I’m helping run usability tests with a startup; though, I have not formally “run” one in the past. It’s been a great learning experience.
The company’s launching a new site in education, and with the product having been in development for a few months, it’s ready for users to test. For us, we’re soliciting feedback on user experience, shaping our product roadmap, and testing marketing messaging.
I’ve uploaded a Usability Testing Guidelines template I created leveraging others I’ve found with adjustments here: Usability Testing Guidelines. I’ve removed some specific portions, but left in others for illustrative purposes. You’ll want to adjust as you see fit.
(Note: I use “site” here, but substitute the product/ service you’re testing.)
Here are the key components of the Guidelines:
  • Testing – Observer Guidelines. General instructions for the observer when moderating tests.
  • Agenda and Set-Up. Establish the logistics for testing. Ensure the location is ready, devices are set up, and have back-up plans in case things don’t go as planned.
  • Testing Script. Set the guidelines between tester and test-taker including language to encourage honest, impulsive feedback.
  • Usability Tasks. Ensure specific elements of the site are tested. Tasks help navigate testing along timeline.
  • Closing Questions. When in front of target users, it’s advantageous to ask specific and open questions as time allows. These questions help determine the product roadmap, key in on marketing messaging, identify trouble areas not identified before, etc.

Additionally, I like a hybrid approach to testing – unstructured at the beginning, then structured with tasks. With an unstructured format, users go about a site detailing thoughts and driving their interaction as s/he desires. In a structured format, the tester helps navigate the user via tasks and questions.

What lessons do you have from usability tests as a tester or test-taker? How have usability tests been poorly run? Effectively run?
Image Source: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/03/10/f8/52/after-the-sun-was-over.jpg
Over the last couple weeks to close out 2014, I wrote:

Now, we’re onto the final chapter of the 3-part series. This is tricky one only because, well, it’s like making public declarations of my intentions. If I fail, again, it’s public. There’s that accountability factor. Okay, so focusing on the short (for 2015) and long-term goals (beyond)…

Within Distance – the Year of 2015

Continue Hacking.

“Hacking” here is admittedly broad as I’m referring to hacking in the programming sense and in general business. Till I find that startup that keeps me going, I’m aiming to push a new idea out every 30-60 days (with half that time devoted to customer discovery, build out, launch, and the other half towards marketing and growth).
If an idea doesn’t see much traction, I learn and move on. After I spoke to one of the cofounders of Hired.comthis idea really resonated with me, and was recently suggested to me by another entrepreneur I’ve come to know well.

Reduce the “No.”

For whatever reason, I was life hacking (yes, hacking my life) trying to become more direct, and I surprisingly introduced just “No.” as a response to others. That is, just saying, “No.” instead of saying, “Well this is why this might be a better way…” or “I don’t see it this way.” This is more apparent in verbal conversations.
I remember the Allison Gilmore, Director of the PhD program at Emory’s Goizueta Business School (also performs Improv), giving my MBA class a session about responses. She taught us how “No” and “No, but” really shut down people. For whatever reason, this flew over my head, and I was doing the opposite. Even “no, but…” would be a better response than the curt “No.”
So I’m tracking when I give the short “no” in hopes of responding in a more positive way. Of course, I’ll throw in a “no” if/ when appropriate.

Stop taking on so much.

I love to help people, but sometimes, that means I say “yes” too much. In light to the above about saying “no”, I need to be able also say, “Sorry, but I can’t do XYZ…”
This past year, I volunteered a lot of time helping other startups, sometimes with little to no compensation. I took these chances as good learning opportunities, but now that I’ve got some other opportunities going, my time is that much more valuable. As such, this year will be the year of smarter multi-tasking.

Become a better communicator.

When I say communicator here, I’m also really focusing on the listening part. Late last year, I got some good constructive criticism that I have been… very energetic to different opinions. I’ve done a pretty bad job at keeping my emotions out of specific subjects, and I’m aiming to parse out the emotions in favor of patience and understanding.
Roger Fisher and William Ury’s Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In suggests that I take more of an interest-view rather than positional. In future disagreements (or just differing opinions), I’ll be more cognizant of others’ viewpoints (diversity is good). Especially where others may be affected by emotional attachments, it’s best for me to realize that it’s not oftentimes a personal attack. So I’ll need to take a step back, get a better understanding as to why, and make a mature approach from there.

Attend two startup events a month.

I used to be good at this – taking the time to attend Atlanta Startup Villagemeet-ups or other gatherings. However, I made excuses the second half of last year, and just stopped. This year, going to start attending startup events around Atlanta more often.
Goal is twice a month and make genuine connections.

Volunteer at least twice every quarter.

I’ll probably get back into Habitat for Humanity as the charity/ volunteer organization. I like what they do, their approach, and I like the skills and lessons I get out of each build.

Be a better Son, Brother, Uncle, Friend, Mentor.

Probably the most important one, but this is everlasting… This past Christmas and New Year’s, I got to spend with my immediate family and grandparents down in Florida. I couldn’t help but take a pause every so often to see my family laughing and walking together, and it was an amazing feeling to be a part of that. 
Add to that, every minute I spend with my little niece my love for her grows exponentially. It’s amazing just watching her develop. I’m looking forward to strengthening my relationship to everyone in my family, and my good friends.

Stopping biting my finger nails!

This needs no explanation other than it’s a bad habit. There. That was easy. Next!

Friggin’ lift 315 lbs on the barbell bench press.

Just because three plates is bad ass territory.
Also, yesterday, I just stunted a lot of good growth by straining my hamstring at a soccer game. Why? Because of poor warm-ups. Why? Because I was late to the game? Why? Because traffic was terrible. Why? Because I, Daryl Lu, failed to leave for the game on time from work. There. It’s my fault. So, I also need to stick to my schedule to prevent lateness which can prevent warming up which can cause hamstring strains.

Beyond the Horizon (2016 and Beyond)

Be featured in TechCrunch, or other national publication.

I’d like to have a startup be featured in TechCrunch… just to have that daily newsletter come into my Gmail with my startup’s name on it. Or maybe have an article republished on Entrepreneur.com or Inc.com… that’d be cool.

Build a lasting startup with at least $1MM in recurring monthly revenue.

$1MM’s a “wow” number, and I think that’d be sufficient to have a decent-sized startup team to lead to even greater.

Give a TED Talk, or other industry conference.

I’m sure as part of my journey, there’s going to be something enlightening that no one else has talked about yet, or maybe I’ll expound or counter on another.

Stepping Forward Now…

Obviously that even though this is part 3 of the Reflections 3-part series, like any good book or movie, it’s really just a glimpse of things to come. Hopefully, this post whets your appetite for your own goals both short and long-term.

Also, if you actually want to learn how to throw Ninja Stars, check out this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_w6T4nO-KA

Happy New Year! Cheers! Entrepreneurial Ninja. Out.
The last several months for me have been… interesting. Since Body Boss became a zombie, I’ve been poking and prodding and brainstorming and wandering what the Next Move is. I’ve helped out a startup with business development, but decided it wasn’t a good long-term fit. Though, I still have demos and conversations just to practice. It would appear at times that I’m spinning my wheels.
I’ve been putting myself in various positions whether that be working with startups, interviews of restaurateurs, and of course, good ole reconnects with friends and otherwise. A couple weeks ago, I was staring down from a new nadir… unable to sleep, I got up and wrote a Proclamation of sorts to my close friends and family about continued support and to push me and hold me accountable to what I’m trying to achieve. Needless to say, it was a dash of poignant revelations and a whole lot of “I think I can, I think I can”. It’s good to know I have some very good family and friends who push me and are supportive…
Aside from knowing who’s got my back, I was able to connect with a serial entrepreneur out in San Francisco who’s a friend of my older brother. I didn’t ask if I could use his name, so I’ll call him “Wayne”. Wayne has been an entrepreneur since his days in high school. He’s founded companies whilst at Georgia Tech, and had a great idea go bigger when he joined YCombinator (YC) a few years ago. If you don’t know Y Combinator, think of it as the Harvard Business School of technology accelerators with notable alums including Dropbox, Reddit, Airbnb, and so many more incredible companies. Since then, though, he’s founded another startup that is reaching crazy great levels of recruiting with specific roles, companies, and even select cities. It’s how he maintains some version of what Paul Graham describes as “wells” – target companies/ pains/ niches and go deep vs. going after a larger audience with limited depth of services or otherwise.
So, Mr. Wayne… I explained to him my position, and inquired about his experience and sought his advice. Here are some take-aways from our conversation:
  • If you want to be on the business side, know your numbers. I shared with Wayne an idea I’m currently incubating, and he had some great questions regarding the business model. In effect, he was testing the economic feasibility of the idea as well as my wit. Sadly, I didn’t quite respond as well as I wanted. His advice was to practice mental/ back-of-the-napkin math for ideas. That should at least help early on determine if there’s a viable business idea.
  • Early on, it’s about the product rather than the team. This was an interesting viewpoint. For… ever, I heard how VCs, entrepreneurs, etc. invest in the team behind the startup. Wayne’s point was that if the idea (i.e. product, service) is good, then the market will pull you up. From there, you’ll find money both from your customers and want-to-be investors. Also, the team will quickly learn and get the experience. Wayne cited this as a key learning from watching company after company go through YC.
  • Build a pain pill, not a vitamin. Okay, that phrase is actually pulled from David Cummings, but it’s apparent in what Wayne was prescribing (see what I did there?). From the preceding bullet, the underlying take-away is to find an idea that addresses pain points for markets. If you find a real pain killer, customers will come to you. Of course, marketing will help, too.
  • If you’re not a programmer, don’t bother. On Saturday, I bit the bullet and bought a MacBook to learn how to program in iOS for this new idea I’m incubating. Since then, I’ve churned through hours and hours of iOS programming tutorials (for Swift) through 4 courses. Wayne cited that if I wanted to stick to the business-side of things, get better at that. Many good programmers have been programming for a long time, and there are 18 year-olds who would smoke me. It’s always going to be catch-up. I should focus on what my experience has given me, and hone those skills.
  • Notion of “Liquidity” – 3 tenets: proximity of the sale, right product and right customer, and timing. At least for my current incubating idea, I must deal with these three sides of liquidity that will challenge my success vis-à-vis if I can EASILYaddress these three tenets to facilitate the marketplace.
  • It’ll take 2-3 years to reach any level of success. Obviously, that’s not applicable to every startup, but from his experience, that where he’s found the greatest success in his startups. He also cites that San Francisco could be a great place for entrepreneurs, but with the added cost-of-living considerations, there are significant downsides. At the end of the day, be good at where you are.

It’s great knowing a couple degrees of connections away is yet another successful serial entrepreneur. It’s incredibly inspiring. Though, I have to admit that it’s also incredibly daunting. You can tell Wayne’s got his $h!t together with how we speaks and his questions – no doubt through fine tutelage of YC and Paul Graham et al. I’ve taken a lot of his advice to heart, and I’ll be considering all of these take-aways and then some over my present and future (both short and long-term).
Though, I will say that I will still plug away at iOS. I don’t hope to become a CTO and CEO in a startup I found. Instead, I do want the ability to quickly build apps web or mobile and test out ideas. Wayne cited his earlier days in Berkley, CA where he was holed up in a house with two other co-founders, and they would build an idea a day. With that type of iterating, they were able to test ideas quickly. That’s where I want to be. I want to be able to test ideas quickly, and build something great like him.
Closing thoughts. Wayne suggested reading the following two Paul Graham essays:

What are your thoughts on my conversation with Wayne (or at least the take-aways)? How else would you recommend entrepreneurs building up for the Next Move?
Just a brainstorming session with Don Pottinger (pictured) and Darren Pottinger on a Saturday morning. Typical.
Yes, when I want to get in a good “innovating” and brainstorming mood/ session, I need to isolate myself from the rest of the world. I like to disconnect, in a sense, and lock myself in an environment where I can let it all out.
Okay, so the reference to a padded room is actually more or less the sound-absorbing padding of room 201 at my former business school. I continue to go there even on the weekends to get away from my house where I’d otherwise develop cabin fever and the local Starbucks where standing up, pacing, and toting a giant whiteboard would be cumbersome.
Brainstorming to me is one of the most fun processes that helps me not only keep my thoughts at bay (to help me sleep at night), but a way for me to continue to brainstorm and innovate ways to improve life. People have all sorts of ways to brainstorm, but this is my blog, so I’ll share how I typically work. And it’s through these sessions where some of my greatest work is done, and where I hope I find my next nugget of entrepreneurial magic.
  • Isolation Mode. Siddhārtha Gautama and Ralph Waldo Emerson saw fit to disappear from the world to find enlightenment. Me? I like to go to spaces with large rooms where I can lay down, pace back and forth, dance (yes, I said, “dance”), and just get away from the world. For me, classrooms tend to be phenomenally suitable places to get away and lock out the world (and lock me in).
  • Let the Tunes Play. I love music. I love how music has a way of changing your mood and even invigorate/ amplify whatever mood you’re in. I listen to Spotify or my personal workout KILLIN’ IT mix in the classroom or via my new Mini Jambox. It’s great. I’ll listen to music with high tempo and some hip hop-ish undertones (overtones, too) because it gets me pumped up and confident. When brainstorming, confidence is high.
  • Whiteboards.If you know me at a personal level, you would know my affinity for whiteboards. I have three in my house, and one day, would love to have my office painted with that whiteboard paint. In the classroom at Emory, I get to take advantage of mammoth whiteboards… three of them that slide up and down. I say Entrepreneurship is like an art, and with whiteboards, I find my empty canvas.
  • Bubbles, Outlines, Comics. When I’m throwing ideas, I’m putting them into whatever format I feel like. Sometimes, I’ll “organize” my thoughts in outlines like this past Saturday, or I’ll do bubble diagrams where I put some central question or theme in the middle, and address it with bubbles connected all around the central idea.
  • Discard Nothing, Capture Everything. I put just about every one of my thoughts about an idea on the board. (It’s why I love big canvases.) Any idea that pops up in my head can be a valuable piece that can bring about some odd way I haven’t thought about before. Sometimes, you have to consider “bad ideas” because innovation requires thinking exactly why bad ideas are bad. Is that just because “it’s always been done that way?” Why wouldn’t a business model from another industry work here? At the end of my brainstorm session or when I need more room, I’ll take pictures of everything and look back upon them for ideas later or for implementation.
  • Start With Something or Nothing. Okay, that probably sounds silly, but really, you don’t have to have an idea to which you want to explore for a brainstorming session. Just enter the room fresh, keep some water and snacks handy, and just be ready to throw anything on the board that pops in your head. With a little list of ideas like “What do I do everyday that I hate?” or “What are the trending hashtags or Tweets where people use the phrase ‘worst ever’, ‘can never do’, ‘this sucks’?” The idea here is to search for areas where people are sharing common pain points, and are passionate enough to share it on social media.
  • Brainstorm with One or Two Others. I tend to brainstorm with just one other person, if at all. It’s good to get another’s perspective. It’s like when you need to talk to vent… you just want someone to hear you. However, in this situation, that other person could play devil’s advocate to your ideas.
  • Plan For Nothing and Something Will Come. When you start a brainstorm session, yeah, you can put some plan or hopes that you walk out with a deliverable or plan of attack. For me, I don’t necessarily always do brainstorm sessions for a goal to come out other than to stretch my mind from a creative standpoint. This past weekend, I got to brainstorm with two buds and co-founders of Body Boss for the next Great Thing. We didn’t go in thinking we’d exit with a killer idea or a strategy. However, we stumbled on a potentially great idea that we’re now exploring. If you stumble on an idea in your session, embrace it, and take the steps to make it happen – whatever it is.
  • Have Fun!Like I said just above, brainstorming and innovation should be fun. It’s probably a nerdy thing, but for me, I gladly do this on a Saturday morning like I just did. To me, this is an interestingly fun way to hang out with friends while not spinning our wheels doing something that would require us to spend money for an expensive dinner, or just sitting around watching some TV/ game. (Though, we watch the World Cup game later.) Brainstorming and thinking of new ways of approaching things like paying for things at a grocery store, communicating with team members in soccer, whatever… it’s about plugging into your creative power plant that could be barely running due to otherwise a non-creative, mind-numbing job you do 40+ hours a week in a cramped cubicle. But hey, I’m not judging if that’s your thing…

Dang, I should really try to start trimming my writing. However, this is a passion of mine, so it’s natural I write more. I’m a big proponent of following your passions and exercising the Creative Muscle that’s probably largely dormant with our normal day-to-day. Take a moment and think about something you don’t like (that’s easier than what you do like), and just step back, and think of all the different ways it could be improved. Maybe you’ll be as fascinated about your creativity as I have been by others.
What are your thoughts about brainstorm sessions? How do you exercise and flex your creative muscles?
Alright, so it’s 2014! Happy New Year! Okay, we’re a little belated…

Into Year 2 now for Body Boss (since launch), and it’s Go Big or Go Home time.  Since we launched last year, we found conferences and clinics are really great platforms for us to market and sell Body Boss.  Especially for our target audience, the big clinics occur in the late winter months into the early part of summer. In fact, we’ve got a big Coach’s clinic this weekend for mostly high school football coaches throughout the southeast for the Glazier Football Clinic.

Preparation can really set yourself apart and really be a great marketing and sales diving board if done well.  So here are some tips and pointers for you as you think about heading to a conference either as an exhibitor or just an attendee…

  • Conferences are rarely where dollars are exchanged.  Yup.  If you’re looking to close a lot of deals, they’re not going to be at those exhibitor booths.  Instead, they may happen at a dinner or meeting room nearby, or more likely, later.  Conferences are more about making the connections.
  • Have some standout materials to give out.  When I say materials, I mean like content materials — one-page slicks, business cards, and otherwise.  I can’t tell you how many great leads and compliments we get from some of our materials. We don’t spend much money on the actual materials, but we make sure what we give out is designed well to leave an impression with the call to action (CTA).  Look into Moo.com for business cards, and Vista Print for some one-pagers.
  • Get out from behind the table.  I’ve seen some vendors sit behind a table waiting for people to talk to them.  This is HORRIBLE.  People aren’t going to just walk up because you have a table and a sign.  If anything, you look cold, and no one wants to work with someone who’s cold and uninviting.  Get out, and think about being proactive in pulling people in.  You’ve probably spent money to be at the conference, so spend a little effort to bring them in, too.
  • Give them a reason to talk to you.  First, your product or service should offer some value to the target audience or this whole post goes to the can.  Beyond, you have to captivate the audience to stop by.  One way to do this is with a good looking banner.  Let’s call this a minimum requirement because everyone else will at least have SOME banner.  If you rely on one the conference gives you, it’ll probably be terrible, and it’ll entice no one.  If you’ve got power at the booth, think about hooking up a TV or other display that alternates images or videos so wandering eyes will be quickly drawn to your booth.
  • Your booth is like a website.  If you’ve got the right signage, your product on display, or even someone demo’ing, you’ve done your inbound marketing.  Next, it doesn’t hurt to also have a little outbound marketing, too.  In conjunction with the “get out from behind the table” point above, say something interesting to grab people’s attentions as they walk by.  Heck, we’ve even dared or joked with coaches who walk by our booth, and just because we’ve got some personality and passion for our business, they want to come over to talk to us.
  • Hire models with brains (if you must).  With the whole “grab attention”, I think this is an important point.  I’ve seen some pretty cheesy booths in the past who hired models to help bring people in.  But what’s funny is that when these models bring in prospects, the prospects ask questions and the models have no idea what to say.  We’ve actually brought two great models in the past to a Clinic.  They were fantastic.  Outside of being models, they knew the business and they knew fitness.  When it came to coaches asking about the product or talking shop, the models were on point, and ended up getting several coaches to sign up for trials by themselves — a great asset, too, when the rest of us are handling other prospects.

