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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Three Questions for Your Outsourcing Partner

We’re currently testing and selecting some outsourcing partners for startupSQUARE and outsourcing is an issue that seems inescapable these days. Invariably, there is going to be at least one part of your business that is a non-core competency and it’s tempting to send the task off to someone else who is asking less than half the cost of hiring a local.

Having managed a small off-shoring division of an IT security company in Vietnam, I’ve come up with my favorite three questions for outsourcing partners.

What is your employee turnover rate?

This is a very important indicator of the quality of the workforce. If there’s a 25% turnover rate of employees, it means that the majority of the senior staff spends a large hunk of their time training staff and not actually doing work on your project.

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Someone Please Write a Blog Post about Minimum Viable Strategy

Watching Dave McClure's presentation today, I started to think about how a lot of the lean startup and customer development folks talk about creating the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), Release Early / Release Often, Product / Market Fit, Pivoting, etc., etc., but there's very little talk about choosing your market or your product strategically. (At least not that I've noticed, feel free to correct me.)

I'd like to read that blog post.

A lot of the advice out there ultimately mitigates risks. Here is my horribly unfair summary:

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) - Spend less on creating your product, therefore you are risking less time and money on a bad product. Release Early / Release Often - Learn in small increments, therefore you are risking less time and money on a bad product. Product / Market Fit - Either change your product to fit the market or choose a different market for your product before you start spending money on marketing, therefore you are risking less time and money on a bad product. Pivoting - If you have a bad product, change it to something else.

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