August 3: I Failed. Do, Learn, Adapt and Repeat Differently.

 

I am mothballing my ServiceChat startup experiment.

After six months, I have to admit to myself that ServiceChat has no legs.  People who I thought should be interested are not and actually trying to find people interested is proven too difficult for my abilities. The lack of interest is itself great feedback – if you struggle to find 10 customers how impossible will it be to find 100? So as it stands, I don’t have a marketable product, nor even one I can get customers to use. So I’m done with it.

My enduring philosophy in life is failing fast – not only because it costs less financially but also because it costs less emotionally. I want to fail fast because it means I can get to the next thing sooner – and with the learning I make from each ‘failed’ idea – I increase the probability of future success.

Here is my check in:

  • Sad that ServiceChat is not going any where and that I am mothballing it. Nothing ever truly dies. But for now – learn, adapt, repeat.
  • Sad that I have unanswered questions – for example why could I not get people interested, what was truly incorrect about my choice of customer segments.
  • Glad that I now know a lot more where my strengths are and I can better make decisions about how to address those areas I suck at.
  • Glad that I am much clearer about what my passion is. Without this, I will fail on any startup before I even begin. I really didn’t know this before. Now I know that all the ideas I care the most about are about harnessing diversity and connecting people so they can be better informed, make better decisions and generally be happier and more joyful.
  • Glad that I learned that I need to experiment more about what idea I want to build a startup business around. For this I need to take a fundamentally different approach (more lab like and less startup like).
  • I’m grateful for all the help, concern and love I’ve had this last 6 months.

I’m out of ServiceChat. I’m in with life.

Improve On

  1. Do more research about competitors, partners and the problem.
  2. Get MVPs out faster. Find more creative ways to test the idea out – without necessarily coding a damn thing!
  3. Understand the marketing channels from day 1 – it is by far the most important thing and the riskiest one for me. I assumed that good ideas would naturally float and become viral – they don’t.
  4. Fail faster than 6 months. Ideally 6 weeks.

What Next?

  • ServiceChat was based on monetising ChittyChat for business. ChittyChat as a free tool was mildly successful with absolutely no marketing. I will work to reinstate it with the enhancements I made whilst focusing on ServiceChat.
  • I see  a need for a more usable answer to public group chats on Twitter using hashtags. The current solutions are crap. The tech that drives much of ServiceChat can help me build something for me to use twitter hashtag chats better. I will experiment with this.
  • Bizbuzz is providing interesting insights into how people connect with business and the deep lack of consumers connecting with each other. This is an exciting space to explore – I will continue to mine this for insight and blog about what I discover.

July 23: A Change to Regular Programming

When I set out to build my startup in January, we moved to Spain to immerse in the culture, learn the language and extend my startup runway by 4 month. I knew I would have to revisit how I would fund our continued stay in Spain and how I might continue to explore my startup. Quite fortuitously, one of my close consulting partners offered me a coaching engagement in my old haunt – Galway.

So here I am, in Galway Ireland , doing something I am very comfortable doing (and arguably pretty good at it too). I shall be here for 5 weeks working with people who are very good at what they do and trying to help them harness that goodness and focus it on greatness.

Here is my check in:

  • Sad that I’m not in Spain. I’m in Galway, on my own, far from my loves.
  • Glad that I will focus on startup tasks as my night job – once the initial chaos of training and fatigue wear out.
  • Sad that there do not appear to be any Spanish language meetups over the summer in Galway.
  • Glad that I have 50mb/sec internet in my accommodation.
  • Glad that I reached out to a few people about reviewing my blog post on Customer Service and Social Media – why it sucks. Thank you @joneversett and @joshkehn for taking the time to read the early draft and offer such rich and considered feedback which helped me improve the post.
  • I’m grateful for the abundance of learning all around and the capacity to learn from it.

I’m in.

Improve On…

  • Writing this blog in a timely fashion

Today

  • Write the next customer service related post
  • Buffer up some of of my twumps and Bizbuzz tweets /li>

The Trello board

<unchanged>

 

Everything becomes clearer in time. Though you might not live long enough to see it. Seek clarity now.

July 18: A Mixed Bag

Not sure what to make of this week. It’s a bit like being in  the Tom Hanks movie ‘The Terminal’. I’m stuck but actually while I’m in this state of suspension there are really interesting things happening, but mostly I’m still stuck. Unlike Tom Hanks, my becoming unstuck is in my hands, I just don’t know how or I’m currently too scared to try – perhaps a bit of both. The former I can learn and the latter I will outgrow in time and by taking small risks.

Here is my check in:

  • Glad that my Spanish language exchange is really going well.  Duolingo is great, but it is no substitute for actually getting into really interesting conversations with a native speaker.
  • Sad that I will be away from my family for 5 weeks while go do some coaching work.
  • Glad that there are Spanish language meetups where I’ll be, so I can keep up
  • Mad that I have not cracked this sales thing. I think I need to get a mentor/coach. That will be my task today – understand what I want help with!
  • Glad that I will have 5 weeks of doing something else primarily and some focused time in a different location to put into overcoming what is currently got me stuck.
  • I’m grateful for being able to reflect on things, sometimes too deeply – but that is a small price to pay for being able to reflect and learn.

I’m confused and stuck and in.

Improve On…

  • Completing blog posts I have started
  • Being more patient with this journey. Overnight successes take a long time to make.

Today

  • Blog. I’m trying to do 3 a day (this one, a personal one and one for ServiceChat about customer service).
  • Talk to more customers
  • Continue with the promo work for Twumps and BizBuzz. Not quite 20 hits/day but getting there (easier on Bizbuzz than Twumps).

The Trello board

My_ONE_Place___Trello

 

There are many things I could do, do something or do nothing, but whatever I do will be deliberate.

July 9 – Back away from the code, slowly.

 

Every passing day re-affirms my fear.  I have to back away from the code, close the IDE – quit doing what I love doing and start doing the other thing.
You know – the other thing, the hitting-the-phone, sell-your-vision, learn-the-problems, discover-your-customers, dine-with-rejection-and-unreturned-emails thing, you know Customer Development!

Now, I have a world of love for Eric Ries, Ash Maurya, Steve Blank and the other luminaries of the startup world.  But they really could have done a better job of communicating how bloody tough it is to get to talk to customers, to handle the silence and the find the courage to carry on until you find the data you need (some might argue that the lack of feedback is plenty feedback – that is a different story).

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of 30 minutes of conversation with Kevin DeWalt, a really awesome and interesting guy with plenty of experience of creating companies and helping startups.  He graciously offers 30 mins of free help to founders and startups via his site. I’ll blog more about that on a later post.  Anyway, Kevin was really pragmatic and his view was really similar to @saintsal’s (from a couple of weeks ago). I have to spend most of my time out of the building, pounding the phones, the emails, knocking on doors (virtual and otherwise) and really get to meet prospects, so I can learn.

The last couple of weeks have presented some opportunities that I fully intend on exploring. So , what is my strategy?

I won’t be chasing customers.  I tried that and they weren’t interested in talking to me. My new strategy is to help them find me – well at least this is my strategy for the next 3 weeks.
This means interviews, blogs and asking powerful questions about how all the businesses I am coming across do customer service.  My intention is that these questions will attract the right people.
So it’s not so much ‘build it and they will come’, but more ‘ask it and the right people will answer’.

With this in mind, here is my check in.

  • Glad I have a plan, being lost is no fun when you got somewhere to go.
  • Glad there are people like Kevin DeWalt, Flavio Martins, @saintsal and Ian Golding who are open and invite you to seek their collaboration. Of course it is mutually beneficial – but their openness to connect is amazing.
  • Really mad that I’m succumbing to carbs – the sugary kind.
  • I’m grateful for the ability to reflect on my thoughts and the brilliance of others.

I’m in.

Improve On…

Consistent daily Spanish practice.

Testing my code.  Recently I have been doing lots of test-free hacking.

Today

Write this blog.

Write insights blog.

Plan my interview series.

 

The Trello board…

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 17.54.39

 

I strive to do more with less, everyday.

July 8 – Working hard, differently

 

 

My last post was about 2 weeks ago and you might have wondered where I disappeared to. Well, I’ll tell you.

I was feeling very disheartened about the lack of traction with ServiceChat. So I took some time away from ServiceChat – maintaining focus when you are down is hard, but it is precisely when you need it the most.  This time was to try and get some perspective.

This time off  was mostly spent building this and exploring alliances with leading customer service evangelists like Ian Golding and Flavio Martins (both of whom are graciously offered to write about bizbuzz and ServiceChat).

So here is my check in:

  • Glad I took some time out to think about whether ServiceChat is still what I should be doing. Right now, it is.
  • Glad I built Twumps as outlet for my disheartenment, it was fun and completely different.
  • Glad that I am discovering passionate people in the customer services/experience space.
  • Glad that my spanish one-to-one conversations are getting better and I am also being useful to my partner in his journey to learn english.
  • Glad an option to replenish my funding is getting stronger by the day.
  • Mad I have such a reaction to insect bites that has laid me low for today.
  • I’m grateful for the universe that conspires to help me be successful.

I’m  in.

Improve On…

Keeping carbs out of my diet – especially the ones covered in sugar.

Today

Write this blog.

Start an insights blog post

Do some duolingo -I’m getting pretty consistent with this.

 

The Trello board…(more or less unchanged)

My_ONE_Place___Trello

 

Giving up is the last thing you want to do.

June 26 – Disheartened

I’m sitting here not really wanting to do anything else but code. I know it’s wrong – I’ve built something I passionately believe is valuable but not getting to even talk to the people I believe it is valuable for is deeply disheartening.
It doesn’t mean ServiceChat isn’t valuable (I honestly don’t have enough data to answer that). It just means I suck at knocking on doors.

So here is my check in:

  • Mad that my reach outs to the individuals in companies, that I have identified have a need and a hunch that they give a damn, has not provided the access I was hoping for. Both those hypotheses remain unresolved.
  • Sad that I’m facing this whole thing alone.  I have advisers, family and friends but no one really in the space with me. I am resistant to going out and finding a co-founder, much rather they found me.
  • Glad that this emotion is strong and empowering – in a weird way – it is sparking a survival instinct in me.
  • Mad that my spanish conversational meetup (intercambio) was so difficult, it seems the more I know (vocabulary and rules of structure) the less I am able to apply.  Rules as binds, who knew!
  • Mad I feel so mad.
  • I’m grateful for perspective, without it I would think my problems were the most important in the world. They are not. I have options.

I’m still in.

Improve On…

Getting back to my routine – I seem to fall off it when I get emotionally weird, yet ironically it is what gives me a way back to form.
Being courageous and picking up the phone to call people and arrange conversations. Enough hiding behind emails!

Today

Start my ‘insights’ series on the ServiceChat blog – where I share what the data from bizbuzz is telling me (and has told me).

Get back on track with Duolingo – I’ve decided to focus on this as vs split my time between it and Rosetta Stone (which is good also, but not as effective for me).

Blog, blog, blog.

 

The Trello board…(more or less unchanged)

Screenshot_20_06_2013_14_22

 

What does it all mean, really? 

June 20 – Mikey's back!

The last 13 days

Q: Does a daily blog have to be done every day?
A: Not when it’s @mhsutton’s blog – obviously.

So much has happened in the last 13 days, I don’t really know where to start. I’ve been away because I’ve been a little discouraged with the progress of ServiceChat (no, I haven’t been in rehab – just nose down trying to move it forward!) – So I took a break from writing and the routine, to focus 100% of my time on completing my customer discovery experiments. It was an ineffective move, what may have been more useful might have been to talk to my @saintsal sooner and continue with my routine but with differently prioritised work.  Most things suffered in this hiatus – I ended up being able to do less pushups for example!

