Evaluating Your Business Idea With Better Customer Discovery Questions

As someone who is fascinated with start-ups and business ideas, I loved this post called “100 Questions You Can Ask In Customer Interviews”.

In it, the author compiles an inventory of questions you might need to better understand the problem you are trying to solve for the customer, how important is it for them in the context of their life, how they currently solve it (or not), and so on.

Having founded start-ups and advised many other founders, it still surprises me that many people do not take the time to do this work to the quality and depth required. Many do not even know about it or value its importance, which really baffles me. Obviously it is more ‘exciting’ to get on with it and ‘start building’, although this is fraught with serious risks.

In any case, the tool above is certainly a great way to have better conservations with potential customers and shape propositions accordingly.

A Quick Course on Lean

Today I came across a brilliant resource from Steve Blank for anyone interested in better understanding ‘lean’. It covers resources helpful for a formal class or for anyone who wants to review the basics. Here is what he provided:

Lean in Context

No Business Plan Survives First Contact With Customers

How did we build startups in the past?

The Business Model

An introduction to The Business Model Canvas

The Minimal Viable Product

How to Get, Keep and Grow Customers?

How to Get Out of the Building and Test the Business Model

What is Customer Development

What is Customer Discovery and Why Do it?

Why Get Out of the Building?

short article on how to do Customer Discovery via Zoom

Jobs to be done

Customer Validation

The Pivot

The Harvard Business Review Article “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything” ties the pieces together here

The Mission Model Canvas

What is the Mission Model Canvas

The Mission Model Canvas Videos

Extra’s

Why Customer Development is done by founders

What Do Customers Get from You?

What are Customer Problems/Pains?

Users, Payers and Multi-sided markets

How do I Know I Have the Right Customers – Testing

How big is it?

How to Avoid Pricing Mistakes

More two-minute lectures here

Tools for educators here

Tools for students here

Don’t Think You Have To Conquer The World Straight Away

Today I came across a video from 2014 from The Happiness Start-Up School Summercamp where I was interviewed about starting a business, inspiration, and other entrepreneurial things.

At the time, I was 2 years in to launching The Social Experiences Club, one of the first online marketplaces for connecting people with experts and hosts for unique experiences and activities.

If you can ignore the amount of ‘ums’ and ‘aahs’ I unfortunately use, it does provide interesting insight into my thinking whilst in the thick of start-up mode.

The Invincible Company

It is not often that you receive a business book and want to take a photo of it. And just like that amazing meal, post it on Instagram (I didn’t, but couldn’t resist a cheeky post on LinkedIn. And Twitter).

In fact, it is probably never that this urge happens.

That all changed this week when The Invincible Company by Alex Osterwalder (and others) arrived.

It looks and feels great. And knowing the track record of the authors, will be jam-packed full of great insight.

I’ll post a review here once I tuck in.

IMG_6976

 

 

 

9 Tools To Enhance Strategic Planning

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, strategic plans of every company around the world are being torn up and re-written. As an expert in strategy formulation – whether corporate, business, product, technology or operational – I have listed a number of useful tools which can help with this process.

There are many, many tools out there, however these are ones which I have used the most over the past 12 months.

If you have any feedback on these or other ones you have found valuable, be sure to let me know.

  1. Strategic Planning Process

There are 100s of versions of this process, whether from academics, consultancies, or other practitioners. In fact, the topic occupies a huge amount space in the strategic management academic literature following decades of empirical studies.

Whilst I don’t have a specific view on this one or other tools, if you just want a rough, simple, logical guide on the general steps, this one works (sorry, I don’t know the source).

What are the steps of strategic planning? - Quora

2. 11 Sources of Disruption 

This is from Amy Webb, a Professor of Strategic Foresight at NYU and Founder of the Future Today Institute. It is like PESTLE on steroids. I tend to add a few more categories, and you can read about those additions here

The Future Today Institute | The Future Today Institute helps ...

