The past 30 days
I like putting out products. I live for the launch. And frequently I am called in to help out with a product or service that has stalled. For whatever reason, the team can’t launch.
And the problem I run in to time and time again is that the stakeholder is trying to make it perfect for an audience that is too large.
The solution is always make the audience smaller.
As small as you can.
And when you think you have the audience as small as you can.
Make it smaller still.
Then make your product so that it captivates that audience.
And then iterate your product so that you can grow your audience.
“You’re just a programmer.”
“You’re just the janitor.”
“You’re just a code monkey.”
“You’re just the girl that gets coffee.”
“You’re just an artist.”
“You’re just a…”
I don’t demand to be respected.
I demand that you are respectful.
The moment you show disrespect, the moment you say “you’re just a…” is the point that you have stopped being respectful and the point when we part company.
Because one day you’re going to say “You’re just a customer.”
How do VCs shower?
We won’t actually tell you whether we shower or not because we want to keep our options open just in case your start-up begins seeing traction.
Similar to my thoughts about a statement being racist or sexist, if you are attempting to patent anything and your uniqueness claims can be replaced with “because I wrote it in French!” or “it’s made for <insert specific demographic here>!” then your patent is not unique and any argument you can bring up to state why it is unique is invalid.
How do you quickly identify a pedant?
Offer to hand over a cheque for $100,00,000 and see if they point out your mistake.
How do you quickly identify an entrepreneur?
Offer to make an investment for $100,00,000 and see if they take your money.
The sad thing about society is that most people will stand around belittling you for the obvious typing error rather than taking the money.
How do Silicon Beach area entrepreneurs shower?
Same as you silly.
First we get nice at wet.
Then we tell you how awesome we are and why you should work for us for free.
How do San Francisco Bay area entrepreneurs shower?
Same as you silly.
First we get nice and wet.
Then we have you sign an NDA
Something I’ve noticed over the years of developing software is that often users will request features they don’t actually want.
“If only the software had this feature, I’d use it.”
What the user is saying is really “I don’t like your software, and somehow I feel I have to justify it by claiming it lacks feature X.”
And as product developers and entrepreneurs we take the statement at face-value and assume “if we add feature X, that user will suddenly start using our software.”
Rarely has a non-user of any software product ever actually refused to use the software because it lacked a certain feature.
When casting around for product ideas, if you cannot say for sure what is a good product idea, I hold the belief that identifying the bad product ideas is a valuable fallback position.
How do you identify a bad product idea?
Ask yourself this: “Does this solve an urgent problem for the potential customers?”
If the answer is no, it’s a pretty sure bet it’s a lousy idea.
Do you think anybody could learn to swim if they never get in the water?
How often have you met anyone who is a good swimmer but has never put even their big toe in to a body of water larger than a bath tub?
The likelihood of running in to someone(given that nobody is in possession of a comically sized, over-large bathtub) who can profess to be a good swimmer that has never gotten in to a pool or a lake or other large body of water is vanishingly small.
The epitome of “fake it until you make it.”
Perhaps they are waiting to encounter the perfectly proportioned body of water – not too deep, not too wide.
Perhaps they are waiting for a body of water that is just the right temperature.
Perhaps they have found the properly sized body of water that makes them feel comfortable.
And it is of an ideal temperature.
But you know, they just have to now locate the right jumping off point.
Shouldn’t be too hasty when looking for the right jumping off point.
The point about swimming is that you cannot learn “the how of swimming” without actually getting in the water.
This is a metaphor of how to launch a start-up.
And the only question I have for you is, “Why are you still dry?”
You say “disruption.”
I say “revolution.”
It doesn’t matter what dress it wears, when the dress comes off, it’s going to upset a lot of people.
Some people are going to get hurt (financially if not physically).
And others will demand the dress be put back on.
But one day we will wake up and realize “this is better, this is the new status quo, this is how it should have been all along.”
Until the next one.
Donkeys don’t evolve.
“You mean jackasses. Because they’re sterile.”
Jackasses evolve because horses evolve and donkeys could evolve if we let them.
Cats evolve – we want a prettier cat, a fluffier cat, a hypoallergenic cat.
Dogs evolve – we want a sleeker dog, a faster dog, a more aggressive dog.
Horses evolve because we want a faster horse, a taller horse, a smaller horse.
But donkeys don’t evolve because we are happy with what a donkey is.
Donkeys are, by definition, the status quo of evolution.
We (humans) cannot imagine a differently shaped donkey, a faster donkey, a stronger donkey, a taller donkey, or a donkey that is less stubborn.
Maybe scratch that last notion.
Donkeys can pull the exact amount of material we need them to pull.
Donkeys move at the exact speed we need them to move.
When we think of a better donkey, we think of something different.
Something that isn’t a donkey.
This artificial limitation we impose on “what a donkey is” gets applied to our company too.
When we look around our company and think “we need a donkey to move stuff from here to there” we artificially limit ourselves by what can be moved from here to there, and how fast it can be moved.
When we want to move more, or we want to move it faster, we think of a different donkey.
But we don’t buy a camel, or an ox, because we don’t want a camel (they spit too much) and we don’t want an ox (because they sweat too much).
So we stick with the donkey.
And we get stuck with what a donkey can do because that is what donkeys were evolved to do.
How many problems in your company are being solved by donkeys?
I bang the drum quite a bit about “just get it launched” when it comes to putting your service or product in front of customers.
A common objection is “but it’s not ready!” because the entrepreneur is looking to make it perfect for as large an audience as possible.
My preference is always “launch something, anything!” and do it for as small an audience as possible.
If you can get one or two people interested and paying attention and using whatever you have, even if the product development is only half-baked, that is valuable feedback about the direction the product is going in.
A good investor is akin to a good librarian.
Good librarians don’t just show you the books, they guide you, nudge you, are a trove of information and knowledge, they take you directly to the information you need and introduce you to information you never thought about.
A good investor doesn’t just put in money, they guide you, nudge, are a trove of information and knowledge, they take you directly to the connections you need and introduce you to opportunities you never thought about.
We should aim to be confused rather than critical.
(Non-constructive) Criticism is pointing out what you don’t like.
Confusion is pointing out what you don’t understand.
When we say “I don’t understand” the product can be made better.
When we say “You should change this” we’re really saying “I don’t like it.”
Modern chatbots are the software development equivalent of “Please listen carefully as our options have changed. Press 1 to…”
They aren’t technically challenging, they aren’t very interesting, and within a decade they will have been replaced by a button that doesn’t work.
No, I don’t want to talk to a human being.
Yes, I’d much rather just text my request.
But it would be so much easier to just hit one of half-dozen buttons and be done with it.
Unless your process walkthrough pipeline is deep, chat interfaces do not make much sense.
If you are going to ask a mentor to lunch to pick their brains for several hours, I highly recommend you pay for their lunch.
Professional etiquette and all that.
After two hours of ignoring the bill, someone starts to look cheap.
I have always found it hard to teach software engineers that “measure twice, cut once” is a good rule to live by.
If you don’t trust someone enough to create extraordinary work, why are you expecting them to create it?
The easy part is the first 90%.
The hard part is the last 10%.
Almost everyone can give the first 90%, and there is no price differentiation for you as the product owner or service seller.
Until you hit that last 10%.
And then everything changes.
And people start paying attention.
And are willing to pay so much more, for only a little bit more.
The problem with thinking about success, when you aren’t successful, is that it can be overwhelming.
You get so wrapped up in wondering how you will enjoy your success, you ignore all the work it will take to make yourself a success.
And once your starry eyed idea of your future success has worn off, you forget about doing any work to become the success you wanted.
You’re on to a different dream of success.
It’s like a mash-up of Groundhog Day and Fletch playing over and over in your head.
One day you decide to go running.
You’ve never run for any length of time at any period of your life.
You put on your special running clothes and your running shoes, and you run.
You run to the end of the block and you’re winded.
You walk slowly back home.
“Well that didn’t work out.” You declare out loud and you give up.
You and I both know, that’s not how running works.
Running works by doing the same thing again tomorrow.
Tomorrow you run to the end of the block and you walk slowly back home.
And the next day you do the same thing.
A few weeks later, you can run two blocks.
Or maybe you run to the end of the block, and then you run back home instead of walking slowly.
That’s now two blocks you can run.
And a few weeks later, you can run around the block, no back and forth.
And a few weeks later you run your first mile.
Then you run two miles.
Then five. Then maybe ten.
You get better at running, you get fitter, you run farther, and you run faster, by repeatedly, deliberately practicing your running.
The same thing applies in building a product or service and making your startup a success.
Every day, your startup needs to put on its running shoes, and run, to the end of the block.
And walk slowly back home.
“Like a small pebble that begins an avalanche.”
I love that quote.
It encapsulates an entire business philosophy.
Rather than trying to start an avalanche by pushing a big rock down a hill — which even though it is downhill, it still means getting a big rock rolling, you instead throw small pebbles into a pile.
Each pebble resting precariously on the others.
Until one topples.
And finally, you have a large avalanche that sweeps away the even larger rock as though it were no more than the tiniest of pebbles.
A through Z.
I have several channels I communicate with people through.
Email, phone calls, coffee meetings, blog posts, LinkedIn status updates.
Each day I focus on one channel.
And I go A through Z.
I write out 26 letters as bullet points.
I do 26 positive things in that channel.
And then I stop.
Then I go do whatever takes my fancy – writing, playing guitar, building something electronic, design some furniture, write some software, take a walk, more emails, more phone calls, cooking.
But I don’t do any of whatever takes my fancy until I’ve put an item I have completed next to each letter of the alphabet.
26 separate, positive things in whatever channel I am trying to communicate.
A daily habit to do better, to do more, to move forward, to deliver, to ship.
P.S. This blog post is letter P by the way. Ten more blog posts to go before I quit for the day.
I’d rather lose the short-term battle for an immediate, one-off sale and win the long-term battle for a continuing relationship where you buy from me repeatedly.
Big breaks on the road to success are like glaciers.
Big breaks come very slowly over time.
Last week the glacier was over there.
Yesterday the glacier was over there.
Today the glacier was over there.
And tomorrow we expect the same glacier to still be over there.
You’re working hard, every day, doing all the right things and many of the wrong things, and nothing seems to work.
There’s no “Aha!” moment.
And then, one day, you look up from your hard work when someone interrupts you by saying “Hey, what’s the secret to being as successful as you are?”
You think, “Me, a success? I’m not a success. I’m just here, running as fast as I can to stay in place, trying to figure out how to be a success.”
We look over to the glacier and notice it is no longer where we last saw it.
A small cluster of bars and restaurants and suddenly the local area has nightlife.
A smattering of boutique clothing stores and all the young, hip skinny people show up.
A couple of good coffee shops within a three block radius and suddenly we are flocked by hipsters.
That last one is probably a bad example.
But… gravitational centres.
You don’t move to Bumblefudge, Nebraska and complain about the lack of acting jobs in big budget films.
Where do you go?
You want to work in advertising?
Then Madison Avenue (is that still a thing) is your destination.
Always gravitational centres.
You want funding for your start-up?
Where do you go?
You want to hire the best tech workers for your start-up?
Where do you go?
Now if only someone could convince me that taking their investment money would be worth the risk, we might find synergy. 🙂
Shipping > Starting > Idea.
If you aren’t sure what that means, ask a software developer.
Potential CEOs, please do not ever utter the words “and then we’ll hopefully get in to an accelerator” when pitching me to be your CTO.
You just sound incredibly naive.
After founding six start-ups, after being early hire at six other start-ups, after advising, mentoring and helping grow dozens more start-ups, and after delivering hundreds of digital product experiences and services, joining an accelerator is the last thing I am interested in.
I still have a lot to learn, but I am not going to learn it joining an accelerator.
I am going to learn it by getting my hands dirty and building something.
“But… but… the connections! We get access to people.”
Oh really? Who do you want to talk to? I’ll call them for you – I keep their direct numbers and Skype names in my phone.
And if I don’t know them, I’ll figure out a way to get to know them.
If you ever find yourself in a meeting where you cannot identify the person who can make a decision, leave as quickly as you can.
What you have stumbled in to is a committee.
And committees are only really good at deciding what colour the bike sheds should be.