Offer: Let's have a helpful conversation

It seems that when I’m most busy is when I also seem to want to share and help others the most – so continuing in a long established tradition, I would like to offer some office hours to help anyone who needs it.

But first – at the risk of inventing another buzzword/phrase that gets trademarked and certified, what is a ‘helpful conversation’?

It is simply a time that you bring something a person needs help on, we talk about it and you leave feeling better, clearer, energised or otherwise ‘helped’. If you don’t leave the conversation feeling like it was s good spend of your time, then we haven’t had a ‘helpful conversation’.

It isn’t free, it’s priceless.

My time is the most precious thing I have and I offer it, in the hope that we both have a brilliant conversation and learn and share from each other. My reward is knowing that I helped you.

So, what could be helpful to you?

Here are some things I know I can help with:

Startups

because I’ve spent the last 15 years learning by doing

Bootstrapping a startup
Designing your test-the-market strategy – MVPs, guerrilla testing
Essential tools I use everyday to planning, testing, prototyping etc super easy
Designing marketing experiments
Dealing with failure – how to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’
Hiring and equity sharing
Advising your startup on a regular basis

Agile Things

because I’ve been coaching for over 10 years and been a dev, product guy, maker in this space for the last 16 years 

Most things about Scrum, Kanban, Lean and variations therein.
Should you get agile certification? I have an alternative view and can help talk you through your options.
Building and growing self-organisation, empowered teams
Being an effective manager or executive in an agile organisation or during a transition

Helping People be Successful & Joyful

because that is basically what my entire career has been about – and I love it.

Using improv to get better at being present, collaborative and generally ‘good to work with’
Software and tech industry career advice – what you might want to invest in (and not) as you start out in tech –  attitudes and essential skills
Valuing learning and relationships.
Getting mentors

Business meeting culture

because I built a startup to fix this and it has 6000 users.

Simple techniques to transform your personal meeting behaviour
Make any meeting better (or at the very least, suck less)
Helping your organisation have fewer and better meetings

I want a helpful conversation,  how do we do this?

I thought you’d never ask! This is simple as pie.

If you don’t know anything about me – I encourage you to check out my about page, my LinkedIn and some of my tweets.

Then, if you think I could be helpful,  checkout my office hours availability, book an available time slot and show up.

There, all done. I look forward helping however I can.

 

#Startups, do you have a solution looking for a problem?

I’m having a wonderful time being helpful on SoHelpful.me.

So many different people – with amazing stories – reaching out to and trusting a complete stranger to help them via experience, learning and a diverse perspective.

Recently I met with Greg – a super smart engineer with a really interesting invention who sought to understand how to turn customer interviews into an investment pitch. After a few minutes of conversation and hearing about where he is at with his startup work, I concluded that he has a different and more pressing problem.

He has a solution looking for a problem.

If you use Lean Startup or Steve Blank’s Customer Development approach, you’ll probably be doing it the other way round.

With Customer Development , we find and validate a problem that people have and try and solve it for them. It is a very successful strategy that delivers learning, risk reduction and human connection in a neat little package. But that is not the only way to build a startup. Sometimes – especially if you are a maker – you go ahead and make something and then try and figure out who might use it.

Solutions are always from a problem

I can’t think of anything that is devised as a solution that wasn’t problem driven. It might be a problem you have or one that is well publicised that many people have. It might be real or imagined. The problem might exist today or might be a logical future result of how things are evolving in the present. But solutions mostly always stem from a problem.

What we do in Lean Startup and Customer Development is – through experiments – tests the assumptions we make about the problems.

Work backwards, look for assumptions

As the conversation progressed with Greg, it was clear to both of us that he had built something for his own very specific problem and was now trying to sell it to the wider world. Almost all of the interviews he had were about markets and how to access them. Almost none were about a problem someone had. Even in established markets where you think you have a Unique Selling Point – USP – you are better off validating that your USP is both unique and a selling point – with actual people.

So to help Greg understand his situation better, I asked him to tell me how he thought his product might be used. This is a great technique – tell a story of who uses and how they might use it.

Well, the person that uses this might have a need for this much output and they may want to use that much storage and my product gives them that flexibility

Stop. Rewind.  We just found three assumptions.

  1. “They might need this much output”,
  2. “They might need that much storage” and
  3. They value the flexibility.

This gives Greg something to start better customer development – he can take a few steps back and design experiments to test those assumptions.

As he designs his experiment, he can explore where to find people who use similar products or are trying to address the problem but with similar products. Once he’s found them, he can start conversations with them – not about his product – but about his understanding of the problem. Those conversations will inevitably lead to other learning and new assumptions and we continue doing experiments until we have enough validated information to do the next thing.

The moral of the story is…

The fact that you have a product does not mean it is marketable. It means you got over enthusiastic and built something that was scratching your own itch – nothing wrong with that – or you simply wanted to do something fun and interesting – definitely nothing wrong with that!

But reality check yourself. Sure it was fun and it probably was perfect for your problem but unless you establish product-market fit, it is almost certainly not marketable as it stands.

A really straightforward way to determine product-market fit is to turn it into a problem-solution question. Once you positively answer this question with actual data, then the next thing is to determine whether the problem is perceived enough to have people pay money for the solution. Then you have a marketable product. Then you can go try and seek investment and all the other things the cool kids do.

Are you stuck with your startup? Do you have a product that you are struggling to find market fit for? I don’t have any answers, just a difference set of experiences and perspectives through which we might together find answers in. Check me out on http://sohelpful.me/mikesutton and lets get a conversation started.

 


Featured Image By: Eva CristescuCC BY 2.0

Hey #Startups, the Investment Microsteps in customer development are really important

If you are using Lean Startup to build your startup, you’ll know the importance of validating the problem you are trying to solve with people who actually have that problem. Steve Blank calls this customer development or getting out of the building.

Recently I have been helping other startup founders out with what I am learning so far on the very awesome platform – that is a startup itself – SoHelpful.me

Earlier this week a really interesting guy called Peter booked a session to chat about his startup and his customer development questions.

I’m no pro – I’m learning this stuff as well and have my own particular weaknesses but over the last year I have forced myself to love customer development and it has been worth it – it gets me out, talking to real people about real problems. Effective customer development is the number one problem I think startups have.

Speaking with Peter about his idea, he shared that he had interviewed about 150 people to hear their biggest problems with the area he was focused on. I thought this was awesome – to actually get out of his house and find 150 people, talk to them and record their responses is pretty impressive. So I had to ask:

Why do you need to speak with me?

He had these responses, but wasn’t sure the next steps were to use them effectively. I asked if he had anyway to contact the same people again and he said he had asked for and received email addresses for about 50% of the people he interviewed. Brilliant!

Of course – like in the classic tale of the beautiful girl at the bar that the guy has been hitting on all night – some of those email addresses might well be fake, but I think there are still a good number that would be genuine. Peter’s idea solves a real problem.

This is where the insight into investment microsteps come in.

Investments 101: Investments, currency and return.

An investment is something you have that you put towards something you want. It can be an asset (incl money) , time , effort or a combination of all three – these are called the currency. The valuable thing you get back is called the return.  You invest some currency to make a return – usually something that is greater in value to you than the currency you invested.

How well the investment does is called the ‘Return On Investment’ – usually a ratio or percentage.

Sometimes investments are straightforward.
You invest $100 in a stock and over a year you make $50 on top of your $100. So your ROI is 50%.
Or you spend 15 minutes a day working out and in the summer you have the body that everyone drools over at the beach. The ROI on that is much harder – though not impossible – to calculate. I like to think, like Mastercard, it is priceless.

What are “Investment Microsteps”?

So in customer development, our ultimate goal is to learn and validate the problems that people have and that we – the promising startup – are hoping to solve for them.

We are also trying to validate that they will pay for us solving that problem for them because you can fix problems for lots of people and that is awesome. What is even more awesome is that someone is willing to pay you something to solve that problem for them. This is the monetisation challenge.
Is the solution valuable enough for your customer for them to invest in it? Without this or another source of recurring revenue, your startup is not a business.

Whilst getting clear feedback that people would pay you to solve the problem is the holy grail of customer validation – I notice that we tend to undervalue what I call the microsteps to get there.

When someone agrees to invest some of their currency, they are making an investment decision and expect  – at some level – a return on that investment. And in customer development when you have confirmed they are willing to pay you for the problem you validated – that is a major investment.
The smaller investments they make until then – the meetings, the coffees, the 5 minutes here and there, the emails they read, the surveys they take, the email addresses they volunteer are all little investments they make in you and your idea.

I call these the investment microsteps.

Let’s look at an example through this viewpoint:

Imagine you go out to find 10 people to interview about what they find frustrating about ordering pizza.

The firm ‘No’

You approach 50 people , asking each if they would be willing to spare 5 minutes to help you with this research. 30 people each – for whatever reason – say ‘no’.
Those are 30 people who were unwilling at that time to invest 5 minutes of time – a currency – to get any kind of return from you. There is some learning here too – why did they say ‘No’. How might you get them to say ‘Yes’?

The early ‘No’

The remaining 20 people stop and invest the 5 minutes, but when you then request a further investment – would they be willing to give you their email address or telephone number so that you can keep them updated with the progress – 10 say ‘No’. They did not get the return they valued enough from the previous investment to further investment. This could be for a bunch of reasons – understanding what they are is important but a topic for another post.

The More Committed Investors

The final 10 do volunteer their email addresses – they are willing to make the further investment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they will ultimately pay for whatever solution you devise to their problems, but – for now- they are willing to help you as long as you help them. And simply – how you help them is by giving them a return on their investment.

Every Investment Deserves a (Early) Return

How many startup founders who actively do customer development appreciate what just happened? Do you?

Every investment deserves a return – even if that return is an email a week later to say:

Hey thanks for agreeing to get updates, the research is going well and I will have some specific questions for you next week to help me under ….

If you leave it too late – they struggle to remember who you are and maybe even the return that they visualised when they made the investment.
When I get an email from a business I met 2 years ago who now just decided to do something with their email list, I shake my head and giggle  – as I click the unsubscribe button. Even when the new approach is made with an offer – say a discount – I still am rarely interested.

By now  – if you are using lean startup – you probably realise that authenticity goes a long way. If you engage regularly with people who made an investment in you, then you should do so personally or as personable as possible. That is part of the return value. An example of personable in the case of email is greeting with their first name and mentioning something specific about your interaction

Putting it all together

Recognising that people make microsteps of investment helps you approach the design of your customer development better. You can think ahead about how you might be able to make a valuable return to every investment that is made. Even down to how you appreciate the refusal to make an investment.

I believe – although I have no evidence to back this up – that the more that a person is prepared to invest in your customer development activities the more they care about the problem and the higher the likelihood that they will pay for the solution for their problem. I also believe that whether or not you sign them up as a paying customer , you will end up with a great member of a loyal group of followers that you can come back to – so long as you recognise, respect and return on their investments.

How are you doing customer development?

Do you recognise this insight in your customer development work?

I’d love to learn and share. Please comment below or hit me up on Twitter. Please consider sharing this post – it could help someone you love.

If you would like my help with anything you are puzzled about on your startup, company improvement or software process – hook up with me on soHelpful.me and let’s get a conversation started!

 


Featured Image By: Simon CunninghamCC BY 2.0