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Jane Austin, Director of Product Design, Babylon Health

How can good design be integrated into your business profitably? Jane answers the question by considering the ‘anti-problem’, sharing 10 ways designers and business people can guarantee their behaviours and activities will ensure they never see eye-to-eye, their efforts will be wasted and everyone involved will know it is not their fault. You will probably recognise most of these techniques in action in your own organisation… Watch, and learn how to integrate design into your team effectively.

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Transcript

Jane Austin: Thank you. I bet you didn’t know that banging techno was one of Glasgow’s main exports along with deep fried foods and me! So I’m here today to give you a kind of ten top easy ways to irritate your design team. I can hear you all thinking why should I care? This is a business conference. Why should I care about designers and their feelings and their tattoos and their filter coffee and their beard oil and their pugs? What’s that got to do with business?! Well let’s start by unpacking the problem a bit more. This is a really interesting quote from this women Paola Antonelli. Paola is a cultural serious and a critic and she’s also a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. I really love this quote.

“Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology cognitive science human needs and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”

Something the world didn’t know was missing. Can you imagine giving people this? Can you imagine the competitive advantage this would give your business? But one company that did is IBM – they recently spent over 100 million pounds to hire I mean like literally hundreds of designers across the world and they’re transforming their business from a kind of feature technology business into a design user centered business. It’s completely transformed their business. And their ratio of designers was 1 to 72. So 1 designer to 72 other people in the business life changes to 1 to 8 which is pretty phenomenal. It’s not just them. So Atlassian has gone down from 1 to 25 designers to 1 to 9. Intercom is 1 to 5. You can see that the ratio is roughly around 1 to 9 and this is just from publicly available figures that I was able to find. I also know that Facebook is quadrupling its hiring targets. All the big agencies, the big accountancy firms like EY and Accenture, they find it so difficult to get designers they’re actually buying entire design companies to get access to the designers and researchers. Capital One has been on an absolutely insane hiring spree. Challenger banks such as Monzo they’re talking about design as actually the key recipe for success. And this is contributing to a massive skills shortage. And another thing that’s contributing to the skill shortage is design education. Now I’m not so sure about America but in Britain and in Europe, design is traditionally taught in art schools. Strangely this exception of some really good physical product design courses like the one at Loughborough but it’s generally taught at art schools and it’s generally really behind the times so great designers have to learn on the job. Very few people emerge as a fully fledged designer. So if you haven’t got the time or the money or the ability to invest in junior designers you going to be battling all of these companies to hire people with the ability to impact your business. And then the top of this, the average tenure of a mid to senior designer in our industry in Britain right now is two years. So it’s makes really good commercial sense to attract and retain top talent. So in preparation for this talk I did a survey and I interviewed lots of designers and I spent time on Twitter and I have to say many companies really don’t know how to do either of these well – either retain or attract. So I’m here to tell you some things that companies do that really irritate designers so you can learn from their mistakes and you can succeed in hiring and retaining talent in this really competitive market. It’s not just about designers even though I’m talking about designers because I’m a designer – this is a quote from Lever, you know the startup that deals with like recruitment. And he’s talking about tech altogether. So a lot of this talk is applicable to your tech hires. Employers are having the same problem hiring across tech.

So before I begin I wanted to give you some context about the design process. This is my design process and I’ve got some examples of what I’ve done recently. And I also want to show you the kind of value it can add. So you all know the classic double diamond. You start with understanding the problem. You go wide trying to understand the problem space. You come to a solution you go wide again to try and understand are you producing the right solution to the problem. And then you narrow down and that’s the thing you release. I call this build the right thing and build the thing right. In order to support this we have generative research which helps us generate lots and lots of ideas. We have summative research which means we know if we solve the problem. We also shape the problem space. So we spend a lot of time trying to use ethnographic research for unmet needs and this is where we try and understand it to create some value in the world that doesn’t previously exist to solve some previously unmet problem. This is a space where innovation happens. And once we’ve done all this we ship and we ship tiny little increments in each one we learn we test we measure and we work out what we should do. We can do this by multivariate testing or once we know we have a direction of travel then we can build up and just continue to iterate on what we’ve released. This is what I consider to be a really good design process. So here’s an example of what we did this at MOO.com. So our customer support team – a customer support team are great customer proxies – they told us that they could probably higher sell more to bigger companies if we had an approval flow. And one thing I forgot to mention is that I do work at MOO. I hope people here know who MOO are. You probably know it’s for business cards but we’re so much more than that. Actually the most significant part of our business is the B2B. So we have I can’t really talk about who our customers are but I’ll give you some clues. A very large taxi company, a very large sports brand, AirBnB as well as lots and lots of other businesses. So we have this huge range of our B2B clients and we were told if we get it could give them a better approval flow we’d be able to get and recruit many more big businesses to our platform. So we flew out to America and this is a build the right thing phase – this is our team in Providence. So we did a workshop with the sales guys and the account managers to try work out what this approval flow should look like based on the requirements from their customers. So this was based on a small group of customers but they felt that this was right. So we sketched out the ideas we did the customer interviews with the customers that we knew that would buy this. We worked out exactly how the floor would work. And at this point theoretically we could have just started building. But as Pascal says I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time. In many companies you would just start building. But we said no we really need to go back and make sure that this solution works for everyone. So at this point we were still in phase of build the right thing. So we then went back. We went back from the high fidelity into a lower fidelity. So we did some sketches. We very consciously did sketches because if you do sketches people are much more comfortable about critiquing – if you show somebody quite high fidelity often they actually feel bad or they think some things to complete and it’s a weird psychological trick if you show some really rough comps like this, it acts much better as a prompt to the provocation for a conversation. So we kind of thought well is this going to be right, is this approval flow going to be right? Crossed our fingers but actually no. Sadly very different companies were very different which just seems like a real truism of course different companies are different but actually they were so different and even different departments different people would buy the print, pay for the print, approve the print. And we discovered that this approval flow just would not work for everyone. So we discovered what actually would work, the best way to get value into customers hands very very quickly was to do the MVP of an email. And this was the email. It was an absolute no brainer. This was the right thing to build. We could get this in customers hands and we could work out what to do next. So this point we move from what the build the right thing of the double diamond into build the thing right. This is all about execution. And on the right is our current e-mail. And on the left was the one that we proposed. So this is why we moved to execution we start working out like what should the copy say. Should it be an active or a passive approval. Where should the button be? What should the button copy say? And at this point we tried lots and lots of different attempts. We were iterating and at this point we got the developers to come and sit with us and look at what the how people was responding to this design. And together we did the user research because this is a team sport. So we got the entire team to observe the research together to discuss the findings to agree on solutions. You get these great conversations for example one of the developers said oh actually what we thought as the design team is going to be massively problematic because he really understood the context and how things were going to be used and the customer needed that I could actually just change this line of code over here that would fix this problem. It was amazing. And that also means that we don’t have to have this crazy defensive documentation. I call it defensive documentation, wire frames annotated the hell out of them and then just of sorts at the dev team. But this way you’re collaborating and everyone understands the problem at the same time and everyone understands why they’re building something which is really motivating and it’s back here you can see the example of the user research. So we’ve written all the observations and posted notes with a funny sort of them into themes and once we got the themes we then prioritize. So we’ve got user value to technical effort and then we have something that’s easy and important, so we built this first. Hard and important, we need to start unpacking that more and some things we just say why do this. Maybe the HIPPO (the highest paid person in the organization) wants it but we can’t find a need for it. This is a really good way to try and divert all of the same stakeholder intervention I should call it. Here’s one example at MOO. So this is what I call a really good design process where you’re iterating on the problem together as a group, you’re using research, it’s evidence based, you’re solving a problem, you have the entire team coalescing round the problem to come up with a solution – but this doesn’t always happen.

This brings me to Irritation number 1: Asking your design team to colour in. So what I mean by this is that you have people as I said who have these skills allow them to uncover an unmet need, to innovate to ensure a product market fit, to stop you building the wrong thing which is massively money saving and also to create products that are such a joy to use that people evangelize about them. But facts I’ve discovered that many companies just ask a design team to execute on the vision. In fact just do this bit here. I call this colouring in and this is often the result of a disempowered or centralized design team that has to support multiple tech teams. And this has so many bad effects – the team lacks context so they don’t make great decisions, morale is low so you don’t get to explore different solutions and optimize, you build the wrong thing and waste money, you don’t achieve product market fit. And another issue with centralized design teams is that a load of design and tech teams are both using Jira often you’ll find the tech teams on Agile and the design team is on waterfall, so the design team becomes another blocker and they get even more demoralized and miserable because everyone’s moaning at them. And even if they are embedded in the team, if they aren’t part of a collaborative process this creates a culture of handoffs and huge amounts of documentation and it means that they’re just order takers instead of bringing the full range of skills and the team becomes really really demoralized. And then they ship something it goes into the world and they’ve no idea if it worked or not. So the way that I see to fix this and this is what we’re doing at MOO and I’ve seen this working very well across a number of organizations. It’s something we call the Quad. So the Quad has Product, ExD (that’s our design team) the Tech team and we have the Agile delivery coach (in other organizations this might be the delivery manager). Each discipline has certain ‘pull’ factors that allow them to have certain types of work and responsibilities. But this team is to be so aligned and we should agree based on context and needs that they could kind of pick up different aspects of everyone’s roles. They followed the design process from end to end. So here’s what people are responsible for. First of all product is about shaping the future and inspiring the world with the product vision – No I don’t see a roadmap here – and I call this build the right thing. ExD is helping validate needs and crafting brilliant experiences and they sit on the segue between building the right thing and building the thing right – Execution. Then you have tech and then from tech we move to Agile delivery coach who facilitates this team to make great decisions and between them they delight customers. They build run and own great products and we have a happy team. And this is how you managed to do this kind of work. This is from Jeff Patton and I’m sure you’ve all heard of Marty Cagan as well. He’s just written an absolutely wonderful book. So they talk about these little sprints where you run an experiment something’s not working you kill it, if it’s working you continue you continue and you iterate – this is your discovery Sprint – and once you’ve got that you work into your development or your delivery Sprint. This kind of maps to my notion of build the right thing/build the thing right. This is very very difficult to do. Really difficult to do this kind of discovery and delivery model and there’s no magic bullet for it. The principle is the same and I’ve worked in many companies and trying to execute it and every company has been difficult in many different ways.

So if you’re doing this or you’re trying to do our job but you’re not really doing agile this means you’re Irritation Number 2: You are a feature factory. Which is another word for what people call ‘Agile Theater’. This notion ‘Feature Factory’ was a coined by John Cutler in a really interesting essay in a publication called Hacker Noon, go and check it out if you don’t know it. He talks about Agile Theater – I call it something else I call it Cargo Cult Agile. Have you heard of Cargo Cults? Some of you may have heard of this or not. During the Second World War the Americans established forward bases on these Pacific islands. So they turned up and these poor inhabitants of the Pacific Islands have no context for these visitors people just turned up with planes but also really delicious things like Coca-Cola. And then just as mysteriously they left and the inhabitants really wanted some Coca-Cola and more of these delicious things so they looked at what had happened and so they just copied it somehow Coca-Cola would magically appear. So they built Conning towers they built their parabolas of hay, they built goggles, they’ve built aircrafts different kinds of aircrafts. And this is why I think this is such an interesting metaphor for the Agile Theater that people do all of these things. They have stand ups they have retrospectives but it’s utterly meaningless. And this is how you become a Feature Factory. This is how you can recognize you’re in a Feature Factory. First of all you’re just shipping stuff or projects not products as I call it. So the work has no connection to customer or business outcomes. The team just does stuff and they don’t know why. They don’t have metrics. So the team doesn’t get to measure their work or maybe some team over there, the analytics team measures and then doesn’t tell them if it is measured maybe it’s only the product management but the design of the dev team don’t know. You have success theater. So you have big celebrations and parties about shipping, but you don’t celebrate actually what the outcome was. That’s a really interesting thing to note – you can tell a lot about an organization by what it celebrates. At many places we have parties just because we’ve shipped. Velocity, that’s what this leads to. So people really care about velocity which is the big metric. How fast are we shipping stuff? And then you end up with really over utilized burnt out depressed teams. You don’t acknowledge failure because you just put stuff out into the world and you don’t see what happened to it. That means the features never get removed and if some new info comes to light. You just continue doing what you’re doing. This means you have product managers who just obsess about prioritizing features instead of thinking about outcomes. And then you have upfront revenue which even MOO were slightly guilty of there. We knew that we could win bigger clients if we put this approval flow into place. But if that’s the only reason you’re building something then you’re going to end up with a really bad product. You have to think about the whole thing and the reason it’s existence for every feature in the product. So this is bad but things get worse.

You can just ship and you forget. People just ship, put something out there, and forget about it which is Irritation Number 3. If it’s because this means it’s really difficult for the design team to understand the impact of new features on usability and if you do understand it’s even worse because they can’t get the work prioritized to do anything about it. So for the design team this frustration of never being able to fix things, to make things better, to learn and evolve is incredibly frustrating. So what then happens – and this is what I’ve seen – you get the team the design team can remove themselves from the Agile team and they do loads and loads and loads of upfront design often in the silo to allow themselves time to iterate and do user research. I have seen teams work for six months like this sink all this money on like huge prototypes and then when they finish to sort of throw the prototype over the wall to the dev team and say “build this”. And then on top of this if you’re in this kind of world you get the stakeholders tried to shoehorn stuff in because it’s their only chance because you don’t iterate. And then you get blocked because you’re in meetings where everyone asks about this prioritization and then working like this you start to accrue design debt and tech debt and it is a nightmare. The way to fix this is to try and do the shippable increments – very few organizations are doing this where they have the big vision and then they break each list down into like little chunks of value that they can give to the customer and then see what impact that has and then change course is necessary to test measure learn because if you don’t do that and you work all the way that I’ve described this means over time the team gradually grinds to a halt and we get to…

Irritation Number 4: Nothing customer facing gets shipped. And I’ve seen this several times. I’ve come into organizations, I do some digital transformation, and I’ve seen that the team eventually has so much tech debt that they’re absolutely paralyzed or the teams are in endless meetings where nobody can agree to what to do next. Or they think okay let’s just do this quick project to get some revenue so that we can then fix the problems but everything is so broken the quick project to get the revenue takes another six to nine months and causes more tech debt that paralyzes the team even further. And then people start leaving in droves. Does this sound familiar? People start leaving in droves. So once you get to this point you need to get somebody visionary in to start fixing Irritations 1 to 4 and then you probably need to do this while hiring because everyone’s left.

Which leads me to my next Irritation: Hiring. Hiring is often a really terrible experience on both sides. So to hire well you need clarity. And the first thing you need clarity about is how your organization expects people to behave. Instead of just defaulting to hiring for cultural fit. I mean what is that? That’s just an excuse for hiring people like us people that are likeable.
What you need to do is understand how your culture should behave, what your culture is composed of, and then find people whose behavior and skills complement your culture and the existing skills of your team. And this moves us away from the tendency to hire people who think the same and towards a company built on groupthink and starts moving us to a company built on a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives and helping us enrich the culture of the team and the organization. The next thing you need is clarity on the advert. I love this one it’s so genius isn’t it?! So if you don’t have the clarity around where it sits the first thing to go wrong is the ad and often if you’re a designer and you’re looking at job ads it’s immediately obvious that the company kind of knows they need..

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Why don’t customers get, buy and love your product?

This guest post was written by Caroline Brown, co-founder of The Scale Partnership, a Cambridge UK-based positioning and marketing strategy specialist.

“Positioning is the cough medicine talk. You only go because it’s good for you.” So began April Dunford’s prescription at the Cambridge, UK launch of her first book, Obviously Awesome, hosted by Business of Software.

So somewhat ironically, ‘positioning’ itself has a positioning problem. But how do you know whether your product – or indeed company – has nailed it or nosedived into a viper pit of a positioning? And why does it matter? Isn’t growth hacking where it’s all at, anyway?

In short, no.

April’s 25 years as an exec in successful tech start-ups and global tech giants has taught her that when you fail at foundational positioning, you fail at marketing and sales (and then, at business). And you’ll typically know this is happening because your sales teams will return from meetings not with bags of new sales, but with the baggage of old frustrations.

Why do prospective customers insist on comparing you to people who aren’t really your competitors? Why do they say they like your special sauce, but then tell you they don’t know how they’ll use it? The sales cycle is long, or peters out mid-funnel. Your positioning is off.

Positioning aims to answer the customer questions ‘What is this thing?’ and ‘Why should I care?’. Customers use what they know to make sense of what they don’t (you), whether you’re new to an existing market or trying to create a whole new one. Your positioning is the box you suggest they put you into. When you pick the wrong one, you trigger unhelpful assumptions and a losing battle. “It feels like running uphill.”

Notice you ‘pick’ your positioning. It is a deliberate act. There’s a process to follow – one that April sets out very clearly in the book, having refined it over the course of repositioning at least 16 products. There are no short cuts. The default – the most obvious, top-of-mind position – is usually the wrong one and a super-easy trap to fall into at the start. So alarm bells should definitely start ringing about now if you’re floundering in the ‘founder’s position’.

The good news is that you can shift your positioning with dramatic effects, as April’s experience shows. The ‘email for lawyers’ that couldn’t compete with gmail gained traction as a ‘secure file sharing system’ for team collaboration. The ‘robot’ unhelpfully associated with anything from a mechanical arm to a Roomba vacuum took off as a Tesla-eque ‘autonomous vehicle for industrial use’. And finally, the ‘Enterprise CRM’ with unique many-to-many mapping but few customers, and endlessly described as ‘crappy Siebel’, repositioned so effectively as ‘CRM for investment banks’ that Siebel had to buy it – for $1.7bn.

Obviously Awesome sets out a clear nine-step positioning process, starting with understanding your happiest customers, if you have them, or deliberately adopting a loose positioning in a test and learn approach, if you don’t. “People are usually very happy to accept what you say about your positioning” says April, so start now.

April is the best kind of speaker: warm, witty and charmingly irreverent. Catch her if you can at BoS USA. If you can’t, do yourself a favour and find Obviously Awesome a prime position on your desk.

Caroline Brown is a co-founder of  The Scale Partnership, a Cambridge UK-based positioning and marketing strategy specialist.


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April Dunford UK Book Launch Tour BoS USA 2019 BoS Europe 2020

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The post How Do You Know If You Have A Positioning Problem? April Dunford Launches ‘Obviously Awesome’ in Cambridge | Guest Post appeared first on Business of Software USA.

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Mikey Trafton, CTO, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas

There are 3 reasons your team isn’t doing what you want them to do, says Mikey Trafton.

  1. They don’t know what you want them to do
  2. They aren’t motivated to do what you want them to do
  3. They’re not capable of doing what you want them to do

In his 3rd talk at Business of Software, Mikey picked up from where he left off at the end of his previous talk ‘How To Recruit A Badass Team‘. You’ve hired a great team, but you need to learn how to manage them. Mikey is here to help you help your employees succeed with processes, tools, advice, and war stories from his experience as an entrepreneur.

Video, Slides, & Transcript below

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Slides


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April Dunford UK Book Launch Tour BoS USA 2019 BoS Europe 2020

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Want us to let you know about new talk videos, speaker AMAs, Business of Software Conference and other event updates? Join the smart people who get BoS updates. Unsubscribe anytime. We will never sell your email address.


Transcript

All right thank you very much. Mark said Hey why don’t you start at the top of the stairs so that you know there’ll be more time for the intro music and I promise you everyone will just keep clapping the whole time you’re walking down those stairs… so I’m Mikey Trafton and I’m super excited to be back at Business of Software. This is my favorite conference to present at and my favorite conference to attend so I appreciate you all having me back. What I thought I would do for those who haven’t heard me speak before is I would just catch you up a little bit on my story, but it’s going to require some audience participation. OK so when you see this slide I need you to say YAY. And when you see this slide and you just say AWW. I’m counting on you OK. Don’t let me down on this.

