Month: February 2014

“A validation is a third party endorsement” – John Morris

The concept of validation is fundamental to the startup and it makes all the difference in how you track progress and how you create value early.

The strategic planner says to form the strategy, generate milestones and then relentlessly pursue the milestones.  This is true but it’s not enough.  Milestones are a measure of what you accomplish but not everything you accomplish adds value to your startup.  A great example is the formation of your company.  You have to do it but nothing about having an LLC or a C-Corp in itself will cause a customer to buy your product or an investor to invest.

It may be months before you generate any tangible evidence of value – that is, generate cash!  So how do you create value in lieu of cash?  By getting others to respond to your efforts – a third party endorsement.  This is the definition of a validation.  Examples of validations include:

  • Paying customers!!!!!! – early traction is fine but it’s better if you get paid
  • A stellar team – good people have plenty of opportunity.  All the better if they close to join you
  • First class advisors and mentors – these people bring their contact list and their influence
  • Key partnerships –  companies that add value for upside in your success
  • Investment capital!!!!

All of these are evidence that others are willing to bet on your vision and have put their skin in the game.

Checking off milestones is fine but they don’t mean anything unless they lead to validations.  Measure these and highlight them in your company pitch.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘EUREKA! (I found it!)’ but ‘That’s funny…'” – Isaac Asimov

Nylon, sticky notes, the microwave oven, and velcro were all discovered while the inventors were looking for something else.  Perhaps the important questions to ask are “I wonder, what if…, ” or “I wonder why that is…”

This is why we like to say that innovation is not about invention.  Most often, it is about solving a common problem with a unique application of an existing idea.  Rather than viewing experimental failure as an impediment to proving the theory, perhaps it’s better to understand why it failed in the first place.  Then be open to go down the path that opens before you.

In the customer discovery process, this is where pivots come from.  You test a value proposition with customers, typically to find out your original idea does not resonate.  It’s important to understand why because the answer may lead you to a bigger, more important problem to solve.

Thanks to Louisa Rispoli for this quote in her email footer…


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“It doesn’t matter when you go into beta testing – what matters is that you come out of beta testing.” – Guy Kawasaki

Shipping product is one of the biggest validations a startup can accomplish –  especially shipping the first product.

There’s a rule among sound technicians who run the sound systems for live music performances.  If you can’t hear a certain instrument or singer, the first reaction should NOT be to turn it up, but to turn everything else down.  As soon as you start turning stuff up, then you can;t hear other stuff and it needs to be turned up…and so on.

So it is with getting the product out of beta.  The more you test the more you find wrong and the more you want to fix.  Plus that time gives the engineers more time to release new features.  Instead of “turning up” all the features that need to be fixed, think first about those your first customers could do without and perhaps turn them off until the next release.

A minimally viable product is about deciding what NOT to ship.

Read “Reality Check” by Guy Kawasaki


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Interviewing customers is not what most people get out of bed every morning dying to do…, – Rob Adams

“…but in the end, it’s the utlimate way to produce value in the market and it is a sign of an execution mentality.”

We talk plenty about the importance of the customer discovery process and Rob Adam’s quote from “If You Build It, Will They Come?” is dead on.

But I’d like to focus on the last eight words, “it is a sign of an execution mentality”.  This is subtle but it’s really very important.  Investors are a skeptical bunch and most tell you, all other things equal, that they invest in the management team.  The question in the back of the mind is always, “Can this person pull it off?”

The ability to show results and data from a well documented customer discovery process is a huge validating activity that shows you know how to get things done.   But it also shows you know how to do hard things that aren’t fun but very import to the process.

“Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” —Peter Drucker

Everybody’s got an answer and most are willing to tell you about it.  But few are willing to do something about it.  Every time I hear, “I wish somebody would…,” I think “well why don’t you?”

Leading is hard.  You can’t do everything right because there are too many conflicting circumstances. Not everyone is going to be happy.  If you try to please everyone, you will miss the full benefit of your original goal; which is the only way to focus — on the original goal.

Impediments and obstacles can involve technology, situations and people.  If you hit a wall, find another path or break through it.  Consensus is good until it impedes the mission.  Great results will settle the noise and put all the opinions in the right place.


Blogging Gazelle is Published Daily by Shawn Carson

The Manifesto of making stuff: – Austin Kleon

“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use— do the work you want to see done.”

What other reasons or permissions are you looking for?

Read “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Customers don’t want their money back. They want a product that works properly.” – Dan Burton

Yes, we preach about not delivering the perfect product, but the product that is good enough.

This is not a question of quality but one of feature selection.  Your product has to solve a problem for the customer in a reliable way and it really helps if the customer enjoys the experience.  Simple design and singularity of purpose are the goal here.  If you nail your value proposition through a diligent customer discovery process, you will learn what features and functions are most important and you can concentrate on delivering those with quality and elegance.

“In order to get out of the funk, you have to surround yourself with people who aren’t funky.” – Peggy Grant

Entrepreneurship is hard enough on it’s own and you will have your down days.  You will hear disparaging things from all sorts of people who don’t have your best interest at heart; your competitors, certain customers, bankers and VC’s to name a few.  In the non-profit world, there are community stakeholders who have competing agendas.  It’s the way it is.

You should develop you inner circle.  That’s a small group of people you trust and who understand what you are trying to do.  Meet with them regularly, either as a group or just one at a time for coffee.  Consider them the Board of Directors of You, Inc.  These people will encourage you, hold you accountable and keep you centered on your path.

Those spreading the negative waves will find you with no problem but you have to seek out your inner circle.  They are there but they must be asked.  They are the kind of people who will share with you their profound experience but they would never force it.

Never waste their time.  Have specific questions ready to ask them and followup on what they tell you to do.  They won’t invest in whining but they will help you conquer challenges.

Forget about age, gender and cultural difference.  There are many smart people I rely on who are younger than me.  Wisdom is about experience, not age or race.

Form your inner circle long before you need them.  Desperation is never attractive and shows a lack of planning.

Show your gratitude by being successful and passing on your experience with the next person who asks.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Leadership is evolution, not revolution” – Colin Powell

Leadership is a principle and a discipline; a mindset.  It is not a method and therefore, it cannot be reduced to a checklist.

It’s essence is in understanding a clear goal or end state, communicating that vision to the people who must do the work and then staying focused.  A little bit every day.  Regular reviews with tangible measures.  And the flexibility to adjust as the pathway reveals itself.

Occasional glances in the rearview mirror are fine to measure progress but  the priority is on the way forward.

Change takes time and it’s hard.  It’s easy for the popular hero to swoop in, create chaos in the name of positive change and then exit with the bonus leaving all the rubble to the rest of us.

Revolution results from bad leadership and it’s usually bloody…

The true leader leaves a legacy of success that does not depend on her presence or personality.  What remains is the vision.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson