Q: Is It Waste To Build A B2B MVP That Inspires Trust?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in checklist, MVP, skmurphy

Q: I am preparing to launch a website for my minimum viable product (MVP). It’s a few pages and has has some forms and a file upload capability. Potential customers will be able to explain a particular type of problem that they have and then upload some relevant files for review. I will review their situation and send them a link for payment if I can fix the problem. My concern is that if I don’t have pages for “Contact Us”, “Services”, and “About Us then a potential customer may not trust the website to actually start a purchase. Is it waste to add these pages? Would I be smarter to launch a very simple site with a form and file upload.

Build A B2B MVP That Inspires Trust

If the information you are requesting is not particularly proprietary and you are only looking to charge $10 or $20 dollars then the “put up a landing page and see who clicks” model may tell you enough. This is essentially an impulse purchase.

But when you write  “I will review their situation and send them a link for payment if I can fix the problem,” I am assuming that you are selling to business and that your target price point is more than $100.  This moves beyond the impulse purchase or simple consumer buying models for a $4 E-book or a $19/month service; if you plan to charge more than $300 then you are pretty clearly into a “considered purchase” and need to provide a richer context for the decision than a simple landing page. Also because you are asking for data that they may consider private or proprietary this makes it more of a considered purchase.

Q: What Are Critical Tasks In A Startup?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in checklist, skmurphy

Q: What is the target allocation for each of these critical tasks in a successful startup? Here is my list of critical tasks in a startup and a percentage allocation:

  • Planning 10%
  • Execution 50% 
  • Ideation 20% 
  • Talking to Potential Customers 15% 
  • Recruiting 5%

What Is The Real Decision?

Can you clarify :

  • At what stage of company?
  • What time frame are the percentages averaged over?
  • Is this just for the founders or total effort of all team members?
  • What is the distinction between ideation and planning?  Can you please elaborate on this?

How would you use or apply any answer that you get?  In other words, what is the real decision you are trying to make?

Labor Day 2014: Knowledge Work Productivity

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in checklist, skmurphy

“A holiday gives one chance to look backward and forward, to reset oneself by an inner compass.”
May Sarton

I have not yet internalized the lessons from Daniel Cook‘s “Laws of Productivity: 8 Productivity Experiments You Don’t Need to Repeat” [PDF] so I find myself work–and now blogging–on a holiday. Here are my key take-aways from Cook’s roundup on knowledge work productivity and some additional thoughts on why they are so hard to put into practice. Do as I say not as I do.

Map Customer Buying Process Before Sending a Proposal

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, checklist, Sales, skmurphy

Map the customer buying process, needs, and situation before you invest time sending a detailed proposal. A quick request can mean you are column fodder.

Q: We are still trying to close our first paying customer. We have a website up and have talked to a number of people. More or less out of the blue we got a call from someone in a large firm who had looked at our website. They asked a few questions about our product and then said “Great! Send me a detailed proposal including pricing!”

At last a stranger recognizes the brilliance of your solution in just a few minutes of conversation! How often I tell myself that. How rarely it’s true, especially when you are just starting out with a new product or in a new market. You have to ask yourself:

  • Do they really know enough about what   we do to be able to start a purchase order?
  • Do I know enough about their situation to be able to calculate our likely impact on their business and their return on investment?
  • How can I justify the price to value in the proposal?
  • Have I addressed the critical implementation and proliferation roadblocks we will face from pilot to production use?

You May Be Column Fodder

More often than not you are actually “column fodder” or a makeweight needed so that they can prove to their boss or the purchasing/finance team that they did a thorough job and solicited three bids. Especially if you don’t know much about their situation and they have not asked for a detailed demo you need to proceed a little more slowly.

Map The Customer Buying Process

Before you submit a proposal I would ask your contact these questions to get a better sense of the situation, in particular you need to learn as much as possible about who will make the decision and how they will make it (the customer buying process).

  1. Can you describe the process for making a decision after we submit this powerpoint proposal, who else is in involved, what questions are they likely to have?
  2. Who has to make the final decision to actually sign a contract?
  3. Can you provide an example of a standard contract so we can understand your  typical deal structure and terms and conditions.
  4. Can you give some examples of other deals that your company has done in the last three years that might serve as a model for how our business relationship would work?

