Category Archives: Startup

A Retrospective On Entrepreneurship

One year ago today I quit my job, leaving my comfort zone to start a new business. The thought had been circling in my mind for some time, but I’d always silenced it with self-doubt and a perceived sense of security from my regular paycheck. But last October I finally stepped into the unknown, thanked my fantastic colleagues for their inspiration and encouragement, and moved from London to San Francisco.

Entrepreneurship (and in fact any new venture) is never really what you expect. In many ways that’s the point. It’s a voyage of personal and professional discovery — about yourself, your customers and your business model. There isn’t a linear trajectory toward success or failure. It’s an experiment, and a challenging one at that.

I spent today at Ryōan-ji in Kyoto, a Zen temple with a famous rock garden where only fourteen of the fifteen stones are visible at any one time. It is said that only through attaining enlightenment can one view all fifteen stones at once. I thought it was the perfect place to run my own personal retrospective of the last year. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Clarity of vision matters.

A clear vision sets the context for all the other pieces of the venture to fall into place. How well I communicate my vision matters — and maybe it even matters the most. Being able to clearly articulate my vision helps people connect with it, and if people can connect with it they can buy into it. My vision also informs what matters most and helps me to prioritize what and where I invest my most valuable commodity — time.

I constantly ask myself, ‘Is this helping me move towards my vision or not?’. If it is, do it. If not, don’t.

Define success over multiple time horizons and perspectives, and review it regularly.

In conditions of extreme uncertainty I need a mechanism to make difficult decisions. Without anything to be accountable to, it’s easy to continually spin wheels, burn time and convince myself that I’m making progress.

Every well executed experiment begins with defining success before it starts. I have a regular cadence to set and evaluate target conditions over multiple time horizons (one week, one month, three months, six months, two years) and perspectives (personal, business, customer, market). This designs rigor, discipline and good governance into my operation rhythm.

If business partner(s) aren’t  100% committed, don’t continue together.

If the team has misaligned expectations or if someone discovers that the reality isn’t what they thought it would be, it’s best to accept the situation, part company and move on. Team members who aren’t fully committed can cause friction, poor decision making and negatively impact others.

Entrepreneurship is a learning experience, most of which you’ll only discover once you start doing it.

Just as no business plan survives first contact with customers, the same goes for personal assumptions and entrepreneurship. They’re hypotheses that only get exercised when tested. Failing fast, cheaply and early is as successful and validating that you’ve found a willing team.

Work hard to be self-aware.

I’ve learnt to understand what I like and don’t like. Where do I need help? What are my gaps, and how can I plug them? No one excels at all aspects of life or business. The trick is to enhance strengths and manage weaknesses. If you struggle with accounting, get an accountant. If your enjoy writing blogs, write them. Don’t ignore what needs to be done because you don’t like or understand it, it will come back to bite you – it’s only a matter of time.

Accept self-doubt and trust yourself.

I constantly ask myself questions like ‘Why me?’, ‘Do I have what it takes to make this work?’, ‘Should I have left my job, friends and city?’ or ‘Was this a bad idea?’ These thoughts run through more people’s minds than you would think. Questioning yourself can be healthy, but over-analyzing less so.

I remember that the reason I decided to get out of my comfort zone was because that’s where the real magic happens. I remember to trust myself, the decision I make and my ability to get there. I’ve never met anyone who said they wouldn’t hire me because I tried to start my own company, regardless of whether it worked out or not. Actually they admire it, often sharing how they wished they had tried it but never did. Remember that.

Entrepreneurship is about embracing uncertainty as a lifestyle.

There will always be ups and downs. To deal with this I have what I call an emotional control chart. I celebrate the wins, but don’t get too drunk on them. Similarly, when failures happen I don’t get down, but gather the lessons learnt and keep working. Persistence is what breeds success.

Entrepreneurs Lean Enteprise

From Kryo Beshay Jul-31-2015 https://twitter.com/kyro/status/627250292116078592 It’s in my office to constantly remind me and keep me focused on what matters. Thanks Kryo!

Not many other jobs offer the same level of experiential and exponential growth.

I moved to a new country, started a business, immersed myself in a new work culture and learned a new tax system along they way! I’ve done aspects of business I’ve never had to do before – digital marketing, accounting, business operations, procurement processing, company legislation and healthcare policies. The list is endless, but so has been the growth.

