April 08, 2014

Glad to announce that my latest book, The Lean Enterprise, is now widely available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. Getting lots of great reviews already!

January 07, 2014

TechPeaks: Startup Life in the Italian Alps

Last summer (2013) I was honored with an invitation to serve as a mentor for the inaugural group of entrepreneurs welcomed into the TechPeaks accelerator program. It opened my eyes to what's possible when a progressive local government achieves effective cultivation of innovation and startups. Quite an experiment the Italians pulled off last year, and the results have encouraged them to do it again this year, with notable evolutions to their program that I believe make it an even better opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Techpeaks-main

Here's one of the coolest aspects of it, that really sets this program apart from traditional accelerators such as YC and TechStars: You don't even need to have a startup idea or be part of a team to qualify!

There are two ways to apply to the program: 1) with an idea, team optional or 2) as an individual technologist without an idea. If you get accepted without an idea, the program functions as a matchmaker, with the expectation that you will band together with other people in the program on their ideas, or come up with new ideas to pursue. Out of a total of 50 participant slots available, a maximum of 20 are reserved for these individual explorers.

If I didn't have a family and my own startup at the moment, you better believe I'd be knocking down their door to accept me as an explorer.

Trento-Italy

All participants are relocated to Trento, a college town with some of the most gorgeous vistas I've ever seen, nestled in between vineyards in the Italian alps. It's a relatively quick train trip from Milan and a fantastic place to live. Your accomodations and living expenses are covered by the program, which has a duration of four months, from March 25, 2014 until July 25, 2014. Teams that make progress are eligible for hundreds of thousands of euros in startup grants and additional follow-on funding if they continue operations in the Trento area.

The TechPeaks 2014 application deadline is January 20th. I encourage you to check it out.

January 01, 2014

Robert Williams, man to watch in 2014

I recently interviewed Robert Williams, founder of Workshop. Over the course of the last year Robert went from full-time employment, to successful freelancing, to launching a successful online business helping other freelancers to succeed using his methods.

What is your background?

My background is in design. I went to an expensive art school - which I now regret, because 90% of the education I use on a daily basis is stuff I learned online (mostly for free).

I worked at a few design agencies after college, then in the marketing department for a large nursery - but those jobs left me unfulfilled and wanting to start my own business. I got that opportunity after I got fired from my job only a few months after receiving a raise, to boot.

I decided that instead of going to interviews I’d look for freelance work full-time. This was an epiphany for me, because I truly became grateful for having been let go from my 9-5 job. I spent my first week literally laying out on the beach everyday - and the freedom was awesome. That was the point where I knew I probably wouldn’t ever hold a 9-5 job again.

How did you manage your freelance work?

Starting my own freelance design shop has been one of the most educational experiences in my life. I realized I had to stand out from the average designer online. This simply wasn’t happening on sites like dribbble, twitter, and behance. On those sites you’re competing with thousands of the world’s best designers and you don’t get to highlight your specific skill.

I decided to delete my portfolio website, and focus on contacting leads 1-on-1 in order to a)  track the amount of people who were replying to me and asking to see my portfolio and b) have more control over how I was presenting myself and my services.

This had pretty great results, I was able to make $30k in my first six months freelancing (without a portfolio website). This fascinated me and I began to study and collect evergreen principles to freelancing. The fact was that most places online tell you to post on twitter and dribbble and ‘get your name out there,’ but for someone just starting out this isn’t the right move.

Okay, so what is the right move for a new freelancer?

I created an optimized system for finding the best leads online quickly, and made templates for stuff like emailing prospects, onboarding new clients, getting world-class feedback and more. Optimizing my freelance business has been one of my biggest passions in the past year.

Recently, I started a new project focused on helping other freelancers do the same; Workshop. I send the web’s best leads to a private list of freelancers every day. I also send all of my secrets and techniques to building my freelance business to members, which has been an awesome experience.

How did you decide to get into this particular business?

I got the idea from desperately wanting this service for my own business. As freelancers, we charge anywhere from $50-$1k per hour, and if you factor in the time is takes to look for work - you’re spending a fortune on finding work. I wanted a service that automated this process for me, but that was high quality. A few other people were doing like a auto-generated lists of leads, but the quality was really low, and not worth the money. It was something that I needed to do for my business anyway so I really liked the idea of charging for this service.

Then, about 5 weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with Ruben Gamez from bidsketch. He said one thing in particular that really resonated with, ‘a lot of people are listening to podcasts nowadays but not many are actually doing something actionable as a result.’

I decided then and there to pursue this idea - and try to grind it out. I put together a quick landing page, using techniques from online courses I’ve taken in the past year including, earn1k, recurring revenue for consultants, 30x500, email marketing for startups, and a few others.

