Customer development makes you think about distribution
One (lesser acknowledged) benefit of doing customer development is that it makes you think about distribution strategy and your ability to execute it.
When trying to set up one on one conversations with even 10 of your target customers before you have a product, you’re forced to think about your ability to acquire customers when you do have a product.
One mistake I’ve seen entrepreneurs make is executing a strategy to acquire their first million users before they have their first 10 users. The way you acquire your first 100 or so users is much different than acquiring your next million.
Early on you can do things that aren’t really scalable to limit the time and money you invest in to something before validating the concept.
I believe it’s best to serve a customer where the team has existing relationships or access to customers. For example, someone who’s been working with lawyers all their life and knows a million lawyers would be better suited to start a company servicing lawyers than someone who hasn’t.
We need to fix our patent system
Startups are a lifeblood of our economy. They have have a major impact on job creation and bring products to market that improve quality of life.
“Patent trolls” are killing startups. A patent troll is a term for a company or individual that owns the rights to patents, but rather than building a company with them, simply uses them to sue people who are.
It requires startups to either spend time and money fighting in court (which can take years and cost millions of dollars), or pay the troll. Both of which can completely destroy a company.
We need to change laws around patents to prevent trolls from destroying companies. We should be valuing company building, not “ideas.” Making these changes will promote job creation and innovation.
One stock I’d own for the next 30 years
If I could only own stock in one company for the next 30 years, it would be Google.
They have some unbelievably valuable assets and business lines that benefit from so much of how people are using the Internet. The foothold they have would be extremely hard for any competitor to begin to penetrate.
They also continue to innovate into new areas Self-driving cars, Google Glass (which I’m extremely bullish on!), Google Ventures/Startup lab, etc. Their distribution channels and control over search, gives them a strong competitive advantage in so many new verticals.
Contrary to most, I’m actually bullish on Google+ in comparison to Facebook because of how they’re surfacing content from Google+ in search. Anyone using social networking for marketing purposes now needs to be on Google+. Facebook is at the top of the world right now and Google+ has not been adopted widely at all. I believe that’s mostly “baked in” to the price of the respective stocks. So there’s much a much better risk/reward in betting that the trends will reverse.
Conclusion: Google is a strong and defensible business and I believe their well-poised for sustainable long-term growth.
One of the most valuable books I’ve ever read
I can’t recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen enough. It has helped me tremendously.
In today’s society, the quantity of information we consumer and the speed at which we consume it is far greater than it was for our ancestors. And we haven’t yet evolved to be able to optimize for it. We need new tools and systems to help us. Getting Things Done provides an outstanding framework for managing time and tasks and maximizing productivity.
This book has helped me 1) become far more productive, 2) avoid mistakes and forgetting things, and 3) feel less stressed and overwhelmed and I have a lot on my plate.
The last benefit might not be what people think of when they think of this book, but by nature of David’s system you’re keeping to-dos and information off your mind until you need it.
Anyone who’s even moderately busy should read this book!
Don’t underestimate the value of good advice
While it may seem easy for someone to sit down and give you advice, it doesn’t mean it can’t be extremely valuable.
If you can talk to someone who’s spent a long time learning and doing what you’re doing, it can save you a ton of time and mistakes and help you tremendously.
Not all advice is good advice…but when you get good advice, soak it in. Learn from what they did well and what they wish they had done differently. I’m very thankful for the great advice I’ve been given over the years.
Speaking of advice, Kevin Dewalt is working on a new startup called sohelpful.me and I’m one of the first people to have a profile…check out my profile at http://www.sohelpful.me/mikefishbein to schedule time with me if you want some free advice! :)
If it wasn’t hard there wouldn’t be an opportunity
If it was easy, someone else would have already done it. Or competition will be extremely high, reducing upside potential.
Whether it’s sitting through long sales cycles, solving for a two-sided marketplace, legal risk, achieving critical mass, etc, valuable opportunities will always have challenges associated with them. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Anything worth fighting for will require just that…a fight.