So I started my company which is called Bluefish 20 years ago in Austin Texas. We’re a software consulting company we build custom software for Fortune 500 companies. And when I started the company we got off to an amazing start. We made $300,000 profit in our very first quarter (YAY). But I had built such an awful company culture that my entire company walked into my office one day and they all quit (AWW). So I had to go on a quest to learn how to build a great company. And I started going to conferences and reading books and I changed the way I hired people and I changed the way I manage people. And it started to work and we started to improve and eventually we actually won best place to work in Austin Texas (YAY). But then the recession hit us (AWW). And we lost 80% of our revenue in a single year (AWW). But our company culture was so freaking awesome that my entire company came and they all volunteered to take pay cuts so we wouldn’t have to lay anybody off (YAY). But the recession was just awful and we had to lay off half the people anyway (AWW). So we retooled the company. We created new offerings. We attacked new markets. We got this company growing again. We started making money again (YAY). But this new company was different and it wasn’t really a fit for me and my passions and my personal talents. So I ended up leaving the company (AWW). But I did leave my company in great hands because my team was freaking badass and they grew the company. They actually doubled revenue, they more than doubled profits and because I was still the owner I just got to sit back and cash the cheques (YAY). But that was like five years ago. A lot has changed, the market has changed. I ended up taking a job somewhere else and the company doesn’t even exist anymore (AWW). But that’s because I sold it bitches! A bigger company came in. They saw our amazing company our amazing culture our amazing team and they made a strategic acquisition. So that worked out great for me and it’s working out great for them as well. So YAY!

And so that brings us to today and the topic at hand which is managing a badass team because I could not have sold my company if they were not badasses. I didn’t even work there so clearly the acquirer didn’t care about me. They cared about my team. And when I say badass what I mean is someone who’s a super high performer and someone who also is a super great culture fit. Managing badasses is kind of tricky right because they’re not just your everyday house pet, a badass is a working dog right. They are happiest when they are out striving and achieving, so it’s tricky to manage them sometimes. And if you want to have a bad team then you have to be a badass manager because the number one reason why people leave a company is because of their direct supervisor. So how do we do this how do we manage this badass team? And you know my experience is most entrepreneurs actually hate managing people. And why is that. Most because sometimes our frickin employees just do what we want them to do. And that is for one of three reasons. Either they don’t know what we want them to do, or they’re not motivated to do what we want him to do, or maybe they’re not capable of doing what we want to do. So today I want to give you kind of a toolkit of the tools and systems and processes that I’ve used over the years to manage my bad ass team and kind of get the best out of them.

And so let’s look at each of these problems and see if we can come up with some solutions and we’ll start with the first reason why your team sometimes doesn’t do what you want them to do which is maybe they don’t know what you want them to do. And this is really our fault as managers right. Because we have to set those expectations with our employees. And the first kind of expectation that we need to set is a general expectation. And so a general expectation applies to kind of any situation. So for example if you’re the kind of person who you don’t want a lot of detail you just want the bottom line, that’s a general expectation your team needs to know about. And the way that I have handled this. And I’ll say for a moment that most managers are kind of awful at this right. That never occurs to them to set general expectations with their team. And this kind of sucks for your employees because they can’t read your mind. They don’t know what you want and they probably are thinking that you expect the same thing that their last manager expected. But everybody has different working styles and so that’s just not gonna be the case.

So the way I solved this problem is I wrote a document called ‘How To Work With Mikey’ and this document kind of explains my idiosyncrasies what I care about and what I expect from my employees. For example there’s a section in here. You know it’ll say You know I am a high fact finder. I like to do a lot of research before I make a decision. So if you’re going to try to convince me of something it’s going to take evidence and data. And there’s a section that talks about what I expect from my team and so it has a nugget in there that says for example I expect when we’re making a decision I want to hear your opinion. I want you to voice everything that you have to say. But once we make that decision as a group, I need you to stop dissenting and I need you to get on board and support the decision. And that’s an expectation I have of my team. So I give this document to every employee the day they start on the job. It’s super helpful in kind of just sort of setting out my general expectations of how we’re going to work together. But you also have to set what I call you know specific expectations which are expectations about a specific task or project that you’ve asked someone to complete or you’ve delegated to someone. And I think specific expectations are a lot like driving directions. Right. So imagine you’re trying to get somewhere and your brother in law gives you directions and he says hey I want you to go down Highway 1 and when you get to the IHOP take a left and then keep going. And so you get in your car you start driving down Highway 1 and BAM. This is what you see – a Denny’s. And you’re like OK well what do I do right? Is my brother in law an idiot? Probably. Does he not know the difference between a Denny’s and an IHOP? Should I turn here or should I keep going down this highway for who knows how long until I see an actual IHOP? And the reason that you’re kind of stuck there is because you are a novice when it comes to that new town that you’re in. If you were an expert if you were at your hometown and he said Hey drive down the highway until you see the IHOP you would have just stopped him and said You mean the Denny’s? And so this is what we’re doing to our employees all the time we’re treating them like an expert when a lot of times they’re a novice. We’re not giving them enough information. We’re not making it clear when we delegate. So how can we improve this situation? Well one thing that we can do is we can be more specific about how much authority we are delegating to our staff when we ask them to do something. And this was like a revelation to me. It didn’t occur to me. You know I thought when you delegates something to someone you’re telling them take it. But it turns out there’s actually four levels of delegation and the first level is hey I just want you to assess the situation, do some research and report back to me before you take any action. Level 2 is hey I want you to handle this but give me regular updates so I can course correct along the way. Level three is hey handle this and just tell me how it went at the end. And level 4 is I never want to see this thing ever again or hear about it just make it go away. And I love these levels of delegation I have them taped on my monitor to remind me to use them when I’m when I’m delegating something because usually I know what level I want the person to do but I forget to tell the employee and they’ll go off and try to make the thing go away when I actually just wanted them to do a little bit of research and then report back. And so this is great when you’re delegating to an individual but there’s a tool I like to use when I’m delegating to a team because in a team there’s way more options or opportunities for people to get confused. So the tool I like to use is called RACI and it stands for Responsible Accountable Consulted Informed. And this is how you use it. You just tag people with one of these words to clarify their role on a project. So if I tag you as responsible it means that you’re gonna be responsible for some activity or some task on the project. And usually most of the people on the project get tagged with responsible and they could be responsible for different things. So I might be responsible for the documentation you might be responsible for support or something like that. If I tag you as accountable. It means you are the one and only one person who is accountable for the overall success of this project and if something goes wrong it’s your neck that we’re gonna grab. People who are accountable often are also responsible for certain things on the project as well. If you’re consulted it means we’re gonna consult with you before we make any decisions. This is usually a risk mitigation step. And so the person that you’re consulting probably they’re familiar with the client or they’ve worked with this technology before or something like that. And then finally informed means we’re gonna keep you in the loop but we’re not going to hold off making any decisions. So we’re just going to copy you on some status reports invite you optionally to some meetings and at Bluefish we use RACI it’s just a shorthand we use it so much we’ll be in a meeting and we’ll literally say Hey who’s got the A on this little task or project? Or hey I want to be consulted on the technology choice because I’ve got some ideas. And it actually works great for a team that has worked closely together a lot and kind of knows for the most part what everybody’s gonna do. But sometimes you’re on a much more complicated project or initiative or you’re working with people that you don’t work with normally. And when that happens we break out Big Brother which we call the RACI matrix. This is just a spreadsheet, it’s got team members across the top and then areas of the project down the left and then in each cell you put one of the letters of RACI. And so what you’re really doing is taking the kind of overall project RACI and you’re breaking it down into lots of teeny tiny RACIs and it’s just super great at clarifying particularly if you have new team members and you’re not used to working together yet and you want to just be kind of pedantic about Hey what what am I counting on you for.

So these are great tools for kind of project delegation but I would say the single most effective way to set expectations with an employee about what it is you expect them to do over the course of their job is to have formal quarterly objectives. And this is when you sit down with your employee and you decide together what they’re going to work on that quarter. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or hard to track. We just track it in a spreadsheet. And so I’m going to give you my kind of tips on how to have a great setup great quarterly objectives. First tip: quantity. How many is too many? I think no more than four or five objectives a quarter. These objectives should be agreed to by the employees so they know what they’re signing up for. And I like to give the objectives a weighting. And so we have a point system. And so I’ll give each objective a certain amount of points and they’ll add up to 100 points. And this just lets them know hey a 30 point objective is worth three times more to the company than a 10 point objective. I like to have a mix of individual objectives that are owned completely by this person and team objectives where they’re going to have to collaborate with their team in order to accomplish the goal. And there’s different kinds of objectives. So we have a binary objective where you either did the thing or you didn’t do the thing. We have a percentage objective which is usually tied to some operational metric in the company that we’re already tracking – like how many emails do we send out every quarter. And so you know the goal here would be 30 if this person only sends out 15 emails they’re gonna get half credit for this objective. And then the third kind of objective is a management discretion objective which is a lot like the percentage but we don’t have a formula for it, I’m just going to decide how well you did on this objective how much credit you got. And when I first started in my career as a good engineer I tried to have everything be a formula that I could manage everybody by but eventually I learned sometimes you just have to be like the English teacher grading the essay and say you’ve got a B on this. So then so at the beginning of the quarter we sit down and we write to these objectives and we agreed to them and then at the end of the quarter we just crack open the spreadsheet again and score the objectives and you get basically a percentage achievement for each objective and that sums up to there at the bottom a to overall achievement of your objectives for the quarter. So super effective at making it clear to the employee what it is that you’re expecting of them to do kind of day in day out what’s their job. Now. You can’t just open this thing and set the objectives at the beginning of the quarter and then crack it open again at the end of the quarter you got to you know check in periodically to make sure people are doing what you want them to do. So the way I do that is just with a monthly check-in meeting. This is a 30 minute meeting on my calendar at once a month we just crack open the spreadsheet with each employee and they just talk about you know how far along are you. So this lets me kind of course correct a little bit if I need to or sometimes the business changes over the course of the quarter right. And so I’m willing to change an objective or change the weighting or remove an objective. My general rule is ultimately going to do that in month 1 or month 2 of the quarter. I’m not going to do that in the final month just because you procrastinated on this objective I’m not gonna remove it in the final month of the quarter. And so we have our quarterly rhythm right. We’re going to set these objectives we have our monthly rhythm we’re going to check in on them. We need a weekly rhythm as well to kind of drive progress forward and what I find is that I don’t try to manage individuals on a weekly basis. That’s just too much overhead. But I do manage the team on a weekly basis. And so to do that we use another spreadsheet. You’re sensing a theme. And this spreadsheet is kind of a weekly goals spreadsheet and it’s less about management and it’s more about coordination of the team members. So here’s how it works across the top. These are projects that we’re working on this quarter and down the left. Each team member and then that repeats for every week of the quarter. And when we start a project we will try to plan out every thing that each person is going to do each week to just kind of see you know how long we think it’s going to take. And you don’t know if you can see but these descriptions in the cells they’re very short. Just two or three words. So this is not a big project plan. This is just coordination. Hey I’m gonna finish the documentation this week or Hey I need you to get the APIs done. You know this week so I can do the UI development next week. That’s the purpose of this. So each week we get together we have an hourlong meeting on Mondays for each team and we go through this and we look at what you kind of said you were going to do last week and we just mark them green or red whether you did them or not. That’s no big deal. Nobody’s getting fired over this but it helps you kind of go back and see if there is a trend or you know maybe one person is constantly biting off more than they can chew that sort of thing. Super effective. It works across any team – marketing team sales team engineering team. Doesn’t matter. You know the detailed project plans for these of course are still kept in another system Jira or whatever. This is more about that you know high level communication.

