Top Takeaway – Startup Lessons Learned

On April 23rd I was able to go to the Startup Lessons Learned Conference and had my world rocked.

I thought I was lean, I could be leaner.

I thought I had a minimum viable product, I could have built less.

Although Steve Blank, Eric Ries, Dave McClure, David Weekly etc. etc. all have written and spoken prolifically about their methods and thoughts, there is a powerful feeling to being the the same room as a thousand other people drinking the same kool-aid.

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Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Wow I'm tired.

Tired and energized.

In the past few weeks we've had the typical ups and downs of every startup. We've let in a number of alpha users, got another hundred signed up thanks to a very minor TechCrunch mention, and realized our Minimum Viable Product wasn't minimum enough.

We started building our site with a basic premise that entrepreneurs were willing to post their pitches to attract co-founders and investment.

We confirmed this hypothesis through numerous customer interviews and surveys.

We iterated on nothing more than Photoshop mockups.

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No ‘Buts’ – The Most Dreaded Word of All

Last week I started avoiding the word "but" in all my communications. It's harder than you'd think. I'd thought I could just replace it with "and" but and that just doesn't cut it. Sounds weird. It requires a total rewrite of every sentence you put to paper and forces you to think constructively.

No: I'd love to come, but I already made plans.
Yes: I'd love to get together with you some other time. I have plans that night.

No: I would have finished, but it was just too much work.
Yes: My bad. I'll finish it now.

I highly recommend it.

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The Taxonomy of the Lean Startup Pivot

(Warning: this post may be highly theoretical / geeky. If you're looking for the more amusing Taxonomy of the Lean Startup Anti-Pivot, it's here.)

Last week I was planning for the worst. Having gone through 51 iterations of my mockups and gathered as much as feedback as I could with our primitive alpha, I feel confident about our basic customer problem hypothesis. Still, I play a lot of chess and like to think at least five moves ahead in the five most likely futures. So I decided to make a list of my potential pivots.

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Customer Development: Fight or Flight

Motivations are unimportant if you happened to be B.F. Skinner. But since he's dead let's assume you're not him.

Before we can talk about customer development, here's the obvious question: Why do you want to start a business?

Let's start off topic with a ridiculously simplistic dichotomy: Fight or Flight

Those are the two basic choices we all have when faced with a conflict situation and it's deeply ingrained in our physiology.

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Clever Hans and Photoshop Iteration

It's been over two weeks since we released a bare bones alpha of our site and started letting people in one at a time. Since then we've been through approximately:

10 iterations of our "view idea" page 6 iterations of "browse ideas" page and 3 of "browse people" page 10 "profile" pages 8 of our "p-home" page (this is the page you see when you log in) 3 "search result" versions and a whopping 14 basic template revisions

That's a total of 51 revisions in 18 days, almost all of which are iterations based on feedback from users without writing a single line of code.

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How to Sell Me (Not), I Dare You to Try

"Thanks for the meeting, no I don't want to hire you to consult for my company."

Having to sit through an increasing number of sales pitches from startup consultants these days, I thought I'd summarize the points that worked in selling me and what just turned me off. At the very least, next time someone tries to pitch me, maybe I'll just send them a link to this blog before the meeting.

At best, I'll formalize some points to improve on my own sales pitch.

Tip #1: Don't assume.

I understand that I'm a bit of an idiot.

I'm new to this. I didn't go to Harvard. I don't have a million dollars. Your fine Italian shoes clearly indicate your business superiority. I am destined to fail without your advice.

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