My Journey in Radical Transparency

What are you the best at that you enjoy doing the most?


Curriculum in Accelerators

Recently I was able to listen to Steve Blank speak at the TechStars founders conference in Las Vegas. Steve covered his current views on being a startup and where to begin. The first tool to use is the Business Model Canvas. He then moved on to talk about Customer Development and how they work together to help a startup focus on the right decisions.After his talk several of us gathered around for a more detailed conversation about these concepts as curriculum in an accelerator. The response from the managing directors, mentors, and entrepreneurs came in three flavors:
1) We’ve been doing this for years but calling it something else.
2) Hadn’t seen it before but it looks useful.
3) We already use this as a framework.

I was amazed at the number of people who were in the first two groups. It seems that many of the accelerators operate under the model that the entrepreneurs should know enough to make good decisions based on the vastly different opinions of the mentor. Every accelerator warns their entrepreneurs about this issue. “You’ll meet with many different mentors with many different experiences and oppinions. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do with your company.” In general I agree with this statement. A startup founder must take ownership over their decisions. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t provide a structure to understand why the decision is being made.

I have trouble believing the ‘We’ve been doing this for years.” crowd. That’s an excused based on hind sight. Humans are terrible at remembering what it really took to get where we’re at. To now be able to look back and say “Yeah, that’s how we did it.” is a little crazy. It’s very easy to fool ourselves into thinking this way. The problem is that it’s been getting done differently for many years and there are still examples of very successful companies. Now, how’d they do it? Unfortunately most of them can’t tell you. Of course there are stories but they just don’t add up to a measurable way to succeed. So unless you believe in being at the right place at the right time then there must be a better way.

We can significantly increase the value of startup accelerators by measuring success through learning and not by funding. Learning comes from your customer and is valuable whether you’re right or wrong. Funding comes from investors and is most valuable only after you’ve learned from your customer. Too many times startups are incorrectly making decisions based on investor feedback because they don’t know how to engage the customer. This is a huge waste of resources and a primary contributor to startup failures.

The capital can be put to much better use if learning to placed at the beginning of the process instead of the end.


Being Founder-Centric

I recently replied to a  post on Being Founder-Centric.  The author is from New Zealand and is discussing some of the issues they have with their startup ecosystem. As you can imagine they have many of the exact same issue that we are facing. I hope this article can stimulate a conversation around what we can do to create change. It seems we’ve all found plenty of time to define the problem. I’ve included a little excerpt but the entire article is worth a  read.

Being Founder-Centric (Dec 4, by Rowan Simpson)

…What’s missing in all of that? Motorways are not much use in the absence of cars!

Sadly, no matter how much you might want it, you can’t will an innovative eco-system that generates new companies into existence, you have to let one grow. As Dave ten Have said recently, entrepreneurial activity doesn’t come from central planning. So, while it seems like a lot is being done, in my opinion at least, it is mostly splashing and thrashing and not much forward momentum for the people that all of this is supposed to be helping.

The questions we should be asking in each case are:
Is it needed?
Does it work?
Will it get to those who need it?
Will they use it correctly when they get it?

Let’s consider each of these initiatives in the context of this idea-product-impact chain…

Andy White (@LeanStarter) says:

Excellent read, very well thought out description of the problem. However, I’m left wanting for more detail in the solution.

First, You should know you are not alone. These issues are the same ones being faced in a majority of first world countries. There’s an established infrastructures that’s been in place for many years. Those involved are struggling to understand how they can keep their infrastructure and adapt it with these new techniques. It’s a classic innovators dilemma, unfortunately they will not be able to successfully adapt due to legacy scared cows that will keep them from true innovations.

The good news is there’s a better way. As you mentioned, the Lean Startup philosophies are helping to define how to create a customers centric business. The book Nail It then Scale It, takes this structure and wraps it with a systemic process model that can be executed and measured against.

Startup Weekend is also another great opportunity. Most of this has been covered in the above comments. It’s not typically about creating a new business. However, it does take a team through the process of creating one allowing them the understand the process better, build out team dynamics, and see first hand how potential investors look at a deal. To get all this knowledge in one weekend, plus the opportunity to build new relationships it’s truly amazing.

The old model is broke, the fact that we even still have business plan competitions is the clearest sign. Where are the Business Model Competitions? These could be held over a weekend with the focus on customer development and modeling. Working with a one page Business Model Canvas creates a focal point that can’t be achieved by an old business plan. Get to know your customer, identify their pain, and then create a hypothesis for the solution… test, repeat. Given the right focus these steps can be executed in a very short amount of time.

The answer to the question exists. We just need to eat our own dog food and connect with our customers to identify their pain. Stop the “build it and they will come philosophy” and start working with entrepreneurs to create solutions that provide real benefits.

A founder-centric community can be built within a startup ecosystem.


What can you learn at a Startup Weekend?

This is a guest post from Phil Wolff @evanwolf, the original can be found on Quora. It’s amazing how many of the lessons learned from a weekend project can be applied to your MVP and lean startup.

Each time I’ve gone, and I’ve been to four, I learn something very different about the process and myself. In no particular order…

Decisiveness rules. You won’t have enough information, the right people, or enough time. Just choose. And choose. And choose. Few decisions are worth more than 30 seconds of conversation. Stop discussions and decide, then move. “Next!”

Read the competition instructions closely. Exactly what are you being judged on? What can disqualify you? Are there special benefits if you use a sponsor’s technology? Who owns your IP?

The pain of waiting too long to fire someone. On one project there was a person who dragged the rest of us down, slowing decisions, distracting us, not even attempting to deliver on promises. We knew this 16 hours into the 54 and could have saved ourselves some grief and bought focus by asking him to leave.

