Month: January 2014

Look for agnostics, ignore atheists” – Guy Kawasaki

In customer discovery, and in marketing your product, you will encounter people who are passionate about their existing solution.  That’s ok.  Loyalties develop and it’s really hard to break that relationship.  It will lead you to competition bashing and when you sling mud, everybody gets muddy.

You are better off seeking those who are still searching for a solution.  Maybe the existing solution is too expensive or maybe it is too loaded down with useless features.  Maybe it’s a different audience all together.

Southwest Airlines went to smaller cities and offered scaled down services for a specific type of traveler.  They flew one type of aircraft and made you pick your seat when you sat down.  They balanced with with a superior customer experience. Then they changed air travel all together.

Read “Reality Check” by Guy Kawasaki

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

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“The industrial age brought compliance and compliance brought fear and fear brought us mediocrity.” – Seth Godin

Great quote today from Seth Godin’s blog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com

We were taught from an early age that we are to behave in certain ways and believe certain things and dress in certain clothes.  This was all in preparation for a world that promised lifetime employment and being part of something bigger than oneself.

Loyalty was rewarded with promotions and annual bonuses.  Conformity was valued over creativity.  And if our children had trouble with this, there were medications available that helped them keep quiet and walk in a straight line.

If the rewards didn’t entice you to stay inside the box, then the fear of what would happen if you did was terrifying.  Loss of income and benefits, status and lifestyle were all threatened.  I remember buying my first home.  I told my supervisor and he said “That’s great.  The more in-debt you are, the more you love working for (insert your favorite corporation)”.  Thus the interstate highway to mediocrity was paved.

Now the truth is on the table.  We all have risk.  Sixteen years of dedicated employment is a negative on the income statement.  Traditional employment is going away.

HOWEVER!  We are all free now!  Free to think for ourselves.  Free to come up with great ideas and see if others would benefit from them.  Free to pursue wealth from our efforts – for ourselves.

And freedom from mediocrity.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Do good work and share it with people” – Austin Kleon

Entrepreneurs and artists can learn a lot from from each other.  One lesson is the art of sharing.

Whether you write songs or write code, it’s only a hobby until you share it.  In that moment it becomes art because that’s when people interact with your innovation and get to decide if they like it, want it and are willing to exchange their resources (money, time) to acquire it.

In any event, they will let you know what they think.  What you do with that information is up to you.  You can only hope that they will love it or hate it.  Either way they will remember you.  If they are indifferent, you become beige wall paper, but even that is information you can use.

Create something every day.  Share it as soon as you can.

Read “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“You need to allocate 60 days effort before you start building your product and 10% of your budget to get the Market Validation work done.” – Rob Adams

This is bold advice from “If You Build It Will They Come?”  and it flows in parallel with the customer discovery process.  Rob Adams just put some numbers on it.

Understanding your value proposition and market is important.  So important that Adams recommends two full months of effort to nail it down.  Allocating budget means get out of the office and talk to people.  You can’t Google your way through customer discovery.  Go to trade shows.  Talk to industry experts and leaders in your market segments.  You may consider buying a market research study from one of the leading research firms.  They aren’t cheap.

Doing this before you develop the product helps reduce the risk that you make something no one wants to buy.

It’s cheap insurance.

Read “If You Build It, Will They Come?” by Rob Adams

 

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and a lack of discipline .” – Jim Collins

At some point, you have to have policies and procedures.  It’s usually because there are a lot of people to manage and it’s easier to point to a set of rules than it is to effectively communicate the desired outcome.  It’s certainly easier than going through a complex hiring process to find good people.

And of course, we are people and we don’t always get along.

I remember counseling three employees who were at odds with each other.  They wanted me to issue a decree that defined how everything was supposed to turn out.  I replied by saying I could do that…create a new rule, but it would come with a price.  That rule would apply to everyone regardless the circumstances and I assured them that in the long run it would be a net negative.  In the end they took my advice and worked it out.

Before you make a policy, question why it’s needed.  If you bump into problems with a rule or policy, question why you have it.  Is there another, better way to solve the issue?  And above all, don’t resort to creating a rule that affects everyone just to get out of dealing with a specific situation with specific individuals.

“Man was made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired.” – Mark Twain

God’s ultimate creation was given a great gift; the ability to choose.  Consequently, the ultimate creation is burdened with imperfection.  Our journey on the planet is in part to learn how to get past imperfection.

Companies are plagued with imperfection.  In fact, the successful startups and  large corporations I’ve been honored to work with have all managed to succeed despite some profound stupidity and bizarre decision making.

Your company will never be perfect.  You will make dumb decisions.  Your ego will be bruised.  You’ll hire deadbeats and you will have doubts.  Your competitors will lie about you and you may get sued.

Guess what? Every CEO has these same problems.

That’s why it’s important revisit your Core Ideology regularly and stay focused on delighting and solving problems for your customers.  Your Core Ideology is where your Core Values and your Purpose come together to define the enduring character of the company.  These are the things that do not change over time.

Write down your core ideology and keep it handy.  Post it in plain view.  Share it on your website.  It’s what brings you back when you lose the path.

 

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“It’s a nice name. You should keep it.” – Dr. Who

I have been working with a couple clients on branding lately.  Sometimes a great name just comes.  But often, its a challenge choosing a name that is descriptive but catchy, or “sciency” without sounding incomprehensible.

A good tag line can help by adding just the right description to a cool sounding name.

It’s good to get help.  A good graphic designer has a process to understand what you do and get to what you want.  Their process will force you to describe your product or service to a complete novice and that in itself is a very valuable exercise.  They will know how to combine colors and shapes in a good visual icon.

Your name is the utmost elevator pitch.  It says in one or two words everything there is to say about you and it’s the picture of who you are that people will take with them.  Be deliberate about choosing your brand and make sure you try it on others who care.

 

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Experience makes liars of us all.” – Dr. Who

Having accomplished some great goal, we all tend to look back and find out things about the journey:

  • It’s usually harder than we thought
  • We ran into problems we didn’t anticipate
  • It cost more money than we planned
  • People we respect and admire may have gotten hurt in the process
  • There are mean people out there
  • (Fill in your own blank)

So when you are pitching your company, there is no way you can know what will happen in the next 6 months, let alone 2 to 3 years.  Your pitch today will not be what it is a year from now.  You will pivot – perhaps several times as you learn more about the market you want to play in.  Your financial projections are lies the moment you make them.  You may have to invite friends and good people to leave the company.

It’s OK!

You have to get started and you can’t wait until all the truth is revealed.  Otherwise someone else will solve your customer’s problem before you do.

Start with what you know now, but start nonetheless.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Take your best shot at analysis, place your bet on the table, work your ass off, and don’t look back. That’s how you build a great company.” – Guy Kawasaki

Planning is important.  Analysis is as well.  It is useful to search for patterns that could reveal some repeatability and predictability.

You need to do the market research and you need to pour over your financials, but as Pete Seeger wrote, there’s “a time for every purpose under Heaven.”  Planning and analysis must soon end because neither generates cash.

Confirm your instincts, get the data for the pitch and make sure the numbers tie together.  Then go get your product in your customer’s hands!

 

Read Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“We don’t need economic development. We need economic reinvention.” – Gov. John Kitzhaber

This quote came from Oregon’s Gov. Kitzhaber at the 2013 SSTI Conference.  It was a gathering of technology based economic development organizations and the speech was right on topic but there is a much deeper meaning.

Gov. Kitzhaber acknowledged that the pathway to growth and wealth creation has indeed changed and the same old tricks to attract and encourage this growth will no longer work.  So much is different; timeline of technology adoption, sources of capital, pervasive access to world markets, instant communication anywhere on the planet…

The cool thing now is markets are wide open for anyone to play.  You don’t need $100 million to get started and although there are still a few closed monopolies like cable and media companies, they can’t last forever.

Chambers and local governments are finding the returns of traditional economic development strategies will continue to  diminish as small startups take root, grow and churn.  The community may get this for free as it is the nature of entrepreneurs to overcome their obstacles and chose for themselves where they do it.  But how much more could these communities benefit if they could figure out how to create an environment that attracts and nurtures startups?

Hint: it won’t come from a standardized package of programs, rules and constraints.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson