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Showing posts from April, 2016

Start Out Focused: Lessons from Intercom’s Cofounder (pt 2)

Leaning on Des Traynor’s recent talk “Lessons Learned In Growing A Product”, I want to highlight Des’ message on starting out very focused and simple. Des cited Gall’s Law around systems theory to build a successful company. A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system. – John Gall (1975, p.71)** I’ve written plenty of times about starting very focused including a chapter in Postmortem of a Failed Startup titled “Start Small and Targeted and KILL IT.” I believe it’s the smartest, quickest, and cheapest route to building a successful product/ company.
Some key points from Des about starting simple: “Insanely big ideas should start insanely small”Salesforce’s website started way back in the day with two calls-to-action/ messaging: “Free trial/ membership” and “Forecast the Pipeline”“Start not…

Diligence on the Roadmap: Lessons from Intercom’s Cofounder

I watched one of Intercom’s cofounders, Des Traynor, give a talk “Lessons Learned In Growing A Product”. It was instantly one of my favorite talks giving a bit of conceptual, visionary/ motivational, and technical.
One of the tenets that really resonated with me was “be insanely diligent about roadmap”. He talks about how most new features are flops, and shares good practices in diligence. Here are some of the key points: Understand the relationship between how often people use a feature to how many people use the feature. He illustrates a chart with “frequency of use” on the y-axis and the “number of users” on the x-axis. The features with high frequency and many people using them represented the core featuresWhen improving features, consider improvements (“change”) in quality, importance, satisfaction, and frequencyTo motivate more use, consider creating: habits, triggers, rewards, defaults, context, and, generally, more usesWhen launching a product: “exit by feature set or by a dea…

Stop Chasing Likes

Having done sales and product management for a little while with startups including my own, I’ve realized how much “likes” mean little in the way of actual usage and conversion. 
I’ve heard plenty of times how prospects “like” a product or service, but then these leads go cold. Or a trial sign-up that never converted. What sounded like sure-wins were not at all. (This is why I get excited about a sale only after two weeks have passed since the check’s cleared.)
A lot can influence these gone-cold leads from poor marketing that gave the wrong expectations, lack of sales diligence and perseverance, competitive products and services, etc. 
You can sense a prospect’s buying interest by his emotion and his engagement in a conversation. I compare the “you have something here” or “I like how this does that” to the social media “Like” button. The term and the “feeling” is fleeting and seldom means anything of real consequence. 
Instead, as a salesperson, as an entrepreneur, as a product enginee…

When To Jump Into Entrepreneurship Full-Time?

I spoke to an Emory entrepreneur and venture capital club last Friday, and before I began, I solicited questions they had. The group of 20-30 undergrad students had a mix of no entrepreneurship/ startup experience, some experience with startups/ accelerators, and a few having started something.
One question I thought was interesting – one that I have received numerous times from others – was “when do you know to go full-time?”
The answer: it depends. (This is almost always the answer.)
The best case, I suppose, is when the market (customers) is giving you signs that you need to take the big leap. This can come when: You are working on an idea part-time, and traction starts to pick up to the point that revenue coming in can cover your basic living needs or that it’s sustainable and projecting growth to do so.You are working part-time, and the support required to ensure sustained traction and growth of customers is demanding more of your time and effort.You are gaining little value in w…

Two Entrepreneurs, Two Ideas, Two Approaches, One Style

Recently, I’ve done one-on-one brainstorming sessions with successful individuals looking to branch into the SaaS/ product-oriented worlds. Both sessions were fun with entrepreneurs approaching their ideas very differently.  1 individual came to an idea that he recognized in others everyday. It wasn’t a problem he’s experienced, but one that he’s been aware of by way of colleagues.The second individual came with several ideas born out of her work and her employees. She had several ideas to solve the many challenges she and her industry constantly face.  Both individuals will face uphill battles (expected). The first will spend lots of effort getting the first 10 customers, and build a solution that fits their needs as they go along. 
The second will leverage her experience and her day-to-day as the testbed for her idea. Then, she can rely on her network to gain traction. She has a great foothold already in understanding the complexities. On the other hand, the first entrepreneur will n…

Build Startups With Influential Values

One of the most fun parts of a startup is building the vision and culture.
I remember one of my business school professors preaching companies with purposes addressing the needs of the world. He had a successful company built on the company’s ethos within organizations as a rallying cry for employees. 
Purpose give us the WHY of the company, while values give us the WHO of the company and its people. These influential values, as BrightHouse calls them, aren’t the simplistic, broad words like “teamwork” and “community”. These words are generic — loosely applicable to any company or group. Thus, they drive little loyalty amongst an organization’s people.
Instead, my former professor demonstrated the importance of influential values that an organization’s people would live by. BrightHouse cites influential values drive 65% more employee loyalty and greater returns to the company -- 1,681% returns vs. 118% of the S&P over a 15-year span.
I’m a firm believer in my former professor’s messa…

Do These Change Management Practices To Ensure Failure

On Tuesday, I shared a post on one of the greatest overlooked challenges by startups, and in particular, first-time entrepreneurs — considering change management
It’s imperative to consider the change management piece of any service or product — change management being the leading the transformation of the people within the organization. This is especially important with customers with multiple layers. 
Executives may be motivated to use a product or service for the benefit of the enterprise, but if the solution fails to integrate easily into the workflow of the “employees”, there’s a high likelihood of low adoption. With low adoption comes missed value which yields customer churn.
Change management involves a lot. I’ll take some examples from a SaaS perspective since I’m more accustomed to this arena — some key areas where a startup will surely fail: Cumbersome UI/ UX. Said before many times and saying it again: UI and UX are now MUST-HAVES. Interfaces must be intuitive with clear cal…

One of the Great Challenges Overlooked by Entrepreneurs

One of the biggest challenges often overlooked by first-time entrepreneurs is change management. This was always a challenge when I was a supply chain consultant, and it was incredibly true as a founder of Body Boss.  
In consulting, I made recommendations, set strategies, and led implementations for transformations set by company execs. The transformations almost always had great intentions and great financial benefits that would otherwise seem like no-brainers to work. 
However, the greatest challenges weren’t the systems and processes to implement. Instead, the greatest challenges were leading and managing the change within the people of the organization. Different backgrounds, different skill levels, different motivations… everything impacted the people. The efficacy of leading change with the people dictated the success of transformations. Bain & Company cites “more than 70 percent of major change efforts typically fail” (see Results Delivery), and it’s largely due to change ma…