X

Archive for Startups

Why UX? Why now?

When you hear concepts over and over, you often wonder is it because it’s swarming or because your ear is newly attuned to it? Did you know there’s a lot of people who believe that the #11 has super powers and that’s why when they look at the clock, it’s always 11 after? Seriously.

UX is hip. And rightly so. I thought I’d share a theory why this is so and what impact it might have on your startup. This despite the fact that I’m relatively new to UX concepts.

Crossing the Lean Startup Chasm

As an early believer in Lean Startup movement, I can perhaps be excused for my unbridled enthusiasm for the release of Eric Ries’ new book, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Not however, for the reasons you might expect.

In fact, some early adopters of Lean Startups — those who have already bought into the framework to the extent that they’ve applied its practices into their high tech startup — might be a tad disappointed. They might have to look a little deeper; there’s no vanity steps to success herein.

Fire Yourself

During the next week of reflection, a non-early adopter, but loyal user of the product called the founder to announce that he would not after all, pay for the product. Not at the proposed price, not at the price they had argued for, not at any price.

So he fired himself as Founder and CEO of his company. And then he fired me. (“I no longer need your services. But in the future…”)

We talked briefly about his future, including possible pivots and leaps, but essentially, the gig was up. I admire his self-awareness and the honesty with which he evaluated his situation.

There’s No Bubble in San Diego

Whether there’s a tech bubble or not is an interesting discussion going on in the blogosphere. (Reading guide is below.)

I fall into the “boom before bubble” pack. Having lived through the 90s’ bubble, there’s no way we’re there yet. That doesn’t mean there won’t be one, but my feeling is we’re skating a razor’s edge off one side of which looms another wave of housing foreclosures and a doom & gloom Sequoia presentation. Investors herding like sheep around darling Silicon Valley startup memes is not in itself bubblicious, it’s SOP. Sheep investing affects supply and demand conditions that result in higher valuations. Good or bad, that doesn’t in itself represent a bubble.

The Internet bubble was about more that overvalued startups. Horowitz and Graham argue other dynamics way better than I can (see links below), but I think it’s important to point out that bubbles dramatically affect the entire economic climate. The bubble was “our” version of 70s inflation. The bubble caused a huge migration of people to the SF Bay Area. Salaries went through the roof (not just for engineering talent.) So did cost of living. In the 90s, the housing bubble was inseparable from the Internet bubble. The buying of lots of different goods became irrational.

You Can’t “Feature” Your Way to Success

Despite Dave McClure’s imploring to “kill a feature” and Eric Ries’ urging to “cut your product in half, then halve it again,” most startup founders I encounter are trying to work their way toward Product-Market fit by planning and building new features. The analytical mind of an entrepreneur, both engineer and business-side, naturally tends toward solving problems and ostensibly, features solve problems. But it’s the wrong approach for most startups.

Steve Blank at San Diego Tech Founders

At long last, here's the video from Steve Blank's presentation last month.

Steve Blank speaks to San Diego Tech Founders from Brant Cooper on Vimeo.

Contents:
00:00 My Intro
03:17 Why Accountants Don't Run Startups
- Old constraints on startups
- Entrepreneurial explosion
- Startups vs Small Businesses vs Large Businesses
- IBM example of big company disruptive innovation
- What did my income statement say in month 1?
- "You've just washed ashore on an a deserted island with a knife in your mouth and a loincloth."
- Searching for a business model, not a business plan
- Customer Development
58:26 Atoms or Bits (New Material)
- Physical vs Online products
- History of Lean
1:03:26 Sloan vs Durant
1:08:41 Q&A
1:29:50 My Conclusion

Be sure to come check out entrepreneur turned investor Mark Suster talk to San Diego Tech Founders March 31.

=> Startups RSVP here.

=> Investors, Service Providers, Professionals RSVP here.

The #CustDev Whiteboard

Steve Blank and Alex Osterwalder have combined their respective methodologies, Customer Development and Business Model Generation, into a powerful business model generation and testing framework.  There are several good sources for how these two mesh, including this Jan post on Osterwalder's blog, here and most recently, in Blank's SXSW presentation:

Blank's Customer Development is critical, otherwise speculating what comprises your startup's business model is just another academic exercise.  Arguably, one could easily waste as much time documenting assumptions on your business model canvas as documenting them inside a 40 page business plan.  The canvas exposes your hypotthesis and customer development tests them.  It's a laudable ambition to document and test all of your business model canvas components.

But how much is necessary to get going?

All building blocks are not created equal.  I believe there's a natural progression towards figuring out your business model and many blocks are directly dependent on prior blocks.  Is it worth the time to document 2nd or 3rd tier blocks before establishing the reality of 1st tier?  The answer, of course, depends on you and your business.  It doesn't hurt to go as far as you can at the start, unless the activity inhibits you from getting started, i.e., "getting out of the building."

To use a rather simplistic example, you might presume that your customer is an enterprise-sized business that requires a field sales force and partnerships with highly technical systems integrators.  What if your customer ends up being a medium-sized business that requires SaaS product distribution?  Early customer development might very well point you down the correct path from the outset.  Some business model components flow naturally from validated core hypotheses.

The real dilemma in my mind is, what do you test first? The key to getting started is to nail the validate of the core hypotheses: Customer, Problem, Solution.

Go to the #CustDev White Board

#CustDev whiteboard imageIn our book, The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development, Patrick Vlaskovits and I developed a white board exercise to help think through business model risk in order to determine what to test first.  The key components are:

=> draw the ecosystem around your business as you imagine it, including partners, distributors, customers.

=> determine which are mission critical -- in other words, can you get going without any?  Which are absolutely necessary?

=> state the value proposition for each mission critical participant -- what determines whether or not they join the ecosystem?

=> list the minimum product functionality necessary to get entities to participate.

=> prioritize the risks (technical and market) based on the above.

Ultimately, what you trying to prioritize is: what's the quickest way to fail your business model. The "value path" of testing your business model runs through testing the the core value proposition of each of your mission critical ecosystem entities.  Easiest to test means:  what you can test in the shortest time frame.

If building a landing page and driving traffic to it has the potential of killing your present business model hypotheses, then it's a legitimate "intermediate MVP" and worth testing.  But be careful.  Are you sure you're not testing your ability to drive some amount of traffic or your positioning?  If a 3rd party API doesn't provide the hooks you need to develop a critical piece of technology and therefore your business model fails, maybe that's what you test first.

Documenting the building blocks of your business model = good.  Using the #CustDev White Board exercise in conjunction helps you determine what to document and test first.

How do you determine what to test first?

Innovation: Disruptive, Sustaining or Rippling?

The Innovator’s Dilemma not only forms the foundation of Lean Startups and Customer Development, but has brilliant analysis on the role of disruptive vs sustaining innovation in large successful businesses. In a nutshell, big successful companies successfully adopt sustaining technologies that maintain a steady trajectory of performance/cost improvements. These same companies, however, fail to adopt disruptive technologies that radically change performance/cost trajectories. The success of the former dictates the level of success of that business as long as the adopted trajectory is dominant in the marketplace. These businesses tend naturally to move “up market” to maintain or increase margins as the (IMO) traverse into late majority adoption in the technology adoption curve. If and when, however, the disruptive trajectories become dominant (for whatever reason) these same businesses fail, because they are unable to respond to the startups eating up their core business.

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