The Two Quotes

Quote #1

“The business and marketing functions of a startup should be considered as important as engineering and development, so they deserve an equally rigorous methodology to guide them”

Steve Blank(1)

Quote #2

“So why so many organizations hire expensive and highly qualified engineers for developing software and then invest in a few-hours, general marketing courses for their marketing/business people?”

Donato Mangialardo (2)

(1) Blank has spent over thirty years within the high technology industry. He has founded or worked within eight startup companies, four of which have gone public. Blank is recognized for developing the Customer Development methodology, which launched the Lean Startup movement. Blank teaches and writes about Customer Development and is a consulting associate professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford.He currently lectures at the Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley, Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). @sgblank

(2) Donato Mangialardo is an unknown follower of Steve Blank. He helps  organizations to define, validate, build and market products for sustainable commercial success.  He has spent 10 years of his career in Silicon Valley where he learned how to learn. With focus on Product Marketing/Management. He is still learning a lot. He believes that there is nothing like “seeing the light in your customer’s eyes”. And he does see that from time to time. @donatomm

Today’s BIG thing

It is great to see that most of the principles and the techniques I use to inspire and drive my customers’ businesses were “Just a crazy idea two years ago, but [they are ] now teached at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, Caltech, Princeton and for the National Science Foundation at the University of Michigan and Georgia” Tech” http://bit.ly/QS8551

Many, many thanks to the authors of the Next Startup Weekend http://bit.ly/QS7Ff1 for helping new businesses to suceed.  The other good news is that well established businesses can really take advantage of these principles and techniques. They match the problems I see everyday at my customers’. Even if the many things are still perceived as “crazy” in Italy today, things are changing rapidly. I do love my job.

Lean, Agile, Nimble and ready to rock. Or to fail? Part1

READY TO ROCK

Our business is creating software products. We know that “Value” means “providing Benefits to the customers”.

By Product we simply intend “any source of value for customers”.

Now, we are at a time where everybody here at tecnotec13897 is extremely excited for the following reasons

  • We got a new, great idea, a vision for a new product that we believe it will be a groundbreaking innovation
  • We are proud of what we plan to release to the world. It will improve many things
  • We have got a solid strategy in place
  • Our team is composed of very smart people who work very well together in a self-directed manner
  • We are thankful for being able to count on an inspiring, principle-centered, strong management team
  • We know that success depends on the ability to learn how to make repeatable what we have done so far
  • We have put great infrastructure in place to open the road for scaling up when it’s time
  • We have a robust yet very feasible and crystal-clear business plan that has been happily signed off by all stakeholders
  • We have a very well working and well-managed Agile methodology in place, since 2003 and we are now using Lean Agile

We have built our product.

We have tweaked it, fixed some issues, added a few features and shipped again

The conclusion we have to draw is always the same

Our intended customers don’t like our product

They simply won’t buy it

– o –

Using Eric Ries’ words,

we have

successfully

faithfully

rigorously

executed a plan to achieve failure

WHY?

Because we did not know what our customers wanted

Or, worse, what they actually needed

We did not know who our customers were supposed to be

How are they rewarded in their job, what’s their environment like. What are their top-of-mind issues.

What problem they have. How critical that is. How urgent is for them to solve it. How pervasive is that problem in the market of customers we intended to sell our product into

How are they rewarded in their job, what’s their environment like. What are their top of mind issues. What problem they have. How critical that is. How urgent is for them to solve it. How pervasive is that problem in the market of customers we intended to sell our product into

We did not know about them. What they love, what they hate, what is a perfect day for them, what they are afraid of.

We did not know how they buy, when they research what, how do they get the information they seek about the problems they want to solve

Instead of focusing to the landing field, we were piloting a plane focusing to ourselves or to other non-landing related targets.

Have you ever been there? Please share your story

This will be the topic of my talk at Better Software 2012

http://www.bettersoftware.it/2012/programma

 

Vision, Strategy and Bad Strategy: 5 tips

Too many organizational leaders say they have a strategy when they do not. Instead, they espouse what I call “bad strategy.” Bad strategy ignores the power of choice and focus, trying instead to accommodate a multitude of conflicting demands and interests. Like a quarterback whose only advice to his teammates is “let’s win,” bad strategy covers up its failure to guide by embracing the language of broad goals, ambition, vision, and values. Each of these elements is, of course, an important part of human life. But, by themselves, they are not substitutes for the hard work of strategy.

Richard Rumel, McKinsey Quarterly, The perils of bad strategy

Common Dilemmas around Vision and Strategy

Carla the CEO says: “I know I need a vision but I can’t seem to understand what a vision actually is.”

“I have read a lot of terms like mission, purpose, values, strategic intent, but no one has never given me a satisfactory, clear explanation of what a vision is and what actionable directions it gives me” adds Josh the VP od Sales

On the other hand, Gina, the marketing communication specialist, knows very well what her company vision is. “It’s on my cubicle wall. But how does it actually guide my work?” she says puzzled.

The very assertive Frank the CEO complains: “I do have a Great Vision, but they don’t get it. I’ve given them a memo with all the details. What’s wrong with them?”

Alvin, the sales engineer who travels all week-long, goes: “What? Vision? Again with that BS? You had another of those fancy marketing books for breakfast this morning, didn’t you?  Leave me alone, please. I’ve got work to do, at least I do!”

Vision and Strategy at work

What is a “vision” then?

It is a destination. A desirable business end-state for an organization. It’s about knowing where you want to go. And, where you don’t want to go.

It’s NOT what you want to “do”.

It’s not the “how

It’s the “where

And,  what’s a Strategy then?

It’s the path to get to that destination. How you will get there.

In other words:

  • Strategy: Sounds great! But… to go where? …“I have a map but I don’t know where to go”
  • Vision: We have one! But… how do we get there?   …”I know my destination, now I need a map!”

“If a company does not have a vision of where it wants to go, then any product strategy is likely to take it somewhere. But will they be happy with somewhere when it gets there?”

Michael McGrath

“I can always plan to operate in full market-driven mode, tuning my offering for an army of buyers that want my product or service, using the latest social media and content marketing strategies. But, how can I do that without a Company Vision and a Strategy that oversees the business and guides me there?”

Donato Mangialardo, Director of Product Strategy

5 Tips – Using Vision and Strategy for guiding everything you do

Tip#1 – You need to have both. They need to be fully aligned to provide guidance and focus. As a Top Manager, you want to make sure they are always, consistently aligned.

Tip#2 – The Vision must be extremely clear. It needs to provide focus. What is in scope, what is NOT. What is success like. Ambiguity brings individual interpretations.

Tip#3 – Strategy means what do we intend to do in order to achieve the goals expressed by the Vision. What should we NOT do.  Again, conciseness  and clarity are  a must. Everybody needs to remember it and apply it.

Tip #4 – Establish a Strategy by looking at your distinctive competences, but also acknowledge the challenges your organization faces, including inconvenient truths. Provide an approach to overcoming them.

Tip #5 – Put together Vision, Strategy and Why your organization believes it can be successful in a coherent, 3-sections statement that fits in a page.  It is a difficult exercise, but it works like a charm if well done.

(I see these more as Rules than Tips actually)

Conclusion: Align your business and your teams to understand what is and how to reach your business destination, the Vision you have set for your organization.  What’s the Strategy. This will provide focus, facilitating decisions and avoiding debates of opinions. As a byproduct, it will increase motivation and engagement in your teams.

Then, if you ask yourself …

  • “Right, but… do we have an actionable vision?”
  • “How do we get there?”
  • “Do we have a clear strategy?”
  • “Will we be able to follow that strategy?
  • “What changes will be required?”
  • “Is my company ready?”
  • “How do I know if I have set the right Vision and the right Strategy for my business?”
  • “How do I actually align them?”
  • “How do I know whether I have factored-in all the variables?”

…Then (note, this is a Self-Promoting paragraph) you want to consider investing in this  effective exercise that will direct your business to repeatable wins and eventually success.This is one of the things I like to do the most in my profession at crystal-ize.com, with a solid, proven methodology drawn from a specific experience in International, US-based and Italian companies of various business models and size.

I am sure you may have questions: please leave your comment. I will surely reply and assist your cause.

Why Startups Fail

This morning I was reading a 47Hats‘ Blog post about this  book: Why Startups Fail: And How Yours Can Succeed, By David Feinleib, VC, Entrepreneur.

