Lean Startup Doesn’t Need Tools

by Giff on January 29, 2015

In 2012, we were testing a bunch of new business ideas for Amex and I thought, “what if we had a tool that let us capture our assumptions, our experiments, and our progress?” So over a couple weeks, we hacked something out and tried it out on a few projects.

It was a complete waste of time.

Here’s what lean startup needs:
– a list of hard questions
– a creative mind
– a willingness to experiment
– a focus on outcomes
– good judgement mixing data and intuition
– the ability to make hard decisions

The only tools you really need are paper/whiteboards, google docs, and a decent metrics package.

It’s not about the tools. That’s a distraction. It’s about being willing to be wrong, and making the best decisions you can with the data you have, as quickly and intelligently as possible.

Simple right? Too bad human psychology, messy data, and market uncertainty make it so damn complex!

Death to Clickbait

by Giff on January 28, 2015

I’ve decided I’ve had it with blogger clickbait, in particular the tendency to toss a highly controversial title in front of a non-controversial post.

The ones I fall for usually claim that something I believe is wrong (or “dead”). Then they proceed to explain how the idea was right after all, albeit in need of “tweaking.” I click because I am always interested in learning from different viewpoints. I end up just being disgusted with the author’s need to put traffic over authenticity.

The blogosphere should be about ideas, not traffic. If you have something interesting to say, say it. Have confidence in it. Stand behind it. Don’t bullshit your audience. Junk traffic is a vanity metric. Why chase it?

I’ve decided that I’m done with any authors who bait and switch me for a traffic boost. All they are doing is contributing to a race to the bottom.

Making Innovation Unsexy

by Giff on January 21, 2015

(This post was originally posted on the Neo blog)

“None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison, 1929

Many years ago, in between startups, a friend pulled me into a consulting gig for a large Japanese conglomerate here in the USA. They wanted to flip their IT department from a cost center into a profit center by turning it into an IT consulting company.

The idea wasn’t bad. Jeff Bezos famously did this with Amazon’s cloud services. The problem usually comes in the form of execution.

What people too often hate to admit, is that innovation is a game of execution, not just inspiration.

The IT department within this Japanese corporation was talented enough from a technical perspective. That was not their challenge.

What were some of their risks?

– they did not have an entrepreneurial leader in charge of the business unit
– they had optimized processes for serving themselves, not many external clients
– they had not tested what it would be like when they were no longer the sole, and thus centrally important, “customer” of this IT group
– they did not have an effective customer acquisition strategy other than thinking that other Japanese operations in the US would prefer to buy from them rather than American companies
– they had not done a realistic financial analysis of the addressable market, cost to sell and deliver business, and the additional costs that would ensue by turning it into a stand-alone business
– they did not have enough English speakers within the staff or leadership team
– they had not re-thought all the pieces from culture through compensation through hiring that would need to change

Of course, by not running hard experiments, testing the model, and looking hard at themselves, they got to be a smash success in their minds, right up until launch. No new ventures begins with a perfect plan — they all have to iterate — but when the foundation is so weak, iteration is even harder.

Experienced entrepreneurs learn the hard way that the fantasy isn’t worth the pain that comes after. The only thing that matters is a win, and that means that the only thing that matters is right answers, not ego and certainly not fantasy.

Dabbling in intrapreneurship is the same as admitting defeat before you start. Innovation is messy. It takes hard work, time, endless iteration, and hard-core execution.

It’s easy to buy ideas and prototypes. It’s certainly fun being creative and clever. But creatives smarts is table stakes. That’s just 1% — an important 1%, but just 1%.

If you are serious about innovation, you need a structure, a team, an environment, a budget and a time frame that is serious about innovation.

99% perspiration isn’t sexy, but it’s the hard truth.

Startups: Don’t Wait to Build Exit Relationships

January 12, 2015

Paul Graham’s latest essay warns of losing time and focus to “corporate development” staffers out there sniffing for companies to buy. I agree with him on the corp dev side. But I wouldn’t want people to think that you should ignore potential buyers until “you want to sell your company right now.” It’s a question […]

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What is good product management?

November 24, 2014

I gave this talk to the CTO School in NYC the other week. The focus was on three key topics: what is good product management, how can the head of engineering be a good partner, and how to hire good PMs. Enjoy: What is good product management from Giff Constable

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The Virtual Thief (and what that means for privacy)

November 18, 2014

In 2006, we created a online marketplace for virtual goods in Second Life. Our competitor had a daunting network effect advantage, but we had no intention of fighting over the existing market. The real market in our eyes was consumers yet to come (they never really came, but that’s a different story). To drive traffic, […]

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Fighting Our Own Biases

November 8, 2014

In 2010, I became minorly Internet-known as an early adopter of lean startup. I blogged as I went. I made plenty of mistakes. One was not defending adequately against my own biases. I have a soft spot for entrepreneurs of any kind. That’s one of my big honking biases. Liz Crawford and I were working […]

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The Post-Lean Era

October 28, 2014

Stuart Eccles, CTO of Made By Many and early adopter of lean startup, half-seriously announced the other night after a few beers that we were entering the post-Lean-Startup era. At first I thought he was referring to something we’ve discussed many times: the pendulum has swung a little too far towards lean testing and could […]

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Enterprise Innovation – A Proposed Structure for a New Business Studio

October 15, 2014

These are raw notes for an opinion piece on how to structure an “innovation” group. Comments very welcome. You’re a senior executive. You know “software is eating the world” and you have to embrace technology and disruption more aggressively. How do you approach it? If you are gunning for sustaining innovation (i.e. optimizations and extensions […]

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Innovation: to sandbox or not to sandbox?

October 3, 2014

Adrian Howard has a great talk on enterprise innovation up from the last Lean UX conference. In it, he is very down on sandboxed innovation groups. I actually both agree and disagree with him. I think sustaining innovation must be done within existing operational groups, and agree with many of the things Adrian recommends: training […]

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