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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How to Practice Shutting Up (Customer Development Practice)

I've discovered a great new method of growing bigger ears. Ready? Wait for it... go listen to sales pitches from startup consultants.

If you're an entrepreneur, then you probably don't like being bossed around and you might think your own opinion is pretty damn good. If you didn't, you probably wouldn't be starting your own company.

(I'll admit it, I have both of those flaws to varying degrees.)

Given those two features, you may or may not have a tough time (like me) really shutting up and listening to your customers. It's always tempting to interject your own opinion, and even if you think you're just asking a clarifying question, you're probably adding some spin to it to try to nudge your customer's responses the way you want...the way you expect...the way you know your customers ought to be thinking.

But if you do that, you're not getting real customer feedback. Instead, you're just stroking your own ego and validating an opinion rather than validating a hypothesis.

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Impending Doom and Early Releases

This week we'll be letting a few users into our early release of and in the tradition of the lean startup, we're rather embarrassed about it.

It's buggy, it's ugly, and it probably just won't work.

But we're going to throw it out there anyway for a few select people who can mock us about it to our face so we can get early feedback.

Improvement via Trauma

One of the things we'd like to achieve with this early alpha release is a bit of trauma.

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I Need Bigger Ears (Customer Development Mistakes)

I realized today that I have been taking the lean startup / customer development axiom of "talk to customers" far too literally.

While the quality of my feedback has been reasonably good and I've gotten a number of good ideas, there's a big difference between talking to customers and listening to customers.

I've been having far to much of a two way dialog and not letting my product speak for itself.

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Controlled Burns and Firebreaks

As startupSQUARE closes in on it's first friends and family release the work is piling up and I'm reminded of the need to develop firebreaks for the company. Those are the areas where a lack of vegetation, natural such as in the case of a river or man-made as in the case of a road, prevents a fire from spreading.

In work context, a firebreak is any sort of barrier which prevents a mistake from starting a domino effect and becoming a catastrophe.

In my last company the exec team spoke frequently of running around putting out fires all day. This was almost a badge of honor.

These were brief, flare up emergencies with customers, personnel, cash flows, etc. which would threaten our business.

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Bad Economies are Great for Business

Note: We'd like to take a moment to welcome Carmen Neghina, our intern extraordinaire and author of this post, to the team. Yay Carmen! Thanks - Tristan

Why start your own company in a bad economy? Try to ignore the gloomy media picture of the world coming to an end, a crashing economy, high unemployment, business failures and difficulty accessing loans. Yes, I might be asking for a lot, but why not focus on the positive?

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