Friday, February 14, 2014

Startup Weekend as a game of Pickup Ball

Startup Weekend is a great way to sprint from Idea to Revenue in a weekend. I am thrilled with some of the results that I have seen. However, when I encourage people to engage in a startup weekend, I often get resistance. "Oh, I already have a startup" or "Oh, I don't have an idea" or "I am already happy working at XYZ Big company"

Startup Weekend is a skill building sprint. It creates urgency and focus, which allow you to learn things faster than you would in most other contexts. Just as when you do pushups and situps to prepare for your marathon run, Startup Weekend gives you a chance to build skills and connections that are hard to get other ways. 

Think of Startup Weekend as a game of Pickup basketball. It may not take you into the big leagues, but it does let you practice that shot in a way that makes you stronger and faster. 

Every weekend, there are over 1,000 people who are out picking up some new skills, trying new roles and exploring new ideas. Even if you are at XYZ Big company, or are already deep in a project  with a startup, Startup Weekend will give you a chance to gain some new muscles. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Startup Weekend: What is the Point of Tweeting?

As a fan of Startup Weekends, I engage with them as often as I can. As a mentor, as a participant, as an organizer and as a facilitator. I often support people to engage in social media as a part of the process. Not only for the benefit of the event , but also for the benefit of the team. 

Some folks find the discussion of social media and twitter for a team a distraction. As Eli Rubel @eli_rubel eloquantly puts it in his post "How to rock Startup Weekend and land venture funding":

-Social media BS.
Seriously, no one is impressed by your teams Facebook friends liking your ‘Companys’ Facebook page. Also, if you somehow land more than 1K followers, the vast majority of the audience will assume you bought them. THIS IS A WASTE OF TIME AND DOESN’T COUNT AS MARKET VALIDATION. Want to impress the crowd? Go land a real customer or two.
I have seen this thought expressed in many different ways, but basically articulating that Social Media is a waste of time for a Startup Weekend. In addition, as I study the Lean Startup Methodology, I see that there are several places where premature marketing and PR is a way to distract you from getting your critical work done. So, why do I still encourage people to engage in Social media as a part of a team at Startup Weekend? 

The answer lies in the Point of the engagement. Social Media for social media sake is not very helpful, and may in fact be a distraction. However, When we look at Dave McClures ( @davemcclure )  "AARRR, Metrics for Pirates"  ( Dave McClure Blog ) 

Inline image 1

We see that there are several channels for acquisition. As a person, I can only talk to a few people an hour. On the Phone, perhaps a few more. However, if I have done my Twitter Dance right, then I can have thousands of people who are interested in what I am doing and interested in the questions that I am asking. 

I agree completely with Eli when he says "Get a real customer or two". Where I disagree is that I think that social media , when done right, is a great way to develop and audience and to acquire customers. There is a huge difference between Social Media Blathering and Social Media as a method of conversation with an audience. If you are good at Social Media Blathering, then I would have to side completely with Eli. On the other hand, if you are working to understand the Growth Hacking process of finding , engaging and validating customers , then the effective use of twitter and other social media is a great channel. 

I see twitter as a much more effective tool for spreading the word to people you don't know , compared to facebook. Facebook is great for connecting between friends and those that are already connected. It is not as effective as reaching far into new audiences who have less of an initial connection to you.  So understanding the Twitter Dance and how to engage an audience is a great skill for any Growth Hacker, even at a Startup Weekend. Or especially at a Startup Weekend. 

If you come to a Startup Weekend as a coder, you do not come unprepared. You have a set of skills, libraries, previously built environments,   github accounts and other tools of the trade. You are not building a whole system from scratch, but you are building upon the previous work which allows you to rapidly deploy a website or application in hours.  As a Business Development person/ Growth Hacker, you should not be coming in unprepared either.  Coming into the Startup Weekend with an ongoing conversation with an audience is a great resource to bring to the event. If you have a pathway to finding hundreds or thousands of potential customers, then you have an important resource for your team at the startup weekend. 

