Tagged with: ‘startups’

Posts: 7

Founders: Avoid Death by Assumption

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” — Isaac Asimov

When you’re building a company, your ability to make good assumptions can be the difference between skyrocketing or skydiving. A few bad calls in a larger business can be damaging, but in an early stage startup it can be — and often is — fatal.

A roadmap to better

At Fruitful we’ve made a conscious effort to get better at making assumptions. We do this by mapping out the following on what we call an assumption roadmap™

An illustration of the Assumption Roadmap. See description below.

For the upcoming months, we unroll a stretch of paper and stick:

  • Blue Post-its → for what we assume we can do.
    An example being: We will raise a new round of venture investment because we’ve built our product and are ready for go-to-market.
  • Red Post-its → for things that could undo the above (namely, risk factors).
    E.g. Investors pass on us because they can’t get comfortable with our costs to acquire new customers.
  • Green Post-its → for contingencies that we develop.
    E.g. Use investor feedback to rework the pitch / consider a change in strategy / reach out to previous investors to jumpstart the round / collect data to make our pitch more compelling / secure a bridge loan (lol).

Assumption Roadmaps FTW

As a team, we’ve found the exercise to be pretty helpful since it:

  • Forces you to think of worst case scenarios — every headstrong founder hates doing this but it’s important for so many reasons that go way beyond the role of this article.
  • Encourages brainstorming of contingencies — and trust me, you’ll need these.
  • Serves as a visual overview of
    (1) important assumptions we have over the next few months
    (2) where have a large number of risk factors
    (3) where we’re looking shallow on fallbacks for said risk factors.

Most importantly, this role your sleeves-up approach to planning is quick and simple — making it accessible for everyone on your team to contribute.

★ For extra points, use the Post-It Plus app to rearrange, organise and share your assumption roadmaps anytime after your planning sesh.


How to Pitch Your Product to the Press

Last Tuesday I popped in to DoES Liverpool to see Matthew Hughes give a talk on how to pitch your product to the press. He’s a tech journalist at MakeUseOf — so he had some lessons to share from the other side of the table.

In no real order:

  • Be as concise as possible - journos receive mountains of product pitches each week.
  • Sounds stupid but: There’s a difference between product pitches and press releases. The former is an anchor to entice the journo to sign-up for your product, check it out and write a review.
  • If you have notable investors > name drop them. This adds validation.
  • You need to entice the journo - lead with the problems you’re solving.
  • Personalisation is important. Do your research on the journo. What have they written in the past that might make them want to write about your product?
  • Gifts are cool, but not bribes $$$. UPDATE from Matthew: “Should probably clarify I meant gifts with no monetary value though, and after an article has been published. ;)”
  • Obvz grammar is super important.
  • Journos like phone numbers for follow up - so share yours.
  • Don’t talk about yourself (founders) - especially if it’s a product pitch.

Bookmarks:

  • press.farm find journalists to write about your product.
  • blonde20.com good PR agency. Do retainers from around £4,000 a month — much more competitive that London agencies we’ve spoken to.
  • uber.com/presskit Uber’s press kit is a good example.

You produce results: Learn from these

It’s nearly been a year since I joined Fruitful - a fintech startup that’s working to rethink how savers save and how borrowers borrow.

Since then we’ve been through a significant product redesign, a complete branding overhaul, a successful soft-launch and a customer response that has more than overwhelmed us. With customers investing with Fruitful from all over the globe, it’s clear that people are in search of an ‘alternative’ that offers fair interest rates, secured lending and the flexibility that we should expect from a modern investment product.

So as we venture into 2015, I thought I’d share a handful of the lessons that I’ve learned and have considered tattooing to my forehead.

Mostly product focused, take from this what you will:

Integrate Around Concerns

When working with a team of designers, developers and content people, there’s always a temptation to separate tasks by role, such as a ”design” todo list and a ”programming” todo list.

The problem with this approach is that it’s difficult to assess progress from separate to do lists or issue backlogs. On top of this, there’s an increased operational risk. Since the QA effort stutters, stopping and starting as each role’s to do list is completed, you run the risk of failing to test the feature as a whole.