Understand Their Needs and Situation

You want to be easy to do business with but that requires that you have a thorough understanding of their needs. I would not send a powerpoint presentation, but ask for time to present it (if only via Webex/GoToMeeting) so that you can answer any questions that they have in the moment. I would also dry run this presentation with your contact if they are open to it. If they just default to “send me a detailed proposal” it’s probably not a real opportunity.

Nadia James’ Daily Checklist for Aligning Efforts With Goals

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in checklist, skmurphy

Nadia James recently posted a thoughtful article on “Why Entrepreneurs Must Stretch to Reach Their Visions of Success” that included the following daily checklist for aligning efforts with goals for your business.

  1. What vision did I have for my personal and work life when I decided to launch a business? (Think of this vision for yourself as your intended nirvana)
  2. How close am I to reaching my entrepreneurial nirvana state?
  3.  What are some key elements of my entrepreneurial nirvana state? How can I break this vision into bite sized milestones?
  4. How can I better operate my business to achieve my milestones?
  5. What can I do today to invest in my future vision?

She suggests that you spend at least 30 minutes a day working “on the business” instead of just working “in the business.” I like the checklist and had some thoughts on how to operationalize it.

What Can I Do Today to Invest in My Future Vision?

I would start with this question on a daily basis, consider actually planning for tomorrow at the end of the day so that you can start with a key list of todo’s (“What can I do tomorrow to invest in my future vision).  As bootstrappers the primary question is where to invest time and focus and how to delegate to others in a manner that communicates the context you want them to operate in, not just the specific task. Explaining your vision for the business in a way that others can act in it is also worth your time.

 How Can I Better Operate My Business to Achieve My Milestones?

I think this question is worth asking at the end of each project milestone you complete or any result you deliver to a customer.  Daily may be too frequently unless you are working on very small deliverables. There are two things to think about in building raw material for an after action:

  • what did I observe that was surprising (or violated my expectations) and
  • what are key metrics I can track so that I don’t rely purely on memory when I do the actual actual lessons learned.

Another trigger for this question could be a regular weekly or monthly review of key metrics that measure “distance traveled” and “distance to goal.”

What Is My Vision For The Business

If you can boil this down to high level goals then you have can construct some decision rules for whether you are moving toward your “True North.” Periodically you may come to understand that key assumptions you made about the world, the market, or yourself were wrong and you need to make adjustments. But I think these adjustments are either in response to clear failures or something that you do more on a quarterly or twice a year basis.

How Can I Break this Vision into Bite Sized Milestones?

I think this is great advice, in particular if you can see how you can build a small viable business that you can scale into your full vision. While the vision is important I think the ability to break it into a sequence of milestones is critical to being able to achieving it. These milestones would typically involve things that are directly under your control:

  • number of sales conversations,
  • saving money to give you more flexibility,
  • completing product features or clearly defining the services that you want to offer.

You also need to define “stopping rules” where you have to reconsider an approach or even your commitment to the business so that you can be objective in the face of setbacks.

What does entrepreneurial success mean to you? What milestones must you hit to get there?

How Close Am I to Reaching My Entrepreneurial Vision?

By definition I think your goals evolve as you achieve key aspects of your vision.

 “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?”
Robert Browning


John Gardner: Leaders Detect and Act on the Weak Signals of the Future

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 5 Scaling Up Stage, checklist, skmurphy

Some excerpts with commentary from “On Leadership”  by John W. Gardner.  Gardner outlines how leaders detect and act on weak signals of the future by looking beyond the horizon and planing for renewal.