Having watched some Twitter Mavens take website traffic from 0 to 1000 unique visitors in less than an hour, I know that twitter can be a powerful tool. I also know that the twitter dance starts weeks before the event. 

It will impress the audience and judges at a Startup Weekend, when you have clear picture of your sales funnel, with your social media metrics in place and some hard numbers for your conversion rates, where you can watch people move from  Acqusition , to Activations to Revenue in a rapid series of tests. 

When I facilitate a Startup Weekend, I work coordinate around a regular stand up meeting, every 1.5 to 2 hours, with an effort to help people get into the pattern of setting short term rapid milestones, which they target. If you can show that you have a Sales Funnel (preferably on Friday Night) and that by noon on Saturday, you are actively working your sales funnel, and actively working to acquire customers, you will have the key business engine built. 

If you want to rapidly build an effective business, you need to practice the process of growing an audience. One of the key skills for any growth hacker will be to figure out how to Find, Acquire and Activate new customers for the project. Startup Weekend is a great place to practice this skill. And this is why I focus on the question of twitter and social media as part of Startup Weekend business sprints. 

Are you able to attract 1000 twitter followers in an afternoon? And can you then convert 40% of them into active signups on your project by the end of the weekend? If you can, you are seriously on your way to something interesting.  

Friday, February 10, 2012

Six books for Startups wanting to be Lean

As the Lean Startup conversation brings some new experiences and processes to startups derived from Lean Programming and Lean Manufacturing, there are times when folks ask about what books would help then engage in the process more deeply. There are six books that often come up in conversation for one idea or another. Here is a quick list of a core set of books that are helpful for people engaged in taking the next step. 

The Lean Startup By Eric Ries    
                      - Click Here to see The Lean Startup on Amazon

The Lean Startup is the current hot book on the topic. It is a good strategic overview of the conversation and it puts a lot of the pieces in perspective. 

The 4 steps to the Epiphany by Stephen Blank
                      - Click Here to see Four-Steps-Epiphany on Amazon

The 4 steps is the seminal book for this area. This is Lean Startup Before it was Lean startup and it covers some very important tactical issues around how to approach the market place directly. 

It is a bit of work to go thru, but it is worth the effort. 

The Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development by Patrick Vlaskovits
                      - Click Here to Entrepreneurs Guide on Amazon

This is the Cliff-notes version of the 4 Steps. It helps simplify and focus some of the conversation. 

Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder
                       - Click Here to See Business Model Generation on Amazon

The Business Model Generation is a fun crowdsourced book aiming at focusing on the process of getting the right questions answered for your business and getting clarity on your business model. 
Running Lean by Ash Maurya 
                      - Click Here to See Running Lean on Amazon

Running Lean is a story of the journey for a startup software company using the 4 steps and the Business model generation to get to the end. Ash tells an interesting pattern and it leads to the Lean Canvas. I have used often to help focus the conversation about a startup. 

Personal Kanban by Jim Benson 
                       - Click Here to See Personal Kanban on Amazon 

One of the hardest things for entrepreneurs is to focus on the right thing. Personal Kanban presents an interesting method of keeping focus and getting teams to play together and to as a group focus on what they need in order to make rapid progress. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Order of Magnitude is 10x: tasks change at each step

Ash Maurya ( @ashmaurya ) has posted a very interesing Post about the 10x Product Launch. 

This captures some of the key issues around building a business. As you progress through the stages of different numbers of customers, you shift and need to use different tools and different focuses. When you are just starting out, you have zero (0) customers. At this point, your goal is to get one (1) customer. When you have one (1) customer, your goal is to get to ten (10). The task and process of getting the first customer is very different and more personal than getting the 10th. By the time you get to the 100th customer, you have enough data and enough history to be able to automate your processes successfully. It is always a bad idea to automate processes which you can not accomplish by hand for the first few cases. 