Presentation is half the battle, especially, I think, at conferences where you’re really trying to lure people in. Then again, the best strategy is to have a strong following via word-of-mouth which could end up funneling potential customers TO you rather than you pulling others in. And while you’re talking to the masses, you’ll no doubt intrigue others to stop in and hear what you’re all about. Kind of sounds like a quality street show, not that I say it…

What are your thoughts on conferences?  What might I have missed?

Inc.com’s Ilan Mochari wrote “What Happens When Entrepreneurs Fall in Love With Their Creations”.  The article went in a different way than I thought.  In light of the Golden Globe-nominate Her starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (voice) where Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, falls in love with a computer system, Mochari writes about the propensity for entrepreneurs to fall in love with their creations.  Though, the ending was more of a cautionary note for any one of us, in general, about the attachment we have these days to technologies. 
Mochari opened the article talking about the “edifice complex,” a spin on the Oedipus complex when sons fall in love with their mothers.  The edifice complex is where a person falls in love with a building, or at least, the desire to the design one.
Mochari talks about how Jim Koch’s, founder of Boston Beer Co., love for his business enabled him to pursue building a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility despite providing minimal value, instead, adding substantial costs in capital and operating costs.  (He later realized his folly and moved to build a smaller facility, but only after heavy investment in time and capital.)
Lessons and Take-Aways
The conclusion of the article was a little more “generic”, and could serve entrepreneurs/ readers with a more cautionary tale in touching on Koch’s dilemma.  That is, there are many perils when it comes to loving our creations as entrepreneurs including some thoughts below:

Failure to see the real opportunities.  I’ve long described entrepreneurial endeavors analogous to raising a kid (for better or worse).  As such, we sometimes believe our creations are perfect as they are, and no, he never bit Little Billy despite jaw impressions to the contrary.
When you’ve spent hours and weeks and months and years on your product, you may be blinded to see that there is something eerily wrong underneath the covers.  As such, it’s important that even though you may test features for success/ failure, getting feedback early and often from your customers and prospects lends critical perspective to ensure your product hits the spot.

Blinded to the failures.  Somewhere in your journey of the startup roller coaster, you may stumble and fall.  Periodically, the team should evaluate the direction of the company, and whether or not the current path will lead to the Land where you want to be.  However, sometimes love of your startup may blind you thinking your startup will succeed, when in fact, it won’t.  Either a pivot is needed, or shutting down is the more appropriate direction so you can move onto another project.  Of course, this can be tricky and takes real consideration whether or not you may just be in the “trough”.

Stagnation for improvement.  This can be confused with the above, but I want this to be clear: what I mean here is the debt (not financial, but technical or otherwise) of the startup.  If you’ve been working on a project for years (oftentimes, not that long), you may believe your product is so perfect that it can’t actually be improved anymore. Or maybe that it’s in a great place where it doesn’t need to be improved.
We, as a people, should strive to learn to better ourselves and the people around us.  We’ve always got room to improve.  As such, our creations oftentimes have room for improvement as well.
I like the notion of the idea of Six Sigma – the notion of process improvement to reduce variability.  With Six Sigma, you’re constantly looking to improve.  When you reduce variation to some level, then you crank the screws tighter and the cycle for improvement continues.

Over-valuing your startup.  Tune into ABC on Friday evenings, and you can catch a glimpse of over-valuation galore on Shark Tank.  You’ll see Mr. Wonderful, Mark Cuban, and the other sharks pointing out hideously high valuations of entrepreneurs; thus, putting in a massive hurdle where the entrepreneurs never get investment.
I like capitalism and the notion of free markets where the market pays what the market bears.  I haven’t had quite the opportunity to really sell a company (yet), but the idea here is that entrepreneurs’ biased views and love for their startups sometimes fail to recognize the notion that what they believe the worth of their company is can be very different from what it’s worth to the free market.  This may lead to a failure to do a deal in a complete liquidity event or investment to get the business blasting off the ground.
Wrapping It Up!
Hey, passion for our startups is important in entrepreneurship.  It can be a great ingredient in how we continue to pursue our dreams.  Passion and love gives us that genuine spirit that enables us to invigorate and motivate prospects into investing in us or buying our products.  However, love for our products should be tempered with realism.
Have you seen the movie Her?  What are your thoughts on our growing dependence on technology?  What are some other ramifications of falling for our startups as entrepreneurs?

I read this article from Stephanie St. Claire, a self-described “unfunded entrepreneur” – “11 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business”.  I think I read this middle of 2013, and just kept it in my list of sites to remember, and articles I want to blog about because I enjoyed it.  Obviously, right?