So those are the techniques I use to kind of make sure that my team members know what I expect them to do. So let’s move on to the second reason why our fricken team members sometimes won’t do what we wanted to do and that’s that maybe they’re not motivated to do what they want to do. And the biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs making here is that they try to motivate their team using the golden rule and they try to motivate their team the way they themselves would want to be motivated. And this does not work because entrepreneurs are weirdos right. You are not like the rest of the world. And let me give you an example here – so see if you can spot the entrepreneur in this band. This is a wedding band and it’s very subtle but we’ll see if you can spot the entrepreneur. (VIDEO PLAYS) So that’s you right. This crazy madman weirdo who is clearly marching to the beat of his home drum right. This is how the rest of the world sees you because how do you motivate an entrepreneur right. You say OK hey look over there there’s a problem that everybody else is scared to tackle. Why don’t you quit your job take on a bunch of debt, take on a bunch of stress, become financially responsible for like a whole village of employees… and entrepreneurs we think yes that’s super fun. And of course everybody else runs screaming the other direction so you can’t motivate your team the way you want to be motivated you have to be more thoughtful about it. Now the good news is that we’re trying to motivate a bad ass team and they pretty much come motivated out of the package right. I mean that’s part of what makes him a bad ass is that they’re a self starter. So the main thing you want to do is just don’t demotivate your team. OK. So don’t get in their way. Don’t give a bunch of frickin loon nanny pansy rules. You’ll be more thoughtful about it. And when we think about motivating we usually think about you know the carrot or the stick. And I’ll tell you right now the stick does not work for bad asses because the main stick that you have as an entrepreneur as an employer is that you can fire the person. But this is a bad ass and then they’re not scared of being fired. They know they can walk across the street and get a job. So the stick doesn’t work. What about the carrot. Well the main carrot that you have is money and money is can be motivating but it’s tricky. In fact if you’re not careful money can actually demotivate your team. So for example if you don’t use money artfully your team is going to feel like a resource instead of feeling like a member of a team striving towards some common goal. Or what happens if somebody thinks they’re going to get a raise or a bonus but then they don’t get it or it’s not as much as they thought it was gonna be. I mean that’ll take the wind out of their sails. Or God forbid let’s say somebody else is getting paid more for doing the same job that I’m doing. Holy guacamole. If you if that happens you’ve just demotivated that person. So I think that money can be motivating but you have to use it more as a reward or a reinforcement of the things that you’re already asking your employees to do rather than as do it because I’m giving you this money.

So I’d like to do that with a bonus plan. And let me kind of give you my elements of what makes a good bonus plan. So first of all a bonus plan. Your bonus should be based on your performance, so the better you perform the more money you should get paid. Bonus plans also should be based on a short time horizon. If you have a yearly annual bonus then you know the lure of getting some check in December is not going to motivate me in February. Also the bonus should not be a huge percentage of the employee’s overall compensation because you don’t want them to feel like a mercenary just doing it for the money, you want them to feel like a member of a team, and this is just a little reinforcement. And then finally the employee should know what their bonus is going to be in advance. And they should know what they have to do to attain the bonus. So this is a long list right. This seems..

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An old colleague saw this on the first page of April Dunford’s book on Product Positioning.

She laughed and said,

“That should be called Cambridge Disease, the inability to articulate why anyone should care as much as you about your clever technology.”

Perhaps a bit harsh, the fact is that almost every company struggles with positioning.

If it is a disease though, the good news is, there’s a Cure!

A dose of the brilliant April Dunford at the Cambridge book launch of,

‘Obviously Awesome: How To Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It‘. Mon, 1st July 2019, 6-9pm at Redgate Software

  • April is a globally recognized expert in Positioning and Market strategy.
  • In this talk she’ll teach you how to avoid the 3 killer positioning pitfalls and how to use market context to make the value of your offerings obvious for your target customers.
  • You’ll also learn a simple positioning methodology that will make your products stand out and shine and show you a set of examples of companies that used positioning to unlock explosive growth.
  • Join us for an evening of learning, networking and a talk on Product Positioning from April Dunford. There’ll be plenty of time for Q&A too, so come armed with questions.
All attendees receive a copy of April’s book.

Mon, 1st July 2019, 6-9pm Redgate Software

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The post Is There a Cure for Cambridge Disease? appeared first on Business of Software USA.

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“You’ve got a cool product, but nobody understands it. You think it’s simple, but customers don’t. They compare your products with those that are nothing like it.”

Ouch. From page 1 of Obviously Awesome: How To Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It, it was clear that the team at Business of Software needed to read April Dunford’s new book. The book is April’s thesis on Product Positioning: why you need to think about it, the 5 components of effective positioning, and a 10-step positioning process.

As an executive consultant, April Dunford brings 25 years of marketing experience to the table with this book. Her CV is impressive: VP of Marketing at several successful high-growth startups, an executive at 3 global tech giants, and 16 products launched to market over her career. She’s been consulting for 10 years, and is now a sought after speaker – you can catch her on her UK Book Launch Tour this July, or in Boston this September at Business of Software Conference USA 2019.

There’s lots of wisdom on offer in Obviously Awesome. Here are our 5 key takeaways from the book.


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1 – Positioning is the difference between ‘So?’ and ‘Wow!’

“Position your product like your company depends on it (hint: it does).”

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your product is, or how well it solves your customers’ problems – if it’s not positioned well, potential customers are going to sail by without so much as a second glance. If it looks irrelevant, boring, or a poor imitation of a competitor, you’ll leave people saying ‘So?’.

Good positioning can make the same product seem attractive, different, and special. Find the features that make your product special, and use them as the main thrust of your positioning. Your product’s USPs will help differentiate it in the market, and move the ‘So?’ to a ‘Wow!’.

April uses a great example of this. You’re probably aware of Cake Pops – delicious balls of cake-y goodness that sit atop a stick for quick and easy on-the-go cake consumption for adults who just don’t have time to eat cake like normal people.

If Cake Pops had been marketed as ‘Small Ball of Cake on a Stick’, I doubt they’d have taken off like they have done. It focuses on the wrong things (I don’t want my cake to be small… why would cake be round? What’s with the stick?). But ‘Cake Pop’, that’s great – like a lollipop, but a cake. Easy to eat on the go, a quick treat, and it tickles the childhood nostalgia part of your brain. Positioning changed the ‘So?’ to ‘Wow!’.

This also reminds me of the amazing talk by Young Me Moon which we were not allowed to record sadly. I took a few pictures – this one shows how when Mini entered the US market at a time when everyone wanted to drive huge 4x4s, their campaigns focused and celebrated the unique differences the Mini had.

2 – Don’t be afraid to go narrow

“Your best-fit customers hold the key to understanding what your product is.”

When marketing a product, the temptation can be to throw the customer net wide. The more people you market to, the more people use your product, right? If you have a broad church of customers, the temptation goes up – let’s keep them all happy and focus on all of them, regardless of whether they’re really the right customers for us – especially if you’re struggling to get customers. Just get anyone using the product, it doesn’t matter if they’re best-fit customers or not.

April writes that focusing on your happiest customers can help you identify your best-fit customer profile. Find out what they love about your product, and then use that to position your product. These are customers who understood your product quickly, and happily spend money with you. Make it clear that your product solves the problems which that segment of your customers face, and you’ll be positioned well for other best-fit customers to find you!

“Taken as a whole, the customer base often seemed very heterogenous and it was hard to see a pattern in why they chose a product, who they viewed as competitors and what their favourite features were. However, if we sorted out just the best-fit customers, we could clearly see patterns.”

(This is also echoes what Superhuman Rahul Vohra talked about in his Product-Market Fit Engine talk last year.

3 – Positioning is a team sport

“Marketing can’t “own” positioning, in the same way marketing can’t “own” the overall business strategy. It’s simply too broad and too important to live in one silo of the overall company.”

To make positioning effective, it needs to be reflected across the organisation. If it were owned and set by marketing alone, problems can quickly occur. That’s because positioning is a business strategy exercise. It’s something that needs to be adopted across the organisation – marketing, sales, business development, customer success, product & development, the lot. Not only that, it should be set by a team from across the organisation. Different functions in the business are going to have different perspectives and insights on the best-fit customer – don’t miss out on that by letting marketing “own” it.

Imagine if Marketing here at BoS started selling our conference to attendees as an ‘Exclusive Founders Retreat’, while Sales were telling Supporters that we were a ‘Massive Exhibition with a couple of talks’. We might do alright this year, but our repeat sales would take a big, well-deserved hit. Similarly, if Marketing at BoS were to set the Positioning, we’d miss out on things that only Sales and Customer Success knows from their perspective. Positioning impacts the whole team across the business, and everyone needs to sing from the same co-written hymn sheet.