There is such a thing as the “visible future.” The seedlings of [future] life are sprouting all around us if we have the wit to identify them. Most significant changes are preceded by a long train of premonitory events. Sometimes the events are readily observable.”
John W. Gardner “On Leadership”

Marcelo Rinesi advised “the future is an illusion, all change is happening now” and Peter Drucker told us to “systematically identify changes that have already occurred.” From an entrepreneurial perspective you can often transplant a solution from one industry to attack a similar problem in another: as William Gibson suggests, “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.” This model for innovation brokerage requires that you be open to new solutions to old but pressing problems and that you scan more broadly to find them. Gardner offers his own explanation for why opportunities are overlooked:

“…the future announces itself from afar. But most people are not listening. The noisy clatter of the present drowns out the tentative sound of things to come. The sound of the new does not fit old perceptual patterns and goes unnoticed by most people. And of the few who do perceive something coming, most lack the energy, initiative, courage or will to do anything about it. Leaders who have the wit to perceive and the courage to act will be credited with a gift of prophecy that they do not necessarily have.”
John W. Gardner “On Leadership”

There is always a value in closing the deals that are in front of you and making this month’s payroll. But there is a risk in getting caught in the treadmill of the urgent. Gardner offers a prescription for leaders and leader/managers to differentiate themselves from managers trapped in the immediate crisis.

  1. They think longer term—beyond the day’s crises, beyond the quarterly report, beyond the horizon.
  2. In thinking about the unit they are heading, they grasp its relationship to larger realities—the larger organization of which they are a part, conditions external to the organization, global trends.
  3. They reach and influence constituents beyond their jurisdictions, beyond boundaries. In an organization, leaders extend their reach across bureaucratic boundaries—often a distinct advantage in a world too complex and tumultuous to be handled “through channels.” Leaders’ capacity to rise above jurisdictions may enable them to bind together the fragmented constituencies that must work together to solve a problem
  4. They put heavy emphasis on the intangibles of vision, values, and motivation and understand intuitively the non-rational and unconscious elements in leader-constituent interaction.
  5. They have the political skill to cope with the conflicting requirements of multiple constituencies.
  6. They think in terms of renewal.

John W. Gardner “On Leadership”

I think this is a good list, even for bootstrappers who are worried about keeping the lights on this month. You have to devote 10-20% of your time to problems in the longer term, and connections and initiatives that may not bear fruit next week but perhaps in three months or a year or two. The last suggestion, to consider how to renew skills, relationships, and shared values, is also a critical one for the long term.

More on Drucker’s suggestion for sources for innovation:

“Innovation requires us to systematically identify changes that have already occurred in a business — in demographics, in values, in technology or science — and then to look at them as opportunities. It also requires something that is most difficult for existing companies to do: to abandon rather than defend yesterday. ”
Peter Drucker in “Flashes of Genius

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A Simple Checklist for Introducing a Collaboration Application

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, checklist

collaboration imageWe work with several teams who have launched or are launching an application that makes a team or group more productive.  Here are a couple of suggestions for things to consider.

  • Be compatible with the status quo if at all possible
  • Collaboration or workflow applications that require at least two people to adopt in order to realize productivity benefits are very challenging to introduce.
  • It’s certainly been done: fax, email, CRM systems. But the list of failures is much longer.
  • Find a way to provide a single individual with a productivity bonus that is backward compatible with existing workflow (e.g. email, CRM, wiki, website, …).

Use your team as a case study

  • Is your startup using the tool for collaboration? If not, why not?
  • What no longer happens that used to happen before you started relying on the application?
  • What can you now do using your application that you could not do (or only do with great difficulty) before?

Have conversations before putting up a landing page

  • What have you learned from your conversations with prospects?
  • What problems or needs do you probe for?

Use your team as an earlyvangelist

  • What problems or need or recurring situation led your team to develop your application?
  • What alternatives did you try to do before you developed your application?
  • Why were they unsatisfactory? What was missing or still too difficult?

Listen carefully to your early adopters

  • What do your early adopters tell you that they like about using the service?
  • What benefits does it provide them?
  • What do they still see as missing?
  • Ask what three features they would demo either to other similar teams or to others in their company.

Understand why some teams failed to adopt your application

  • Teams that don’t try it may give you reasons, and these are worth listening to.
  • Pay close attention to teams that gave it a fair trial and decided not to go forward. Their rationale is absolutely worth addressing.

