So how do you hone in on what users really need? You talk to people who represent a heterogeneous cross-section of your target population, consider their built-in biases and perspectives and triangulate from there. In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to talk to users who represent the leading, middle and trailing adoption populations in my market as well as influential observers.
Here’s what to consider with each.
Barry Moltz, author of You Need to Be a Little Crazy: The Truth about Starting and Growing Your Business was kind enough to send me a copy of his book for review. And I’m glad he did.
The book is written for those contemplating starting a business. It takes the tone of an old veteran asking, “So you think you want to be an entrepreneur, huh? Well, before you get in over your head, here are a few things you should know…” It is full of hard-earned advice and true stories, a welcome change to the usual hype in entrepreneurial writing, which makes it sound like anybody starting a business will be a bazillionaire within five years.
From the introduction, Barry steers the get-rich-quick crowd away, writing:
The reader should make no mistake; it is easier and in the long run more profitable to get a job than to start your own business. If you want to have your own business for the money, then forget it: go get a job. That motivation will never sustain you through the ups and downs of starting and building your business. Entrepreneurs start businesses because, like an actor’s dreams of stardom, they have no choice. Passion and energy drive them on good days and sustain them on the bad ones.
The rest of the book is no less frank. Barry paints the entrepreneurial life as a long, hard road, filled with trials and unforeseen dangers. In the second chapter, entitled Controlling the Roller Coaster: You Can’t Lose Something You Never Had, he likens running a business to riding a roller coaster. You can choose who you ride with and whether you throw your hands up in the air or tightly grip the restraints with your eyes shut, but you have little control over where things are ultimately going. As he writes, “You can control the decisions you make for your business — that’s it.”
The focus is on the human aspects of starting up a company: how it will affect you personally; how it will impact your family; how important it is to find the right partners and team; and what it means to have a social network. Barry offers plenty of stories of the struggles of entrepreneurs, and shares many of his own with a kind of brutal honesty that makes you think twice about starting a business.
I have been contemplating starting a business for a long time and Barry’s book has really helped me question and clarify my motives and expectations for doing it. As far as I’m concerned, You Need to Be a Little Crazy is essential reading for anybody considering starting a business.
The book acts as a kind of entrepreneurial craziness filter. If you can read through it and still want to start a business, you are certifiable: insane enough to start a business. If not, you might just be best off sticking to the day job.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the Meme Deflector without some choice quotes. Here are the ones I felt worthy writing down:
… it is easier and in the long run more profitable to get a job than to start your own business. If you want to have your own business for the money, then forget it: go get a job. That motivation will never sustain you through the ups and downs of starting and building your business. Entrepreneurs start businesses because, like an actor’s dreams of stardom, they have no choice. Passion and energy drive them on good days and sustain them on the bad ones. — p.xiii
… your optimism drives you, but it is your passion that keeps you going. — p.11
Men wanted for Hazardous Journey, Small Wages, Bitter Cold, Long Months of Complete Darkness, Constant Danger, Safe Return Doubtful, Honor and Recognition in Case of Success. — Ernest Shackleton p.16
The natural business world is indifferent. It does not owe you success no matter how hard you work or how much money you have invested. — p.17
As an entrepreneur, eliminating what does not work can be as important as finding what does work. — p.21
This is what you are signing up for when you start a business: responsibility for your own fate and the path you follow. Right or wrong, it is your decision. — p.32
You can control the decisions you make for your business — that’s it. — p.34
In the business world, luck makes you good. — p.35
We don’t typically sell people anything. Usually we put ourselves into the position so that when they are ready to buy, we are there for them to choose us. — p.35
An entrepreneur is defined by how he or she handles failure, not by how he or she handles success. — p.37
When it feels like you can’t get any lower, thinking absurdly provides you with just enough hope to pull yourself up and move on to another, better day. — p.48
In fact, without family support, launching a business can be more lonely and difficult. — p.55
You will need the support of you family to get you through the hard times and celebrate the good times with you. Without their strong support you’re probably doomed. — p.55
When you take money from your family and friends, your relationship ith them will change because you will never again be able to tell them the truth of how business is going. — p.58
You are following the path you designed, and it doesn’t necessarily include others. Always remember that this your fantasy, not theirs. — p.74
I never dreamt about a single business idea. I always dreamt about the people involved with my company. The idea for your business really means nothing. The type of business you are in will not contribute at all to being “happily successful”. What will mean everything is the people you are working with and how they are able to execute any given business idea. — p.71
