I wish we had tracked user engagement better with Body Boss; though, I knew where coaches were getting stuck and why they weren’t experiencing the value of what we built. I have a list of 85 schools who trialed Body Boss within 14 months, but only converted 16%. To boost conversion, we added features… Whoops!
We built several features that did lead to conversions and got us closer to product-market fit. That is, we built critical workout features that coaches needed. However, we also added features that didn’t lead to conversions like Pods – ability to track multiple player workouts with a single device vs. a one player, one device before. Coaches were really impressed with Pods and it led to several trials, but not to conversions.

Body Boss Pods on the tablet and smartphone
Why didn’t Pods or other great features not lead to conversions? Simple – the coaches never got to the point to use Pods.
What we built and why we built, is what entrepreneur Joshua Porter calls the “Next Feature Fallacy” (see: The Next Feature Fallacy).
In retrospect, the major hurdle of user/ coach engagement was building a workout program. We had improved the experience several times since v1.0; however, most fixes were band aids, and didn’t solve the problem.
So to use the new Pods feature, coaches had to build a workout program. Except, if coaches were having issues building a workout program, then they never got to Pods. 
Instead of building new features like Pods (a nice-to-have), we should have focused our efforts on user experience and helping coaches get started with Body Boss. Once we got coaches using the system, we could then track engagement metrics and tested the adoption of features like Pods.
What else could we have done to address the engagement issue? How have you developed features that consistently added value?
At Body Boss, we built features on feedback that coaches would buy and be more engaged, but we didn’t see upticks in conversions once features were built. Instead, sometimes, the best customer discovery occurs when you’re actually testing an MVP – minimum viable product.
I’ve been working with several startups since Body Boss and each claim to be building an “MVP”. But instead, they’ve overbuilt their products adding complexity in features and user experience.
From these “MVPs”, I’ve noticed common trends leading to poor adoption and significant rework:
  • Developing an MVP in silo. By nature, entrepreneurs believe they know the “right way” to address a problem, so they starting building their vision. However, the right way may only address the problem for a few versus a mass market. Building an MVP alongside customer-partners from the beginning mitigates risks of missing bigger opportunities or building unwanted features.
  • Inability to adapt hypotheses and approach. Entrepreneurs can be extremely bullish in their beliefs of what is right, resisting the pull of the market. This can be a terrible trap where the market isn’t listened to. If they aren’t heard, they won’t buy.
  • Focusing on one side. In startups with two markets (think: Uber, Airbnb with supply and demand), it’s hard to successfully recruit one market without the other. There is no “chicken” or “egg” in priority anymore. Yet, I’ve seen too much effort focused on one side, while the other is ignored.
  • Building too much, too soon. A startup should evolve as the market evolves and matures. However, many entrepreneurs try building their visions of grandeur on Day 1. As a new startup, there’s a high level of education for the market and low degree of trust. Building too much early on can overwhelm consumers (bad experience!) and potentially dilute the startup’s value proposition.

What are your thoughts of customer discovery via an MVP? What trends have you seen when building an MVP? How have startups over built MVPs that you’ve seen and the problems that have come about?

Recently, I had the displeasure of telling our Body Boss customers we were shutting down August 31st. I’ve been dreading these calls since we zombified Body Boss as of April last year – see 21 Lessons from Failure and Moving On.
Thoughts on zombification and the calls…
  •  Zombification allowed the team to showcase as a portfolio piece for other opportunities. Though not a “success” like Facebook or Uber, Body Boss was a success in many other ways. Don Pottinger and Darren Pottingerare leading amazing startups today while Andrew Reifman is growing an impressive client portfolio with beautiful UI/ UX.
  • Zombification delays the inevitable. When you are no longer working on your product or business, the market will let you go like you did.
  • Little issues become big annoyances. During zombification, we all transitioned to other opportunities. However when bugs came up, they took time to reorient ourselves back to the code.
  • Be honest. My voice was noticeably trembling on every call. But given our honesty and trust we built, customers understood our position and were supportive of us with Body Boss and beyond.
  • Have a transition plan. We notified customers in May of the sunset in August so teams could continue using Body Boss during the off-season while finding alternatives. This was appreciated.
  • Speak in-person/ on-phone. The partners who have stuck by us deserved our time. We spoke to our top partners on the phone, and resorted to email for scale.