If you are working on a collaboration application for business and are having difficulty getting traction, please free to schedule office hours and we can design some experiments to explore your situation, see “We help you design experiments that move your business forward.

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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

Tips for Choosing a Logo

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, checklist, Startups

We get a number of questions about logos, here are three tips for designing or choosing a logo when you are bootstrapping or just getting started:

  1. Text Treatments: text logos are simple, the company name is always right there. Most high tech logos are text treatments, they are clear and simple. With text logos you have instant impact, customers don’t need to decipher anything. Another benefit of text treatments are logo aspect ratio comes naturally with words. They always seem to work whether you are shrinking or stretching them. Examples are Google, IBM, Intel, and eBay.
  2. Icons: symbol logos can be recognized faster, our brains process images quickly than words alone. But they require more  work and $$$ on branding and presence before people have the connection between symbol and company. Examples are Nike‘s swoosh, Apple‘s apple and Linux‘s penguin. Notice these logos have nothing to do with the companies product: they are about being different and being memorable. They are also very simple designs.
  3. Keep it Simple:  like many other types of design, the best logo designs are elegantly simple. They shrink, stretch, or twist without losing their intangible emotional resonance. Color may add to the design, but they still look great in black and white. In fact, most logo designers use grayscales to do the initial design, then move it to color. They have to look good on your business card, on literature, and on your website.

I have used TheLogoCompany and LogoWorks and were very pleased with the results. My favorite is TheLogoCompany, they have a good article about colors. Others have been very happy with 99Designs.

How To Ask An Expert For Help

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, checklist, skmurphy

Entrepreneurs often have to ask an expert for help. Here is some great advice by Andrea R. Nierenberg in the “Ask the Expert” column of this month’s New York Enterprise report.

Q: Like most small business owners, I find there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all I want to do. Plus there is another, growing demand on my time — people who call me and e-mail me asking for my advice, help, etc. I feel that as a growing business, I need to get back to anyone who communicates with me, and I am aware that these contacts may provide some opportunities for my company. But the sheer volume is beginning to bog me down. Do I owe a response to everyone who contacts me? If so, how do I handle it all?

A: I have been a business owner for over 13 years, and a week does not go by without someone calling or e-mailing me to “pick my brain” (a phrase that, by the way, I detest). While I always believe in the courtesy of responding to everyone, I am also a stickler for time management. Here is how I handle my inquiries:

When someone calls, I immediately say, “I have five minutes: how can I help you?” As the caller starts to tell his story, I stop him or her and say, “Would you mind writing down your specific questions and let me know what you have done so far to seek a solution? Then, please e-mail them to me, in bulleted form, so that we can arrange a follow-up meeting or phone call. This way, I’ll be prepared and we can get right to the matter.” Here is the funny thing: About 5% of the people actually follow up. I have found that while many people say they want your advice, time and suggestions, they will never act on what you say — so I find out in advance by asking them to meet me halfway. The ones that are serious about soliciting my advice or opinion will follow through.

With an E-mail inquiry, I will basically give the same sort of reply. Like many people, I carry a BlackBerry and I will glance at my e-mails all day long. But for the sake of time management, I often wait to answer them all at once, when I have a mini-block of time.

To keep things under control, it’s also crucial to batch these kinds of calls by category and importance. Don’t stop and start on each inquiry that comes in without finishing your prior work. You will only get more bogged down.

A caveat here: If during the first few minutes of the phone call, or if in reading the initial e-mail, I know I cannot help this individual or provide useful advice, I immediately say so; if possible, I may refer him or her to someone else. The last thing I want to do is waste time figuring out “some way” to help someone when I know that ultimately I won’t be able to.

Regardless of who calls, always take those few minutes to listen carefully and be courteous. Be firm, stick to your time limit, and remind them that you can talk to them at a later date, when you have blocked out the time. Let people know that your time is valuable and help them get to the point. I’ve made some great connections and contacts through lending a helping hand, and I firmly believe that what goes around does come around. You just have to set up your rules so that your helping hand remains just that and you can get on with the business of running your business.

I don’t know that you should be quite so brusque with prospects, but let’s turn this around for a minute and assume you were going to ask an expert for help. I think there is some good advice here if you are planning to ask someone with expertise for help.

