Customer Development: Fight or Flight

Motivations are unimportant if you happened to be B.F. Skinner. But since he’s dead let’s assume you’re not him. Here’s the obvious question, why do you want to start a business?

Let’s start off topic with a ridiculously simplistic dichotomy: Fight or Flight

Those are the two basic choices we all have when faced with a conflict situation and it’s deeply ingrained in our physiology. Even when faced with something as non-threatening as public speaking, our basic instincts can take over and flood us with adrenaline. Our instincts tell us we have to fight or run away. But as in so many modern day stress or conflict situations, fighting is useless (you cannot punch out a public speaking opportunity) so we generally go for the second option: escape the situation. Continue reading

Clever Hans and Photoshop Iteration

It’s been over two weeks since we released a bare bones alpha of our site and started letting people in one at a time. Since then we’ve been through approximately:

  • 10 iterations of our “view idea” page
  • 6 iterations of “browse ideas” page and 3 of “browse people” page
  • 10 “profile” pages
  • 8 of our “p-home” page (this is the page you see when you log in)
  • 3 “search result” versions
  • and a whopping 14 basic template revisions

That’s a total of 51 revisions in 18 days, almost all of which are iterations based on feedback from users without writing a single line of code. Continue reading

How to Practice Shutting Up (Customer Development Practice)

I’ve discovered a great new method of growing bigger ears. Ready? Wait for it… go listen to sales pitches from startup consultants.

If you’re an entrepreneur, then you probably don’t like being bossed around and you might think your own opinion is pretty damn good. If you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be starting your own company. (I’ll admit it, I have both of those flaws to varying degrees.)

Given those two features, you may or may not have a tough time (like me) really shutting up and listening to your customers. It’s always tempting to interject your own opinion, and even if you think you’re just asking a clarifying question, you’re probably adding some spin to it to try to nudge your customer’s responses the way you want…the way you expect…the way you know your customers ought to be thinking. Continue reading

Impending Doom and Early Releases

This week we’ll be letting a few users into our early release of startupSQUARE.com and we’re rather embarrassed about it. It’s buggy, it’s ugly, and it probably just won’t work. But we’re going to throw it out there anyway for a few select people who can mock us about it to our face so we can get early feedback.

Improvement via Trauma

One of the things we’d like to achieve with this early alpha release is a bit of trauma. Continue reading

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

Someone Please Write a Blog Post about Minimum Viable Strategy

Watching Dave McClure‘s presentation today, I started to think about how a lot of the lean startup and customer development folks talk about creating the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), Release Early / Release Often, Product / Market Fit, Pivoting, etc., etc., but there’s very little talk about choosing your market or your product strategically. (At least not that I’ve noticed, feel free to correct me.) I’d like to read that blog post.

A lot of the advice out there ultimately mitigates risks. Here is my horribly unfair summary:

  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – Spend less on creating your product, therefore you are risking less time and money on a bad product.
  • Release Early / Release Often – Learn in small increments, therefore you are risking less time and money on a bad product.
  • Product / Market Fit – Either change your product to fit the market or choose a different market for your product before you start spending money on marketing, therefore you are risking less time and money on a bad product.
  • Pivoting – If you have a bad product, change it to something else.

Continue reading

New Year’s Resolution for Entrepreneurs and Startup Mavericks

A resolution for all you entrepreneurs out there:

I will start my own business in 2010!

I will work hard and be successful because I will not be discouraged and I will never give up.
I will talk to a customer every day and find out how I can provide them with value.
I will treat my customers and co-founders with the respect I expect from them. Continue reading

Team/Market Fit is more important than Product/Market Fit

This New Year’s Eve, I’m resolving to work on the most important part of my own startup, the team. Specifically, I’m going to try as hard as possible to deserve to work with my co-founders, who are both more experienced and have a better understanding of technology than I can aspire to. But although I’ve heard a lot of common sense arguments about the importance of a good team, I find that a good deal of literature on the subject is easily misunderstood. I’m sure many people have read and agree with the most famous example of this. Marc Andreessen’s blog post is a fantastic discussion on the importance of a good market to the success of a startup. Marc correctly posits that a good team with a good product in a bad market will fail. He goes on to say explicitly that:

  • When a great team meets a lousy market, market wins.
  • When a lousy team meets a great market, market wins.
  • When a great team meets a great market, something special happens.

Continue reading

StartUp SF v2.2 – “Give Your Ideas Ex-Lax” with David Weekly

On Wednesday I went to see David Weekly speak at StartUp SF v2.2 – “Give Your Ideas Ex-Lax”. I’d heard a shorter version before at Startup Weekend, but I was glad to see it again and hear the full version. I largely agree with the ideas behind it, which David shares with Eric Ries, Steve Blank and others, but it does raise a question I wish I had some statistics on.

Does getting ideas out the door faster increase the overall success rate of ideas? Or do you just have more chances at getting it right?

Continue reading

Note from SV New Tech Meetup

This evening I went to the SV New Tech meetup in Palo Alto, CA hosted by Vincent Lauria and was again impressed at the release early, release often mentality that pervades Silicon Valley. But since enough has been written about the theory and execution of lean startups, I thought I’d mention an application which I don’t think has been tried: Music.

I’ve played music since I was four years old and played in more than one band. Actually I’ve released more than one album to the deafening silence of no audience, so I have to wonder if the lean startup / customer development methodology could help aspiring musicians. But more importantly, would any musician dare to try it?

Continue reading