I was scared to make the calls; however, they went well, and each call showed why I love building great products and brands… that is, we had real fans. Each call was a moment we could take pride in – hearing how much our product was loved and support moving forward. We created that from nothing but an idea…

What are your thoughts on leaving a company, product idle (“zombified”)? How would you handle sunsetting the business including notifying customers and other partners? What would make transitioning easier for you as a customer?
I met one of the co-founders of a Chattanooga-based startup recently whose company is on a growth TEAR. The company launched two years ago, and have grown to 65 full-timers and 30 part-timers with annual revenues approaching $10MM. Two years… yowza!
With such fast growth, I was curious what were his top lessons and tips he’s learned. Naturally, I asked…
  1. Treat supply and demand the same. The startup follows a model more recently popularized by Uber – that is, they hire providers to perform a service, and they sell the service to customers. Thus, the startup actually has two markets to address. Most people understand that brands must focus on customer experience, but with their model (and like Uber’s), they must also focus on the service providers. The service providers are an extension of their brand, and thus, it’s important to ensure the service providers are taken care of and heard from.
  2. Clearly establish roles at the beginning (amongst the founders). I surmise there might have been issues early on when one co-founder worked on the startup full-time while the other worked part-time. Though, I’m unsure what he meant by “roles” here. At least when it comes to duties, early employees (founders included) wear many hats. Instead, I believe he was referring to a hierarchy of sorts. In my experience with Body Boss, one of the lessons learned was the importance of some level of hierarchy to fall back on when decisions reached an impasse. The four of us co-founders had equal equity, equal authority, and without a clear leader, we could (and we did) spin our wheels on decisions that were evenly split.

It’s always great to hear about rapid growth companies, and learn from their founders.

What are your thoughts on ideas and innovations that must address two markets? What are your reservations about hierarchies vs. flatter organizations?

I received a question in response to last week’s post on Customer Discovery Surveys.

@TheDLu What’s your thought on split of digital vs verbal? There’s a LOT of value in in-person, but difficult to scale
— David Vandegrift (@DavidVandegrift) July 3, 2015

Fantastic question. My response:

@DavidVandegrift Great question! One I should tackle the next post, but in short, I’d say, “It depends”. #consultantAnswer. It’s about…

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) July 3, 2015

Digital surveys (SurveyMonkey, Google Apps, etc.) can be easily scaled and sent to a wide-range of audiences. Whereas, verbal surveys can be time intensive and expensive to scale – scheduling, logistics, etc.

As Don Pottinger, CTO of Kevy, points out, however: “[actual] conversations tend to go unexpected places and reap unexpected insights…something that is harder to do [with] digital.”

Assuming you get in front of the audience, thoughts on digital vs. verbal:

  • Depends on Phase of Customer Discovery. At the beginning, verbal is the quickest way to test and modify an initial hypothesis. As the pain-point and solutions become clearer, you may switch to digital for scale. Then, switching back to heavier verbal during solution build.
  • Consider who you are asking and your relationship. Do you know the audience or have the clout to motivate someone to take a digital survey? Or would verbal develop the relationship to get results? 
  • What’s the value of your offering? The higher the price of your offering, the more critical and appropriate it is for verbal communication. This is simply as sales cycles can be lengthy; thus, more involvement is required to foster trust and development.
Surveys are great direction tools, but not the end-all be-all. Mike Bivone (currently of Juice Analytics) recalls from his startups, “people often tell you one thing but behave completely differently.” At Body Boss, we built features given input from coaches that they would buy if said features were built. However, when we did build those features, coaches didn’t buy. Instead, we should have built lightweight versions and tested with prospects before full development.

Customer Surveys are another directional tool in your arsenal, but you never know till you make moves.

How do you mix verbal and digital customer discovery surveys? What are some tools and methods you’ve used to do customer discovery? How much do you trust survey results?

As I say to others, “I got this.”

Soccer’s been on my mind recently with several blog posts already this year, but last Tuesday’s soccer games illustrated yet another important revelation in my entrepreneurial, professional, and personal life… and it’s this notion that Quality Breeds Trust.

Last week, I was asked to fill in for two other games after my own. You could really see the disparities in quality from team to team, even before each game started. During warm-ups, you could see who was serious, who wasn’t. You could see who had a good technical touch, who didn’t. And in the opening five minutes of each game, all those earlier impressions were dead-on. That, in effect, had a drastic effect on how I played from simple things like positioning to passes. With lower quality players, everything had to be much more direct and calculated. With greater players, I could be more creative and play more piercing passes.
I remember when I started playing Silverbacks 7v7 so many years ago (damn, I’ve gotten old), I started out with one of my best buds, Don Pottinger – co-founder of Body Boss, programmer extraordinaire now plying his trade at ATV. He was so freaky fast, strong, and skilled that when I had the ball in our defensive half and I had to “clear it”, I would send the ball down the line or into a far corner. I knew that I could put it in no man’s land and before that ball went out of bounds, Don would latch onto it. We’d be off and attacking in seconds.
When you have quality players on your team, you let players make the play. You can see this happening any given Sunday – with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. When Stafford’s in trouble, he scrambles, and he’ll oftentimes lob it to the freak that is CJ trusting in CJ’s ability to make the play.
Sometimes, taking risks like throwing into triple coverage is okay… let great players make great plays! This is the Stafford to Johnson connection in the Lions-Bengals game from October 20, 2013. (Image source: http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5491/10388278066_cca092c634_o.gif)
In a different way, you also have generalists like a player of James Milner’s capability of the current Barclays Premier Leaguechampions Manchester City. Milner’s not the most skilled defender or the lethal attacker of many others, but he’s a solid utility player that can be placed in any position, and his work ethic makes him invaluable.
(Image source: http://i4.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/incoming/article8853577.ece/alternates/s615/464323506.jpg)
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini on Milner: “I understand. I’m Milner’s No1 fan. Find me a more complete English player. There are players who’re better technically, yes. Quicker players, yes. Players who head better, yes. But show me one who does all the things Milner does well. There isn’t one.”
You can also trust quality players when they take on risks. It’s just part of their game. So called “risky plays” or their audacity to take on three, four defenders may have low probabilities of success, but it’s okay. It’s okay if it doesn’t come off because risk is inherent in their game… inherent to being great and to pull everyone else forward. For quality players, plays are calculated risks.
There’s an obvious quality and trust relationship in entrepreneurship, of course. They go hand-in-hand. In a startup team, the world is changing so fast that having high quality team members you can trust enables the team to act at speed. At Body Boss, I knew that Andrew had some slick designs and UX in queue for new features while Don and Darren were working hard building new features for our coaches and players. Meanwhile, I was out closing deals and handling logistics for our upcoming coaching clinics. There was no need for any one of us to micro-manage each other. That’d be a waste of time anyways.
From quarterbacks to wide receivers, center-mids to forwards, and sales people to engineers, quality breeds trust. Quality can take on many forms in skills and capabilities to an individual’s work ethic and personality… specialists to generalists. In any case, you know quality when you see it. Give them difficult tasks or ambiguous projects, and they’ll somehow find a way to nail it. With high quality players, you just have to trust them and let them make the plays.
What else influences trust? How else do sports not only build character but foster leadership and teamwork?
Just because a few doors are closed, doesn’t mean one won’t open later. (image source: http://cdn.h3sean.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Closed-doors1-300×197.jpg)
Ever stop to think about who you are? What makes you tick and tock? How about what you truly enjoy and what you’re good at vs. not good at? Or what/ who has shaped you into the person you are today?
I’m at this stage of figuring out whether to continue independent consulting while iterating on ideas for the next startup or take on some full-time employment (consulting, product management, or otherwise). My recent post about my daily/ weekly schedule was an interesting exercise in stepping back and recognizing what I’m actually doing in a day, and made me really think at the macro level.
In one of my recent reflections, I thought about defining moments in my life. One of those watershed events that truly transformed me was my failure to make the Varsity soccer team in high school. I won’t rehash the whole story here – shared the story almost a year ago in my post titled “Getting Through Dark Moments and the Most Vulnerable Story I’ve Ever Told Publicly”. It’s this moment that I would say was a major Defining Moment in my life.
Dictionary.com’s definition of “Defining Moment
I remember that day in high school so vividly… it sucked, for a lack of a better word. I was crushed. Soccer was my life. Sure, I apparently wasn’t so great at it, but I loved it. I played every day. I had aspirations to be a pro one day. It’s true what they say, “you learn more from failure than success”.
As I think back to that moment and my life since, I can distinctly see how it’s shaped me.

Consistency – it’s what separates the good from the great.

Actually, the Varsity coach told me this was a major reason for my exclusion. I played well, but I wasn’t consistently playing well with errant passes or poor positioning. When you watch the great players, they were consistent in their play. They were dependable center backs who you could rely on to make that last-ditch stop, if needed. I just wasn’t dependable.
In entrepreneurship for me, this plays out in my interactions with others, being on my toes ready to pitch at any moment, maintaining a cadence with customers, etc. I strive to maintain consistency in putting together high quality products and presenting myself to the highest level.

Details – it’s also what separates the good from the great.

One of the other aspects of the great players who made the Varsity team from the others was the subtle details in their play. I remember one of the center-mids on the team had such amazing field perception that he knew where everyone was on the field. He had some Spidey Senseof when an opposing player was coming up on his back. The best players weren’t just passing, but were passing with enough oomph and in a direction that would allow the receiver to move WITH the ball and away from an oncoming defender. This is kind of like the best quarterbacks in the NFL who lead their receivers with a throw, away from the onrushing corner.
From a professional standpoint, paying attention to details means checking for spelling mistakes. It’s ensuring logistics are nailed down for any meeting or get-together. At Body Boss, for example, details included doing reconnaissance work of a school and the strength program I was visiting. It meant ensuring all the marketing collateral was ready before a coach’s clinic.

Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive.

(Thinking back to my high school days reminded me of this constant chant at football games. That’s funny, right? No? Okay…)
I remember my earlier years on the JV team when I played incredibly conservatively. I was naïve and hadn’t played at a high level like some of the others. I distinctly remember one player who had played in the highest echelons of youth soccer (beyond Classic 1 – some summit I didn’t know anything about). I had the ball running in one direction, and the player was defending me. Except, he just brushed me aside, and ran off with the ball. I just witnessed the football “swim move” but on a soccer pitch. I thought it was a foul, but it was perfectly legal. I was just weak.
Today, that mindset of being aggressive and strong pervades me. If I’m not, others who “want it more” will grab opportunities leaving me in dust. If you want the ball, if you want the sale, you need to “swim move” your @$$ in there. Don’t play conservative…

If you’re not confident, you’re not going anywhere.

Kinda like the above point, but aside from being aggressive, having a mindset of confidence goes a long, LOONNNGGG way. Be confident in your abilities. Be confident in who you are. Be confident in others.
I remember I always looked up to those guys who played in much, much higher levels than me. They carried themselves like they owned the pitch, and compared to me… they did. I looked up to them like I was a small fish, and when I thought like that, everyone else did, too.
It’s hard to get others to believe in you if you don’t.

Bad outcomes don’t mean bad outcomes forever… and short-term memory is great.

I wanted to parse these two into different bullets, but they go together so darn well. Plus, it’s the most important point here.
At the end of the day (or in my case, my high school years), I didn’t make Varsity my Junior or Senior years. Boom. Didn’t make it. Enter college, though, I eventually made it to the Georgia Tech Club Team’s A team. I even captained a team one year. Since then, I’ve played on teams that have won leagues and divisions from Atlanta Division Amateur Soccer League (ADASL) to Silverbacks and various tournaments. I’ve played with some amazing players from all over the country, and my best friends are from these years.
I loved soccer so much that even as I failed to make Varsity, I kept at it, and eventually, I was in with the soccer crowds I wanted to be a part of when I was younger. I failed to make the teams prior, but then some really great things came about later because I learned from those earlier playing days, and I kept at it.

The take-aways…

It’s funny taking a step or two back to look at the grander picture. For me, I looked back at a terrible moment of my life, and found a lot of positives that came from it. I lost a couple battles in high school, but so far, I feel I’ve been winning the war.
Thinking about it perhaps more philosophically, the ­failure of not making Varsity doesn’t define me. It was the lessons from failure that defines me, or maybe just helps define me.  

Take 10 minutes out of your day for yourself and think about this – what was a defining moment in your life? Why? How has it impacted you today? 
Reflecting posthumously… Source: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/64480000/jpg/_64480391_sunset_rocks.jpg
If the inner voice in you keeps telling you to go back or to keep forging ahead, should you? Should I?
I keep bringing up Body Boss recently because I feel it’s unfinished business. I feel like we quit too early. Or maybe I’m just really passionate about it still. Or maybe I still get messages from happy customer-partners who want to continue to do more. Or maybe I’m crazy and I’m blinded by the potential opportunities to see the actual lack of opportunity.
There’s a popular picture I’ve seen illustrating the cost of giving up too early:
Source: http://www.davidmcelroy.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Three-feet-from-gold.jpg
For the myriad of lessons learned in 21 Rough Lessons Learned from Failure post, I still can’t shake that maybe we stopped building Body Boss too early for ONE major reason. In fact, Marc Andreessen shared the idea recently in “On product/market fit for startups“:

“My contention, in fact, is that they [startups] fail because they never get to product/market fit.” – Marc Andreessen

In the article, Marc was referring a lot to the market being the determining factor of startup success as the market can actually pull a product and team in the right direction. At least, that’s my simplified synopsis. However, this notion of failure before product-market fit is an incredibly resonating one.
In the 16 months following launch, we had over 70 unique schools/ programs trial Body Boss, and we had 12 paying customers with about 4 of those signing back up. Yes, these are paltry numbers. However, if you look at the data from interviews as to why they weren’t subscribing or why they didn’t re-subscribe there were very, very common reasons. The market was trying to pull us in the right direction. We just resisted.
In fact, 3 of the 4 re-subscribers were actually in months 10-14 when we started to build some of those features customers were asking for. (They re-subscribed after we announced the zombification of Body Boss, actually.) However, in the end, we made a collective decision to not pursue Body Boss as it stood.
“So what are you trying to say, Daryl?!” I’m saying this…
  • Capture data, and you can start to see a story. For us, it was poor product-market fit at the beginning which could be explained, largely, by a lot of hubris on our part (we thought we could be like Steve Jobs and tell coaches what they really wanted) and by poor customer discovery up front.
  • Speed kills… or rather, lack of speed. If I could, I would’ve funded the team so everyone could be full-time on Body Boss, and thus, no other distractions of full-time employment elsewhere. Without distractions, perhaps we could have churned out the right features and user experience [quicker] to reach closer and closer to product-market fit.
  • Have Empathy and Let the Currents Take You. As I mentioned above, there were many moments we, as a team, failed to listen to our customers. We naively believed we knew the better way to do things. We lacked empathy, and even though the market was trying to pull us in the right direction, we didn’t let it. When enough of the market tells you to move one way, you have to put aside your ideals for the greater good.
  • Failure/ quitting is always an option. I don’t want to say “quitting” is always a bad thing, because sometimes, it’s the right thing. Like I said before, I could be blinded by what I believe is there. That’s why having a great team is important, too… to not just say, “YES” to everything I say, but to challenge me.  
  • Regret is a damned thing that can haunt you, but you have to move on. The experience with Body Boss has taught me a great deal on startups, about building a team, and much more documented in the 21 Lessons Learned. However, in corporate settings, a failure is a failure. In startups, failure is called experience. Embracing the lessons learned will give me great hope for the future.

Of the 70 schools who signed up for trials, but didn’t convert, I’d say at least half of those would’ve subscribed had we nailed a few items down ranging from a rework on user interface to features. That’d give us about 40-45 customers in the first 18 months – not too bad. That’s my expected benefit. Conservatively, 20 schools would have converted – still not bad, and I’d venture to guess many more would re-subscribe, too.
However, features aren’t always going to win over customers, I know. That’s why I’m suggesting this based on my actual conversations. Perhaps designing for the users would also have helped move a low-tech industry to embrace more technology… or maybe we would’ve died anyways. There are a number of things we could’ve implemented, too, to help really mitigate against building the wrong product such as Letters of Intent, development alongside customers, a system by which customers/ prospects can request or reserve features almost like a Kickstarter (it’s in my head how this would work), etc.
I suppose that given we never reached product-market fit and looking at the data posthumously… I can’t help but wonder the WHAT IF. I ask myself whenever I finish a project or day if I killed it (in a good way). I don’t feel like we killed it for Body Boss. I think we could’ve done better… that’s a pretty bad feeling, but one that I have to learn from and move on. Right now, our competitors are making large headway in the market, and the opportunity has largely passed by to revive Body Boss and be the dominant player. Lack of speed kills.
For now, Body Boss will be one of those opportunities with great regrets and great learning moments to take to my next startup.
I was tempted to use a mirro #selfie picture as a not-so-subtle play on “reflection”, but decided on a less cheesy route. You’re welcome. (Photo cred: http://splitshire.com/focus/)
Ready for the new year? Whether or not you are, it’s coming. I do “micro-reflections” at the end of each day about what I did well, what I could improve on, what’s on tap for tomorrow/ next week, etc. As it’s the end of the year, it’s time for a more “macro-reflection”.
Recently, I’ve been asked more than a few times why I blog, and asked to capture what was accomplished this past year and what I’m looking forward to next year. So for this macro-reflection post, I’m going to write a three-part series. Part 1 (today) will be…

Why do I blog?

First, it’s a challenge.

