Dave Concannon

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In Pure Water, No Fish

Book Review: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

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Never Eat Alone

Keith Ferrazzi is a fanatical connector; someone who goes out of his way to meet new and interesting people. It’s this rabid interest to connect with others, and subsequently introduce his connections to each other that he attributes a lot of his success.   In “Never Eat Alone“, Mr Ferrazzi takes the reader through the mindset of some of the most powerful connectors on the planet, before gradually introducing some of the key concepts he uses to meet those he doesn’t know.

Early in his career, Keith’s ambition had turned him into ‘a jerk’ – Ignoring his peers, but going out of his way to catch the attention of his bosses. Eventually one of these bosses informed him that in order to succeed as a manager, you have to enable those around you to be successful. This simple advice the essence of his book – Do good work by allowing others to succeed.

Much of the advice reminds me of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People“. He provides solid reasoning as to why you might want to follow his advice, clear examples of what to do (and what not to do), and case studies of famous super-connectors.

I really enjoyed this book, not only is it solid advice but it’s clear that Mr Ferrazzi truly believes what he writes. Recommended!

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Can Game Mechanics make Serious software ’sticky’?

Robert Scoble has an interesting post about Incentivizing social behaviour in your app. Coincidentally, during the week I was listening to Amy-Jo Kim’s excellent Mixergy interview about Game Mechanics and wondering how the concepts could be applied in more ’serious’ software. (Edit: Alan O’Rourke also directed me to this excellent presentation on the subject. Another great presentation by Amy-Jo Kim here.).

When I was still at college I spent an unhealthy amount of time playing MUD. This is like the text-driven grandfather of World of Warcraft or similar online games. Looking back, it looks like an antiquated relic – no graphics, grindingly slow, and you’d be randomly disconnected all the time; but it was as addictive as crack cocaine. Playing MUD became an obsession. My friends and I would try to cram in 10 minutes playing before lectures or exams, and often hang around the computer labs until we were kicked out.

Amy-Jo Kim nicely summarizes a lot of the essentials of Game Mechanics in her Mixergy interview so  instead of repeating them I’d advise you to go and listen to it. One fundamental concept she mentions several times is to create “Braggable Moments” for your users. We see this happening organically on a service like Twitter, where the ‘re-tweet’ evolved as users wanted to share a quality tweet from another user. Being re-tweeted by a famous or popular user is the very essence of a Braggable Moment.

Scoble’s blog post defines the sort of social mechanisms he sees for software such as FourSquare, but I see these applications as being designed specifically as games. I don’t see them solving a particularly pressing pain point for a customer that can’t already be solved in a more direct way – E.g. “Where are my friends? Well, I guess I’ll ring them and ask.

Defining a “Braggable Moment”

I’m going to create a loose definition of a ‘Braggable Moment’ as a shared action which elevates an individual user in status among their peers. Akin to the “retweet” example from Twitter, we have the “like” button on Facebook. Someone “liking” your status update is something which adds kudos to the original poster’s content, elevating the user’s status. At it’s most basic it’s pandering to the user’s ego, but if used correctly it can be used to encourage the types of behavior you need for your software to be successful.

Implementing Game Mechanics in ‘Serious’ Software

So how can similar addictive elements be utilized to make more serious software ’sticky’? Ebay has a leaderboard and a ‘level’ system for it’s power sellers. Amazon has a ‘top reviewers’ leaderboard for people who have contributed the most reviews. In a very simple example which Max Klein describes humorously as Pavlovian conditioning, the bell sound added to lead conversion software was a very prominent braggable moment – When a lead converted into a sale, the salesperson’s software made an audible sound to tell his peers that he had sold something. Furthermore, these sorts of features drive the users competitive nature – encouraging them to use the software more.

Implementation Ideas

  1. Leaderboards - probably the most accessible method for enterprise software – Create a top ten list of the most active users (rewarding only actions which add value to the system E.g. Adding useful comments to a data service, Most Sales).
  2. Sharing of added content - The re-tweet concept. If someone shares a valuable information added by a user, let the user and their peers know somehow that their information was considered valuable. Display a list of their items which have been shared in their profile or create badges or levels for being shared a certain number of times.
  3. Elevate Individual items of merit – Prominently display a “best comment of the week” or similar added content, solved problem, or whatever other purpose the software is designed for.

Game Mechanics and Customer Development

The first thought after I read Scoble’s blog post was to explore the idea of baking these viral concepts into software directly from the initial Customer Development process by identifying not just the pain points but the types of things that pander to the user’s ego. My feeling is that unless you’re either developing a social application, designing a game, or innovating in a market where the problem space is well understood you’re probably trying to paint the boat before the hull is finished – aim for the absolute minimum deliverable and iterate. The whole idea probably reflects that I’ve been reading too many articles on Customer Development recently.