3. Strategy Introduction

This is a tool from Strategy Tools, founded by Norwegian academic and consultant Christian Rangen. You can read more about the tool here

Strategy_Intro

4. Strategic Time Horizons 

Another tool from Amy Webb which links strategy to time. You can read more about it here

How To Think About Time | The Future Today Institute

5. Strategic Innovation Canvas

Another tool from StrategyTools. It builds on the Horizon Planning map and links degree of innovation to time. You can read more about here

Strategic_Innovation_Canvas

6. Industry Shifts Map

The Industry Shifts Map helps you identify, analyse, and develop capabilities to go after new market opportunities. You can read more about it here

Industry_Shifts_Map

7. Business Model Canvas

This is a popular one when looking for a simple way to analyse and present thinking about an existing or new product/service. You can more about it here.

Alex Osterwalder🇨🇭 on Twitter: "*Simplicity* is the ultimate ...

8. Value Proposition Canvas

Another tool from Strategyzer, it allows you to map customer profiles with value to the created. You can more about it here

Value Proposition Canvas - ProductCoalition.com

9. Go-To-Market (GTM) Strategy

There are 100s of GTM tools out there. Whilst I don’t have one which I have utilised every time, this one is a good, simple starting point (I don’t know the source, sorry).

Go-to-Market Strategy - Who Are You Selling To | Marketing plan ...

 

Steve Jobs

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

—Apple’s “Think Different” commercial, 1997

Steve Jobs cofounded Apple in his parents’ garage in 1976, was ousted in 1985, returned to rescue it from near bankruptcy in 1997, and by the time he died, in October 2011, had built it into the world’s most valuable company. Along the way he helped to transform seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing.

Most people would agree that Steve Jobs will go down as one of the world’s great innovators alongside Edison, Ford and Disney. However, the story of Steve Jobs will likely polarise as many as it will inspire. None of these men were saints, but long after their personalities are forgotten, history will remember how they applied imagination to technology and business. His biographer Walter Isaacson explains why:

The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the normal rules didn’t apply to him, and the passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made. His petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism.

When I reflect on Steve Jobs, there are many different leadership attributes that come to mind. However, one stands out: the ability to inspire.

Whilst Jobs was famously impatient, petulant, and tough with the people around him, his treatment of people, (though not laudable) emanated from his passion for perfection and his desire to work with only the best.

Whether in times of crises or during business as usual, the ability to inspire your people (and stakeholders) is a critical trait of the disruptive leader.

Here are some great resources to learn more about how he was able to do this:

 

Contrarian Thinking

I was talking to a prospective partner today and in talking about start-up investing, he brought up the concept of ‘contrarian thinking’ came up. I had come across the concept previously, but couldn’t remember where (I later realised I had read it in Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One). So I was asked if there was something I believed in that no-one else did. The question caught me off guard which is no surprise as subsequent research shows it is a very difficult question, especially in direct conversations (vs a written response in a job application situation).

Whilst I couldn’t come up with a appropriate response, I promised to email across something (hopefully) coherent later. As the risk of being controversial (sorry), below is what I shared:

  • Participation awards for kids/adults who don’t win a race/task are not that helpful! You either win or lose
  • In most cases, people always have choices in most situations e.g. you fail, so what do you do next?
  • Whether you like or loathe him, Trump is very very talented and a game-changer e.g. pre-office wealth, use of Twitter to bypass govt process, connect with base etc
  • In 2010-11, I was what in hindsight is called ‘directionally correct’ with my first start-up, The Social Experiences Club. To make it successful, we had to take a contrarian view to the prevailing thinking. I, along with co-founders, believed that EVERYONE would be using smart phones to discover/search/book local experiences in their city (very few VCs, angels, experts and not enough customers agreed!). In 2015 the business sold as couldn’t scale further and raise Series A. In 2016, Airbnb launched their experiences offer and have sold millions of experiences since…

For those interested in reading more about this style of thinking, I suggest you start here with this video and transcript of Peter Thiel discussing it in detail.

 

 

Understanding Product-Market Fit

“The term product/market fit describes ‘the moment when a startup finally finds a widespread set of customers that resonate with its product” – Eric Ries

I’m currently advising the management team of a multi-national technology client who are looking to commercialise a B2B SaaS platform they acquired recently. The software isn’t a standalone product so doesn’t have market traction nor product-market fit (PMF). Whilst a plan to achieve PMF is critical, a more immediate task is to educate the management team on the actual concept. I’ve discovered recently that it isn’t a commonly understood term within the client, although the high-level meaning behind it is.

From my start-up days, the concept of product-market fit (PMF) is firmly engrained into my way of working (and thinking). Before that experience, I hadn’t come across it. I had forgotten that PMF within corporates probably isn’t an assumed way of understanding product development.

To help me plan and educate the client, I did a deep-dive into the research for articles. The best one is a brilliant summary from Tren Griffin reposted on the blog of Silicon Valley VC Andreesen Horwotiz. It is so good that I needed to share it here. It’s a must read for anyone working in business today.

Interview – Lance Plunkett

One of the first people I met when moving to Guernsey was a fellow Australian called Lance Plunkett. He was in the early stages of MVP development for his lost property start-up Found. I thought it would be a good idea to get to know him better and help me flesh out my developing theories around ‘start-up thinking’. I compiled some questions and shared it with him via email. Lance was good enough to provide great responses, so below is is what I received back:

What is your start-up? It’s called Found. We are a funky, agile and innovative start-up aiming to become the known brand in lost property, so that if someone ever loses or finds something they immediately turn to Found. We are leveraging the Found network of businesses and individuals to offer various insurtech products, which fit perfectly into the world of lost property and allow users to protect their valuable items. We are exploring utilising blockchain technology for proof of ownership and fraud prevention purposes.

Why do you pursue this path vs something else? It’s a really big challenge and I love challenges; for me life is about really going for it and pushing and challenging yourself in everything you do.

Why do you think you are (or will be) good at it? I know where my strengths and my weaknesses lie which enables me to identify the people I need around me in the team to pick up on the areas I am not so good at! Being a founder is a tough and lonely journey at times so having people around to help support, motivate, complement your skills, focus and enjoy the journey is important.

As I see it, one of my key skills is being creative and innovative in problem solving I really enjoy this process. I am very willing to listen to and learn from others so that I can develop my own skills, self analysis and being honest with yourself and your own performance is important you have to be able to take criticism from others and I am good at this.

I am prepared to make sacrifices to make this happen I worked for a year on my business earning no money and living on a boat!

For me personally one of the keys to success is building relationships; relationships with investors, clients, customers and your team. It’s important to be personable, honest, human and considerate to others – these are hugely important values to me.

I really believe in what I am doing and share that belief and passion with others.

What does ‘entrepreneurship’ mean to you? For me it’s about being creative and innovative in solving problems and finding better ways of doing things.

What do you consider to be the ‘start-up mindset’? Which do you think are the most important for start-up success? Please explain with any relevant examples. I have met many successful business people/entrepreneurs; some are great visionaries, some are great creators, some are crazy, some are straight-laced and some are great with numbers BUT the one common thing amongst them all is their commitment and determination to their business or idea. The start-up mindset is about commitment to your goals and conviction in your business. I had the idea to solve the problem of lost property three years ago and have kept working on it and have maintained a true belief in it ever since which I know will see it through to success.

I liken my approach to business to the first time I went skiing. I learnt as an adult and went to the slopes with my three best mates, all of whom could ski really well. I remember thinking ‘Right, what’s the quickest way to get good at this so I can ski with them and not get left behind?’ and I concluded that it was by teaching myself on the most difficult black run! Charging head first into many big crashes, I got up and went again and again. I did learn very quickly and could ski down that black run in no time. It was a riskier approach but one that I calculated was worth it and that I could achieve — the rewards were big – I could ski with my best mates! Throwing yourself with commitment and passion is important and I certainly try to do this in life and business. As an entrepreneur you have to take risks however the risks I take are certainly calculated and thought through.

What are the different ways you have used to develop or improve such attributes? (If helpful, refer to any practical tactics, tools, habits, experiments or other useful strategies) I read a lot about successful people and how they do things. I study the characteristics and behaviours of sportsmen, coaches and entrepreneurs. I am very observant of others around me and how they behave, and learn from mentors, friends, peers and family.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a favourite failure? Learning how to fail and how to lose is a key to growing as a person. I played professional football for many years at a high level but failed to reach the very top level. I had the opportunity but didn’t really commit myself, as I should have. I have certainly applied the lessons I learnt from that to my business life now. Learning from previous mistakes would be in my top five tips for success!