Learning from this, we’ve formalised a workflow that integrates arounds concerns. Instead of organising around roles (e.g. design tasks, programming tasks), we organise around areas of concern (e.g. registration form, email receipts). As Ryan Singer puts it:

Marking one piece “done” is powerful because it requires design, programming, support and review to integrate around a specific point in the product.

Whenever a list is finished, it shows a piece of the product is ready to review and mark ”done”. It feels great to know one part of the product has no remaining contingencies. It’s ready to go.

Minimum Marketable Product

Give that I:

  • joined the project just after its inception and
  • had limited experience in the mortgage market and
  • was (initially) unsure of its legal and regulatory commitments

I failed to ask some important questions about minimum marketable product (MMP).

And yes, I prefer MMP as it underscores the importance of building something that is sought-after, by customers, (marketable) vs. something that is viewed merely as feasible, by the company, (viable).

On top of this, MMP forces you to:

  1. Think about the important areas where you should adding value (i.e. your differentiators) in conjunction with:
  2. Working hard to develop those areas, so that they reach a high level of finish, giving you a better opportunity to win the hearts and minds of your customers.

Given the choice, I’d always favour a good job of half, than a half-assed job of all. Much later than I should have, I noticed that as a team, we were stretched and chasing our tails to reach our fast-approaching launch date.

After some belated conversations about the product’s essentials, and a hash through our priorities, we were left with a much more slender view of our MMP. As a result, we were able to achieve a higher level of finish with features we developed, we were less stretched, and we shipped quicker.

In short: dream big, implement small.

90% + 90% does not equal 100%

The ninety-ninety rule lassoed us a number of times:

”The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.”

Tom Cargill, Bell Labs.

In short: be very careful that you do not underestimate the time, effort and energy that the remaining 10% will demand from you and your team.

Deadlines are hard to reach. And they’re even harder when you mis-judge the magnitude of your plans.

Go broad before you go narrow

Common talk in the world of human-centred-design, but this is useful in most walks of start-up life.

When you have to make a decision, go far and wide with your ideas, no matter how daft or bizarre they sound. Superglue the Devil’s advocate mouth together while you go broad with your thinking. You never know what inspiration you might draw from this left field, brainstorming effort.

This method of thinking has helped us overcome some real challenges and produce far superior solutions and ideas.

Effective concepts often draw on multiple sources of inspiration and thinking, and this process will help you along your way.

Finally: on Venture Capital

“It’s all about burn rate, about burn rate, slow spending...

Fingers crossed I’ll find more time to write and share what I’m learning in 2015. I hope you do too.


Bootstrapping vs. Barry

A few months ago I was asked by Sage to be one of their business experts. Thinking that sounded a bit like something from The Office, I asked what the role would involve.

The team explained that I'd be rolling my sleeves up and helping the business community by sharing my understanding of the web, design, marketing and business in general. I welcomed the opportunity.

Last week they published my first post:

“How Barry raised investment, risked everything and faced bankruptcy before turning his company into a multi-million pound operation…”

The ubiquity of these headlines makes us tempted to think that we need big investments to start our next project or company. It’s even more tempting to use this as an excuse not to start work on our exciting ideas.

Full article →


Introducing Demo

Together with Matt Richards, I'm organising an event in Liverpool on June 20th 2013.

With the hope of bringing together those working on tech products and ideas, Demo asks a simple question; what are you working on?

Hosted at DoES Liverpool, the event will be made up of a maximum of 6 demos with a short midway interval.

Loosely Held...

As far as demoing is concerned, we welcome those at varying stages of development. From early ideas, right through to well established products. Extracted from the Demo FAQs:

A demo is a short, 5 minute talk about a product or idea. That might include a loosely-held concept, a new feature, a simple website or a game-changing internet of things product.

To make the sessions as constructive as possible, we're encouraging a setting whereby the listeners have as much responsibility as the speakers. Feedback placards will be given to attendees with the view of encouraging a lively Q & A session after each demo.

From the handful of events I've attended, it would appear that there's some pretty interesting stuff going on in Liverpool. Let's hope Demo goes some way in unearthing and applauding that.

For more info head over to the event's landing page: letsdemo.it

If you have any questions drop us an email or a quick tweet.