Month: March 2014

“Teams that build continuous customer discovery into their DNA will become smarter than their investors, and build more successful companies.” – Steve Blank

Those that seem to stay ahead of the curve are like wizards with magical powers.  Successfully predicting what is next is extolled as genius and we all want some of that.

Much of the time though, great prognosticators are keen observers of their chosen environment.  They collect data on what’s going on around them and these data may present them with a few distinct options.  So they pick one.  It either works or it doesn’t – based on how the data react.  If it doesn’t they shift quickly to the next option.  Rinse and repeat.

In startups, this IS the customer discovery process.  It’s not magic.  Learning how to do it once can launch a good company but long term success goes to those who figure out how to hardwire customer discovery into a continuous, almost unconscious process.

You should always measure the number of customer conversations you have over time and capture the information in some way.  After a while it will seem like you just know things.  Then resources will find you.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson


“If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, come sit next to me.” – Sara D. Roosevelt

If your competition starts bashing you, that means you are threatening them and that’s good.  As more people start talking about you in social networks, you’ll get the good the bad and the ugly and much of it may be lies.

I heard a news story today about a rich guy who shorted a particular company’s stock to the tune of a BILLION dollars.  He then set out to tear them down and that included giving a substantial campaign contribution to his congressman to press for an FTC investigation into his target.

Don’t know what to say about all that except this –

Your customers chose you for a reason.  Stay focused on them and stay focused on why you’re different from all the rest.  The fact that others are threatened proves you have something of value and they have determined to try to beat you in the social networks rather than in the market.

Your good reputation in your market is a teflon coat that makes their mud slide right off.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“To win in a market with a new product or service, you have to go after a market that has significant market pain, a pervasive problem, and a willingness to pay for a fix.” – Rob Adams

This one phrase sums up the customer discovery process.  Many startups begin life as the founder’s passion for making a change.  Creating a new gadget to solve a specific problem is the purview of the inventor.  Inventors are wired to iterate and redesign until they are happy with their invention.  This often uses up their resources and capital until there’s not much money left to start the company.

If you have entrepreneurial aspirations, then you need to determine if your cool new gadget idea is something people want and will pay money to acquire.  Do this as early as possible so your design is informed by what the market wants and not what you think they want.

 Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“If you can begin to enjoy the process of building a startup rather than the outcome, you’ll be a better leader.” – Guy Kawasaki

I played football in high school and loved it.  Small and moderately skilled, I didn’t start till my senior year but I stuck with it from 6th grade on.    Football is a sport where if you’re into it just for playing in the games, there’s no value proposition.  It’s not worth all the work, pain and commitment for a few minutes of excitement each week.

I realized much later that it was the process that engaged me; the practice, the preseason, the teamwork ethic.  Being on the team had to be earned and it was the process that was rewarding, especially for those who would not go on to play in college.

Working with entrepreneurs is a similar experience.  The process is arduous and filled with challenges.  You have to love solving problems.  You have to take the resources available and figure out how to be successful.  And you will have to build your team.  And while you have to have an eye on the big picture, it’s the work one week at a time that breeds success.

Enjoying the process gives you a subtle edge on leadership.  You have an air of confidence that comes from moving in a direction.  People are drawn to that.

Read Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“It’s ok. But it sucks to hear it on the phone.” – Dr. Who

If you accept a position of responsibility you have to own it.

  • If you sell a product, you have customers
  • If you hire people, you have employees
  • If you raise venture capital, you have investors
  • If you make a profit, you have the Government

Even though starting your own company lets you be the boss, it does not mean you get to run away from responsibility.  In fact, it amplifies it.

There will be bad news.  You can’t hide it because it doesn’t go away.  The people you’re responsible for deserve to hear it from you; directly and in person.  It’s hard but it’s supposed to be.  Some will understand but many will not.  Bad news can be a shock and you’ll get the blame regardless.

Integrity isn’t defined by the good times.

Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“Don’t get into a spaceship with a madman. Hasn’t anybody ever told you that?” – Dr. Who

…and yet, given the chance, most people can’t pass up an opportunity to venture out into the unknown universe through space and time. We want to know what really happened and we want to know how it’s going to turn out.  At least that’s how it works on the TARDIS.

Now, entrepreneurship…

The future is unknown.  The challenges may kill the company… but then you may change history.  And it takes a little madness to leave a comfortable job with the perception of security to climb on board the entrepreneur ship.

We all have risk.  Entrepreneurs, and time travelers, confront and embrace it.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship…the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” – Peter Drucker

Wealth is an outcome, not a mission.  It is a result of the creation of value.  Money is one way to measure value but there are others.

The creation of value consumes resources.  Money is a resource but there are others.

Innovation creates value that did not exist before, which is a powerful tool of the entrepreneur.  But equally powerful, and necessary, is the ability of the entrepreneur to gather the necessary resources to bring that value into being.  These include money, people, partnerships, advisors, investors and early customers.  We call these validations.

If you measure anything at all, measure your validations.  They are the leading indicator for the Startup.  They lead to success in the business.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“The optimal number of mouths between a bootstrapper and her customer is zero” – Guy Kawaski

Bootstrapping is hard but it preserves equity and is perhaps your most efficient capital.  Some business are more conducive to boot strapping than others and it all hinges on how much personal equity and investment you have to put in.

Pharmaceuticals – definitely not a bootstrap model for a single entrepreneur.  CD Baby, on the other hand, was a great boot strapping success story for Derek Sivers.

Complex business models, those with a lot of companies involved in the decision making and sales process, cost a lot of money and time.  Sales people, distribution partners and retailers are all worthy  but they take their share.

For bootstrappers, it’s best to sell directly to the customer.

Read Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson

“I’m certain that the guys who made telegraphs didn’t think the telephone was all that good an idea, but it ended their livelihood” – Guy Kawasaki

With technology it’s hard to pick winners.  The touch screen changed everything.  The stylus…not so much.  And we’ll see about Bitcoin.  (Perhaps one sign of a successful technology is if it’s accepted by spellcheck.)

In any case, innovators are the ones who find new ways of doing things and the first to adopt them.  But they also have to be hyper aware of what’s coming because a new innovation could change things overnight.  The iPod owned 92% market share within 2 years of it’s introduction.  As a result nobody remembers the Sony Walkman, another great brand in the desert of broken opportunity.

There’s no profound wisdom here except to get your product into the market as quickly as possible and grab your share of the market.  Then sell, sell, sell.  You may become the next platform standard or you may only have a few months.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson



“‘Me, Me, Me’ equals ‘Less, Less, Less'” – Fred Hess

In pitching as well as marketing, the message has to be oriented to the audience and to what they are interested in hearing about.  We have all seen Rock Star CEO’s whose companies are an extension of their personalities and while that could be good during that CEO’s tenure, even for those large companies, it is not sustainable over the long run.

In fact, in Jim Collin’s book “Good To Great”, he develops his idea of Level 5 Leadership  in which the CEO channels her identity and ego into the success of the company.  This is proven by the fact that the CEO’s of several of the Great companies are people we have never heard of before.

For startups, this is ever more important.  The experience of the team is supreme but not for the hype of the personalities. It’s more for the experience of navigating through the minefield that every startup faces.

Which takes us back to messaging.  Your pitch has to be about communicating the value you provide to a large and growing market and how you can provide a return to your investors.  You marketing message has to be about communicating that value to your customer.


Blogging Gazelle is published daily by Shawn Carson