The key is to pick challenges that are less difficult for you than others, more tolerable to you than others, overestimated by others, and/or something you love doing.
If you have the risk tolerance, look for opportunities with a bit of “hair” on them. But make sure the upside matches the challenge. If it’s not hard, it’s probably not worth doing at all. And if you can find something you love doing, your overall reward will be higher.
My antidote for burnout
I hate to admit it, but every once in a while I get burnt out. It’s only natural after long periods of being busy with work and fun. Fortunately I’ve figured out how to cure it when I do.
1. See friends and family
Spending quality time with friends and family is always fun and important. It gives me energy and allows me to take my mind off things.
2. Get a change of scenery
The city can be chaotic and overwhelming for some people after a while. Getting some fresh air someplace outside the city every once in a while is very relaxing and can change your frame of mind from the routine.
3. “Digital detox”
Zero cellphone or computer usage for at least 24 hours. Turn them off and completely check out from work and e-mails. I was surprised how great this is.
4. Catch up on sleep
(not much more to say about this one :)
After doing the above I’ll come back completely rejuvenated and stronger than before.
I also take preemptive actions to improve my energy levels and endurance and minimize burnout. For example taking shorter breaks periodically before I really need a longer one, exercising enough but not too much (future blog post to come on this), sleeping enough, eating well, planning my workload according to how I expect my energy levels to be, etc.
Social pressure for re-engagement in Quora’s “Ask to Answer” function
Quora’s “Ask to Answer” function is a great illustration of using social pressure to drive re-engagement.
It’s first important to understand how Quora works and how the Ask to Answer function feeds into the overall product strategy.
Quora is a question and answer site created, edited, and organized by a community of users.
On the surface, Ask to Answer is designed to get users to create more content. Content is obviously necessary to Quora because question/search experiences that don’t find an answer do not deliver value to the user. However, a deeper engagement loop drives users back to the site based on explicit social pressure from one user directly asking another (and then waiting for the answer).
To encourage production of content, Quora uses several triggers, namely:
Allowing users to add questions - becomes a seed to increase production on the network
Allowing users to follow questions - and receive an e-mail when new content becomes available
Allowing users to ask other users to answer a question (“Ask to Answer”) - encourages speedier delivery of value, and therefore return usage for the consumer, and adds social pressure for the “asked” user to return to the product
Ask to Answer
User Experience for Producer
In addition to triggering the consumer to return, the Ask to Answer function puts strong social pressure on the producer to return to the product and create content.
From the perspective of the producer, the experience starts with an e-mail notification.
The subject line starts with the name of the person that asked to answer. This signals that there’s a person, not just the product, asking for re-engament. The body of the e-mail offers “credits” for answering the question and the call to action is for me to view the question. This is designed to make the producer feel honored to be seen as an expert and excited about the opportunity to receive the reward of credits.
Upon arriving on Quora, the producer sees a notification. This gives the user the feeling that there’s something that needs to be complete. It’s similar to the Gmail inbox notification. It gives the user a desire to click it and complete it.
The producer is also in anticipation of a variable reward. The variable reward in this case is the amount of upvotes received. Variable rewards, as opposed to known rewards, have been shown to increase engagement because of the desire for the user to see what the reward will be. Facebook uses “Likes.”
While in this state of bliss and anticipation (dopamine), Quora asks the user for an investment. They want the user to take time to write a thoughtful answer.
They want this investment because answering will not only increase the likelihood of the producer returning, it also improves the experience for consumers, by delivering the value they desire.
Branch, a similar Q&A site, but with private threads, publicly displays who’s been asked to answer but hasn’t yet. This adds even more social pressure for the producer to return. They’re returning because they want to avoid the public shame of being disrespectful to the asker.
The Ask to Answer function is a great social hook for driving repeat engagement with the product. With Quora, the content is text, but the same principles apply to other social products and networks with different kind of content - such as photos or “pins”.
Not all traction is created equal
Traction, while exciting for a startup, is not always good if it’s not within the scope of the the company and product strategy. If it’s outside of scope it can be a drain on time and resource, can cause the team to be slower to react to the right opportunities, and can generate lower returns than the company’s ultimate vision.
It can be especially challenging in large markets with multiple stakeholders to stay focused on solving the problem you set out to. When you’re doing customer development and talking to other stakeholders, opportunities can present themselves that you didn’t initially plan to address.
Taking these tangental opportunities can be a great way to bootstrap, however I suggest making sure you’re able cut things off when the higher return opportunities present themselves and making sure it’s not such a time sink that it prevents you from executing on your ultimate vision. The most notorious example of this bootstrapping strategy is AirBnb selling cereal to keep themselves afloat.
Bottom line: stay focused on solving one problem for one customer. Recruit the team and build the product that will help you execute on that vision. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
6 Tools for managing your professional network
1.) Job Change Alerts
Job Change Alerts sends you a daily e-mail listing updates your LinkedIn connections have made to their profiles. It makes it easy to stay on top of your network and give them personalized attention. Someone changing jobs is a great reason to send an e-mail and catch up.
Followup.cc is a reminder service for your e-mail. When you send an e-mail to [anydateortime]@followup.cc, the thread will return to your inbox as indicated. For example, email@example.com will return the thread in 1 week. October31@followup.cc will return the e-mail on October 31st.
Applying the tool to managing relationships…when a thread with an important contact comes to an end, I forward it to 1month at followup.cc to get a reminder to re-connect with the person in a month if I haven’t already. There’s less of a need to check a CRM or spreadsheet (see below) - I just get it as a reminder in my inbox.
3.) Google Spreadsheet
I keep a Google Spreadsheet listing everyone in my network that I want to stay in touch with in any way. Columns include: name, company, industry, role, what they’re looking for, a blurb about them, and date of last contact.
I regularly check the spreadsheet to see who I need to catch up with. When I meet someone in, say, healthcare, I can search my spreadsheet for other people in healthcare that they should connect with. Having a blurb about the person makes it easy for me to broker the e-mail intro.
A spreadsheet plus followup.cc delivers at least 90% of the value of any fancy CRM.
Scheduling meetings and events between busy people is a huge pain. It usually requires several e-mails back and fourth discussing potential times and locations. Doodle radically simplifies the process for all parties by displaying your busy and available times on a calendar.
It can put a burden on the person your scheduling with and be perceived as impersonal to just say “here’s my calendar, pick whatever time is best for you,” so I’ll usually suggest a few times and offer my calendar if they want to find a time that’s better.
Here’s my profile just in case you want to schedule a meeting with me :) http://doodle.com/mfishbein (Note: using this for social purposes is often perceived as obnoxious :)
Newsle sends you an e-mail anytime any of your LinkedIn connections are in the press. Like Job Change Alerts, this helps you stay on top of what people are up to and gives you a great opportunity to reach out with a nice message.
As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s very important to prepare for meetings by learning more about everyone you’re meeting with. Prepwork sends you an e-mail in the morning with publicly available information on anyone who’s on your calendar that day. You can also forward any e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to get summaries of everyone on the thread.
What Exactly Is “Hustle”?
My latest via Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-b-fishbein/what-exactly-is-hustle_b_3000093.html
This probably my favorite post since I started writing. It’s intended to be “Animal Planet style” narration. You can imagine a guy with an accent talking over video of a hustler in action haha.
It was interesting to see how many of my previous posts fit into this one. This post definitely gives you an idea of my mentality. I think I’m sort of a “post-hustler.” I’ve started to round of some of my rough edges so to speak.
Two of my favorite quotes are:
“The best way to ensure that lucky things happen is to make sure a lot of things happen”
“The harder you work, the luckier you get”
You greatly increase the number of opportunities you have for “getting lucky” by increasing the number of opportunities you give yourself to get lucky.
It’s amazing to think about how many opportunities I’ve been presented with and great people I’ve met just as a result of putting myself out there.
I like to call it “saying yes” — being receptive to new opportunities. When a friend invites you to a random party, say yes. Instead of watching tv at home, go out and do something.
When you’re really busy you can’t “say yes” to as many things. You have to be more selective with your time. But I still try to do things like taking the occasional coffee meeting with someone I don’t see myself working with right away if I see potential for further down the road. Or maybe they know someone I’d want to meet.
Bottom line: “say yes,” go out, organize stuff, and otherwise put yourself out there to increase your chances of getting lucky.
My favorite productivity hack: stop watching TV
Of all the productivity hacks I’ve learned and implemented, the one that has increased my productivity the most, by far, has been to stop watching TV.
I used to watch TV at night before going to sleep. Now, I fill that time with three things that are more important and fun: my personal life, my professional life, and sleep.
Because I know there’s nothing to do at my apartment besides sleep, I’m sure to go see friends or just work more.
If I do get home early, instead of watching TV, I’ll just lay down, and more often than not I’ll fall asleep…earlier than I would have if I started watching TV. Getting enough sleep, of course, makes me more productive by giving me more energy and focus when I’m awake.
I would also watch TV in the morning while eating breakfast. Now I listen to music - which gives me more energy to start the day.
The one downside is that I often find myself “out of the loop” when conversations turn to TV. That’s ok. Authenticity is best.
The average American watches 2.8 hours of TV per day. Watching just one less hour of TV per day adds up to over two weeks of time per year! Just think of how much you get done in any given two week period (the equivalent of 3 weeks if you’re sleeping for 8 hours per day)!
Conclusion: Eliminating TV, an activity that adds close to zero value to my life, has given me more time to focus on things that are more important to me.
Real Money Gaming: The Next Billion Dollar Opportunity?
My latest via Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-b-fishbein/online-gambling-startups_b_2956302.html
Real money gaming/online gambling will definitely present some amazing opportunities for entrepreneurs in the coming years. It’s a space we’ve been exploring at Casual Corp for some time, as it’s well within our expertise. I’m excited to see how things will play out.
How NOT to recruit a technical co-founder
I’ve never co-founded a company so I can’t say I’m an expert on finding a technical co-founder, but I’ve heard enough horror stories from my developer friends who have been recruited by “business guys” to know what NOT to do.
If your reason for wanting a technical co-founder is to “get your product built” or because investors say you need one, you’re doing it all wrong
Yes, you will need one in order to raise money from an even moderately knowledgeable investor, and yes, they will be responsible building product…but a technical co-founder is actually a lot more important than that…and there is a lot to consider when partnering with one (or anyone early on in your company).
The role of the non-technical co-founder
A non-technical co-founder/CTO will be responsible for a lot more than just building product. If the non-technical co-founder doesn’t have product management expertise, the CTO will essentially be head of product, which entails managing a team of developers, recruiting a team of developers, and making key product decisions.
Importance of a strong relationship
Your co-founder will be your partner for the life of your company. Make sure you have a strong relationship and share the same vision. I’ve heard a few horror stories about how co-founder disputes have destroyed entire companies. They’re not your employee…it’s way more than that.
Present an opportunity
I think showing how great an opportunity the company is is the best way to recruit someone. Make them want to join you.
Good tech talent will always have other opportunities - either at a more well-capitalized company, more stable company, or in starting their own thing. Why should they spend their time on your opportunity?
Get traction without him/her to prove that you can carry your weight. You’d be surprised how far you can get without even writing a line of code.
I’d advise against concepts that can’t be validated without tech. Leverage your strengths - find an idea that lets you use them.
You want a co-founder that’s passionate about the vision of the company. Will he wake up at 3am when the site goes down? I want a co-founder that’s vested in the vision — so I’m not asking them to just “build my product,” I’m actually asking for way more.
If possible, I think it’s best to have a co-founder in mind before you even get serious about starting the company. Have someone you can explore ideas with and give yourself time to get to know each other before committing to starting a company together.
Note: I’m not looking for a technical co-founder