I’ve learnt new skills, and learnt by doing. I’ve discovered new things about myself I never knew existed (good and bad) but it’s been great. I’m more self-aware, confident and humble. No other job has offered me this level of experience. That alone has been worth the investment.

Do everything manually, then decide what to automate.

When I was a developer I learned the hard lesson of automating too early. Automating removes you from the process and prevents you from learning more from it. When you experience how each aspect of a business operates you understand how it works. By feeling the pain you develop context to make better decisions on what to outsource, automate, or stop doing altogether.

Doing expenses still sucks but I have a much better insight into where expenses come from and go to. Doing things manually helps me to build that context and understand the process. Then I can decide how to handle it going forward.

Find a mentor, or even better find a few.

I’ll never have all the answers. No one does. Mentors won’t either, but the best ones know that. Their role isn’t to provide me with answers, it’s to help me ask better questions – of myself, my direction and business purpose.

I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great people share words of encouragement and advice with me over the last year – my late cousin Philip J. Moore specifically. Thank you to everyone who made time to help me. The list is long. I hope it continues to grow and I give a little back in return.

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely existence. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for support and advice. And try to share what you’ve learned with someone you know who is starting out. Mentoring other people is as powerful, if not more, than receiving guidance from others.

Have a small trusted group of people for collaboration, discussion and support.

Having a group of people I respect and admire to test crazy ideas, hypotheses and thoughts with has been invaluable. Their social, emotional and operational support is essential. My group started with a few people in a Slack group. We help and encourage one another, and collaborate on all sort of initiatives. It’s a community I never would have discovered without changing my circumstances, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Your network is a great source of business opportunity and growth.

My personal network is a source of hidden strength and has rescued me at least twice. Building and nurturing that network is one of the best investments I’ve made. Seek out interesting people, with a growth mindset and appetite for learning. The future belongs to folks like that.

The people I’ve enjoyed working with are the people I want to continue to work with in the future. Value great working relationships when you find them because they are difficult to find.

There isn’t just one shot, there are many.

Many people mistakenly believe that you only have one shot at success. That introduction, that meeting, that deal. There’s nothing further from the truth.

Entrepreneurship is about life, and life is about growth through learning experiences. Sometimes things I’ve tried have worked, other times they haven’t. The trick is to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and ready yourself for your next shot when it comes around, because it will come around.

As my cousin Philip always said, “If you are still breathing, you haven’t failed. Make sure you learn something for the next spin. Take the night off, send your special someone some roses and go out and see something to inspire you.

Today, I found myself at a rock garden in Kyoto. Tomorrow I’ll start year two.

Product Development and Customer Insight Tools

I’ve been asked a lot about interesting tools that can help support founders and product development teams get their product off the ground.

These tools are generally free (at some level) but also designed to capture customer feedback and insights rapidly to support testing all levels and fidelities of minimal viable products and beyond.

This is not a exclusive list and I will aim to add to it from time to time but I thought I would share a starter kit initially and build upon it – incrementally.

Toolbox

So here are a few tools to get you started – let me know others you like to further build out the list;

Get Out Of The Building – NOW!

Description

Do it now. Leave your desk. Your computer can come with you if you are worried about leaving it for too long. Go. Now. Go and talk to people about what your product is about and see if anyone is interested.

Go to where the fishes swim. If you are making a flights product, go to the airport. If you are building a machine for doctors, go to the hospital and find them. They are out there. They’ll talk to you. People love to think they are helping to create the next Facebook or Google.

Benefits

  • Free, Fast, Easy and Fun
  • You are talking to real customers
  • Interacting with the people that will make your product successful
  • Understand problems that customers want solved
  • Feeling what it is like to really be a product developer

Problem / Solution Canvas

Description

There are various versions of the problem / solution canvas currently available. We have the Lean Canvas, the Validation Canvas from my friends at Lean Startup Machine along with enumerable others. The key purpose of this tool is to quickly map and visulise what the problem is you are trying to solve and how you plan to do it.

Benefits

  • Free, Fast, Simple, Visual
  • Ensures you focus on the problem that you need to solve and record your proposed solution
  • Records results of tests and experiments you have performed
  • Allows others to engage with the idea immediately
  • CxOs and accountants get it straight away
  • Its self documenting

Business Model Canvas

Description

The Business Model Canvas is the big brother of the problem / solution canvas, initially proposed by Alexander Osterwalder and his team. It is a strategic management and entrepreneurial tool that enables you to describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model. Compared to writing a business plan which can take several weeks or months, you can outline multiple possible models on a canvas in minutes to showcase to others for feedback.