For your first 50 customers, you should definately be working to talk to them in person. This does not mean you can't use surveys or email or ads to search for and find potential customers. But it does mean that you should get out of the building and talk face to face to them early on in the process. As you begin to see the patterns, you can then focus on the area where you are most likely to make traction.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Startup Weekend Around the World , What would it look like.

As we are coming up on the Bellingham Startup Weekend on June 24-26, I was looking at some of the other cities engaging in Startup Weekend at the same time

It is heartening to see all of these different cities all engaging in the process. 

Seeing all these cities doing it on the same day makes me wonder about the process of doing a  multi-city team that would engage in the process where there was someone working on the project 24x3 , around the  clock.

What tools would you need to enable this process. Would the current use of google docs + hosting + a chat channel work?  What are the tools that you would use for a startup weekend sprint?  ( ) 

At lot of interesting work happens at the coffee table and at the food table as people get to know each other and work on corners of the project. What would be the remote version of that? 

Would using skype be enough of a tool to connect people between cities?

How would remote teams end up finding each other and forming?

Would you need to pre-seed the conversation by having someone at each event already part of the proto-team that did local recruiting?

How would it be different than using oDesk to do part of the project?

I look forward to learning about a team that actually does this.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Should I walk the outside Funding Pathway?

Earlier today, I saw a question that essentially boiled down to:

"I see this great opportunity, it takes more resources than I have, should I put it on the credit card, get a loan , ask an Angel or get a VC?"

I had many thoughts as I read this. Let me see if I can put them into any type of order:

First, being in the midwest is not a problem for accessing capital. There are several Angel networks and more growing all the time. Rain Source Capital is based in the midwest and supports several angel groups across the country

You can use Angel Soft as a way to locate Angel Groups -, so finding Angels is not hard at the initial stages.

However. Getting loans, getting Angel money and getting VC money are all very different animals for very different reasons. They look like they are the same (getting money), but they are not. VC money is other peoples money, in large chunks with specific expectations. Angel Money, if it is to be really useful comes with expertise, attention and introductions into the industries. There are appropriate times for each of these and there are many more times when you should not take outside funding.

The best place to get funding is from your customer. If you have figured out how to get to the right place with the customer base, then you will have flow and you can use outside money to grow faster. If you spend outside money on operations instead of growth enabling changes, then you will have wasted the opportunity. Most people have a hard time seeing the difference between operations and growth enabling changes.

You have the opportunity to build connections and relationships with Angels before you ask them for money. If you find the right Angels, you can have conversations that will transform how you approach your ideas even before you get to the point of asking for money. The angels would much rather have a deep sense of who you are and where you are going and where you have been, than to have a quick pitch and have to make a bunch of guesses.

I sense that you have a new direction. This suggests that you are about to pivot. As such, you are still in the discovery phase of things. And you are still trying to validate the idea. And this suggests you can be focusing on testing and experimenting to know if this idea really has legs. If it does, you should be able to get orders booked. If you have orders booked and you have a product that people want, you will not need a lot of outside capital at this stage.

Build the relationships now with the funding agencies (banks, angels, advisors) , but save the request for outside money until you have a backlog of orders.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Twitter Pitch and the Clarity it brings

As I am doing the planning and preparation work for a Pitch Clinic, I am reminded of an April Fool Post by Brad Feld @bfeld had on April 1st last year - ( shifting-to-twitter-for-deal-evaluation ) 

One of the biggest issues in the startup process is developing clarity. Being able to get to the point in a very effective way. Often my ideas are crystal clear to me, but they are all dreamy in some parts and all too detailed in other parts, in a way that makes it very hard to communicate.  When you spend the time to go through and think out enough of the process so that you can get a clean and crisp communication of your idea, you have often done some of the core work that needed to be done to move the business idea forward.

While people suggest creating an elevator pitch, there is a certain poetic quality to writing a business idea in 140 characters. If you remember to put a URL in the post, it probably should be 120 characters. 

If you can create  this level of clarity, where the twitter post captures the essence of your business idea, you have gone a long way to being able to communicate your project. With that comes a significant momentum that will move you forward.