St. Claire writes about many aspects of starting her business and the journey to wherever it is she is today – still fighting the good fight.  She traverses the messiness of divorce, selling her home, a meager $14 left on her bank account, and so much more.  She says she’s a good writer, and her creativity truly comes out in her writing making her article more fun to read.

So, while reading her article, I wanted to touch on a few of her 11 points, whether or not I agree or disagreed.  Armed with my own experience with Body Boss and others from the past, my thoughts:

  • Her first point: One. Running the business is your first priority.  I quickly learned from Body Boss that it’s not about Working Out, meeting Coaches and Trainers, watching Players crush it in the gym that will occupy a great deal of my time.  Instead, it’s about the little things like taking care of business.  I don’t think it’s as much as 15% of my time.  However, it includes all the little things like paying the bills and ensuring the insurance for the company is in line, the LLC exists year to year, answering emails quickly on the weekend, or staying on the phone to trouble-shoot issues after my afternoon game of soccer pick-up.
    Like the Sharks on Shark Tank tell so many inventors, inventions are great, but inventions alone aren’t businesses. 
  • Two – Ready to meet your soul mate?  It’s you.  While really working more and more on Body Boss during my MBA program at Emory May 2012 through May 2013, I became so much more in tune with myself.  My time during the MBA program actually was one of my greatest – not necessarily for the program itself, but the time I was able to “work on myself”.  That’s actually what I tell everyone about the greatest takeaway from MY time at Emory.
    Be comfortable in your own skin, and be comfortable being yourself.  Not everyone will buy your idea and buy into what you’re trying to accomplish.  You’ve gotta stay true to yourself.  Like business like personality, St. Claire’s point from Ten – Email will be your new best frenemy – “Not everyone is your customer”.
  • Four – Running out of money is a common part of the journey.  St. Claire writes about how dreams of flying high hit rough air with the gas gauge near zero forcing her to land into the “wild, abandoned air strip called Bank Balance: Fourteen Dollars”.
    I kinda like the idea of having less options when you’re starting something out.  Understanding everyone has his/ her own life, but with a more “complex” situation comes more excuses.  By having options or working part-time, you may not feel the pressure to really make your startup work.  When you’re staring at no income but still bills to pay, you start to really push yourself to make it work… else, you crash land and watch as your startup go up in smoke.  Back anyone up into a corner, and you give her no choice but to fight. 
  • Now that I’ve pointed my thoughts around going full-bore on your startup, here’s St. Claire at point Five – Build a hybrid stream of income.  Okay, so obviously hitting some meager amount in your bank where you can’t even pay bills is a bit of a problem.  Something’s gotta give.  St. Claire talks about how picking up some other part-time gig to supplement income could be beneficial – adding financial stress to an already immensely stressful situation can be even more taxing.  She says that if you believe part-time income would serve to put your mind at ease, then do it.
    I think this is sage advice if only you take on legitimately part-time work.  If you’ve just gone ahead and taken full-time work or pulled in part-time work that demands more time than your business, I think that’s a mistake.  Your business should be priority #1 as it requires dedication and care to succeed.  Splitting time, again like said above, may not give you the right motivation to truly push yourself. 
    What else I’ve found is that most people (your customers or even co-workers included) only have so much daylight to work with you.  If you don’t have a majority of your time to work on your business, you may miss prime time where customers need you, or simply, you may be missing prime time for selling.  You’re likely not selling to entrepreneurs like you who are working non-stop.
  • Six – Read Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work. Simply put from St. Claire (and Pressfield’s book) is something I’ve found to be true: “[The biggest] challenge you will deal with in running a business is your own resistance”.  You will no doubt harbor doubts and excuses, and those around you may tell you you won’t succeed or you should go back to a cushy, safe job, but ultimately, it’s your choice.
  • Eleven – Number eleven is a hodge-podge.  From St. Claire: “Work out perplexing issues in your business and it will resolve problems in other areas of your life. Breathe, play, laugh.”  I think the key message here is that if you fix some major areas of your business (you know the problems, probably), you could benefit in alleviating other areas of your life.
    And yet, like the point above about taking on a part-time job if you need to to mitigate financial stress, you should maintain your life still.  That is, still make time to enjoy the little things of life.  That may include exercise, friends, and especially family. 
    What are your thoughts about St. Claire’s 11 lessons?  Any of them resonate more so with you than others?

    I love reading what people think makes an entrepreneur successful.  Mostly because it reminds me everyday that there is no secret formula.  Every article is written to the writer’s perspective, and it really is so different from person to person.  Take the latest article I read: The Single Most Important Habit of Successful Entrepreneurs.  The author, Mr. Dan Kennedy of Entrepreneur, argues that punctuality is [his] criteria.

    Kennedy writes about the relationship between respecting another person’s time with the respect of the other’s opinions.  It’s a relay and reciprocation of respect of the other’s time with the respect of his/ her own time.