This post mentions a number of very good, although pretty common, points of failure and  advice for startups. It goes like:

Startups fail for many different reasons. Turn failure into success by avoiding some of the most common causes of startup failure:

  1. Failing to drive demand
  2. Building a product people don’t want
  3. A lack of passion
  4. Running out of money
  5. Scaling too fast
  6. Small markets
  7. Failing to focus

It also makes very good points like:

1. Failing to drive demand – Too often, entrepreneurs focus on what they’re going to build but not on their go-to-market strategy. Imagine that your product is already built. It’s done, and it’s ready to go. Now what? What is the tagline for the product? How are you going to market it? What’s going to drive massive adoption? …Figuring out how to drive demand for your product is just as important as figuring out what product to build. Inefficient, unleveraged distribution can kill a startup…

This is Dead On. Absolutely right.

Still so many keep falling in this trap. Incredible.

2. Build Something People Want – …Many entrepreneurs spend months or years building a product only to find out that few people want it. How does this happen?

The short answer is: it happens because making sure you have nailed down the right product for the right buyer in the right segment is harder that you think, so you haven’t dedicated time and budget for it.

Unless you have done fatal mistakes like forgetting completely about funding or picking the right people you need, the first two points are in my experience, by far the most important ones. Not only.  I would reverse their order of importance. Therefore I will start with the first one (and leave the second one for another post).

1. Build something that people want, and are willing to pay for – very often there is excitement around a new product or service or idea, you get great feedback from peers, friends, family, former colleagues, your early investors. Then the product hits the market and… there is no one willing to pay for it. “Where is everybody! They loved the idea!” . Here is the disaster. Most likely, irreversible.

Now, you just cannot take this risk. You can’t go head down with technology forgetting who your prospective buyers are, what they like/dislike, what is their attitude towards things that are relevant to for your idea. This applies for both consumer and enterprise products. You need to find something that solves a problem, satisfy a clear, painful need, does something 10-100x better than it’s done today,  or just creates desire such as the iPhone (good luck with that).  Then you build a message around the product and what it does for them. Not your technology, not you, them. Your buyers. Your users.

Mr. David Feinleib in his book’s puts a lot of emphasis in driving demand. “Figuring out how to drive demand for your product is just as important as figuring out what product to build“.

I agree. How to drive demand should in a way be part of the new product development process (I am not talking about code here) since the beginning.

Two examples by the same author:

  • Consider file sharing service Dropbox, which gives free space to existing users when they sign up others. The company now has some 50 million users.
  • Or think about social game maker Zynga, which builds games that require the participation of friends. Zynga leveraged the Facebook social graph to reach hundreds of millions of players. Marketing is no longer separate from product—it’s built right in.

Let me underline a key statement:

Marketing is no longer separate from product—it’s built right in.

Dead right! And more applicable than you think.

So what is my point? Look at the two key points above. They have one thing, one, most important thing in common. The buyer and her willingness to pay for something they want (because of a desire, because of a pressing business problem).  If you are able to capture the buyer and then  channel his  voice in clear, precise, compelling, persuasive and “enchanting” manner, both the product and the demand can be derived and/or enriched by the most powerful asset you may have in this business.

An intimate knowledge of the buyer.

Getting to know your buyer or your primary user is not easy. There are techniques and skills involved. The best technique by far, that joins effectiveness with low investment is “crystallizing your buyer and user personas”. I have seen this methodology changing completely the game, getting products to success, getting motivated, excited (enchanted, using Seth’s Godin’s words) marketing people, managers and sales people.

Here is some food for thought

  • Good news: it works great, always.
  • Bad news: it’s not easy. Requires live interviews, skills, competence.
  • Requires a “get out the office and go meet your buyers” kind of attitude
  • What is the business problem that we aim to solve? (Not the solution we have identified and that we want to “push”)
  • Is it urgent and critical?
  • For whom? Who has this problem? Be specific.
  • Describe the Buyer. His priorities. His success metrics (revenues, not getting fired, be promoted, make more money for his practice, etc).
  • Research and describe demographic attributes, habits, behaviors, attitudes, perceptions, emotions and reactions.
  • Is there anything that can’t make her sleep at night? What is that?
  • Create a lifelike description of the Buyer persona and share it with your team. Do they recognize her? Iterate. Interview face to face, iterate.

A buyer persona guides us to create solutions that resonate with buyers, do not require useless and expensive promotion channels and huge investments on sales to “create a need” (this does never work anyway in the long-term). If well done, we will be able to see the world through her own eyes so we can create the right mix of “product and demand creation engine”.