I Need Bigger Ears (Customer Development Mistakes)

I realized today that I have been taking the axiom of “talk to customers” far too literally. While the quality of my feedback has been reasonably good and I’ve gotten a number of good ideas, there’s a big difference between talking to customers and listening to customers. I’ve been having far to much of a two way dialog and not letting my product speak for itself.

Screen-shot Demo

I got a call today from Performable.com which is developing a new A/B testing tool. I signed up for their beta test a few weeks ago and they gave me a call to ask if I would be willing to walk through a demo with them. Within a minute, they had a screen share up and were showing me a live demo. Although I had no control, it was definitely not a walk through in the traditional sense. it wasn’t a guided tour so much as an exploration. They showed me a screen and started peppering me with questions. Some of my favorites:

  • What do you think this page does?
  • What do you think will happen if you click this button?
  • What do you think this wording means? Continue reading

Controlled Burns and Firebreaks

As startupSQUARE closes in on it’s first friends and family release the work is piling up and I’m reminded of the need to develop firebreaks for the company. Those are the areas where a lack of vegetation, natural such as in the case of a river or man-made as in the case of a road, prevents a fire from spreading. In work context, a firebreak is any sort of barrier which prevents a mistake from starting a domino effect and becoming a catastrophe.

In my last company the exec team spoke frequently of running around putting out fires all day. This was almost a badge of honor. Theses were brief, flare up emergencies with customers, personnel, cash flows, etc. which would threaten our business. But our main problem wasn’t all these small fires, it was that the execs spent so much time dealing with the emergencies that there was no time left over to work on the underlying problems which were creating the fires: poor hiring practices, poor customer service, and a poor product not well fit to the market. Continue reading

Bad Economies are Great for Business

Note: We’d like to take a moment to welcome Carmen Neghina, our intern extraordinaire and author of this post, to the startupSQUARE.com team. Yay Carmen! Thanks – Tristan

Why start your own company in a bad economy? Try to ignore the gloomy media picture of the world coming to an end, a crashing economy, high unemployment, business failures and difficulty accessing loans. Yes, I might be asking for a lot, but why not focus on the positive?

The amount of registered US companies does not change drastically from year to year, regardless of the economic climate. Although there is no clear trend towards more companies being launched, the Kaufmann Foundation noticed something interesting: startups initiated in tough times have increased chances of success, with half of 2009’s Forbes 500 companies having been launched in bad economies. The same is true for the world’s fastest growing companies. If you would actually like to see some of the companies that made the best out of recessions, look at Inc.com’s report. Suddenly, a recession doesn’t sound too bad now, does it? Continue reading

Three Questions for Your Outsourcing Partner

We’re currently testing and selecting some outsourcing partners for startupSQUARE and outsourcing is an issue that seems inescapable these days. Invariably, there is going to be at least one part of your business that is a non-core competency and it’s tempting to send the task off to someone else who is asking less than half the cost of hiring a local. Having managed a small off-shoring division of an IT security company in Vietnam, I’ve come up with my favorite three questions for outsourcing partners.

What is your employee turnover rate?

This is a very important indicator of the quality of the workforce. If there’s a 25% turnover rate of employees, it means that the majority of the senior staff spends a large hunk of their time training staff and not actually doing work on your project. Continue reading