4 – Don’t be afraid to mention your competitors

“The features of our product and the value they provide are only unique, interesting and valuable when a customer perceives them in relation to alternatives.”

It can be tempting to not mention your competitors out of fear – “If we talk about our competitors, maybe our customers will go and use them instead”. April suggests that by majoring on what makes your product unique, you can draw in more best-fit customers who appreciate the things that set your product apart from your competitors.

Not only that – you should find out what your best-fit customers perceive as your competitors. If your customers didn’t use your solution, what would they do instead? It might not be what you thought it was. We learned that a lot of our best-fit customers would replace BoS with books, meetups, and online communities – not other conferences. An interesting discovery, and one that is helping us to focus on what makes BoS Conferences unique in our market – it has also changed the way we think about sponsorship and supporters.

5 – Expect to need to change your positioning

“Both products and markets change over time. Companies need to regularly check in on their positioning and adjust it as technology and landscapes evolve.”

Products come and go, markets change, large competitors can move into your niche. Positioning is an ongoing conversation amongst your team. Put the hard work in now to set yourself up well, and then tweak it regularly to make sure you’re sat at the right place in the market. Is how you positioned the product working? What could you do to make your product’s unique features stand out better?

April recommends checking in on your positioning every 6 months, or after a major event that could change the competitive landscape in your market. She also says that new competitors don’t necessarily mean that your positioning needs to change – what matters is your customers’ perceptions, not yours. Check back in with your best-fit customers, and ask how they see the situation. If they switch to a competitor product, ask them why.

April Dunford is touring the UK to celebrate the launch of Obviously Awesome: How To Nail Product Positioning So Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It. Click below to join her for an evening with a talk from April, Q&A, and networking.

1st July - Cambridge    2nd July - London


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The post 5 Obviously Awesome Takeaways from April Dunford’s New Positioning Book appeared first on Business of Software USA.

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Peldi Guilizzoni, Founder/CEO, Balsamiq

In 2018, Balsamiq celebrated its 10th Birthday – an impressive achievement for any SaaS company. Founder Peldi has attended Business of Software every year since 2010, and has 5 BoS talks to his name. In his talks Peldi updates the BoS Community on the story of Balsamiq, and the ups and downs that come with running a growing, bootstrapped SaaS company. They are archetypal BoS talks: honest, full of insight, and give you a peek behind the curtain at the inner workings of a successful SaaS company.

In this talk from BoS USA 2018 he shared another honest update about his worries in Balsamiq’s milestone 10th year. On realizing he’s still too integral to the business, Peldi started the ‘Winter 2018 Injected Turbulence Project’ – delegated product design and engineering management, deleted Slack and witter from his phone, and stopped watching their internal wiki.

Video, Slides, & Transcript below

Like many BoS speakers, Peldi comes to the conference every year regardless of whether he’s on stage. He comes to be part of the community, to learn from others, and to hang out with his tribe. At BoS USA this year you’ll meet plenty of people like Peldi – incredible entrepreneurs keen to give advice and meet new people. Come and join your tribe at BoS USA this year.

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Transcript

Peldi Guilizzoni: Thank you. It never gets easier. I’m still nervous anyways. Thank you Mark for inviting me to speak again and share my latest batch of mistakes with you. So this was the title of the talk. We didn’t really know what to call this talk so we gave it this name. So we’ll try to find some other titles during the talk. So the first one is: “Ready for another group therapy session?”. If you’ve seen me speak before you know how it really it’s a bonding experience for everybody in this room. So I hope you’re ready. All right.

Previously on Desperate Housewives… this is where we left off. I spoke in London (I don’t know how many people saw that talk) but we talked about how we had this 25 person company and we were still flat and we had come up with this way to work collaboratively with no managers and we had projects and teams and people on projects and people have different roles within the teams – sort of like what Mikey was saying but much less organized of course and in a Balsamiq way. And so we were like hey it’s going to work. Yeah right. So that could be a title for this. OK. So let me remind you a little bit of this slide from 2012 which never really took off but I still I’m trying to push it some more. So the idea is that people think that learning is like a straight line the red line that you see there. Right. You learn you learn. You get better. But really I think that it’s more an up and down where you think you know what you’re doing and all of a sudden you realize how much there is to learn and you go down and you’re really sad and then you start learning again your confidence goes up again. And these are the times where I’ve spoken at BoS at different times and here we are right now. So. So that explains kind of my walk on music that’s kind of how I feel right now. So yeah. You know how sometimes here they have a stool or a desk you know and the lights go low. Yeah. So I asked Mark if we could get a therapy couch but it wasn’t available… But you know get ready. So let’s set the stage.

Balsamiq turned 10 this year. Yes. Which is amazing. Amazing. I never thought it would happen. I was always dreaming that it might happen. Since the beginning, my goal has been to build a long-lasting company and this double digit was kind of in my mind for the last nine years. Right. And we did it. And you kind of hit me because… now what? What do we do now? Coincidentally I was a few months ago doing some personal accounting and I added up all the dividends and the salary and the royalties that I got from Balsamiq over the 10 years. And I’ve made 10 million euros out of this little company. And I mean I’m just saying it’s weird. You know it was always a consequence not a motivator for me. But I have reached what people call financial independence which is such a foreign concept to me no one in my family or anybody really that I know has had this happen to them and so I really have no idea how to deal with this. Meanwhile my son who has to be in every slide that’s sort of a family rule he’s turning is turning 13 now and he only has five years of school before he goes to college somewhere. So we’re gonna be empty nesters in just five years. You know it’s gonna fly by and my wife and I are building a house in the countryside in Italy. With the idea that it’s gonna be our retirement home and we’re going to have rabbits and chickens and bees. So you know that’s gonna be ready next year. So you know this is how I think of being an entrepreneur. I’m sure many of you agree. It’s like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill and then it rolls back and you’re answering one more e-mail one more e-mail and then 10 more e-mails arrive right. Now all of a sudden I’m like wait a minute I don’t actually need to work anymore. That’s weird but I like to work anyway. You’ll see.

So this talk could have been called “You Made It! Now What?”. And I can see a lot of you in the crowd. I get it I get it. This is totally awkward. Totally awkward. But I feel like if anyone is gonna make a fool of themselves and talk about these other things I’ll do that for you. So cause if you’re successful this might happen to you. I mean you’re dreaming of making it and then you’ll see. You know it’s not as easy. So we’ve lasted a decade as a company. Right now what do we do? I’ve been thinking how can we last another decade? Thinking that I’m not going to be here forever. There’s no way around it either you know take me out on a stretcher. I’m not going to be here forever. The market has given us permission to exist for 10 years. It’s likely that they’ll give us permission to last another 10 or another 20 to 30 and past my life if we do everything well, if we continue to execute well. And then I go back to this idea that I’ve struggled with since the beginning of whose company is it really? Because I wanted to start a company of one person. I wanted to be a micro-preneur, one person just me doing a little lifestyle business forever. No stress. Few customers, happy. You know that’s what I wanted. It was my dream. And then after a while I had to give up the dream because I was hiring too many customers so I had to. I had to hire employees. And then more and more and more and then now I think well it’s not just my company. All the employees we have 30 people that depend, their families depend on this company to exist. It’s their company. It gets worse – we have over half a million customers who want us to answer their email if they have a problem, who want us to build new features, who want us to keep going because we’re solving a problem for them – it is also their company. I feel a moral obligation to keep this thing going as long as we possibly can.

And so I realized that I think it’s still our revolves to much around me. It’s been 10 years. It should be better than this. And so the next question I ask myself is OK but really I had this feeling that it’s all too much about me. But what am I really needed for? What is it that if I don’t do it, things break. And so things are going well. Like I said after my last talk we were doing well we were firing on all cylinders. Very little drama. And so I thought sure time to inject some drama let’s inject some turbulence and so I started what I call the winter 2018 Injected Turbulence Experiment. I wrote this page for the team saying you know the fact that it’s too much around me it’s a limiting factor in the pursuit of our company’s mission. So here’s what I’m going to do. I delegated product design right, the product Balsamiq wireframes is my baby I’ve designed every single feature of it. I’m super proud of it. I think that it’s major reason for our success that it’s easy to use. People love it. I’m not going to do that anymore. And that was really hard for me to give up but I realized that I can’t do it. Someone else should do it better than me. Engineering Management another thing that I was good at and I’m able to keep a pace I do a lot of the things that Mikey mentioned without any numbers. So again very disorganized but I’m able to get good output out of all the engineers. Again I couldn’t do that anymore. I stopped watching the whole Wiki. I will get a notification anytime any employee touched any wiki page. Right. And so I knew what everybody was doing very I will get you know 50 or these or more a day – done, turned it off. Same for all the other notifications, people or trackers are kind of like our Jira/Trello. Get hub. I don’t know any commits anymore. I don’t know anything anymore. I decided to turn everything off. I even left a bunch of slack channels for different projects, different teams. Basically I closed my eyes. And I said why am I doing all these things at once? It’s pretty reckless to do it all at once. But I want to see how it feels. If I’m not if I’m not involved in the day to day operation of the company and also I want to know what we’ll break first. And I told the team keep calm and carry on and you know we can do it. You know the feminist poster I was trying to not doing a good job anyways. It should be a good test. Instead I’m going on vacation next week. I’m uninstalling Slack. I don’t want it. You know good luck. All at once. After ten years of doing all the work. You know so two weeks later I felt like this – I was eyes shut with my ears on the ground because I was terrified that something was gonna break and I wasn’t going to notice. Right. And so it was this very tense state of mind where my biggest fear was that we were gonna be maybe 10 percent slower, 10 percent lower quality, which are things that are hard to detect but we’ll kill the company in two years. Right. We can’t afford that. But how do I detect that? I went on a Twitter and Slack rehab. This was actually great. That hole that you see in the middle of the bottom that was Slack gone. I quit Facebook and I removed Twitter from the phone and I added New York Times and Wall Street Journal instead. And that was great because for 10 years maybe some of you can relate to this – How many times have you done this where you go to Twitter you search for your brand and you scroll and maybe you like… I’ve been doing this seriously four times a day for ten years. It’s a drug. It’s a total drug and so gone. Twitter has gone.

