Episode 12 of the Time to Market Podcast is the Season One Recap. Etienne Garbugli and Sean Murphy shared lessons learned and plans for next season.
Time to Market S01E12
Season One Recap and Lessons Learned
Summary: In the last episode of the season, Sean and Étienne look back at some of the key themes that emerged from the first season:
- Entrepreneurship can be viewed more as a career than a one-time experience (02:56)
- the importance of having conversations in your market (08:34)
- how founders can evaluate if they’re making real progress (14:24)
- why survival is the key (18:53).
- they share lessons learned from the first season (21:49) and lay the foundations for a second season.
Edited Transcript with Hyperlinks and Section Titles Added
Looking Back Over Season One: Key Take-Aways
Sean K. Murphy: Good morning Étienne, we have reached episode 12 and the end of season one. We agreed to use this episode as an opportunity to review what we have covered and what we have learned. I wanted to revisit our promise for the podcast: to explore the realities of entrepreneurship with a focus on B2B startups. We wanted to offer actionable insight, principles and their application, and rules of thumb.
What did you take away from this first season?
Étienne Garbugli: I’ve learned a lot about the challenges of producing a weekly podcast:
- Mastering the technical aspects of production.
- Coming up with interesting things to say.
- Pulling it together into a coherent structure.
It’s been a rewarding journey–and an interesting one as well. We have both worked hard to offer our listeners value in these discussions. What about yourself?
Sean K. Murphy: I’ve learned a lot working with you. As I have reflected on each episode, there have always been one or two things that you said, or that emerged from our dynamic that I found very insightful. We’ve been good at speaking from experience and discussing practical challenges.
Étienne Garbugli: We have experimented and incorporated feedback as the season progressed. We have become more deliberate about offering lessons learned, insights, and key takeaways. I think it’s made it more useful for our listeners and given them a clearer view of the concepts they can discuss with other entrepreneurs and actions to consider.
We covered a range of topics, including networking, AI, managing your runway, sales and learning how to sell, and demos. I think it might be good to end the season by discussing the key themes that emerged and concepts we kept returning to. What is the first theme you see in our conversations this season?
Entrepreneurship Should Be Viewed as a Career
Sean K. Murphy: I think we both believe that entrepreneurship is a career or at least a practice that relies on a cluster of skills that require sustained focus and commitment over time to achieve mastery.
Étienne Garbugli: You need to plan to become an entrepreneur and start thinking about and approaching opportunities with that perspective. If you want to do a startup, you should start working on the critical skills you will need. Even if your first startup does not succeed, it can still give you skills and relationships that will create opportunities in a subsequent startup. Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovery, learning, and self-improvement.
Sean K. Murphy: I like your perspective: it allows entrepreneurs to reframe their work experience as assembling building blocks for what they want to do. They can work for somebody else, gathering knowledge and skills they can repurpose for their own ventures.
I also think entrepreneurship for many people is, to some extent, involuntary: many founders had a natural inclination early to start and manage their own businesses. If you realize that about yourself, you can then prepare. You can make mistakes in other contexts before you are on your own, where they might have a much worse impact.
Étienne Garbugli: Sometimes, your opportunities are here now, even if you don’t have all the knowledge you may need to capitalize on them. A coach or advisors can assist.
And sometimes, you have the experience but cannot come up with a good idea: everything has to come together. Looking back at some of my startup experiences, I made basic mistakes in my first startup that I would never make today. But it felt like it was the right opportunity to pursue in the way I did.
It’s tricky embarking on the journey while you are still learning. You need to expand your knowledge and stretch your abilities to become the entrepreneur you need to be to succeed. I think it’s a good idea to zoom out periodically and look at your startup as a journey of self-discovery and learning.
Our Focus is On Real Challenges and How to Navigate Them
Sean K. Murphy: It’s especially hard if you don’t talk to other entrepreneurs because life often gives you the test before the lesson. I went to a talk by Doug Hall in 2006. He wrote “Jumpstart Your Business Brain.” He offered several insights on innovation: for example, the Write-Pair-Share brainstorming model, although he called it Brainwriting.
But the most memorable part of the talk was about a vacation–expedition might be a better word–he was going to take with a group to the Arctic Circle. He talked about his preparations with the group for the journey.
The group had several experienced guides, and one of the things they did was prepare everyone for getting wet, which is a very dangerous situation in the Arctic. They traveled to Minnesota, which is not the Arctic, but it’s still pretty damn cold in the middle of winter, and had him jump in a lake.
He said that if this happens in the Arctic, you can change out of your wet clothes, which risks a level of exposure that can lead to the loss of a limb or worse, or you can roll in the snow.
After he rolls in the snow, which puts a thick snow blanket around him that keeps him warmer than his wet clothes would, he has to run for about 90 minutes so that his body heat gradually drives the water out of his clothes.