An often sited example of how the Business Model Canvas can support discovering new opportunities is Amazon. By using the canvas, they discovered that hosting the website was a key resource that had an major impact on their bottom line. They decided to turn that impact to an opportunity and thus Amazon Web Services was born.

Benefits

  • Domain mapping
  • Wider view of your entire business model including costing and revenue
  • Customer focused on the value proposition you are offering each segment
  • Visibility of what your company is about

Launch Rock

Description

Launch Rock enables you to launch a new product with custom landing pages within minutes. You can promote your site launch using their announcement bar and start to socialise your site on your networks. Use an elevator pitch on the site and gauge if customer are keen.

Benefits

  • Build a landing page in seconds
  • SEO to discover your service
  • Free access to target market and customers
  • Find out if people are interested in your value proposition
  • Do customers sign up?
  • Capture customer contacts for later…

Unbounce

Description

Unbounce lets marketers build, publish and test landing pages without IT or software. A/B testing and lead generation make it a powerful marketing tool. You can create, publish and test promotion specific landing pages without the need for IT or developers.

Benefits

  • Multipage versions of pages
  • A/B testing
  • Monitor usage
  • 30 days free trail

KISS metrics

Description

Better measurement leads to better insights, which enables better decisions, resulting in better outcomes. KISSmetrics is an analytics platform that allows you to understand what the most important people to your business, customers, are doing on your site. What features they like, interact with, when they come back – if at all.

Benefits

  • Understand what customers are doing on the site
  • Track feature usage
  • Conversion funnel analysis and reporting
  • Cohort analysis
  • Retention analysis
  • 14 days free trail

Ask Your Target Market

Description

Ask Your Target Market is an online market research application with a built in panel of 4.5 million people – DIY online market research. Define your exact target audience by drilling-down into a panel of over 4.5 millions of consumers in 5 countries (US, CA, UK, AU & IN) and find your ideal research respondents based upon their psychographic and demographic characteristics.

Alternative you can write you own surveys and target them at list of customers you already have.

Benefits

  • Target questionnaire at based on focused demographics
  • Write surveys to gather information from your customers
  • Launch instantly
  • Query existing panels or your own lists (collect from Launch Rock!)
  • Get results fast

Snap Engage

Description

SnapEngage live chat helps you to sell better and support your customer more effectively with both live chat and screen captures. It easy to install, you can chat from you IM client including Google Talk and Skype. You can obtain detailed customer visitor information but most importantly they are customers actually using your site!

Benefits

  • Interview customers live, when they are looking at your site and engaged
  • Detailed visitor information
  • Free to trail

User Testing.com

Description

UserTesting.com is an online usability testing tool that provides a fast, cheap and easy ways to find out why visitors leave your website. You can watch usability testing sessions as visitors talking during testing sessions of your site.

Benefits

  • PC and mobile testing
  • Feedback in an hour
  • 3 people for $90

Guerilla Testing

Description

The last time I did this we set up in a cafe, with a USB camera connected to a laptop held in position with a rubber band and peg.

Guerilla Testing

Benefits

  • Super Fun
  • User testing and customer interview at the same time
  • Interactive and with real people
  • Can query more when you spot an emotional reaction in the customer – dig a bit deeper

Lean Startup, Kanban and Continuous Delivery: practices and principles to create the ultimate value creation machine

My presentation with Ian Carroll from our ThoughtWorks Quarterly Briefing where we shared our experiences of using Lean Startup, Kanban and Continuous Delivery practices and principles to support organisations in building their ultimate value creation machines.

Lean Startup Kanban Continuous Delivery

Overview

Startups. 4 people in a room changing the world. Fluid, optimised, responding dynamically to changes in the product based on detailed customer data to drive value and build their proposition. No bureaucracy, no waste just beauty.

Agile. 10 people in a room fighting an organisation. A system, bloated, ridged and wasteful. Challenging a business to change its perspective on product development and deliver amazing products.

While it sounds like Cinderella and the ugly sister, both have lessons to learn from one another. Principles are as important and useful in established companies as they are in the startup world. Lean Startup is not just about how we can create an amazing product – its about how we can learn from the results of our efforts to improve everything we do. Agile is an iterative and incremental approach to software development. Lean is a customer focused value creation process.

They are all ultimately searching for an answer to the question “How can we learn more quickly what works, and discard what does not to build ultimate product that our customers love?”