This was a good side effect. I never got an e-mail! Inbox zero, every day! Yes. And then I’m like wait a minute. People ask me how in a flat company, you’re remote you’re distributed. How do you know if people are working in their home. And I used to reply “You just know, you just know”. Actually you don’t know if you don’t watch all the Wikis and all the notifications. I have no idea if they’re even working at all. And that was weird, like Oh I see why people do OKRs or whatever, things that I hate because really I have no idea. Then there was this thing where you know we’re out and we’re not hierarchical we’re flat but really we’re not flat because I manage everybody. That’s kind of the idea. And 30 people is a lot. And you know what they say as well – at some point the CEO has to step back and take a strategic role so they have time to do visioning and look at the market and not be involved in the day to day of the operation. But if I’m the only manager, who’s flying the plane? If the pilot went back in and read a book during the flight you wouldn’t be so happy during the flight. And then I realized that there was a lot I needed to coach. I saw how people were working without my day to day input and I realized whoa we’re way behind. I even had to write a wiki page – how to do research on any topic – because I would see people getting stuck for weeks on a simple research because they just got lost in the Internet. You can find the infinite amount of things to read about any topic right. So how do you filter? How do you do it quickly. So I started doing sort of these things. And then I was like OK great what am I supposed to do? Why am I getting paid the most and I do nothing? That’s weird. So a couple of times I did fall off the wagon, I went back and I did a little coding and I did a little wireframing you know. But overall it was going OK.

One month later I got one new employee who said since you delegated engineering management to someone else everybody is so much happier. Great job. Thanks I guess… Great. Oh I’m glad. The not knowing what people are doing, you get used to that. I have no problem with that. I trust my employees they’re all bad asses. I don’t need to check on them that I spent too many too much time checking for no reason. I think that I did it because I’m interested in everything not because I wanted to make sure that people were working. I started changing my answer not fast enough from I can do this for you to I’ll help you get it done with coaching resources tools and time right. That’s the proper answer. It’s hard to do I still say come on let me just do it in five minutes. All right. But then we saw people started stepping up and really getting it and they’re like Oh crap. We have a problem. Let’s see how I can help fill that void. The idea of having a clear schedule which was one of the goals did not happen at all. I had a lot of meetings and most of my meetings ended up being the one on one quarterly meetings that we do which is where each employee looks at the last three months and makes a plan for themselves for the next three months and talks about the challenges and everything. So in the end all that I was left with was hearing people bitching and moaning about the problems that they have. Which was interesting… I still set all the salaries because we’re not even going to go there and the team is like No please don’t. Don’t spring this on us. We’ll deal with that later. And then we see that communication between teams starts to break down. You’re all nodding like of course you idiot. Of course he’s going to have but to me this was a surprise and then somebody in support was like I think we need a product manager because I don’t know what the dev team is going to prioritize and the dev team is like I don’t know what support people want what the customers want first. How do I prioritize the roadmap? Oh yeah I guess there is such a thing as product manager and I guess I was doing it without knowing. But overall nothing major broke. A month into it.

Two months into it something major broke. It was bad. It was a disaster. We deleted about twelve thousand projects for people on our web app. People who entrusted us with their data with their work of weeks and weeks… poof. I mean a company of ten years that makes a mistake so grave, you know I told my wife this could be it. We had a good run. But instead, we survived this event. But as the weeks went by. I started sort of monitoring my feelings because I had nothing to do. So that’s what you do. And so I started out in frustration because I would see things getting done not in the way that I would have done or not as fast or… But I also had to bite my tongue a lot because I really don’t know how to do this sort of coaching without interfering yet. Loneliness. You have to sort of be the rock for the whole company and I couldn’t vent to anyone because they were all part of the same experiment right. I didn’t want to influence the experiment that way. Plus I switched to working from home a couple of years ago and I always say that working from home is great for the first couple of years and then it kind of gets lonely. I do have an office mate but she’s kind of a slacker. She sleeps a lot on the job. Anyways and then I got bored and I’m like Oh crap. This is not a feeling I’ve ever associated with Balsamiq and I don’t like it. I cannot be bored with my mission in life. That is wrong. So I feel guilty. I feel guilty I was not enjoying myself anymore.

And it was a problem of my own doing and I was feeling like I was abandoning my baby and it was very I was very ambivalent about the whole thing the whole time, it was pretty tough. I started developing some curious side effects. I noticed that I started baking bread. Never in my life I would never thought of doing that! Every week I would make bread. I even took a bathroom in in the house and I painted it. I bought some from moving on and I printed a bunch of pictures and bought a bunch of frames. Who does that?! That’s insane. It’s insane. I bought a plant I bought and then I met another plant and then I fixed the plants and the terrace. I mean what’s happening to me. I decided I was going to rebrand. Sure. Whatever. I’m not a designer but I whenever I got time right. I went to Dublin for a conference and I was all alone and lonely and I would say oh maybe I’ll go to a museum. And I went to this museum and I went to this exhibition and I just started crying in front of a painting because it was so beautiful. Who is this person?! I can’t figure what is happening to me?! I started taking pictures of flowers… Something is weird right. You guys I mean clearly with the bread said there’s a creative volcano inside that needed some sort of output right. I even had several Pinterest boards. Several! Now I’m like I’m might becoming a woman?!

Then I even did the unthinkable. I thought maybe I could start a second company for just like five seconds and then stop it! You can’t think that can’t think that. I forgot to mention one thing. This is a Web site that doesn’t exist anymore. But it was my web site about how it was in the 90s. The number one Ultimate Frisbee related Web site in the world and I invented it. I made it I made it grow for 12 years of my life. Ultimate frisbee and this Web site was my life. I had sponsors I had an ad network I built myself everything that I learning college and my computer science I would throw it into here. It was huge because this was before Google right. It was huge I had interviews etc. and for a long time I thought this is it. This is my life’s calling. I’m going to do this for the rest of my life. For twelve years I remember my dad asking me about and I would say look it’s starting to make money this is my career already. And then my son was born and poof all interest in this vanished immediately. So I know that there’s this 12 year thing where nothing is forever even if you think you’re in the middle of it and you think this is my life’s calling. I’ve had this experience already and so then I’m like Oh crap. That was twelve years. This is Balsamiq. Does this mean that in two years I’m going to get bored of Balsamiq? More guilt, more shame because all I preach is I’m gonna be doing this forever. How can I have these feelings of not doing this right, my whole thing is no we’re not start ups we’re not going to sell ever. You know we are more like the butcher. So it was bad. It was bad.

Then some infighting started happening inside some teams, I sort of lost control. And then I realized that you know another drug that I have is every time I’m kind of sad I just get something done. You know I’ll make a web page, I’ll write a blog post, I’ll do something and it makes me feel better. My trusted source of endorphins to feel better and now I wasn’t letting myself working on anything day to day I shouldn’t do that. And so I didn’t even have this drug and then I had all these sleepless nights because I had all these meetings with the employees. And for them they were just venting their challenges their frustrations because we asked them to every quarter. But for me it was deep because it meant that something was broken. It meant there’s something I should fix. But now I wasn’t even allowed to fix it. And so I would lose sleep over it. They wouldn’t even notice that they said something minimal. But for me I was not sleeping. So in the end I burnt out totally burnt out. Well you know what that means you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I started taking two hour naps every day after lunch. Not good. Just like Jason Eckenroth who spoke in London says you know you feel tenderized and see there I am. That’s how I felt.

So after four months I said you guys let’s wrap this up. Great news, it was a success. I know the company needs. But actually… I mean every time I come and speak here I say I don’t know what I’m doing. It got worse. Now I know that I’m bad at what I’m doing. I wish I didn’t know what I was doing. I realized that I had spent too much time learning stuff on my own and not enough time disseminating what I had learned to the team. Which is kind of egotistical you know too much time doing stuff and not enough time letting other people do it or teaching other people how to do it. I ran into this video of the co-founder of Buffer and he says that the toughest feedback he has he’s ever received was when his other co-founder Joel who spoke here told him you know you’re really good at getting stuff done. But the fact that you get all this stuff done is actually hurting the team long term. You need to do less stuff. You need to do less of what you’re good at for the sake of the team. And no one wants to hear that, you think you’re killing it but actually you shouldn’t do what you’re good at sometimes, that kind of blew my mind. I realized that I had started this company to build a product, but really now someone else had to do that I had to focus on building a business. I had to be a business guy and it still sounds weird. And then I’m have to do the CEO thing. That’s not a very fun job. It’s kind of cliché you like saying that you’re a CEO but really..

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Tendayi Viki, Author

Innovation is hard. It takes more than a clever idea to make a business. Tendayi Viki works with entrepreneurs in startups and large corporates who are looking to innovate. Here he presents 8 business model questions to consider when attempting to innovate, followed by a Q&A with some great questions about innovating in a large corporate.

Video, Slides, & Transcript below

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Transcript

Tendayi Viki: OK. So if any of you know my friends please don’t tell them I walked into rock music. I won’t be allowed back in the hood. All right. Thank you for having me. My name is Tendayi. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here. You never know what to do with this thing. Do you walk around it? I’ll hold it. But yeah it’s a great pleasure for me to be here. I am the person that’s going to try to keep you awake after you’ve had your big lunches so I will try and do a good job of doing that. I spend a lot of my time hanging out with entrepreneurs and innovators in large companies and small companies and startup accelerators. And if you spend as much time with entrepreneurs as I do the first thing you learn is that they’re full of it. I’ve never met a bunch of people who are so full of it like entrepreneurs and innovators and inventors. And it’s because they see the world differently than most people and probably for all their lives they’ve seen the world differently. And they actually think that the fact that they see the world differently is the reason they’re going to be successful. Like as if that’s like sufficient. And then if it actually happens that they become successful, then they become truly unbearable. Because you see, entrepreneurs are great storytellers. And so if they start to tell the stories of their success they start to have foundation myths about their startups and successful companies. And these founding myths tend to paper over the details. Their success seems linear in nature. They talk about how one day they were having dinner and they suddenly realized that it was annoying to look at the menu. And in that moment the idea came to life. Or one day I on a train and I suddenly realized that wouldn’t it be cool if dot dot dot right. And this foundation it just keeps going on and on and on and on and on and what I dislike about the foundation myth is that it over emphasizes the value of clever ideas. Right. And what we know about entrepreneurship is that successful entrepreneurship sometimes has little to do with clever ideas. A lot of the companies that are really successful nowadays – most entrepreneurs don’t succeed at the idea the first idea that they had. If you think about PayPal that were working with some cryptography software stuff. Then it was money transfer via PDA and ultimately landing on the product that they have now. If you think about the journey of Flickr from an online game to whatever they became. Hotmail has got a journey. Instagram has got a journey and yet we forget about these journeys.