You need to practice for the rigors of running a startup for the same reason you need to prepare for a trip to the Arctic: your naive instincts will kill you–or at least kill your startup. If you can talk to other entrepreneurs and understand the real risks and how to manage them, I think you have a chance.
And that’s what we have tried to offer this season: briefings on the real challenges and how to navigate them.
Étienne Garbugli: There is an interesting dichotomy of perspectives founders must balance in managing a startup. They need to be fully in the moment and committed to their business. But they also must understand that the current venture is only one of many ways to achieve their goals–and they must remain alert to better approaches.
I have seen some entrepreneurs start with a precise plan for building a SaaS app to generate this much money using this detailed business model to succeed. This level of detail narrows your vision, and you may lose sight of the forest for the trees and overlook other opportunities to capitalize on your insights and capabilities. You are learning as you go, so your initial plan was plotted with less information than you have gathered.
There are many ways to apply what you have learned. Many startups succeeded because they changed direction unexpectedly, driven by the realization, “Hey, we’ve been working on X and Y, but actually there is this other thing we have come across that may be more compelling and is worth investigating.”
So, you have to be focused on what’s in front of you, “in the moment.” But at the same time, you have to be able to take a step back from the current moment and evaluate to integrate what you have learned into your career as an entrepreneur and what you’re trying to achieve with your startup.
Conversations Are a Critical Source of Knowledge and Learning
Sean K. Murphy: This brings us to a second theme we have explored this season: the importance of conversation. In my experience, many of these moments when founders consider pivoting are triggered by a remark or an insight that a prospect or a customer has shared.
Inside the startup, it’s easy to focus on operating things according to the plan you made when you had the least amount of information. It’s hard to have these epiphanies when you are focused on execution.
But when a stranger with skin in the game or someone you trust asks, “Have you ever considered X?” It’s like someone flipping on the lights in a dark room. You look around and reconsider, “That’s not a bad idea and might be much easier.”
Étienne Garbugli: In our episode on startup posters, we talked about how “getting out of the building and speaking to prospects” can become a check-in-the-box activity. Interviews become a task you must complete instead of something that might change your direction.
When I speak with entrepreneurs in accelerators or incubators, many are asked to do a large number of interviews each week or month. That is not conducive to getting the full value from the engagement with the prospects. It certainly works against building business relationships.
And business relationships, whether new ones with prospects and others you meet or existing ones with people you trust, make a difference. As we discussed earlier this season, this mix of perspectives increases your luck by enhancing your understanding of the market and expanding your awareness of opportunities you can address.
The critical importance of creating genuine connections with people outside of the organization can get lost in “get out of the building.” It’s about more than speaking to as many people as possible just once.
These initial conversations should open the door to deeper relationships–or at least not foreclose the option of a business relationship. I don’t think Steve Blank intended “Get out of the building” to become a numbers game. But it’s deteriorating into one in many startups, mistakenly encouraged by some incubators and accelerators.
Don’t Fall Into the “You Need 100 Interviews” Trap
Sean K. Murphy: When you start to look at prospects as lab rats you’re experimenting on, you’re falling into the trap of going through the motions, “I’ve got to get 12 interviews done this week on my way to a hundred.” There isn’t an “achievement unlocked: 100 interviews completed” and you become a second-level entrepreneur.
You made two excellent points in the networking episode. The first was that you’re looking for synergy. You’re looking for relationships that will benefit the other person and yourself. And you have to remain human and open to real connection if you’re going to learn.
The effect of these conversations is not only to change the other person and give them new perspectives on what’s possible but also to change your perspective of what’s possible or what you should be doing.
Étienne Garbugli: Seeking synergy means looking for a win for both parties, whether you and another person or two people you introduce. This mindset is fundamental to finding co-founders, customers, or others you want to work with.
You mentioned in the networking episode that if you are delaying having conversations, there is usually some fear behind that. Sometimes, this is masked by fiddling with infrastructure setup – CRM, mailing tools, etc.
When you look for excuses to avoid speaking with customers or prospects, that delay ends up hurting your startup’s ability to learn. Imagining a conversation is no substitute for having one; without the conversation, it’s much harder to figure out how to move forward, much less accelerate.
Sean K. Murphy: It’s easy to have an idealized vision of what will happen when we talk to people: everyone is going to love your idea, product concept, or demo. At some level, we understand that we may learn things that dissipate the dream–and it can be hard to let go of the dream. I think that’s one hurdle that trips some founders up.
A second is pattern matching to how larger companies do qualitative research–a fancy way of describing conversations with prospects or customers. The problem for founders who imitate the researchers is that the researchers aren’t trying to help the people they’re talking to. They’re trying to write a report. They’re trying to check the box and get through it. This mindset is toxic for founders. It may influence some of the “you must do 100 interviews” advisors at the accelerators you just mentioned.