Writing was not a strong point for me growing up, and not one I enjoyed doing. However, I think it was largely about context. I didn’t find anything I was writing about compelling to me in school. 
Now, I write about startups and entrepreneurship with a sprinkling of leadership and psychology. I’ve already started writing about Finance (another weak point), and soon, I’ll be adding some technical posts to my repertoire. Each post has fed my passion in entrepreneurship.
Blogging has been a challenge for me to not only keep writing and improving my writing skills, but it’s been a great driver for me to continually read and learn.

Secondly, blogging plays a role in BRANDING.

As I said in my personal story, I realize that I’m a representation of many people who have influenced me either directly or indirectly. Blogging allows me to continually build and refine what my name means and who I am – my personal branding.
Even looking at my LinkedIn profile, my Facebook profile, or my resume, it’s largely a static image of myself till the next time I update it which can be infrequent. However, with a blog, I can give better context as to who I am as supplemental to a LinkedIn profile or resume.
Others can read a few of my posts and quickly see where my passions lay, what motivates me, etc. I try to keep my writing authentic to who I am, so I hope my personality comes through the words.

Thirdly, blogging introduces me to many others with a similar passion.

I got a chance to meet ​Tricia Whitlock, ​Editor of ​Hypepotamus, one of Atlanta’s major tech-blogs. I reached out because I enjoy the content she and her team provides not just from a quality standpoint, but also for the breadth and frequency. A key to their writing has been reaching out to others either for interviews or to showcase what new startups are up to. It’s been a great way for the publication’s staff to meet others, stay in tune with the startup scene locally and regionally, and continue to pump out fresh, relevant content.​ I’m seeing how Hypepotamus can become one of, if not THE, premier startup news aggregator here in the Southeast.
When I was blogging for Body Boss, we reached out to strength coaches to guest post with us. This situated us as a connector to coaches. But also, it gave us an opportunity to connect with those outside Body Boss, and we could connect coaches everywhere to one another. It became a powerful marketing tool for networking, inbound marketing, outbound marketing (newsletters), etc.

Fourth, blogging can inspire, motivate, and teach others.

I’ve met so many people who have stumbled on my site. They ask me questions about starting up their own ideas. Or, I’ve met others who have taken some of my lessons and applied them to their current startups which has helped them avoid pitfalls.
At the end of the day, it’s great to see others taking some of my experience and applying it to their own lives. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be entrepreneurial. I think the lessons and skills learned through entrepreneurship are highly adaptable and applicable to, yes, the large corporate jobs. Everything from customer discovery to rapid prototyping to user experience has been hugely beneficial in even consulting projects.

And then, blogging is therapeutic.

My mind can be a bit… frenetic. It runs 200 mph with ideas and questions that used to just marinate in my head. It kept me up at night or didn’t let me fall asleep in the first place. Conversations with friends would go in a million directions.
By writing, I have a release valve for me to share these questions and ideas. I can hone in on specific ideas or go full-bore with a multi-part series like this one. Plus, it gives me a way to share questions and ideas others have shared with me, too, and discuss with others.

And finally, it’s a challenge.

No, that’s no typo. I’m repeating it because this is the major reason for me to continue writing, much like why I love entrepreneurship. It’s the rush taking on the challenge and to compete against myself and in some ways, against others – me writing consistently where others might have faded away.
Blogging has forced me to be more comfortable with myself and push new ways of learning and expression… to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Up through undergrad, my personality tests would tell you I’m an introvert and my close friends would tell you how I was… more quiet and reserved. Since then, I’ve rewired my brain a bit aiming to be a better leader and more charismatic. Blogging has been a great catalyst of the change for me.
For example, blogging has forced me to be consistent in my actions and purposeful and comfortable knowing that my writing will NOT resonate with everyone. It took me a little while to get over that. Much like building a business, you have your target market you’re catering to. Respect those outside of your target market, but know that not everyone will appreciate who you are or what you’re doing/ selling.

So that’s why I blog…

It’s exciting when I run into people I haven’t seen in a while who tell me they’ve kept up-to-date on me through my blog, Entrepreneurial Ninja. They talk to me about how some post really resonated with them at their job, or how hilarious my story of the 4AM break-in was. That’s fun.
I’m on the Atlanta Tech Blog’s list! Scroll down alphabetically 42 spots as of 12/24!
As I’m sitting here, too, I’m grinning ear-to-ear because my blog was shared with Atlanta Tech Blogs who now have my blog as part of their feed. That’s incredibly flattering and exciting. Heck, some of you may have stumbled on this article from Atlanta Tech Blogs. (Thanks for stopping in.)
I’ve always wanted to be not just a leader of a company, but a leader of an industry, a community. To do that, I need to be a thought leader. David Cummings is a prime example of an extraordinary blogger, and has really cemented his leadership and influence on startups, especially those in Atlanta. With more consistency and longevity, I might actually get there, too.
Of course, I need to also get a good startup success… tune in for Part 2 next week.
First foray into iOS and LEGIT programming, and it goes swimmingly well… even if it wasn’t as “simple” of a start as I could’ve made it.

