just don’t know anybody who doesn’t find that painful. If you’ve got a process that’s working very well, it’s hard to break that up, to find the higher plateau, or even worse, when a competitor comes in and is outperforming you. You go, “Hey, what we currently count as the best we can do is not good enough.” You have to look for new methods and look for new approaches.

I don’t know if that process is getting any easier. I guess I’ll put it that way. I think there are human elements to that or human aspects to that, and interpersonal aspects to that, but they’re just very painful. There’s an aspect of learning that when you have to reorganize your understanding of something that’s both exciting, but in some cases, it can be very painful as well.

It’s the realization that a lot of things that I thought I knew are now wrong, or obsolete, or whatever. So, I don’t know that that gets any easier.

Be Fuji: Find New Ways to Sell What You Have

Etienne Garbugli: Yeah. And it’s also hard to know which parts will either become obsolete or will continue to deliver value. It’s very difficult to know how you should plan for adaptation moving forward.

Sean K Murphy: You’re right. I was talking to somebody the other day about Fuji versus Kodak. So, two firms at the top of their game in photography and digital photography is coming. And for the purposes of photography, digital obsoleted probably, let’s say, 60 to 70% of their knowledge.

I think Kodak gets a bad rap. I think they ultimately didn’t do as well as they could have, but the Fuji guys said, “Okay, we’re going to hang on to what we know.” So, they chose the pain of going and talking to a ton of strangers to figure out who else could use what they did, which is just painful and being told over and over again, you’re used to coming in with high confidence and you’re saying, “No, you don’t understand. And we got to go hire people, I’m sure, that understand these other industries so that they can take our know-how and they can repurpose and remix and redeploy it.”

Fuji did that. Kodak was less able to. The Digital Tonto guy has got a thesis that we’re coming to the end of the digital revolution and that we’re going to go back and material science and atoms not bits.. I’ve argued to some level that some of the digital, the Facebook and some of the social network stuff is actually a little bit like heroin. In the same way that in 1905, you could buy heroin in the drug store, and in 2020 you couldn’t, maybe we’re going to look at Facebook that way.

But the deeper point is that we may be hitting an inflection here. All of a sudden, material science and atoms may become a much more significant source of innovation than just pure digital play. And I think the companies that adapt to that are going to have to go through this restructuring process. And I think it’s painful.

Etienne Garbugli: Yeah, but maybe that’s also the answer to some extent. You got to be willing to accept that pain, which seems to be the case with Fuji that you were mentioning. You got to set things up in a way that people are willing to take that pain.

Sean K Murphy: Right because your survival is at stake.

Competition Puts Your Survival at Stake Slowly, and Then Suddenly

Etienne Garbugli: Yeah. To that point specifically, oftentimes that decision is made when the ship is already sinking, as opposed to on a continuous basis.

Sean K Murphy: Well, and things are going great. The problem is the new technology comes in slowly and, and first of all, it takes away many customers you didn’t really care to serve. So, for a while, you think this is great. Our core is protected and our non-critical stuff is going to be served by this crappy digital stuff.

Etienne Garbugli: Yeah. In a lot of ways, I feel like those are also based on maybe outmoded ideas from business. Like you read a lot of MBA type books from the 90s and this idea of endless growth or endlessly being able to just operationalize business and then keep spitting out cash, where I think as we’ve seen if you look at the companies at the S&P, the lifeline of a business is getting shorter and shorter. It’s way harder to be on top.

And you could argue that Kodak, for example, had a really good run for a long time, but maybe they did reach the end of the line or maybe they didn’t need to.

Sean K Murphy: No, they could have emulated Fuji.

Etienne Garbugli: Yeah, which is probably a very difficult thing to do when you’re the incumbent. Super interesting. Thanks for taking the time, Sean. Where can people go to learn more about your work, some of your thoughts on business and entrepreneurship?

Sean K Murphy: I’ve got a website with about 2,000 blog posts on it. It’s That probably is the best place to find me.

Etienne Garbugli: Perfect. Thank you.

About Etienne Garbugli

Etienne Garbugli works at the intersection of Technology, Product Design and Marketing. He’s a 3-time Startup Founder (Flagback, HireVoice and Highlights), a 5-time entrepreneur and a recognized customer research expert. He helps entrepreneurs and innovators use customer insights to build and grow businesses.  Mr Garbugli has written three books for entrepreneurs:

Related Books and Blog Posts

Books Mentioned or Referenced

  • Pasteur’s Quadrant by Donald Stokes
    Some real insights here, Stokes proposes “use-inspired research” as a a research effort undertaken by a team with the talent to do basic research and open to uncovering fundamental new knowledge but focused on a particular need or problem. It’s a blend of applied and basic research that combines the best aspects of both. He also identifies the needs for structured observation and measurement as a foundation for hypothesis formation and research.
  • Solving Product by Etienne Garbugli
  • Startup Myths and Models by Rizwan Virk
    Offers some very good insights for startups on how to analyze if a market is ripe for innovation from a startup.
  • Working Capital: It Takes More Than Money by Sean Murphy
  •  Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Exploring a Market: Leaving the Batcave

Secrets: Uncovering and Exploiting Errors in Conventional Wisdom

Pivoting and Persistence


Other interview

Image Credits:

  • “Working Capital Book cover” (c) SKMurphy, Inc.
  • Binoculars” (c) Doug Berger used under creative commons.

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