Just process for a minute. A lot of people when they’re talking about entrepreneurship will claim that if you stretch it over a few years maybe five years, 70/80/90 percent of all startups fail. And of the 10 to 15 percent that succeed, almost all of those succeeded doing something other than what they started doing – which actually means that the failure rate of original ideas is a 100%. And so this whole idea that entrepreneurship or innovation is somehow linear, and great ideas are really valuable, this is the myth of entrepreneurship and I think it’s something that we have to constantly challenge and it’s very frustrating for entrepreneurs and innovators to have someone continuously questioning that but actually it is something that we actually have to do. And one of the reasons why we have to do it is when aspiring entrepreneurs hear successful entrepreneurs speak, and then they try to do what the successful entrepreneurs are talking about, they end up engaging in innovation theatre right. And so if you walk into any large company these days they have an innovation lab and in the Innovation Lab is a mini Silicon Valley. Inside the mini Silicon Valley are post-it notes and canvasses and foosball tables. And people that dress like most of you in the room. And these people are supposed to bring innovation in the coolness factor to the organization. If you ask the leadership what they’re supposed to do like I don’t know go in there and come up with some cool stuff. What we need is an app. And so the more and more they engage in this innovation theatre the more problematic it actually becomes. Because what we know is that this misrepresents exactly what becomes successful entrepreneurship.

So I came up with an equation, a very simple equation, and the equation is that clever ideas are important for sure we like clever people, but actually successful innovation is the combination of clever ideas and sustainably profitable business models. When you put those things together you have successful innovation. If you have one or the other you have a problem. If you have only creative ideas you have starving artists. If you’ve only got successful business models you’ve got snake oil salespeople. And so you have to put both together so that you can have successful innovation. Now I wish that in reality innovation was really this clean right you just kind of get an equation and use you and you solve the equation. But actually what happens to you when you start working on your idea is… What you actually get is a bag of puzzle pieces as you start to do the work. And what’s crazy about this bag of puzzle pieces is that you get no picture with it so that’s the first thing you get a whole bunch of puzzle that you have no picture. And then what’s even more crazy is that the bag is packed full of other puzzle pieces that have nothing to do with the puzzle you’re trying to solve. So it’s a mixture of like the puzzle pieces you need, the puzzle pieces you don’t need, it’s all noise and signal and it’s just all messed up. And then what makes it worse is I don’t even know what to call it – a puzzle where as you fit in one piece or the other pieces you get figured out change. That is the chaos of entrepreneurship and so somehow in the bag you have to dig in there and find the pieces for customer value, the piece for creating the right solution, the piece for finding the right channel, the piece for finding the right revenue model, the puzzle piece for finding growth and scalability. It’s somewhere in that bag and it you don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. And as much as you write business plans and all these things, nothing that’s ever in a business plan ever happens in reality. And so I really love this quote – “Enlightened trial and error succeed over the planning of the lone genius”. And I think this really really speaks to entrepreneurship because with that bag of puzzles you can’t really plan your way through that. You kind of have to feel it out as you go. And it’s that feeling out process that entrepreneurs have to actually do, that’s the work of entrepreneurship and the work of innovation is feeling your way out through through that puzzle.

And the way to do that is really experimentation and trial and error. This is a version of the build, measure, learn loop. We’ve seen this a million times I’m sure – you just have to actually use this engine to navigate your way towards success. You have to surface to yourself the things that you’re assuming are true, but not necessarily true. And then be disciplined enough to check if those things are true before you make decisions. And this is a hard discipline for entrepreneurs to have because what they wanted to do is make this stuff. You’ve all heard about the Lean Startup movement right. People are talking about Lean Startup and MVPs etc etc. If you actually go to a startup accelerator right now the worst people that are doing Lean Startup are startups. Like most founders just want to build their stuff – they don’t want to talk to customers, they don’t want to test business models, they don’t want to worry about any of that they just want to make their stuff because they’re Elon Musk. Or at least that’s what they think they are.

Now what’s interesting about about the bag of puzzles is that if you look really closely at your business model or whatever the stuff that you’re working on whatever product that you’re working on right now it’s a bit of a mess if you go right down to the granular level of the stuff that you’re trying to figure out it’s a bit of a mess. But if you take a higher point of view, if you just go like one level up you start to realize that actually business (including the business of software) is you have to figure out the same sort of things. At the heart of it is selling things for more money that it costs you to make. That sounds absurd right. But actually when you’re in a startup accelerator when people are founding startups, you have to keep reminding them of that. We actually have to remind people of that because they’re so focused on building whatever product that they’re actually working on and that insight is fundamental to everything else that we’re trying to do. And so what I bring is like the seven questions or the seven plus a bonus question that you need to kind of answer in order to navigate your way towards business model success.

Question number one – Customer needs. This is about who are we serving. And what problem are we’re solving for them. This is something that we’ve heard several times but I’d actually like to go a step further and say to entrepreneurs and innovators that actually if you can’t find a core group of people that truly love your product it’s very hard just to succeed. A lot of companies want to make their products and people like your product but actually what we’re learning is that a lot of the struggles people have in growth and scaling up their products is because there has been a lot of resource or marketing because they can’t find a core group of users that love their product so much that they’re willing to go around talking about it without the entrepreneurs being there. Right. And so this is an interesting challenge. And a lot of entrepreneurs… This is actually one of the things that people talk about all the time but nobody wants to figure out how to do it. Nobody wants to even talk to customers and it’s a real challenge that we face out there in the world.

And then you have to think about creating the right solution for those customers. OK. So what is the solution that you’re gonna create? And does that solution solve their problem? Now this is the part where most software engineers disappear. The moment you put them in front of the computer you’ll never see them again. There’s this joke about engineers going dark – like you don’t hear from them. They’re only even they don’t like tweets or reply to text messages for two days because they’re hacking, and when they come back from hacking they’re really really happy about how clever they are because they figured out some really cool hack. I’m a former academic, so I spent a lot of my time writing papers and speaking at research conferences. When academics hang out or they’re trying to do is show other academics how clever they are. And as I’ve been hanging out with engineers I’ve also figured out that what engineers are trying to do is show up the other engineers how clever they are. But actually you’re not working on a solution if it doesn’t solve a problem. In English, solution means something that solves problems. This is something that you have to keep reminding people. Right. And so it’s like you can work on cool stuff all day but it’s not a solution unless it’s actually something that delivers value to customers.

And then you’re jumping to actually making the solution – I’ve got a crazy man testing stuff. And the question is how much will it cost to create the solution? How are we gonna be able to create it? Can we do it? This stuff is is kind of slightly independent from how clever we are or how clever our idea is. This is stuff that we have to actually figure out because the cost of creating this solution might have an impact on how much money is the solution for or whether or not we can scale the solution at all. And this is stuff that we have to figure out, it is a piece of the puzzle that we have to kind of slot in it’s place.

The funnel. How are we going to acquire customers? How are we going to activate them. You’ve seen this before. This is Dave McClure’s AARRR matrix – the pirates, that’s why there’s a pirate there. Right. So this is how we’re going to acquire, how we’re going to retain them, how are they ever going to refer, are they going to pay us. If we don’t figure out the channels for acquiring customers then you know it’s like if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it does it make a sound? It sounds a bit like business 101, but what’s fascinating about this is that like when you actually in situation with startup founders it is this is the hardest conversation to have because they don’t have answers to these questions and they don’t feel that they should.

Revenue model. Are you going to be able to make money from the product at all? How much money are you going to charge? Is what you’re going to charge what customers are willing to pay. Is it more than what it’s going to cost you to create the solution? These are conversations that you need to have.

The growth engine. How are you going to scale from your core group of users? Is it going to be viral? Have you ever heard “I’m going to do a viral video”. That’s not how it works. You can’t know on the first day that your video is gone there’s no way of knowing upfront. Right. We know that virality is a coefficient that you have to measure and actually track. And so you can’t just say you’ve made a viral video. There’s a metric that tells us whether or not your video is actually viral or that your product is viral. So you have to think about these things and think about how you’re going to grow the product and figure that out, it is a piece of the puzzle that’s actually important.

Another one is the business environment. This speaks to the adaptability of your product. What is the lay of the land there? Is there anything that’s coming up that might knock you out without you realizing it? Competitors, changes in law? All these things – is your product actually adaptive to the environment that is about to go into? And this is something that most people that are hacking don’t even think about at all. This is like I’m going to put it on the App Store. Like OK. There’s millions of other apps on there. How are they going to find yours et cetera et cetera. And these are challenges that entrepreneurs don’t want to think about.

And then my bonus question – timing. This is this is the eighth question. I have a friend called Adam Burke who’s a really cool cat and he’s got this saying that I really love. He says – Do you know what being too early is? Failure. That’s what you call it. You get those entrepreneurs like Yeah man I did a startup and then you know I got some funding I was in YC and TechStars and Seedcamp. You know we were too early. That’s a good story to tell. But being too early equals failure right. So the question is can you figure out that you are too early before you spend a lot of money and time is a piece of the puzzle that you have to figure out. Is it the right time to launch? When is the right time to launch? This is something that entrepreneurs can actually figure out.

