Do More Faster, Part 1 – Idea and Vision

How can you accelerate your startup or new product?  Ship it, share it and get feedback.  “Many entrepreneurs are hesitant to share too much about what they’re doing and, even when they do, they hold back some of their thoughts even when talking to people who could be incredibly helpful to them.”  So say Nate Abbott and Natty Zola, co-founders of Everlater (acquired by MapQuest in 2012) in a great book Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup by Brad Feld and David Cohen.

do-more-faster

The book, published in 2010, is a series of short essays for entrepreneurs on vision, managing people, building products, fundraising and staying sane.  Its a great startup resource, and a good introduction to TechStars.  The book is organized into themes, and today I’ll share a little about the first section of the book “Idea and Vision”.

Idea and Vision

“Most people think that the core of a startup is a singular amazing world-changing and earth-shattering idea. It turns out that this idea is almost always completely wrong. … Startups are about testing theories and quickly pivoting based on feedback and data.  Only through hundreds of small – and sometimes large – adjustments does the seemingly overnight success emerge.”  So begins the series of essays on Idea and Vision.

  • Trust Me, Your Idea Is Worthless (Tim Ferriss)

“Almost anyone can (and has!) come up with a great idea, but only a skilled entrepreneur can execute it. Skilled in this case doesn’t mean experienced; it means flexible and action-oriented.”

  • Start With Your Passion (Kevin Mann, founder Graphic.ly)

“Every single day I am excited to go to work. I get to create and innovate in a sector I love. … If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, it won’t mean enough to you to succeed. Startup founders choose an insanely difficult path, so passion is a prerequisite.” 

  • Look for the Pain (Isaac Saldana, founder SendGrid)

“When you’re selling a solution to a problem and you find that nobody is saying no to your prices, you’ve found some serious pain. We’re building SendGrid to solve a very specific problem that I discovered just by paying attention.”

  • Get Feedback Early (Nate Abbott & Natty Zola, co-founders of Everlater)

“Entrepreneurs overvalue their ideas. They should be doing the opposite and shout about what they are working on from any rooftop they can find.  Getting feedback and new ideas is the lifeblood of any startup. There is no point in living in fear of someone stealing your idea.”

  • Usage Is Like Oxygen for Ideas (Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress)

“You can never fully anticipate how an audience is going to react to something you’ve created until it’s out there. That means every moment you’re working on something without it being in the public arena, it’s actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world. By shipping early and often you have the unique competitive advantage of getting useful feedback on your product.”

“You think your busines is different, you’re going to have only one shot at press, and everything needs to be perfect for when TechCruch brings the world to your door. But if you have only one shot at getting an audience, you are doing it wrong.”

“In a rapid iteration environment, the most important thing isn’t necessarily how perfect code is when you send it out, but how quickly you can revert.”

  • Forget the Kitchen Sink (David Cohen, co-founder of TechStars)

“Most people use a particular service because it does one thing really, really well.”

“Small things, like a microscopic world, almost always turn out to be bigger than you think when you zoom in” (quoting Ev Williams)

  • Find That One Thing They Love (Darren Crystal, co-founder Photobucket)

“We noticed that people were doing something that we didn’t want them to do. …  At first, our natural instinct was to shut this behavior down because it’s not what we wanted our users to do. Luckily, we didn’t act on that instinct quickly. Instead, we started watching what our users were doing, and we discovered that most of them didn’t even care about the photo sharing site. Instead our services turned out to be a way for our users to show their photos on sites like eBay, LiveJournal, Craigslist, and social networking sites like MySpace.”

  • You Never Need Another Original Idea (Niel Robertson, founder of Trada)

“As long as I listen to my customers, I never need to have another original idea. It’s a simple concept. Go get customers, then listen. It really can be that simple. The agbility to listen is an important skill for any startup founder. We’re all accustomed to trying to persuade people to try our products, invest in our companies, or to listen to what we have to say. If you’re doing that with customers, you’re doing it backward. Too many startups build things that they think their customers will want. If you’re looking for creative ideas that can make your company better, simply spend time with your customers. It’s not rocket science, but I’m always surprised by how few companies are really good at doing this”

[I would note that you're not listen to customers for solutions, you're listening for their unsolved and important problems. They don't define the solution, they identify the problem for you to solve.]

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The Original iPhone was a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

cellphone-apple-iphone-(2007)

In 2007 Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone.  I wasn’t a big fan of Apple at the time and didn’t notice the iPhone until iPhone 3 was released (I was using Palm phones at that time).  But yesterday I happened to come across the original iPhone release keynote and it was eye opening.

The original iPhone was very different than its peers at the time.  For a new product Peter Thiel says that it’s important to have a secret.  He often asks entrepreneurs “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”  Jim Goetz from Sequoia mentions having a unique point of view.  For the iPhone the unique point of view was:

  • There’s no need for a keyboard, the touchscreen can suffice
  • A mobile phone can support a full web browser, and this will be valuable to users

Because Steve Jobs and Apple are the examples of innovation par-excellence, they’re often used as examples to prove or disprove various Product Management ideas.  One question that comes up regularly is whether the original iPhone was a minimum viable product (in the Lean Startup sense):

The minimum viable product is that product which has just those features and no more that allows you to ship a product that early adopters see and, at least some of whom resonate with, pay you money for, and start to give you feedback on. — Eric Ries

An MVP allows you to validate your market hypothesis (that a market exists for this product) and the technical risk (that the product can be engineered).

Elia Freedman provides some great arguments for the idea that the original iPhone was indeed an MVP:

Here’s a device that had a limited number of apps, no way to load more (except as browser apps, which few were going to do), no copy and paste, no notifications, no connection to an Exchange server back-end. The entire product was a MVP trial balloon and it is easy to discern the hypotheses. Would people be okay without a keyboard? Would the full Internet really work on a portable device? Could we charge a full price for the device so we can minimize the carriers? Can we get carriers to allow us to be the ones who distribute the OS? Will people accept the phone as an app? Will people accept using the browser for apps instead of loading them onto the device like every general-purpose computing platform before it? Will people prefer to carry a single device that does everything over distinct devices like iPods?

But could Apple have released something simpler to test these hypotheses?  Perhaps.  They could have licensed a mobile OS and manufactured a touchscreen device for it.  That’s what a smaller startup might have done if they felt strongly that all-touchscreen was the way to go.  But as the Windows 8 debacle has shown, a touchscreen OS is fundamentally different than a non-touchscreen OS, and mixing the two conceptual models does not work well.   Also, Apple didn’t want to let their competitors know what they were up to – not that that would have made a difference; Nokia, Palm, BlackBerry and Microsoft all laughed at the first iPhone (at least publicly).

Perhaps Apple could have launched an iPhone with even less features:

Considering integration of touch phone capabilities, iPod features and internet were the key selling points of iPhone at the time of its launch, Apple could have tested waters with a viable product that only had one of these options or everything on an inferior scale.

But the problem with this is that an MVP needs to be a product that early adopters will actually pay for, e.g. viable.  I think Apple identified (correctly) the set of features that would cause early adopters to part with their $ and allow Apple to test their secret / point-of-view.  Remember, the original iPhone was not a runaway success.  It wasn’t until subsequent iterations of the phone and app store that the iPhone really started to take off.

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How To Become An Engineer With People Skills

My mother told me when I was young that people get hired for their technical skills, and fired for their people skills (specifically a lack thereof).  And I’ve seen this play out in the real world repeatedly.  Assessing whether someone can code a sudoku solver is a lot easier than assessing whether someone can maintain their cool under pressure, apologize when they’ve made a mistake, and reach out to maintain or repair important working relationships.

AngelHack, a company that provides Hackathon planning and marketing services, is launching a soft-skills course called The Whole Developer, that aims to teach developers, designers and product managers these soft skills.

The course is split into six sections:

Communication
“A big part of being a Whole Developer is communicating effectively. This goes beyond just getting along with people – it means being able to deliver persuasive, trenchant messaging that gets your point across and compels others to act on it.”

Team Building
“When placed in a leadership role the developer turned manager might take misguided approaches to forming a team, managing a team, and ultimately this leads to a non-productive work environment.”

Mindfulness
“There are numerous benefits: clearer thinking, better decision making, and a sharply-honed intuition among them. Mindfulness is also especially useful during crises, allowing the practitioner to maintain a level head and not let external circumstances affect his/her decisions.”

Emotional Intelligence
“Emotionally intelligent people are able to navigate social situations and adapt to different people and groups. Even more than traditional intellect, emotional intelligence is a huge predictor of success. It explains why the most charismatic candidate – even if he/she’s not the most intelligent or even qualified one – gets the job or promotion.”

Work/Life Balance
“Being able to balance work with other interests – education, hobbies, and a social life – will lead to a happier, more fulfilling life for the Whole Developer. And a happy worker is a productive worker.”

Social Responsibility
“The idea of social responsibility rests on how we interact with and affect those around us. From maintaining personal relationships to contributing to the betterment of one’s community, social responsibility must be ingrained into the Whole Developer’s very DNA.”

It’s interesting (and heartening) that they included a section on mindfulness.  Communication, Team building, and Emotional Intelligence all start with a foundation of not letting your own thoughts, needs and emotions dominate your thinking.  This can be learned and developed through the practice of mindfulness.

Right now they’re just signing up people who are interested in the 12 week course starting in June.  If you’re looking to get started right now on becoming a “Whole Developer”, here’s what you should read:

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A Hardware Startup in the Dorm Room Next Door

We’re crossing a new threshold. Individuals can make real hardware products and bring them to market.

Thanks to open and accessible hardware platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and even ARM processors, Frankenstein prototypes can be hacked together in short time on short budgets. What used to take more than 60 engineering months can now take less than two.

Add the ability to apply lean product/market fit testing via crowdfunding and we’ve got a hardware innovation explosion on our hands.

What crowdfunding does is enable product-market-fit experimentation in a category that has historically been deprived of it. Two engineers in a dorm room who build a prototype on a low-cost development platform can quickly see if anyone wants what they’ve built by setting up a crowdfunding campaign. If the campaign goes well, not only does the team have verification that there is a market for their product, they also have capital to fund manufacturing; if it doesn’t, they just spared themselves the pain of spending time and money on a project that may not be met with success

Great post by Matt Witheiler at VentureBeat : The hardware revolution will be crowdfunded
http://venturebeat.com/2013/07/20/the-hardware-revolution-will-be-crowdfunded/

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Jeff Bezos: Think Long Term

It’s a couple of years old, but I love this short talk by Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos.  In it he presents four things he knows:

  1. Obsess Over Customers
  2. Invent
  3. Think Long Term
  4. It’s Always Day 1

 

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Lean Startup and Lean UX in the Enterprise (Videos)

I’m always amazed by all the lean startup events and activity that I have yet to discover.  Yesterday I learned about Lean Day West – a 3 day conference that took place in Sept 2013 and dealt with Lean Startup and Lean UX in the Enterprise.   Lucky for us the talks have been recorded and they are awesome.  If you are at all interested in how to apply lean startup in a non-startup, check them out!  Some of my favorites:


Lean Engineering: Key Principles For Transforming Engineering Into A Full Lean UX Partner

billSquareBill Scott · @billwscott · Senior Director of User Interface Engineering, PayPal

How do you take a gigantic organization like PayPal and begin to transform the experiences? Engineering is often the key blocker in being able to achieve a high rate of innovation. In this talk, Bill Scott will give specific examples on implemented Lean UX in a 13,000 person company, re-factored the technology stack and changed the way engineers work with design & product partners. In addition, Bill will provide additional examples that go back to his early days writing one of the first Macintosh games to his more recent work at Netflix and the power of treating the user interface layer as the experimentation layer.  (Slides)


Building With Lean: A Cross-Functional Pairing Approach

jonoBenSquareBen Burton · @bjburton · Software Engineer
Jono Mallanyk · @jonomallanyk · UX Specialist / Senior Designer

Part of the inspiration for lean is to eliminate as much unnecessary work as possible to arrive at a valuable end-product. Methodologies such as Lean UX aim to design the best customer experience in the shortest cycle possible, but how do these approaches apply when it comes to executing and shipping a functional Minimum Viable Product? In this talk, designer Jono Mallanyk and software engineer Ben Burton delve into the hands-on approach they’ve taken to cross-functional pairing to design and build products quickly and effectively. In this talk, they’ll detail how and when to involve execution in the lean process, tools and techniques they’ve found useful for developers and designers working together, and do some live cross-functional pairing to demonstrate their process. At Neo Innovation Labs, Jono and Ben have spent the past 6 months pairing as designer and developer, learning from each other, and honing their cross-functional process to arrive at a truly lean approach to software creation.  (Slides)


Iterative Innovation – Small, Focused Changes Can Lead To Big Successes

emilySquareEmily Holmes · @uxemily · Director of K12 User Experience, Hobsons

At any large company, it can be difficult for a UX team to be innovative: the roadmap is pre-determined, quick fixes are the objective, revenue and new features are often prioritized over fixing what’s broken. Combine that with an aging infrastructure, and true innovation seems like an impossible goal. This session will examine how the K12 UX team at Hobsons found very small ways to innovate within existing constraints, and gradually built on those successes to move toward the forefront of the company’s product development process. By focusing first on tiny innovations, it is possible to iterate toward big changes within your organization.  (Slides)


Research Rebooted – Why Most Market Research Is Broken, And How Lean Can Help Fix It

farrahSquareFarrah Bostic · @farrahbostic · Founder, The Difference Engine

Based on 10 years designing, managing and conducting market research, Farrah had the opportunity to start with a blank slate on a recent project. In the interests of limited time and tight budgets, she started to experiment with lean techniques for doing research better, and discovered that a lot of what we take for granted about the research process, from study design, to recruitment, to the way we actually talk to customers, is broken. Based on what she learned on that first project, and each project since, Farrah has started to develop some lighter-weight, less expensive and time-consuming, and ultimately more useful ways to conduct research that helps brand and product managers make decisions, and grow business. (Slides)

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Visa is looking for someone to head up their Innovation Incubator

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 9.31.49 AM

I noticed this job posting on the wire today (copied below).  Looks like VISA is setting up an Innovation Incubator.  VISA refers to their larger R&D group as VISA Labs, and this group would be known as the Incubator.  VISA Labs doesn’t seem to have a dedicated website (but it looks like their design contractor has a preview up here).

I did find an interesting interview online with Joe Cunningham, Visa’s Global Head of Technology Strategy & Innovation where he talks about VISA Labs and the way they’re organized for innovation.  My guess is Joe is who the Sr Director of the Incubator would report to (you can see him speaking here to the Singapore Big Data Meetup group).

Although they’re big into open innovation, it looks like they want to pilot some stuff in-house too.  If you’re interested in innovating inside a company with lots of assets to leverage, this might be interesting.


VISA – Sr. Director – Innovation Incubator

Visa Inc. is a global payments technology company that connects consumers, businesses, financial institutions and governments in more than 200 countries and territories, enabling them to use digital currency instead of cash and checks.Visa does not issue cards, extend credit or set rates and fees for consumers. Visa’s innovations enable its bank customers to offer consumers choices: Pay now with debit, ahead of time with prepaid or later with credit products. From the world’s major cities to remote areas without banks, people are increasingly relying on digital currency along with mobile technology to use their money anytime, make purchases online, transfer funds and access basic financial services. All of which makes their lives easier and helps grow economies.

Behind the Visa brand are our talented employees who continuously raise the bar with innovative solutions and products that deliver the convenience and security of digital currency to more people all over the world.

Job Scope:

Visa is selectively recruiting for a Leader who will help build and lead Visa’s Foster City-based Incubation Unit. You will have the rare opportunity to work at the vanguard of payments, mobile solutions, social media capabilities, digital commerce experiences and a wide range of emerging digital payment platforms. You will reimagine how consumers interact with their money for payments and commerce through innovative product concepts, prototypes, and pilots that delight our customers and position our company for substantial growth.

Responsibilities:
- Lead rapid prototyping and piloting of new consumer experiences. You will be part of a highly dynamic, lean, and multi-disciplinary team to validate hypotheses and new product concepts
- Integrate broad knowledge of product concepts in emerging spaces (e.g. loyalty platforms, business analytics, authorization, and identity management) to develop viewpoints that inform internal development.
- Collaborate with external partners. You will also help us nurture relationships with key external stakeholders in the payments and commerce ecosystem including academics, entrepreneurs, VCs, etc. You will be a key team member in structuring business development relationships with external pilot partners.
- As the senior member of the Visa Incubation Unit, you will interface directly and often with officers throughout Visa’s business units, with the explicit objective of helping accelerate the firm’s corporate agendas through research and learning, rapid prototyping, and applied pilot market tests.
- Work closely with the enterprise research and development function to complete the innovation lifecycle at Visa.
- Provide consultative development services to validate/prototype ideas for Visa products and services.
- Define/evolve the incubation innovation portfolio.
- Based on incubation results and market insight, advise Corporate Strategy, IT and Product regarding potential technology injection, partnering, and investment opportunities.
- Actively participate in the Open Innovation framework to tap into outside expertise and make Visa an innovation partner of choice.
- Act as a “front door” for innovators wanting to work with Visa.
- Develop relationships with external entities to evangelize Visa’s innovation agenda.
- Match innovation partner capabilities/goals with Visa needs.
- Leveraging the Open Innovation framework, democratize innovation at Visa by broadening access to the innovation pipeline through evangelizing, promoting, and participating in initiatives/programs designed to foster a Culture of Innovation at Visa.

Qualifications
-Bachelor’s Degree
-15+ years track record of building and launching consumer products on web and mobile platforms
-Deep knowledge and passion around emerging payments technologies and how they will change commerce and consumer experiences
-Ability to communicate with and inspire developers, business analysts and other team members and drive toward a product vision
-Highly polished presentation skills. Ability to effectively communicate with, influence, and motivate C-suite executives.
-Start-up experience
-High level of intellectual curiosity and are comfortable with ambiguity
-Ability to put team before self and are energetically collaborative
-Enjoy working with a fun team of richly creative and accomplished professionals
-Familiarity with all stages of the software development lifecycle, extensive experience with rapid prototyping and agile development
-Strong manager with excellent organization and people skills and the ability to set priorities, problem-solve, multi-task and work well in a dynamic, rapidly changing environment
-Payments and digital commerce experience a strong plus
-Ability to roll up your sleeves and directly apply your diverse knowledge set to solve complex technical and business related problems if required—we need more than pure “managers”

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