The necessity of speaking to an engineer in his/her terms, language. I don’t mean geek. I mean understanding how your engineer thinks about problems, work structure, requirements, etc.

The value of an experience designer. Had a great UX guy from Yahoo! on one project and it helped us hone in on a few key activity flows that delivered nearly all the product’s value.

Nobody votes for atoms. I’ve seen great products that involved things being sold (a learn-to-cook-kit for guys and a custom engraved greeting card via high power laser). VC culture is sour on things that are not infinitely scalable. Doesn’t mean you don’t have a great product, just don’t expect to win.

Beauty and a distinctive, fun appearance sells. Can your product have personality? Personality breaks ties in business models.

Checklists are powerful. They keep you from missing things. Make them as you go, download them if you don’t know what they should have. You are in crisis mode so you will miss important things. Miss fewer with checklists.

Pick team tools before you leave your first sit down meeting. Team listserv, google office/docs, code repository, to do lists, etc. Tool up.

It’s just for fun. Relax. The worst thing that can happen is you don’t win a prize and you wasted a weekend. So have fun, work hard, make friends, and learn something.

It’s not just for fun. Anyone you meet might wind up hiring, recommending, or investing in you. A surprising number of projects turn into real businesses that persist and grow long after the weekend.

Apply the “Law of Two Feet.” If you are not adding value, having fun, or learning, use your two feet and find a project where you can.

Facts. Proof someone will/won’t pay for your product can be found quickly if you start early.

Start quickly. Time is short.

Make a plan. Time is short. Set milestones you can hit, meet your team, pick roles and responsibilities.

Have The Equity Talk before lunch on Saturday. This avoids angry words if you win.

Pivot. It’s OK. If you’re doing the wrong thing, change if you can. Big pivot, small pivot. Sooner is better, since… Time is short.

Developers are scarce and powerful. Generally speaking there are fewer programmers than design, marketing, or management types. Also, generally, developers rarely express interest in those other roles. Cool when they do.

Manage scope. Minimum Viable Product, baby. Heck, shoot for minimum product that gives people a feel for what you’re service will do and feel like to customers. Less is more because… Time is short.

Judges apply formal models and criteria as pretexts for their gut feel. Tell the emotional story your customers will respond to. Puppies. Beer. Children. Lust. Greed. Fear. Your judges see thousands of decks and elevator pitches, as many as 20 on a busy Sunday camp night. Emotions and a narrative story help them remember you and your pitch.

Pitch yourself. When you get up for your 30 second elevator pitch on Friday night, pitching more than your idea as viable and investor-worthy (head, plausibility) but that we’ll have fun working together and you should be on my team (heart, belonging). I’ll like you!

Everyone fails, and that’s OK. This is a risk-friendly environment. So do you best and don’t stress. Like any beauty contest, everyone fails but one. So keep your head up and build.

Budget ten to fifteen percent of your working time to rehearsing the demo. Out of the 56-odd hours, you only have about 20 hours of actual work time (assuming sleep, eating, wasted time, commute). Plan at least two hours of standing up and repeating/revising your pitch, getting the words right, getting the order right, making it flow and feel natural so you speak with poise and confidence.

Demonstrations count. The demonstration shows you can execute, and builds trust in the team.

Presentations count more than the engineering. How you tell your story can overcome technical shortcomings. Many pitches even win with mockups or wireframes.

The right idea counts more than its presentation. Duh.

Make sure your team eats, sleeps. Fatigue makes bugs and bad decisions. If you’re going to pull an allnighter on one night, make it Saturday night. Be fresh and bouncing with energy for your pitch

Social skills make finishing possible. Turning strangers into a team, building consensus, resolving doubts and fear, keeping focus – all depend on soft skills. If you don’t have them, find someone who does.

About the Author:

Phil Wolff- I am using my camp-found skills at Hookflash is a business communications startup.!/evanwolf  

[Source: Quora]


SLC Startup Peer Network: Attract, Interact and Transact

Last night we had our first BoomStartup Alumni meeting. The event was attending by 26 startup founders. The goal of these meetings is to create a startup peer network. We are using our existing BoomStartup Alumni and the anchor for this group. Other tech founders in the community are welcome to attend. Last night we had 8 new members join the group. Thank you for your participation we look forward to seeing you next month.

The current meeting format consists of a brief topic overview to help spark thoughts and questions. We then open the meeting for specific questions from the founders. The best questions are very specific and ones that can be addressed with actionable, measurable results. We will then get an update from each of these founders at next months meeting.

This month’s topic was Attract, Interact and Transact. These terms are used to define the phases of a typical customer acquisition process. In a web environment these can loosely be seen as visitors, users and customers. The attract metric is used to define your initial contact with a potential customer. Interact is the action that gives you a contact point, or way to communicate directly. For Transact you need to get some money.

We had a couple of great question brought up around this topic. From these we noted a few suggestions. These can be summarized as follows:

  • Define how you will measure each step. Establish your baseline.
  • A small change in Transact can make a big difference.
  • Without a good Transact phase and Large change in Attract is wasted.
  • The gateway between each is key. How can you remove the barriers?
  • A/B test the change and define success ahead of time.

Most of these concepts have been retooled from the principals developed for Lean Startup. This line of thinking is changing the way we view product development and it’s tie to the rest of the organization. It’s worth the time to understand these concepts. Discover how to eliminate the waste in your startup now.

Next month we’ll be discussing Cohorts, how to define them and what to do once you have. Please comment with any questions.

Details on our next meeting will be here:


Change your Funding Strat?

should the current market environment change your fundraising strategy?
seth levine