  • If it’s in writing (for example in a forum):
    • Outline very briefly who you are
    • your situation or problem
    • what you have done to investigate and/or solve the problem
    • what specific alternatives you are trying to choose from or have ruled out
    • Any other directly relevant information
  • On the phone: E-mail ahead the information above adding
    • who suggested that you contact the person
    • how helping you might also help the other person
    • end your call in five minutes or less unless the other person is clearly interested in talking
  • Approaching a speaker after a talk
    • Introduce yourself, exchange business cards, and ask if they mind you e-mailing a question about “X” in less than thirty seconds. Especially if there are folks behind you the speaker may be anxious to chat with them briefly as well.
    • When you follow up mention where you met them and that they said is was OK to follow up (unless they didn’t say it was OK, in which case don’t).

I am amazed at the number of folks who ask questions on forums without doing any basic homework. It’s much more motivating to read they have tried six things and are now asking for help because none of them gave a satisfactory answer. I am disappointed at events by the number of folks who strike up long conversation with the speaker and there are half a dozen or a dozen people in line. You can always get back in line or wait until the line clears to see if the presenter wants to have a longer conversation.

Chapter 6 “Knowing Who Knows, Plugging Into the Knowledge Network” in How to be a Star at Work by Robert Kelley also details an excellent model for connecting with experts stressing the need to

  • Build your network before you need it, if possible.
  • Be very mindful of people’s time and don’t waste it.
  • Give careful thought to how you phrase your request or question.
  • Summarize your attempts to solve the problem or find the information you as asking for help with.
  • Verbally thank and follow up in writing, publicly credit.

Update Jan-21-2011: William Pietri suggested Eric Raymond’s “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way” that has a lot of good advice for how to ask an expert a question in forums and e-mail groups.

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Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in checklist, Consulting Business

referralsBuilding a strong referral base is critical to every entrepreneur. Three things you can do today to build referrals:

  1. Make a list of 30 people you have had a shared success with, go back to school, first job, etc.
  2. Contact those people tell them:
    • What you have been up to
    • Here’s what I am looking for, please refer me to people if they are looking for my services.
    • Please let me know what you have been up to and call if there is anything I can do to help.
  3. Write 2 testimonials for people you’ve had a shared success with in LinkedIn

“Tell everyone what you want to do and someone will want to help you do it.”
W. Clement Stone

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Related Article: 10 Secrets to Getting More Referrals

Nancy Roebke offers details on these ten suggestions:

  1. Ask for them
  2. Reciprocate them: send business to those who help your business
  3. Reward them: from thank you letters to discounts to fees
  4. Give them to other qualified businesses
  5. Use testimonials in your literature and advertising.
  6. Give out more business cards.
  7. Community service.
  8. Sponsor a team or event.
  9. Be helpful.
  10. Join a networking group.

Mike Van Horn on “Are You Ready for Growth?”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in checklist, Startups

Mike Van Horn has a lot of good articles on his small business website. One in particular that’s worth reading is “Are You Ready for Growth?”  Here are some highlights:

  • The better teams you can build… the faster you can grow.
    People who grow companies rapidly know how to put a good team in place, then move on to the next thing. They become a leader of independent teams.
  • The better you use your time–the faster you can grow.
    Invest your time strategically; be less concerned with saving time or managing time.
  • The more you think things through ahead of time–the faster you can grow.
    That means planning, including strategic plans, action plans, and project plans, with built-in review and accountability.
  • The savvier your advisors–the faster you can grow.
    You let go of the “lone ranger” approach to running the business. As your business grows, get advisors who are one step ahead of you.
  • The more you insist on top performance… the faster you can grow.
    Do not let mediocre performers dictate your rate of growth, whether they are employees, customers, vendors, or professionals.
  • The more knowledge you can get out of your head and the more systematized you get–the faster you can grow.
    Create manuals, checklists, and training seminars that teach employees all the magical things that you think only you can do. Then you and your people can focus attention on the big, creative challenges.

The first rule is “The more you can let go, the more you can grow.

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