Since August of this year, I’ve been expanding my horizons and challenging an area that terrifies me – learning how to program. Okay, well, I’ve got some experience in programming including JAVA (long, long ago), Ruby on Rails, etc., but nothing really spectacular and for “mass consumption” except for maybe some SQL and VBA from consulting work. My experience in Ruby on Rails goes just a little farther than the One Month Rails course I took back in January. However, it never really stuck with me.

I found that I needed to root myself with three foundational questions that would give me a reason for learning (my WHY), a vision to focus my learning and achieve sustainability (my WHAT), and a way to begin (my HOW). That’s where the following three questions guided me.

Question 1: Why am I learning to program?
Like many idea-people, I have a long, long list of ideas of things to try/ build in terms of potential startup ideas. My list has started to get long in the tooth. Some of the ideas are similar to what some startups are now doing very well and/ or raising quite a bit of capital. As they say, ideas are worth nothing… it’s all about execution. However, with the market where it is being a highly developer world, it’s sometimes hard getting/ inspiring/ motivating developers to help build ideas without money, and I’m not a developer by trade. I’ve talked to a few other entrepreneurs and they share the same sentiment – good developers are highly valuable resources with no shortage of demand. 
I remember talking to one of the co-founders of Hired.com a few months ago, and he mentioned how he and a couple other great developers met one day to talk about possibly working together. After a couple meets they moved into a house near the Valley. They churned out projects weekly. They weren’t bottlenecks in their aspirations, but I was in mine. I don’t want to be limited in achieving what I want to. If I believe in myself and what I’m doing, then investing in some learning should be well worth it.
So, that’s what motivated me to really learn and become a developer — a reason for doing. I’m never going to be an extraordinary developer like the Body Boss guys (or designer), but I’ll know enough to be dangerous and launch ideas. If any of them stick, then great. I’ll then hopefully raise some capital to then find a more technically adept partner. Of course, there’s got to be some time to develop the ideas before churning out the next one. Anyways…
As an ancillary (but big) benefit, I’m hoping more experience with programming will make me a more adept entrepreneur and team member. I’m still figuring out my best skills and roles (product management, sales, marketing, general business development, PROGRAMMING?!, etc.). Right now, I like to be a generalist and my breadth of skills allows me to adapt quickly and effectively; however, I think strengthening my technical shortcomings will be valuable in an age of growing technology either by understanding customers’ needs, communicating with technical resources, or exploring new entrepreneurial opportunities.
Question 2: What am I starting?
Now with a purpose, I wasn’t sure what to begin or even what would keep my learning going. I needed to build something that resonated with me to give me short and long-term visions and goals.

After a brainstorming session in July, there was an interesting idea to help parents better buy and sell used kids goods. This was the inception of Dee Duper, the idea I’ve been building out since August. Though, to start, I wasn’t sure which way or where to start. Kick in some of my experience from the past, and I did customer discovery vis-à-vis a survey (using Google Docs) to answer some questions and test out some hypotheses.

Okay, you’re about to see some questions, responses, and charts from the survey – 48 parent respondents. Let me preface the results with this: I know, in retrospect, that the survey can be better structured, worded, and more MECE. I’m comfortable showing the results, however, knowing full well the responses are not “scientific”. The answers provide a good vane for the direction I should head, and as an entrepreneur, I don’t need exact measurements to get started. These examples should also serve as food-for-thought about how to make your own surveys more robust. Again, every iteration you do something, look to improve. I’ll write a post in the near future (Jan 2015?) on how I would improve my survey in retrospect.