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? (If helpful, what questions do you ask yourself?) I find being healthy mentally and physically helps and if it all becomes too much a good walk with the dogs in the fresh air can help clear the head. I am good at dealing with stress and tough situations. Talking through my business problems with those trusted colleagues, friends and family is really important.

In the past five years, what new belief, behaviour or habit has changed your life?For me personally I was very immature and unfocussed for many years. I loved that part of my life and don’t regret it for a second – it was fun and I learnt a lot! But I now feel a new maturity and confidence in my skills and have the focus and ability to channel those skills into something I really believe in.

Where do you derive creative inspiration for new products / services? How do you put it into practice? I naturally look at processes/the way things are done and am always imagining what I could do to make that process better. I think of new businesses or ideas to solve problems daily. Looking at new technologies is fascinating and a great way to see how they can help make things better, safer, cheaper, faster etc.

What is your approach to managing risk?  Please provide any example(s), if relevant. I take risks everyday as a business owner but they are calculated risks, all decisions are carefully considered, researched and discussed with others when needed. Surrounding yourself with good people minimises risk and I try hard to do that.

How do you know when it’s time to pivot, change direction or quit? Please provide any principles, tactics, criteria etc. I think this is easy to identify – needs must type thinking. If you are set up as a lean agile business change should be easy.

What advice do you have for your 20yo self about to enter the ‘real world’? What advice should they ignore? I wouldn’t want any advice or change a thing, the mistakes I have made are all part of learning and growing.

Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by? 

There are no wrongs or rights in how to become successful;  there are many paths to where you want to go.

Success takes all shapes and forms – it doesn’t necessarily mean how much money you have.

Be humble, kind and considerate to others.

Always listen to others’ advice – you can pick up teachings from everyone you meet even if it’s ‘that’s not how to do it’!

Take the road least travelled.

What are the books that you most recommend or gift to other people?

I like Richard Branson’s books they are fun, honest and an easy read with some great lessons within.

Why Start-Ups Fail

I came across this infographic recently. It made me grin. As I’m a few years passed my own start-up failure, I can now chalk it up properly as lessons learned.

See the source image

Looking at the list, the scary thing is that just about all apply to my experience. The only ones that don’t apply are passion/burn-out (although the final year 4 was tough), poor marketing, ignore customers, location, & legal issues. Everything else was a contributing factor. Now, that’s a heck of a lot of (expensive) mistakes to make. I was in control of most of them as well. So it’s not as if I can shift responsibility to others. The buck stopped with me. So what happened? At the end of the day, I just didn’t have the product-market fit piece understood, let alone nailed. The words of Marc Andreesen (founder of Netscape turned VC) sums up nicely what was (or wasn’t) going on:

“You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of ‘blah’, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close. And you can always feel product/market fit when it’s happening. The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it — or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they’ve heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it. You start getting entrepreneur of the year awards from Harvard Business School. Investment bankers are staking out your house. You could eat free for a year at Buck’s.”Marc Andreessen

Introducing Start-Up Thinking

Since exiting the start-up I founded in 2011, I’ve been thinking a lot about lessons learnt. In particular, what were the ways of thinking, working and operating that helped me ride the roller-coaster that is entrepreneurship. Here is the initial list I came up with:

Curiosity
Creativity
Agility
Vision
Grit
Experimenter
Ownership
Tenacity
Failure
Innovative
Collaborative
Constraints
Confidence
Risk

Looking at this list, it begs the questions. Why is it important? Can anyone learn or develop these attributes? What principles, tools & tactics could someone follow to improve work and life? Should these be the future talent management model companies should instead focus on?

Clearly, in this day and age the pace of change is more significant than ever. Established firms typically do not have the agility to respond & most talent management frameworks are likely still aligned with old ways of working & operating. It certainly would be an interesting study to see the results if recruitment & training focus shifted to some of the attributes outlined above.

But can anyone learn or develop these characteristics? Of course they can. I certainly did. And so did the millions of start-up founders & entrepreneurs that came before and after me. I’ll do some digging on this and blog about it here over the coming weeks.