    If anything, I would say that being detail-oriented would be my gauge of success.  Aside from potentially the mental aspect of being “gritty”, I have to say that being detail-oriented is my biggest criteria.  I admit — being detailed is kind of a big bucket.  It includes things like being detailed enough to check your work, knowing the background of a company or person you’re interviewing with, having that little extra “oomph” in your dress on a date, or even, yes, being on time because you prepared to take into account traffic.

    Being detail-oriented separates the goods from the Greats.  Most people can do well on tasks they’re given, but think about someone who’s impressed you.  Was it the person who just got it done, or the person who got it done and went above and beyond to make it QUALITY?  It’s well known the little details the late Steve Jobs would require from Apple.  Then there’s Alabama’s Nick Saban and his pursuit of perfection from the start whistle to the end (the game against Auburn not withstanding).

    I’ve noticed this actually in a lot of different quirks that executives watch for including some of the below:

    • My father is the Principal at his electrical and mechanical engineering firm.  I remember when I was younger that he taught me to “complete my circles” when I wrote an “8” or an “O”.  He argued that it was the detail of “closing the loop” that was something he looked for since he deals with sometimes 10’s of pages of size E drawings (34″x44″) with little AutoCAD scribbles needing to be reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.
    • An AVP at a major mobile wireless company scrutinized people’s dress.  Was it sloppy?  Did it look like the prospective partner walked in with a shirt straight off the floor?  What did he drive?  The AVP argued that a person’s dress, the car, etc. it all made some statement about how well he did his work believing that personal life affected work style in addition to the confidence transpired from some material objects.
    • A strength coach once made the remark about his interns who were tasked to wash his shaker bottles.  He said that every shaker bottle had to be washed a certain way believing that if an intern couldn’t even do something as “remedial” as washing a bottle, how could he trust the intern to coach an athlete that could be worth several million dollars?  The money thrust into sports can be so significant that every detail of a strength program had to be carefully put together as to not injure or fatigue the player for game day.
    • One from my earlier life as a consultant, I learned the importance in making quality, consistent deliverables.  My previous boss and one of my clients really demonstrated the importance of consistency.  Our deliverables went beyond just me, but they represented my team as well and even my whole company.  Clients notice the little things including when you’re traversing a presentation and font jumps up and down, left and right… It’s distracting and takes away from the message you’re trying to convey.  Also, if you fail to do a spell check, if this happens from the onset, good luck keeping credibility for the rest of the meeting.
    Any particular quirks or levels of detail you watch for in people?  What have you noticed that has stood out to make people more/ less successful?

    On any given day, there’s about a 60% chance you’ll find me at Starbucks working.  It’s a great, free working space complete with vibrant energy, wake-up aromas, and, especially this time of year, snowman sugar cookies.  Ah, and there’s usually a fascinating collection of people hanging out/ working.  This past Friday night, I was writing some Holiday/ Thank You cards to our customer-partners and other prospects when I was complimented on our cards by a fellow Starbucker (yes, handwriting them – crazy in this day of keyboard and touchscreen typing, I know). 
    My new friend is an MBA student at Georgia State, and was a previous Psychology major in undergrad.  She was worried a bit about having a non-business background and post-graduate opportunities.  This was a great conversation for me because I’ve long appreciated how psychology intertwines with business.  It’s not readily apparent, but it really is.  Talk to any good salesperson, and he’ll know exactly how to talk to you and potentially what makes you tick and tock. 
    Some quick thoughts on how psychology is engrained in entrepreneurship and business overall…
    • Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses.  Assessments like the Myers-Briggs, DISC Profile, Berkman, etc. can be simple ways of finding out more about yourself.  These assessments may help you realize more about yourself to capitalize on your strengths and limit your weaknesses while building your career around your personal interests.  I’d recommend, however, that as much as you limit your weaknesses, to also work on those weakness or what stresses you — this can help you be a stronger performer – “be comfortable being uncomfortable”.
    • Building a Balanced Team.  As a continuation of the Strengths and Weaknesses above, building a team for a startup or small business with balanced strengths and weaknesses allow for a stronger company in addition to its product/ service offering.  For Body Boss, we do actually have differing personalities, and it challenges each of us to think more about why one another feels the way we do when we consider marketing campaigns, licensing and selling opportunities, or even just philosophies that shape our startup’s culture.