Focused my survey on parents with 48 respondents.
Aside from “None; N/A” and “Other”, major problems of existing resale channels include Search and Trust.
One of my major hypotheses was that payment of goods between parents was a big headache. However, I learned that overwhelmingly, the major pain points revolved around search and trust. Okay, that changes my potential development roadmap, but where to start programming? A few more questions were needed via the survey…
The computer is still dominant for users followed by the iPhone. Though not focused on which device is used for online shopping, this still motivates me to build on iOS as the mobile app first.
Survey respondents were overwhelmingly users of the iPhone. So that’s where I was going to dig in for my first technical entrepreneurial foray – iOS! Yes, ‘Computer’ was actually the top device, but I knew/ wanted Dee Duper to reside mobile (native) first as an MVP (phase 0) especially given other outside research from Black Friday shopping, UPS datapoints, and my observations of target consumers on channels like the many “Mommy Exchanges” on Facebook. Phase 1 would include a web app, likely built on Ruby on Rails.
I have such limited experience in Apple’s Objective-C language, and with Apple’s announcement of its evolution in programming language, Swift, I decided to start with Swift. The syntax looks cleaner and if I went far back in my memory, it’s more similar to JAVA, I think.
User sentiments to the apps I was most interested in. In retrospect, I could have included other popular apps such as Pinterest
Through the customer discovery survey, I also learned what apps and platforms users used on a daily basis and their thoughts on the quality of the popular apps today. All this allowed me to go beyond just building on Swift but also help me think about design and usability as well as potential integrations. In my case, I’ve learned that removing barriers to sign up and get into an app is critical, so leveraging Facebook’s login was going to be my way forward.
Question 3: How did I start?

With limited experience in programming for the masses and a plethora of options and courses to learn programming, choosing where to begin and with who can be daunting. Luckily, when I started in August, Swift wasn’t talked about too much, yet, so I had limited options. I decided to get started with Treehouse.com. I ended up shelling out $99 for a Swift course. Treehouse did a good job of showing me the basics, and getting me used to the syntax. However, the course I took wasn’t a great one to learn how to build what I wanted to build.
Instead of spending more $$, I decided to explore free tutorials, and found some videos on YouTube by Brian Advent. This was actually really great because Brian also talked about not only Swift, but integrating a mobile back-end (with Facebook’s Parse). I hadn’t thought about what, where, and how to host the database to run Dee Duper, yet. He had some videos that explained how to build a Twitter-like app, so that’s where I would work alongside him through several videos, and then go off adapting what he taught to Dee Duper.

Starting from there was a lot of trial and error. I won’t hash this out because there’s quite a bit, but I’ll write posts in the very near future about my lessons. It’ll be on-going so stay tuned!

As a take-away for you, there are a TON of courses all over the internet including physical classes you can take if you so have the time and money to pursue. If you’re like me bootstrapping everything, there are plenty of free tutorials that will get you off and running quick.

Where I am and where I’m going…

Last Monday, December 1st, I actually received word that Dee Duper was approved for the Appstore! First time submission, first time approval. Pretty stellar stuff, I think. It took a while, but it’s come together pretty nicely.
Funny enough, while building Dee Duper, I’ve also picked up some part-time consulting to fill the coffers and get some mental stability, I’ve been thrust into building all sorts of models in VBA and even asked to do some SQL to build data cubes and algorithms. All of a sudden, I’m finding myself mixing up programming languages having taken on all sorts of technical roles. To the point above about why I wanted to pick up programming, I’ve definitely found myself much more marketable and able to swing into all sorts of different projects where others couldn’t. Plus, the added analytical side of programming has given me some creative ways of approaching other more strategic consulting projects.
Back to Dee Duper and my programming… Dee Duper just launched in the Appstore, but honestly, I haven’t marketed it at all. This is where a lot of work and effort will come into play. What I need to do now is find initial traction, and gather their input. I did my beta testing with some users throughout development, but now that the app is more widely available, learning will be critical.
You can now find Dee Duper in the Apple Appstore!
From the feedback, I hope to find what works, what doesn’t, and the missing elements of Dee Duper to achieve product-market fit. I’ve got a roadmap of what I want to integrate next with Dee Duper including geo-location, saved searches (alerting you if something is posted that you’re looking for), favorites, etc. For now, I’m eager to gather feedback of the MVP of Dee Duper before I go building a bunch of features nobody wants.
I’ll post some quick lessons since I started programming in the next month. I’ll also start sharing some technical posts including how I’ve implemented different features, headaches I’ve come across, etc. The Swift developer community is still very young, so the help library is sparse. Hopefully, I can help build that up.
What questions do you have about how I got started either with Dee Duper or programming? Are you someone who wants to code, but hasn’t stepped into it, yet? What’s holding you back? Or, if you did start coding but not a coder as a full-time gig, why/ what are you coding?