With that said, If you’re trying to innovate in an existing market where the problem space is well understood, I’d hold up something like StackOverflow (which uses badges, levels etc) as a great example of how to increase ’stickiness’ and reward desirable behavior with braggable moments. Question and Answer forums have been around since the dawn of the consumer internet and the problems and opportunities in this area are well understood. Adding game mechanics to this area has increased usage, attracted more knowledgeable participants, and greatly improved the quality of the content.

15 Great Customer Development, Lean Startups, and Entrepreneurship Resources

The types of sites I read have slowly migrated away from pure technical sites talking about monkeying around with with code towards sites discussing business, customer development, marketing, and general startup concepts. Here’s a list of my favorite authors, blogs, podcasts, and forums dealing with these topics. Who else should I be listening to? Let me know in the comments.

Update: All the best Lean Startup and Customer Development resources in one place: http://www.leanstartupfeed.com/

Customer Development and Lean Startups

Steve Blank Steve Blank

Steve Blank is a successful startup veteran and MBA lecturer in the Haas School of business at UC Berkeley. He took the lessons he learned in successfully marketing his startups to develop the concept of Customer Development in the must read book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany“. Seriously, if you’re working in a startup – you need to read this book.

http://steveblank.com/

Eric Ries Eric Ries

Eric Ries developed the Lean Startup methodology by combining concepts from the Toyota Production System (Lean Manufacturing), Agile Software Development, the OODA loop, and Steve Blank’s Customer Development model. The combination of these ideas results in a low-cost startup that is critically focused on rapidly producing a product which satisfies customer needs. There are some fantastic concepts in his writing which will inspire (Minimum Viable Product) and possibly scare the crap out of you (Continuous deployment for example).

http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/

Dave McClure Dave McClure

Dave McClure is a successful entrepreneur and angel investor. Dave mainly writes about using startup metrics to drive success. His “Startup Metrics for Pirates” presentation describes essential metrics any web application needs to measure to turn first-time users into obsessed fans. His refreshingly informal writing style pulls no punches, and his violent use of text color will make your eyes bleed. (The reason I have pictures next to each of these authors is mainly due to this loud advice. He’s right.).

http://500hats.typepad.com/

Individual Article of Merit:

This epic saga by Recess Mobile tries to map out the entire landscape of Customer Development and Lean Startups. I can only imagine how long it took them to write this one.

Startup Marketing

Sean Ellis Sean Ellis

Sean is a seasoned startup marketer having led several companies through to IPO. He writes about Customer Development, PR, and startup marketing.  As a quick taster, check out his Venture Hacks interviews on bringing a product to market – Part One on what to do before Product/Market Fit & Part Two on what to do after Product/Market fit.

http://startup-marketing.com/

Brant Cooper Brant Cooper

Brant is another very experienced startup marketer who is developing a series of tools and models based around the Customer Development methodology. He recently conducted a survey into the current Customer Development landscape which can be found here: Customer Development Survey. Most recently he put together a simple model which ties Customer Development, the standard sales funnel, and Dave McClure’s AARRR metrics into one cohesive whole [Available Here]. Highly recommended.

Together with Patrick Vlaskovits (@vlaskovits), he wrote the excellent “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development“, which I reviewed and would recommend highly.

http://market-by-numbers.com/

Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship

Fred Wilson Fred Wilson

Fred is a VC at Union Square Ventures based in New York, which funds companies such as FourSquare, Boxee, and Etsy. His blog covers a wide variety of topics in the area of entrepreneurship and business strategy, and also a little bit of venture capital concepts. He provides a very interesting critical eye on technology industry news.

http://www.avc.com/

Mark Suster Mark Suster

Mark is a successful British entrepreneur who has “gone over to the dark side” to become a VC. He covers the gamut of entrepreneurial topics from raising startup capital, marketing, right down to the definition of  “Entrepreneurial DNA“. His fantastic interview on Mixergy was quite probably the most inspiring thing I listened to last year.

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/

NiviNaval Nivi & Naval (Venture Hacks)

Nivi and Naval have founded successful companies, and invested heavily in startups like twitter. They  cover a full range of startup essentials from securing funding from angel investors, how to choose company advisors, the psychology of a board of directors, and a fantastic selection of case studies on all of the above and more.

http://venturehacks.com/

Business Model Hacking

Alexander Osterwalder Alexander Osterwalder

Alexander’s blog centers around the Business Model Canvas methodology which involves analyzing business models, pulling them apart into their constituent parts and then reassembling them in interesting ways. Lego for business if you will. He uses an interesting tool sheet to aid this, which I think meshes perfectly into the lean startup concept of ‘pivoting’.

http://www.businessmodelalchemist.com/

Podcasts, Interviews, and Videos

Andrew Warner Andrew Warner – Mixergy

Andrew Warner co-founded an internet business with his brother which went on to generate over thirty million dollars a year in sales. With Mixergy, Andrew has conducted some of the most inspiring and amazing interviews with entrepreneurs you’re likely to find. He conducts frank and probing interviews that dig deep into the mindset of his interviewees – people who have either taken their business to dizzying heights, or failed spectacularly trying.  As well as my personal favourite interview with Mark Suster listed above, you should check out this interview with Ben Huh of “Failblog”, or this amusing interview with Neil Patel of KISSMetrics. This is quite simply an amazing resource.

http://www.mixergy.com

Jason Calacanis Jason Calacanis – This Week in STartups

Jason co-founded weblogs Inc which grew to be a huge network of niche content sites, and was eventually acquired by AOL for a giant bag of money. TWiST interviews a wide range of guests in the technology sphere, and intermittent shows where listeners can ask Jason for advice. Very entertaining and informative.

http://thisweekinstartups.com/

Bob Walsh Bob Walsh -  Startup success podcast

Bob specializes in news and advice aimed at MicroISVs at his blog 47 Hats. As opposed to the more general entrepreneurship podcasts listed above, the Startup Success Podcast digs into the more specialized issues faced by independant software vendors.

http://startuppodcast.wordpress.com/

Forums

Lean Startups Circle

A Google group centered around advice for entrepreneurs running lean startups.

http://groups.google.com/group/lean-startup-circle

Business of Software Forum

Joel Spolsky’s forum covering a range of issues faced by developers trying to market software.

http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/?biz

Hacker News

Everything under the sun relating to technology and entrepreneurship. User driven article voting, hosted by Paul Graham’s startup incubator Y Combinator.

http://news.ycombinator.com/

More Frequent Updates on Posterous

I’ve tried linking my Posterous account with this blog, but there are a few things which need to be upgraded on the hosting account here before that can happen. In the meantime, if you’re interested I’m providing much shorter and more regular updates at my posterous account. The general theme is based around lean startups, customer development, and various entrepreneurial topics.

http://daveconcannon.posterous.com/

Untemplater manifesto review

Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.

Richard Bach – Illusions

A book that had a huge influence on me when growing up was Richard Bach’s “Illusions“.  The basic story revolves around a pilot who one day meets a self-proclaimed messiah while giving demonstration flights to people in small towns.  After forming a friendship, this stranger starts mentoring him in all the necessary skills required to be a messiah – skills he claims are there to be learned by anyone.  It’s a pretty simple story, told in what my girlfriend describes as Bach’s “heavy-handed parable” style. Her MA in English literature doesn’t lie; one could be forgiven for dismissing it offhand, but it drove me to question the conventional career choices that most of my classmates were choosing.

Fast-forward a dozen years or so and I’m following a few interesting people on some internet nonsense called twitter. Between dumb luck and random links from creative and inspiring sources I happen to be following two particularly interesting strangers called Cody McKibben and Jun Loayza, who along with Monica O’Brien, Andrew Norcross, Carlos Miceli, Adam Baker, and intern Dariane Nabor have set up Untemplater – A site devoted to taking control of your life and career in a way that defies convention.

To kick off the site launch, they’ve lead with their free Untemplater manifesto which contains six real-world case studies of the untemplater lifestyle. The untemplater concept is about breaking away from conventions of living. Where entrepreneurship becomes the “alternative” to a corporate 9-to-5 job, entrepreneurship itself can take on a pattern of long hours doing grunt work while ignoring loved ones. The lifestyle design concepts from Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek are a real eye-opener, yet drive some to pursue independence at any cost, ignoring interesting opportunities that smell too much like what they have defined as ‘work’.

The case studies are six genuinely interesting independent stories of personal success, with inspiring ideas to make you think about where life can take you. Some might dismiss this concept offhand, but like Illusions, it might inspire you to take your life beyond what others tell you is possible.

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.

Grab the Untemplater manifesto, you won’t be disappointed.

Some people are toxic

There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

(From http://miltonglaser.com/pages/milton/essays/es3.html)

Apologies for the noise…

If you’re subscribed to my RSS feed, there’s a lot of noise coming through. Sorry about that.

I’m trying to get Posterous to play nicely with wordpress, but wordpress keeps trimming out any HTML. If anyone out there has a nice solution, drop me a line.

Dave

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