And back to my point – I was just raising those as like business model questions that everybody has to answer. Your job as an entrepreneur is not to work on your clever idea. I’ve had a lot of fights with hackers about this and I’m kind of waiting for you guys throwing tomatoes at me. I’ve had a lot of fights with hackers about this – I had a guy who was like carrying the big ticks software books and it’s like so have you read any business books and you’re like No I don’t read these books, my job is to make the best product possible. It’s like, the best product possible for who? These are foundational questions that people have to answer. So as you work to try and like fit these puzzle pieces together, the problem is that a lot of the ideas that we work on are not linear so it doesn’t look like the way I’m putting it up here. So if you have a startup and you are in a startup and you have a startup all of you will have different puzzle pieces that are missing from your understanding. Some people will understand the channel well and customers well you will have a really great piece of technology that’s that that they figured out so they figured out that the solution of looking for market. So you have to kind of meet entrepreneurs where they are. You have to benchmark where they are and then help them make decisions about what to do next. And this is kind of foundational. And so that’s the kind of struggle that that we have.

And so in order to deal with some of that with some of the teams that I’ve worked with I’ve invented this little tool. It’s not a canvas for the record. It’s an A4 piece of paper. Right. And all I do with the teams is I have a conversation with them where I help them think about how they think that business model is going to work. When entrepreneurs talk about their product and their idea and how it’s going to hit the world they talk about it as if that’s exactly what’s going to happen. So I ask them how do you think this is going to work in order to raise to them that whatever they’re thinking is tentative. So it’s how we think this will work. And then they kind of describe how they think this will work. And then we go into a conversation of what they know so far, what they’ve learned so far. What do they know for sure, for sure. And they kind of outline the stuff they know for sure about how they think it will work. And then the hard part – what we still don’t know. And then we list out and things that we still don’t know, the puzzle pieces that we still haven’t figured out we can begin to map those out. And then we make decisions about what we plan to do next. This is absolutely foundational. And what I do with the teams that I work with is that we use this sheet of paper every single week as we do a sprint. We would get back together and we walk through this sheet of paper to do another Sprint get back together, because every time you figure stuff out stuff that you thought you know moves to stuff you now don’t know. And that’s the kind of evolution of the business model journey. This feels like going through like crazy iterations like you have to give your teams a sense that they’re making progress. So in addition to that what we do is we update and we rank status the key questions of every business. To what extent have you answered these questions right to what extent is all the work you’ve done made you feel confident? And so what we’re trying to do is to get them to benchmark where they are every week in terms of answering those business more questions. Have they figured out customer needs, have they figured out customer value, solution, the funnel, the revenue model, the growth engines, the business environment. And the timing and as I’m working with them you can see which teams are making progress and which ones aren’t. Because what we think about when we think about innovation sometimes especially with the Lean Startup movement is that like people are supposed to run experiments. So when you actually talk to people that run innovation labs and say like give us the metrics of your team they go we have run 100 experiments we’ve spoken to a thousand customers. They’ve got these like vanity metrics about number of experiments of all these like the reason we run experiments is to make progress. So if a team runs one experiment and that experiment helps them move or turn one of these things to green, that experiment is more powerful than a team that runs 20 experiments and still can’t figure out how to do this. So the number of experiments you’ve run is not a metric that helps us measure what progress you’re actually making. And so the combination of this tracker where we capture all the activities that people are doing plus the progress tracker helps us navigate entrepreneurs towards success. OK. I thought I was going to speak for longer than that but I’m going to stop now. So thank you very much.

Audience Member: If you meet an entrepreneur for the first time, if you only gave them one piece of advice what would it be?

Tendayi Viki: OK that’s an unexpected question. Go work at McDonald’s. Because yeah you got more chance of making money there.

Audience Member: So I have been that that person corporate has brought him to bring innovation etc. and the corporate is very old school corporate are the Canary Wharf Group and the innovation is still going on Level 39 saying they wanted to bring FinTech Innovation to Canary Wharf and it is working and it has happened. But what would you say the advice for an intrapreneur is? Because a corporate really wants to meet certain business goals. But when you are in that position you have so many stakeholders that you’ve got to adhere to. What would your advice be to someone that is in that role within a corporate? Because it is really hard to do and you have this really fine diplomatic balance that you’ve got to keep hold of as well as you’ve got to keep the bottom line going. So we had crash meetings every week – where is the money? Why are you wasting time kind of conversations? But money has now been returned so it’s success which is great many innovation projects don’t work like that. So what would you say your core advice to intrapreneurs is because a lot of people are given these roles within the corporates now?
Tendayi Viki: All right. So for intrapreneurs are a problem for..

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David Barrett, Founder/CEO, Expensify

Growth is often measured in terms of market share, customers or revenue, with the onus on marketing and sales to grow the business. Expensify however, has become the fastest-growing ERP software in the world not by growing the sales or marketing teams, but by developing a uniquely user-driven product. In this talk from BoS USA 2017, Expensify Founder/CEO David Barrett shares his insights on building product-led growth, and what it means to create a product so engaging that it can spur and maintain its own growth organically.

Video & Slides below

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Slides


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The post Product-Driven Growth | David Barrett, Expensify | BoS USA 2017 appeared first on Business of Software USA.

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“How do you beat Bobby Fischer? You play him at any game but chess.”

Warren Buffett

April Dunford shared this quote in her brilliant book, Obviously Awesome. We’re all reading it in the office. Not because she’s coming to the UK and we’re hosting some talks with her in early July nor because she’s speaking at BoS USA this year, (both are true). It’s because it is a great book and has changed the way we think about what we do.

One thing the book has changed our thinking on is how we approach working with supporters. We are a relatively small event, deliberately so. Our goal is not to run the biggest, the fastest growing, or the most profitable software conference in the world – we’re interested in being a conference that attendees and supporters alike love to attend.

We want to offer the best conference experience possible.

We love our supporters, we could not exist without them.

Conferences, particularly in a place like Boston, are super expensive to put on. We have always welcomed the support of sponsors while remaining very conscious that we do not want to turn BoS into another trade show/sponsor pitch fest.

The lack of sales pitches from fellow attendees is one of the things that people consistently say makes them return.

BoS is a place to hang out with your peers. Of course, deals get done, partnerships are formed, but the focus is on building relationships with other software people.

It is a high value group.

Many of our sponsors and supporters add great value to the event – Balsamiq offer young companies the chance to be seen at the conference, Twilio get involved in actively helping people to solve problems and plenty more…

But…

We also get a lot of inbound inquiries about sponsoring BoS. It’s clear to us that we cannot meet the expectations of some of these leads which fit a very standard model of event/conference/exhibition sponsorship.

There are three things about sponsorship that really suck in my opinion.
  • It sucks when I sign up for a conference and get bombarded by marketing emails from sponsors and end up receiving endless newsletters I never signed up to that damage the brand of the companies that do it. I think you probably hate that too.  We will never give your email address away.
  • The expectation that a sponsor gets to speak: this seems to be such a common occurrence that some people cannot believe we don’t offer the option. The truth for us is, the vast majority of our income comes from ticket sales. We were once offered $50,000 by a global law firm as sponsorship and ‘all’ they wanted was an opportunity to run a panel on software patents – I would probably have lost more in ticket sales. I cannot afford the reputational risk – people tell us that we curate incredible content, we want to keep it that way and any speakers we have are picked on merit alone. We will never sell access to the stage.
  • When potential sponsors inquire about booth traffic or ask us to set up meetings for their sales teams. This works for some events, but it is just not for us. People come to BoS for the content, they listen to the talks then spend time talking about them and helping each other out in the breaks. They pay good money to learn and network, they can take sales calls at another time. Some supporters totally get this, some just don’t. We will always keep focused on the reasons people love the community.

This got us thinking. Who are the people that would bring value to the conference and the event and also stand to gain something in return?

Then it struck us.

Why not ask the people we trust – our attendees?

We would like to know who our attendees like working with, who our attendees think would bring value to the conference. They’re a pretty sharp and discerning crowd and know what makes BoS different.

If someone who has attended several conferences thinks that their lawyer, their investor, their search firm, their payment processor,  would be a great fit, (not an OK fit, a great fit), then we think that other people at the conference will be interested in speaking to them too.

They will bring value to the event and stand to gain through their support.

We’re asking some of our regulars who they’re passionate about working with, not just people that are alright, people that add real value and would fit in.

Trust is Key
  • We want to partner with great companies that our community trusts.
  • Imagine being at an event where all the supporters come recommended by the attendees.
  • They’re not selling themselves, their customers are endorsing them.
Why is supporting BoS different?
  • You get recommended to an engaged audience of decision makers
    BoS is an amazing community of smart people with a very high concentration of senior people from companies at many stages of growth. Our audience is a smart, discerning and savvy group of people. They trust us to put valuable information in front of them, year after year. We want to keep it that way. Being a BoS Supporter is an endorsement and recommendation from our attendees.
    Supporters are seen as experts in their field, and rightly so – we wouldn’t work with them if they weren’t.
  • We’re small, and always will be
    BoS Conferences are not trade shows. There are no halls filled with booths, no sponsor centrepieces to compete with, no giant mecha-Transformers statues (seriously, we’ve seen it). We have a select group of supporters whose expertise and services can provide real value to our attendees. All supporters get a personal on-stage thank you and are pointed out to the rest of the attendees – great for picking up conversations later.
  • We help you build relationships, not collect business cards
    We’re all about building relationships at BoS, and we think conversations are the way to do that.
    That’s why we set aside so much time for networking. Attendees often talk about the ‘Hallway Track’ being the highlight of a BoS Conference, and it’s easy to understand why – time speaking with peers, sharing ideas, discussing talks, and recommending products and strategies is precious time.
    Supporters get ample time to network with this pool of brilliant entrepreneurs, and branding in the networking area is a great conversation starter. The BoS team is always on hand to make an introduction for you too.

We think this could increase the value for everyone – attendees and supporters alike. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Who would you recommend and why?

Let me know who you'd recommend


Upcoming Events

April Dunford UK Book Launch Tour BoS USA 2019 BoS Europe 2020

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The post Sponsorship & Supporters | The Business of Software Difference appeared first on Business of Software USA.

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