So here is my check in:

  • Glad that I spoke with @saintsal – who very kindly listened to my challenges and offered his honest appraisal based on what I communicated. Sal was gracious but honest – I have been coding an awful lot with real focus on business building and validation. I knew this, but it was hard to accept from myself.
  • Glad that my funding strategy is sorted. I’m taking a consulting gig in August that will help me fund the next 7 months from 6 weeks work. Ha, the joys of living a lean life.
  • Sad that whilst I’m doing the language study, the practical experience is not really happening. I feel less capable of speaking Spanish now than I did in January!
  • Glad that my intercambio is starting on Monday – an hour talking in Spanish, hopefully twice a week.
  • Sad to hear of the sudden death of James Gandolfini – who played Tony Soprano on the Sopranos. That show was a large part of my rehabilitation during my divorce.
  • Sad/mad that my collaboration with FounderSync fizzled out after one blog, it was actually none existent. A thoroughly poor set up. Chalk it up to experience, I guess.
  • Glad I got to talk with @scottcrowther about ServiceChat and he was lovely and kind enough to share more than 20 ideas for improvement and growth with me (including moving back to the midlands!)
  • Glad I feel more engaged and more present.
  • I’m grateful for saints who pop up with truth and grace.

I’m good and getting better. The future is less dark and almost entirely my own making. I’m  in.

Improve On…

Blogging consistently – this and other non-coding things are the highest priority items I have to do now. I basically need to drum up interest in what ServiceChat does. BizBuzz was part of that effort and now that I have gifted it to the public to search , I would like to see more interest in how businesses engage their customers on Twitter.

Today

Start my ‘insights’ series on the ServiceChat blog – where I share what the data from bizbuzz is telling me (and has told me).  The first is a summary description of the types of support behaviours I have observed and I’ll try and evangelise with best groups for the topic on LinkedIn.
Reach out to Huffington post and explore how to become a huffblogger.
Reach out to my top 5 ideal customers and get a dialogue going about using ServiceChat
Blog, blog, blog.

 

The Trello board…

Screenshot_20_06_2013_14_22

 

Seek beyond what you know. It is dangerous. Most things worth anything are.

June 7 – Dizzy with pivots.

Yesterday(and the previous 2 days)

The last few days have been like driving in a tunnel, with occasional pauses to check the map. Sometimes where you want to is actually a bloody long way away!

All this grind has yielded a bunch of exciting potential pivots – bizbuzz as a data visualisation tool for businesses and opportunities to use it to encourage business to explore ServiceChat.  All this is rather cryptic, I know, as they become clearer , I’ll share more.

So here is my check in:

  • Sad that I’m not getting the level of end-customer conversations as I want.  I feel that this is vital validation I am missing. Plod on.
  • Sad that my consistency with language study is dropping. Sad that even though I attend at the scheduled time, I’m not present.
  • Glad that both my advisors were excited about the work I had done to find valuable customers. Their insights about other potential uses of the tech is hugely encouraging.
  • Glad I have decided that ServiceChat does not really support a freemium model and making plans to change this.
  • Glad I decided to go to the beach with my family yesterday, taking a break help reinvigorate me and revitalise my relationships. More memory making.
  • Delighted that I was accepted to blog for  FounderSync , it will be the bulk of my startup experiences.
  • Glad I blogged about one of my favorite poems: ‘A Dog Has Died’
  • I’m grateful for what I don’t know.  It is the foundation of my curiosity.

I’ve got a stonking cold, but I’m  in.

Improve On…

Being present in my scheduled activity   

Today

Complete a spike into making bizbuzz more of a public tool.
Work on a biz model canvas for bizbuzz, to explore how it might work as a pivot.
Talk to more of the end customers that I am discovering for ServiceChat

 

The Trello board…(a slight expanded version)

Screenshot_07_06_2013_12_59

 

Remember your limits. Seek to extend them, but remember them.

May 31 – Talking to Customers is Hard

Yesterday

So I’m trying really hard to chat with some people about the problem I’m trying to solve.

My approach is to talk to my prospective customers’ customers – the ones that have the enquiry/frustration/need they want addressing. It should be easy, right? It would appear not so.

What could be easier – I know who they are and roughly what their articulated enquiry is (that is, what they said) and I can often deduce what their need is (thank you NVC!). But to validate with them what may have helped (hopefully the service I am offering) is proving to be very difficult. Simply because they are not responding to how I am currently approaching them.
Although it’s long and complicated and not really the subject of this post.  You might think that people would want to be part of a solution to their own frustrations – but, alas, no!

I will try something different and persevere, this is important!

So here is my check in:

  • Glad I started trying to talk to customers. Living the 80/20 rule, sending out lots of offers to have a conversation>
  • Mad I’m not getting the responses I expect. So maybe I need to revise how I make the offer and/or review my expectations.
  • Sad that how businesses treat engage with their customers (especially in tough economic conditions) is still under-appreciated. 
  • Glad that I am back on track with Spanish and my exercises.
  • Glad I improved on working late. I went to bed at 11 last night vs 2am the night before.  More work is not necessarily better.
  • I’m grateful for friends in the same startup space as me (albeit at different stages) – grateful for their comradeship and willingness to help talk things through.

I’m  in.

Improve On…

How I make my offers.

How well I keep to the fasting program

 

Today

I will continue (trying) to talk to some customers’ customers to day. I have a different approach.  Really thankful to David Harvey (@david_harvey) for helping me think it through despite him being very busy with @Vyclone (which BTW, is totally awesome tech – check it out : http://vyclone.com).

Today I also need to get on with the rest of the warm intros I need to make.

Although my anger has dissipated a little I still want to blog. So a post on ‘Youth Unemployment’ is imminent today – but only after I have some customer conversations.

 

The Trello board…

Screenshot_30_05_2013_11_41

No, your eyes do not deceive you, I have not updated my board. Sloppy? You bet. Honest?? Absolutely!

It is OK to get mad. 

But only for a while.
Then you should get smart

and then you win.

May 30 – It's Been Emotional

Yesterday

Watching the data stream in and seeing the emotions and needs that generated it has itself been really emotional.

Screenshot_30_05_2013_11_02

On one hand, frustration that so many people who use certain businesses are dissatisfied and go unheard.  On the other, I am also glad that they choose to express that need (albeit with some angry words).
I’m fully into the acquire customer funnel, a conversation with my adviser on Tuesday emboldened my strategy and helped to renew my energies.

My check-in:

  • Glad I had a great conversation with Paul, my adviser, on my strategy for researching and acquiring customers.  He checked out bizbuzz and was impressed with the concept (there may be a potential pivot there).
  • Sad the almost all my contacts are techies – I need to get more professional diversity into my network.
  • Mad at so much today : youth unemployment, apathetic businesses that squander the promise of social media, stupid politicians. I have to blog something or else I might scream and drink wine…hang on!
  • Glad that I am really into my customer acquisition funnel with good data that will inform my approach and pitching.
  • I’m grateful for data. There is so much of it, most of it noisy, but with the right intentions and nurture, beauty can be coaxed. (WTF! – I’m waxing lyrical about data – someone smack me with a wet fish)
  • I’m grateful that NVC has enabled me to see deeper into this data and react differently with it. More empathically for all concerned.

I’m  empirically in.

Improve On…

Keep to the schedule.

Make a little time for my distractions.

Self restraint. Less long hours into the early hours

 

Today

My funnel includes talking to my potential customers’ customers.  Those who expressed a need (albeit it through angry words and criticism). I want to discover what they feel might have made a difference.  Did they have the conversation they deserved?  What could have happened differently for them? So, today those conversations continue.

Also I have 20 businesses on my list to find warm introductions to.  Great data to use in LinkedIn. I found five that I am already connected to and I will be sending intro requests to them.

 

The Trello board… 

Screenshot_30_05_2013_11_41