Remember that who you are in business with is more important than what business you are in. — p.73
The entrepreneur can do best by finding a group of people who can happily succeed and fail together. — p.74
You can only determine if you have a good team or a good partner after you have gone through the business experience together. — p.76
You are, however, truly a leader in your business when you can successfully let go and trust other members of your team to do the roles that you have defined together. — p.78
Remember that it is far easier to go into business with someone than to get out. — p.86
Forget your company’s intellectual property or your patents. It takes a lot of money that your business may never have to defend against wealthy competitors. As an etrepreneur, your real competitive advantage are the trusted business relationships that you have developed with your team, customers, employees, and vendors. — p.97
Business mirrors the strengths and shortcomings of each person. Your business becomes the reflection of who you are. — p.113
Don’t leap into a sector because it’s hot. Go there because you know something about it. Go there because you see a problem that is not being solved. Go there because you know people in that sector you will enjoy working with. You will almost never hit the timing right unless you are lucky. — p.119
Go out and find pain points for prospective customers that they will pay money to fix. Business vitamins are a tough sell. The market for business painkillers is always open and often very profitable. — p.119
Entrepreneurship must choose you. Most people choose this path because they have to, not because they want to. — p.121
So, you have an idea for a new business or an idea for your existing business. Will it be successful? Admit that you really have no idea. Go out and try it. Your customers will buy it not because it is a good idea, but because you executed well. And that’s what really counts. — p.123
If you build to sell, you will never build anything of value, and you will never sell your business for a substantial profit. — p.128
Let the business grow at its own pace without unnatural acts. A very common cycle of business is that after some initial success, a business will “grow itself broke”. — p.131
The most you will ever get for your business is what it says on the term sheet! — p.139
Before you sell that first product or service to a customer and they pay you for it, no matter what name you give to it, you are not running a business. You are working at a hobby that is being subsidized by your savings or friends and family. — p.146
How can you exude confidence about your products or services when you need customers so badly? Practice your pitch, and maybe even take acting lessons. Try to never be in the place where landing one customer will make or break your company. Breathe. Learn to check your anxiety at the door at least for the length of a sales call. — p.149
Marketing may attract customers, but people forming relationships sell products. — p.161
Typically, a bad economy affects everyone. The good news about this is that hard times do breed the essential business skill of humility. — p.164
One of my big lessons in life is if you are going to fail, fail at something don’t mind failing at. — Dean Rutter, p.172
If you think that starting and growing a business is hard, you are right.
If you think that it will take a long time, you are right.
If you think that you can fail, you are right.
If you think that you can fulfill your passion this way, you are right.
If you think that you can build something you can be proud of, you are right. — p.173
“Yahoo Email Delivers That Desktop Feel Most Users Expect”
I haven’t used the new Yahoo mail so I don’t know if it’s true or not but I have a problem with the statement in general. Is it really true that “most” users expect a desktop experience? I don’t know the answer, but I don’t think it’s true for me.
I don’t know squat about whether you could actually sell this, but here are my two cents: Some products ideas fall into a category I call “Just Do It”. This is probably one of them. It sounds kind of cool. It’s not going to be all that difficult to implement. You have the time to spend on it. Basically, there isn’t enough risk here to worry about. You could spend a lot of time trying to figure out if this idea is any good, and at the end, you wouldn’t really know. Alternatively, you could spend the same amount of time implementing this idea, after which you will have the opportunity to really find out if it’s any good.
What kills motivation quick? Long, drawn out release cycles. Long release cycles insert too much time between celebrations, and quick wins that you can celebrate often are incredible motivators. When you kill the quick wins you kill the motivation. And that can kill your product.
For the past few years, it has become fashionable to embrace a dynamic language such as Perl, PHP, Python, or Ruby. While I’ll admit to having a short but pleasurable tryst with Ruby, I believe I have found true love in the dialect of Lisp called Scheme.
I never thought I’d see the day when MSDN Magazine published an article on Lisp.
And there was much rejoicing!
I invited Bobby Guy, a local attorney with Waller/Lansden here in Nashville, to speak in my MBA class last week. While it may not seem that unusual or blog-worthy to mention that I had a lawyer in my class, it is his area of law that makes his visit unusual. For you see, Mr. Guy practices bankruptcy law. How often do entrepreneurs get to hear from a person who understands business failure from the inside before they start their ventures?
From this perspective, Mr. Guy clearly has a very instructive message for entrepreneurs. He likes to give a talk called “A View From Down-Under: The Top Ten Reasons Companies That Should Make It…Don’t.”