The Wall St. Journal published a piece today on “Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs.” There are a lot of interesting points, but one section got a rise out of me.

“They don’t need external affirmation,” the piece reads. “They generally don’t look for people to tell them whether an idea is worth pursuing. They tend to think it through before speaking about it to anybody, and rely on their own judgment about whether it’s worth pursuing.”

This comes close to saying that introverts have an advantage because they stay inside their own head. Needless to say, as the author of Talking to Humans, I think this is very dangerous.

First, you don’t ask people whether they will like your idea. You dig into their needs, their behaviors, and their motivations. Then you can decide whether your idea might fit their needs. Once your product is actually in their hands, then you can ask if they like it.

Second, as an entrepreneur, you don’t want a market of one (yourself). You need to get outside of your head and into the market. It is *how* you get into the market where introverts have a bit of an advantage.

Once an introvert forces themselves to recruit and interview people, they can be a little bit better at shutting up, asking questions and listening not talking. But introverts (and I am one), don’t get too cocky. I have seen the most introverted scientist types turn into rabid pitchmen when excited about their own idea.

Listen and learn.

Custdev: Starting with First Principles

by Giff on June 7, 2015

On Friday morning, I popped over to Frank Rimalovski and Lindsay Gray’s always-impressive startup class at NYU‘s Entrepreneurial Institute to talk about vetting new ideas.

Afterwards, one team asked the classic question, “if I shouldn’t ask speculative questions, and yet my product isn’t ready to test, how can I do customer development?”

In their case, they had an interesting scientific breakthrough that would enable tattoos to no longer be permanent. (by the way, this kind of question is exactly why the first chapter of Talking to Humans focuses on a pillow).

As always, they needed to go back to first principles, and not think about how other people should do customer development.

This team was trying to solve how to do custdev on their consumers. But was that really their biggest risk? Yes, they could certainly talk to people about how and why they got tattoos, and interview some folks who tried to get tattoos removed. They would get insights there, no doubt.

However, it is no mystery that a lot of people do not get tattoos because they are permanent. It’s not really a cultural taboo anymore. That statement could certainly be custdev-ed, but I feel like there are plenty of data points on this around. If I was looking at this business, I wouldn’t view validating the consumer problem as a priority risk.

That could be wrong, and I wouldn’t ignore consumer custdev completely here, but you do not have time to test everything. You need to take some bets with your time, and focus on the priority risks.

In this case, I would think a much bigger risk is on how their product gets discovered, distributed, purchased and delivered.

Is their hypothesis to create their own chain of stores, or did they want to distribute through tattoo parlors? If the latter, they should focus their customer development not on consumers but on tattoo parlor owners.

I would *think* that tattoo parlors would find this technology exciting. After all, if tattoos were more temporary, they become a fashion accessory and people would get more tattoos, more often.

But that could be totally wrong. There is a stack of assumptions underneath even that assumption. I haven’t spoken to a single tattoo parlor owner, and have zero data points on what could be a rather critical risk for this business. I’d be burning to go find out.

When it comes to customer development, there is a reason why we start with the assumptions exercise. You need to think through *your* business. What are your risks? What are your big unknowns?

Don’t follow someone else’s playbook. Don’t test things that are not a high priority. Always start from first principles and your own context.

A few years ago, I wrote about the Truth Curve, and refined those thoughts later in Talking to Humans. Essentially it states that the believability of information you receive from market tests increases as the fidelity of your product test increases. You should not wait until you have a live, instrumented product in the market, but nor should you take early signals too literally.

I used to think about this order:

Custdev Conversations > Landing Pages > Paper Tests > Prototypes > Concierges > MVP

Fast forward to 2015. When it comes to validating an idea, now all I really want to do is:

Custdev Conversations > Concierge > MVP.

You can invalidate an idea with customer development, but you cannot validate it. But you still do customer development to gain deep insights.

You then put people through some sort of experience and watch what they do. Then you interview them to dig into the motivations behind those actions. Concierge is a good placeholder name for this because it reminds you to think about a delightful customer experience, but not one that needs to scale to many people.

Landing page tests are overused and, in my opinion, uncreative. I’ve seen quite a few in action, and I don’t think you get much useful, believable information. I would much rather see a team figure out a more creative experiment.

Would I ever put up a landing page? Yes, but not really as a test for value or market demand.

It is very useful to generate a waiting list of people to tap for better experiments or your MVP.

Testing advertising conversions is also useful. Again, not so much for testing the value of your business, but for exploring customer acquisition costs and effectiveness.

Another thing on that truth curve was paper tests. They also have their uses, but not in validation. Paper tests help inform design decisions (not unlike card sorting exercises).

So don’t be lazy about “lean.” Constantly ask yourself whether the way you are testing something is as creative as it can be, and as believable as it can be, while still allowing you to move fast and scrappy.

Upside and Downside

May 9, 2015

Heidi Roizen has yet another great post this week: “How to Build a Unicorn from Scratch – and Walk Away With Nothing.” Every budding entrepreneur should read it. Her post isn’t just about valuations and terms. It is also about thinking through downside. In frothy times, especially when equity starts to feel more valuable than cash […]

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Workbook for learning financial modeling and excel techniques

May 6, 2015

I’ve written about financial modeling for startups on here a few times, and included a few sample models. More recently, I led an after-work class internal at Neo for those interested in improving their skills. For those into lean, doing a thoughtful financial model from scratch is one of the best ways to spot hidden […]

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Slack’s Success and Silos vs Teams

May 3, 2015

(Note: I’m going to leave the original post as-is, but I don’t think I wrote it very well, so see the addendums to prevent misunderstandings. Maybe. This is the Internet after all.) I read a blog post today that shocked me. A design agency taking credit for their client’s success. Which was surprising unto itself […]

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The challenge of a hedging model

April 23, 2015

A couple days ago, I wrote about entrepreneurship and some level of partial hedging. Actually solving that challenge is, of course, enormously difficult. So much so, that I think it might only really be doable when companies are just starting out, and the equity is worthless. I can see it working in a startup studio […]

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The Stupidity of Entrepreneurs

April 21, 2015

I was hanging out tonight with a bright young man who said, “A great entrepreneur always bets on themselves.” Context: we were talking about hedging. I asked the question: what if founders could hedge themselves against other startups so that if your company failed, you still had a chance for upside? He disagreed. He felt […]

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Why You Don’t Split Your Innovation Teams By Stage

February 17, 2015

(this post originally appeared on the Neo blog) Andy Weissman of Union Square Ventures wrote a piece the other day on chaos theory and startups. His conclusion was that making decisions, and deciding how you make decisions, is of the utmost importance. There are many approaches to making decisions. My current thinking can roughly be […]

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Do Market Sizing Early, Before You Jump Into “Lean”

February 11, 2015

Powerful new ideas often start with a spark insight: “Carpooling sucks! How can we fix it?” Or “Wow, these new smartphones might allow me to disrupt the entire taxi industry in a way never before possible!” Lean is great, but before you jump ahead with customer development, experiments and MVPs, it is worth taking two […]

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