Entrepreneurs have to seek an exchange of value in the context of establishing a longer-term business relationship: at a minimum, both parties will learn something. You are doing it wrong if it degenerates into a transactional model where I get ten minutes of your time for a $25 Starbucks gift card.
Étienne Garbugli: It’s a mistake to apply the more impersonal norms of B2C markets to B2B markets, which rely on personal relationships. Founders make a mistake when they focus on building relationships efficiently by keeping them at arm’s length. They need to engage directly and understand their customer’s needs and the realities of their business. They should seek proximity, not distance.
One outcome from a B2B startup you should always strive for is cultivating a network of customers you enjoy working with and serving. Another is the domain knowledge you acquire from paying attention to your customers’ actions and what they tell you about their needs.
One reason serial entrepreneurs succeed is that they focus on a market space and keep working at it like employees cultivate their careers. They build valuable networks based on mutual respect by meeting commitments and map the technology and economic trends at work in the space. That points out another theme from the season: the value of playing a long game.
How To Tell If You Are Making Progress
Sean K. Murphy: One thing I appreciated working with you this season was that you continually asked, “How does an entrepreneur tell if they are making progress?
Étienne Garbugli: The “check-in-the-box” approach to interviews we just discussed is a good example because the goal is not to do a lot of interviews but to uncover information and establish relationships that will make the startup succeed. To some extent, interview counts are a vanity metric: they are tasks, but the goal is progress toward a viable and growing business.
Sean K. Murphy: Another significant mindset shift, at least for bootstrappers, is that you are not looking for the biggest market as your first step. You’re looking for a market you can access that’s small enough that incumbents will be less attracted to it, or at least your competition will be less. Too many founders resist narrowing their focus because they view it as a step backward, but I think it’s how you make real progress.
Many founders approach customer interviews with questions like “what’s your biggest problem?” They ask themselves, how can I solve this business’s most challenging problem? Because they believe that will generate the most money from a transaction.
You have to solve a significant problem, if not a critical one, if only because a business won’t spend money on a minor issue. But the key question is how to connect what our team already knows how to do or can learn quickly so that we can demonstrate results. If we have a track record related to the problem we tell a prospect we can solve, we pass the “have done, can do” and are more credible.
Étienne Garbugli: Good point: you need to focus on the problems that businesses will pay you to solve. Some believe that it’s hard to assess progress because you know so little when you are getting started. However, I think that setting preliminary goals allows you to take specific steps to explore the market. These goals will enable you to calibrate if your interview process is providing information you can use.
Ruling things out is progress and prevents you from going in circles. I think an iterative refinement of your goals and understanding can also be applied to networking efforts and your sales process.
This concept of continuous refinement emerged as a strategy for improving your understanding of prospect needs and your sales and demo processes. Your definitions and methods should become sharper and more detailed if you are making progress.
B2B is Fundamentally Personal
Sean K. Murphy: I want to return to something you mentioned that first-time founders often miss: B2B is fundamentally personal. You have to get to know your customers. And just because you close them in March doesn’t mean you don’t want to talk to them in May, June, and a year later.
Learning from customers doesn’t only take place as you’re getting started. It continues as they refine their understanding of their needs and as their needs change in response to implementing the solutions you’re offering them. I see this as an ongoing dialogue that must be person to person.
Étienne Garbugli: Going through the motions because you are in a hurry to be done causes a lot of problems. You focus on finishing the interviews, so you listen for confirmation, not enlarging your understanding.
This is more of a first-time founder blind spot; once you have failed once or twice, you listen more carefully and pay attention to contrary information. I think it’s rare that prospects lie, but it’s easy to fill in the blanks with the assumptions you started the interview with.
Next season, we should do an episode on how to avoid fooling yourself in interviews and post mortems and how to determine if outlier data or remarks are noise or critical information. How do you tell if you are filtering what you hear or see through an agenda instead of an open mind? How do you mentally step across the table and look at situations from a prospect’s perspective? And how do you build enough rapport that they are willing to be candid with you about mistakes they have made and their genuine concerns?
You Have to Survive to Succeed
Sean K. Murphy: Another principle that runs through many episodes is that you must survive to make entrepreneurship a career. You have to stay in the game long enough to get good at the game.
Some first-time founders are tourists; they want to have the experience of doing a startup. But they don’t focus on learning and self-improvement.
Others think they have a great idea: their friends tell them they love it. Experienced entrepreneurs are a little more skeptical: they talk to more people and listen more carefully and with more patience.
Étienne Garbugli: I think their perspective is, “I have a great idea, so I found a startup that unfortunately burns out in a year. But then I will go to work at IBM for five years.” But if your idea is to be an entrepreneur–this idea was not just a whim–you are setting yourself up for failure unless, in parallel, you work at a job, big company or small, so that you can keep building assets that take you further in your journey.
If you are committed to persevering as an entrepreneur, you focus on surviving so you can keep learning, often by making new mistakes but also by interacting with other founders. Over time, you find your path.
We talked a lot this season about the importance of surviving so that you master the skills you need to succeed as an entrepreneur. Bootstrappers call it survival, venture-backed firms call it runway, and successful firms call it managing your cash flow. Regardless of the context, it’s important to manage your funds to give yourself more at-bats, actions that offer possibilities to find both the small wins and the breakthroughs that provide you with more opportunities for success.
We talked about other strategies to extend your runway:
- Keep your day job.
- Set milestones for the release of savings or funding so you don’t spend it all up front.
- Take your venture as a serious initiative, not a hobby. Treat it as a second job, not a side project.
- Make small bets you can survive losing. Don’t go all in on any one tactic or experiment. Survival is necessary for success.
Sean K. Murphy: You made two other good points in episode six on managing your runway. One was that you don’t have to start with a product; you can sell outcomes.
This puts you in the market because you’re having conversations about a problem your customer has, and they can pay for a service that helps them and advances your understanding of what the actual product has to do. Selling results also avoids the complications of taking payment for a product you cannot ship yet. And it does not stop you from working on the product and selling it when it offers viable functionality.
Actionable Insights, Principles, and Rules of Thumb for Founders
Étienne Garbugli: So, if we zoom out, do you feel like we’ve hit the mark with the first season of Time to Market? We promised to offer actionable insights, principles, and rules of thumb for founders. Do you feel like we came close to hitting the mark of what we were trying to achieve with the podcast?
Sean K. Murphy: So, when I look back over the eleven episodes, we discussed real problems and how to master your emotions and navigate uncertainty. Founders spend much of their time on the edge of failure or a step or two away with a worry that they are making a fool of themselves.
I appreciated that you pushed for practical ways to keep score so that founders can see if they are making progress. And you always asked for takeaways so that we provided guidance in addition to relating our experiences. We packed a lot of practical advice and insights into these podcasts.
Looking Ahead to Season Two
Étienne Garbugli: We invest effort in preparing for these podcasts, but many of the insights that have emerged in our conversations were not explicitly spelled out. I think we struggle in our preparations to keep the conversation practical and grounded in the realities of B2B entrepreneurs. We welcome any suggestions from our listeners about topics relevant to B2B startups that you would like to see us address.
Sean, what’s your vision for season 2?
Sean K. Murphy: We have only scratched the surface of B2B in season one. We still need to cover a lot that’s not well appreciated. B2B remains an excellent focus for season two.
I think it’s worth exploring the commonalities between startups and companies launching a product into an unfamiliar market where the product is not just an extension but requires learning about an adjacent but related market. Both must develop conversational and diagnostic skills, make new connections, and learn faster than their competition. If you are not a successful incumbent in the market, you must recognize opportunities you can exploit faster than established players. You have to go to school not only on customer needs but also competitor strengths and weaknesses so that you can target niches they are likely to avoid.
There is quite a bit we can consider for season two.
Étienne Garbugli: I have two themes that I want to make sure we cover in season two.
While a lot of content is developed for startups, or at least the generic concept of a typical entrepreneur, very little addresses the realities of founding a startup with others. How do you negotiate a common direction, share learning, and stay in sync, as many of your initial ideas may prove incorrect?
I want to continue to address areas where conventional wisdom, the advice you find on startup posters, is so high level that it’s useless or misleading when applied in the wrong context. In my books, I have tried to probe these gray zones with either ambiguity that entrepreneurs need to navigate or dilemmas where they find it difficult to know what to do.
I want us to keep providing clarity in the form of diagnostic criteria and decision rules to help founders manage the complexities of B2B markets and find solutions to the actual problems they are facing.
Sean K. Murphy: You have a number of practical insights in your books, both as case studies from your research and decision rubrics. I think there are many interesting points of departure for episodes in the second season.
Étienne Garbugli: So a recap of season one and a preview of coming attractions. If you have feedback for how we can improve or suggestions for topics, please contact me at @leanb2b or Sean at @skmurphy.
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- Preserving Trust And Demonstrating Expertise Unlocks Demanding Niche Markets
- Doug Hall wrote about his expedition to the North Pole in “North Pole Tenderfoot“
- Doug Hall’s “Jumpstart Your Business Brain” was profiled in “Twelve Books for the Busy CEO.”
slides are here https://www.skmurphy.com/f/SDForum061211.pdf
I highlighted Halls’ 3 Laws of Market Physics for Products: 1. Demonstrable Benefit 2. Reason to Believe 3. Dramatic Difference
We are very interested in feedback or comments.
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