    • Put Yourself in Your Customers’ Shoes.  Marketing has psychology all over it.  You have your target audience in mind.  Do you know what language they speak?  What style of communication they perceive?  How about what really resonates with them so that you can grab their attention right away?  Marketing is all about diving into the psyche of your customers and compelling them to engage with you.
    • Sales is All About Your Customer.  Many people will tell you that an effective sales strategy is to have the customer speak.  I think this can be somewhat true in terms of getting engagement.  However, why I like this rule of thumb is so that it gives me a break and a chance to listen to the customer and analyze him/ her.  Customers are all different, and chances are, your product/ service has many value propositions.  By sitting back and listening to your prospects, you can hone in on what matters to them and cater your value message accordingly.
    • Threshold of Pain.  My new friend asked me what signs a successful entrepreneur exhibits/ has.  I have many thoughts to this, not necessarily from my own perspective, but witnessing others.  One of the standout factors?  Mental and emotional fortitude.  Beyond the physical demands of being an entrepreneur (like lack of sleep), it’s the mental and emotional toll of going through the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship including feeling INCREDIBLE when new customers finding out about you to incredibly FRUSTRATED due to low user engagement, then back to a HIGH after a great exhibition at a conference, then dipping back down LOW from unsuccessful trial conversions.  Because much of entrepreneurship is about passions and the creation of your own product, it takes a toll both mentally and emotionally.  I recommend you watch Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED talk about this in “The Key to Success?  Grit”.

    A company, a product… in the end, behind the curtains are people.  Perhaps this is also why psychology actually plays a significant role in business.  For my fellow Starbucker, I think having a background in psychology will give her a different perspective, and with an MBA to help round out her business abilities, she’ll have a strong platform to build on.

    What are your thoughts on how psychology plays a role in business and entrepreneurship?  Where else do you feel psychology plays a critical role in business?

    (Source: http://superblog.crazyengineers.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/wrong-problem.jpg)

    Quartz isn’t a publication that I’m well-versed in, however, I stumbled upon an article on qz.com by Drew Williams arguing some of the validity of marketing expenditures for startups – “$1 is too much for most startups to spend on marketing”. Williams is an entrepreneur and a co-author of Feed the Startup Beast: A 7 Step Guide to Big, Hairy, Outrageous Sales Growth

    Now, the title slapped me in the face as one of those, “what??  $1?!  Too much?!”  And the exclamatory questions continued.  But after reading the article, I fully get it, and now, his advice and this article is one of my favorites.  The gist of the argument is that startups tend to spend a lot of money on marketing looking for growth when the real deal in achieving growth and sustainability is simply taking a closer inspection of the products and services provided by the companies. 
    Williams cites, “over half of all startups are gone within five years” and “only 30% ever make it to 10 years”.
    These are pretty scary numbers, but sharing an anecdote where a company was going spend lots of money with Williams and his marketing team on marketing services to drive sales, Williams uncovered a problem much deeper and far greater – existing customers weren’t signing up for recurring services.  So here, you have a business that is looking to grow when the momentum they’re trying to build on wasn’t actually momentum at all other than the initial spike because customers weren’t in love with what they bought.  There were problems including the payment processing that just scared customers from signing up for recurring services.
    I can appreciate this deeply.  One of the most exciting things you’ll ever experience is the early sales after you’ve launched your business.  You start with nothing, and build it into a product that people are actually buying.  But what really discourages you and drives you to go nuts is watching user engagement fall after that initial excitement.  In some ways, you want to say, “bah, they just don’t get it… they aren’t appreciating what we’re doing”, and it’s “easy” to try to move on and try to make more sales.  However, this is incredibly terrible thinking.  As Williams points out, sales almost means nothing if you can’t even ride on the success and recurring services from existing customers.
    The companies that succeed (those that exist after years and years including those acquired), are those who listen to the customers.  Successful products and services evolve as the market starts showing you what is lacking in your service or product offering.  In our case with Body Boss, we’ve had to continually refine our app.  It’s a million times better than what we first launched it as.  Getting insight from our customers is critical as we, too, have seen user engagement wane.  And sometimes, it’s hard to get our customers to open up with what needs to be simplified, fixed, or pursued otherwise. 
    The funny thing is when you start to rationalize that your product is perfect and the market is wrong.  It’s really a poor excuse. Your product is supposed to address the market, and hopefully, a pain-point of the market.  The product doesn’t make the market.  For Body Boss and for other startups, it’s important to take a hard look at your product and ask your customers how to make a more compelling product.  Williams provides three simple questions that should help you communicate with your customers and tell you if you’re going down the right path:
    1.      “What should we stop doing?”
    2.      “What should we keep doing?”
    3.      “What should we start doing?”
    This also leads to a couple other points that will be talked about in later posts:
    1. DO YOUR RESEARCH – I don’t mean to necessarily go to the library or Google and start researching market sizes, key words, etc.  I mean doing real hands-on research vis-à-vis talking to your potential customers.  They will tell you what people really want.  But be careful to also not take just general “I like that” vs. what people will actually pay for.
    2. Depending on the market you’re trying to approach or if you’re trying change actual PROCESSES of how a potential market currently operates, it may be critical to communicative first customers.

    Those are obviously not the only two critical components to building a desirable product.  However, as I read Williams’ article, I thought more about my own experiences and others’.  With the abundance of data thrown at you with marketing efforts, really your best marketing device is your product or service offering.  Networking plays such a huge role in your business’s growth in the form of simple word-of-mouth.  So take care of your most important marketing engine before you plow money into the wrong area.
    So what are your thoughts?  Have you seen where marketing budget was just thrown at the business to boost sales when perhaps the problem was truly in the current product or service offering?