Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Leanest Startup

I have been reading Eric Ries' book The Lean Startup. At first glance on the bookshelves, I didn't think the book was relevant to me because, after all, LiveBinders is the leanest start-up on the face of the planet. I didn't think Mr. Ries could teach me anything about running with the absolute minimum capital. But it turns out the title of the book is quite misleading. The book isn't about running a capital-constrained start-up (though the preservation of capital is a happy result of his methodology.)

His book is all about finding out if your product will fly in the market before you spend enormous resources to bring the product to market. This is rather a simple concept that I wrote about well over ten years ago in my article: When to Release a Software Product.

But Eric takes this concept to the next level by creating a process that effectively tests ideas and assumptions long before the product is out in the market. He also provides metrics that founders and investors can use to measure their real progress in the market.

The book has made an impression on me. I'm a metrics driving person who loves statistics. But he adeptly made me dig deeper by labeling my fabulous growth stats (users, page views, visitors, etc.) as "vanity metrics".

He spends a lot of time showing you how to engage your customers early with the product. At LiveBinders we have always loved engaging our customers in discussions on product ideas. But this book has made me look at closer at the statistics and helped me create a deeper understanding of what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong.

Eric, if you are listening, thank you! You have me digging deep into our real metrics to understand exactly how we are doing in the market.

If you haven't picked up this book yet, it is time. If can't convince you to pick up this book, maybe you can get religion through this video:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Free Way to Promote Yourself or Your Company at Conferences

We have been watching some really smart consultants use LiveBinders as a way to promote themselves and their businesses. But this one really got my attention! It is always so hard to get attention at a conference. Advertising costs a fortune and is only moderately effective. But this is a simple, free way to get yourself noticed before, during, and after the conference. I created a quick video to explain:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Start-ups are Slow!

My husband and I walked down to the local Starbucks this morning. This is a typical morning in Silicon Valley. I'm waiting outside the Starbucks with the dog (I don't think they allow either one of us in.) A neighbor stops to talk, "Hey, I know you." Me, "Oh yes, the kids were in softball together." He says, "How is your start-up working out?" I say, "Great! We are growing like crazy each month. How is your start-up working out?" (Ok, so this is Silicon Valley - doesn't everyone have a start-up?) He says, "Yes, we are still moving along, though I would like it to grow faster." Me, "Yep, isn't that always the case with start-ups?"

It is true, we love the stories about over-night successes, but did those ever really happen? How many of those do you know? Here is the dirty little secret - start-ups are a slough. I didn't say that they were not fun. In some ways, each day is like opening up a birthday present. I love those emails and tweets from people who say, "I love your product!" Every day they infuse me with energy and enthusiasm. But then there are those emails that stop my heart, "I just lost a full day's worth of work." I panic. I feel like a complete amateur. I think about how that customer must feel about us, and our product, and the first thing I do is apologize profusely. At LiveBinders we take every comment and every problem to heart. We really sweat the small stuff and do whatever we can to make things right for that customer.

Most days at a start-up are exhausting and exhilarating. You are riding a roller coaster every day. Are you ready to do this for 2 years? How about 10 years? I think all entrepreneurs, when we start these companies, think "This is the grandest idea around. We will be one of those overnight successes." But when you are not, can you keep going? Even the grandest idea often needs refining, and readjusting based on feedback and that takes time. Your bank account gets thin and your kids' college fund goes lacking. When you add up the sacrifice it is huge part of your life.

I find I must turn to a quote from Bob Parsons, the founder of Go Daddy, on this subject (like him or not, he has some solid advice) - "When you are ready to quit, you are closer than you think." This thought has brought me through some dark days.

So to all of you out there working away at your start-ups, I will leave you with this thought: You ARE closer than you think.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Product Positioning - A Lesson from a 9-year-old

I’ve spent well over 20 years in marketing. I’ve positioned so many products in the market that I’ve lost count. I’ve gathered the best resources on the web and written many of my own, but I have to admit that my best lesson in positioning came from my 9-year-old son. Here is a recent conversation:

Sandor: "Mom, I need a 50 cent chore."

Me: (I’m thinking great! I have this plant that was in my pond in its plastic pot, but it grew well beyond its pot so that it was twice the size of the pot.) "Okay, Sandor, see that plant that I pulled out of the pond? All those roots need to be cut off so that we can get that plastic pot out of there and put the rest in the compost." (I’m thinking this will keep him busy for at least an hour.)

Sandor: (Thinks for 20 seconds) "Okay!"

Me: (Very suspicious about him signing up for this much work for a mere $0.50) "Are you sure?"

Sandor: "Yep!" (I leave the room)

Sandor: "Alex! I get to perform surgery on a plant, this is so cool – would you like to try it first?"

Alex is Sandor's older sister.

Needless to say Alex did most of the work and Sandor got the 50 cents.

Okay, so in 20 seconds, he analyzed his target market (Alex) and found a message (surgery) that would appeal to her, then he added sense of urgency (try it first), threw in emotion (so cool) and was able to monetize (50 cents) the transaction.

I sure wish I could position a product that quickly. But, if you are like me and can’t do this as quickly as Sandor, you may want to use some of the resources that I have discovered on the web to help you position a product. Click on the binder below to view the sites: