Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Starve Yourself To Get Lean

What is waste and how to find it? Lean in the large definition as well as in the more narrow lean start-up definition is first and foremost about reducing waste. Well, what is waste and how do you find it anyway?

One of the best ways to learn what is, and isn’t, waste is by imposing constraints on your start-up and starving yourself of resources that are non-essential. Once you start cutting things out, you'll likely find that you can move much faster in general and apply your new-found speed to reducing cycle time increasing the pace of validated learning about customers.

So what are some examples of good constraints to try out? Here are 10 great ones I've culled from other people and my own experience:

  1. Pretend you only have an MVP and that's the whole business. Later on, you will want to sell your MVP to earlyvangelists with your big vision, but think about how much feedback you get about your core value prop by presenting an MVP as a going concern.
  2. Pretend you didn't raise that much money and put most of it in an account that requires board approval to access.
  3. Pretend you don't have engineering resources available so you have to duct-tape a business process together from several existing websites and services like Wordpress, Wufoo and a Paypal button.
  4. Pretend you don’t have design resources or ability so you make your own logo in Powerpoint and Picnik with a cool font from Dafont.
  5. Pretend you have zero sysadmin skillz. You can prove a great deal of business success deploying your Rails app on Heroku before it makes economic sense to take on that responsibility yourself.
  6. Pretend you can only use free or open-source products. Instead of Adobe products, use Aviary, Inkscape or Paint.net
  7. Pretend you have tons of users but no testers or QA department. If that were true, it really pays to have developed a strong core competency in automated Selenium testing, and incremental cluster deployments.
  8. Pretend you have no other people but need a sales department. Gurbaksh Chahal didn’t let being one-teenager shop hold him back when he needed a VP of Sales, he just invented a new name to handle big accounts himself.
  9. Pretend your coworkers are a full day different even though they may not be. Think how much more sloppily you can communicate when you’re sitting right next to your teammates than if they were a timezone (or 9) away. Elancers know this. 37Signals knows this.
  10. Pretend you have no domain experience. This is perhaps the most important and the hardest to pull off for smart people with vision who do have experience. You may have sold a similar product with a different name and brand perception into a similar market in a different year in a different part of the business cycle in a different funding environment – but each of those things on its own is enough to completely change your start-up outcome.

Whatever you think you need, there’s a ton of value in pretending you don’t have it and can’t get it – and then going ahead solving your problem anyway.
This post was largely inspired by Auren Hoffman's Kill things to grow post.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Audition: Pitching Hacks for Actors

Audition: Pitching Hacks for Actors

When you pitch your company or idea to potential investors, in large part, you are pitching yourself. You are auditioning. Fortunately, there's a book for that: Audition, everything an actor needs to know to get the part, by the guy who cast The Graduate, full of great dialog from actual auditions.

Actors can pitch; Matt Damon could raise VC any day

Some gems from Audition:

"What are you fighting for? The actor must find a positive motivation, since it will serve him in a more forceful, stronger, more emotional way than a negative choice will."

"Do you know what I saw? An actress looking down at the floor, standing pigeon-toed, whom I couldn't hear. An actress who seemed full and half-dead, spiritless, with no humor, no charm, no appeal. Do you expect me to hire such an actress for my play?"

"You are going to have big trouble being an actor, with all the limitations you set for yourself. Can't you expand your concepts about yourself?"

"The more discoveries you make in a scene, the more interesting your scene will be."

"Communication's not easy.We all tend to be lazy, thinking "Well I said it and it's his fault if he doesn't get it.""

"Particular attention should be paid to a fact: virtually no actor is too loud."

"What do auditors expect from a reading? An opening night performance, that's all."

Buy the book, already!