I was also a member of JFDI, a private community of bootstrappers, who really helped me talk through my landing page and iterate quickly by providing me an extra set of eyes (or ten). This community support was integral in keeping my confidence up when people started to question my authority and service. I literally had one person sign up on the first day. I spent like 5 hours finding the 5 most awesome leads I could, and sent them over to him. Luckily over the next few days I got some traction and things began to take off.

What differentiates you from potential competitors?

What I’m doing differently, is 100% hand-curating every single lead I send. I aggregate thousands of job leads everyday and painstakingly comb through them by hand. I have strict, and vigorous criteria for finding the best leads.

The projects are all stuff I would apply to. Nothing that would have a budget of less than $1000 and I make sure every lead is remote, and open to freelancers everywhere. Also, I try to make sure and do a little extra legwork to include things like the company website and contact email if possible.

The result is a list of 5-10 leads that have all the relevant info for a busy freelancer, and none of the fluff. 90% of the work is done for you. All you have to do is reply to these 5-10 leads and you will have a constant stream of people entering your prospect cycle. 

Members no longer have to worry about job boards which were really designed for full-time work anyway, and instead reply to everything from their inbox. I also offer to monitor any job boards members want me to, so you can literally use me as a virtual assistant.

The difference between me and a virtual assistant you would find on places like odesk, is I’m an experienced freelancer myself. No one is going to be able to decipher the great leads from the riff-raff as good as you do, unless they’re a high-paid consultant themselves, which I am. 

What have been your biggest mental obstacles?

Subconsciously it was wanting to see success immediately. I heard people like 37signals and Amy Hoy talk about growing slowly, and totally agreed, but it wasn’t until I actually started this project that I realized I’ve been way too impatient in the past. 

90% of growing a great business is just grinding it out. Sure, you need luck, timing, and help from others, but if you’re not there everyday it doesn’t matter. You can look at this as a negative or a positive. It’s up to you. You can be impatient and give up on all of your ideas… or you can decide to do something regardless of how long it takes. But make sure you charge from the beginning, otherwise you won’t know how you’re doing.

To me, it’s one of the greatest strengths, because I don’t have control over whether someone with a million followers tweets out a link to my website, but I do have control over whether I put in effort each and every day. I’m okay with growing slowly because I’m building, learning, and I want to be in it for the long-term. I also want to create the absolute best service for freelancers and help them build an awesome business for themselves.

Thanks Robert!

Are you a freelancer? Check out Workshop for yourself.

November 20, 2013

Haml's little-known list_of helper

TIL that given an Enumerable object and a block, the list_of method will iterate and yield the results of the block into sequential <li> elements.

Haml

%ul
  = list_of [1, 2, 3] do |item|
    Number #{item}

HTML

<ul>
  <li>Number 1</li>
  <li>Number 2</li>
  <li>Number 3</li>
</ul>

The list_of method also optionally takes a hash of options applied to the output li tags as attributes.


Interested in more information like this? You can download my book The Rails 4 Way at Leanpub today. Final print edition on Addison Wesley coming early next year.

November 14, 2013

Disruptive Innovation Within the Enterprise?

Large companies often try to tackle disruptive innovation within their existing corporate structures. But when they do, it rarely works. The limitations on what can be accomplished cascade from the executive imagination (or lack thereof) down to the rank and file innovation team members, affecting every aspect of product development and marketing.

At LSM we are brought in to large companies to teach them how to do Lean Startup. We (too) frequently work with innovation teams that aren't even allowed to talk with the company's customers. Mind you these are people who are paying tens of thousands of dollars to be taught customer development! But you see, the gatekeepers to customers (sales, marketing & research departments) tend to get really nervous that someone could go "off-script" and spook a customer in some unforseen way. Maybe even with good reasons? But the bottom line is that the current state of affairs proves very frustrating to the innovation team. They end up feeling like they're crashing through roadblocks at every step of the process.

Other problems abound, not just difficulty reaching real customers. Innovation teams often can't allocate funds without approval from the finance department. Or they're stuck in situations where they can't risk failure without endangering their jobs. Or simple fear even. We've actually heard leaders at American Express say, "We can't do this because it would put us head-to-head against Intuit." And then heard their counterparts at Intuit say, "We can't do that (same thing) because it's not what Intuit is good at."

4f74d22c30208

The worst examples of stifling innovation that I've personally experienced were during my stint in Dealer Services at Daimler-Chrysler, in late 2004. At that time, the two halves of the company were fighting each other tooth and nail over whose business approach would win. By the way, it absolutely didn't matter whose approach was better. The only thing that mattered was power, and the germans had a lot of it. For instance, as my team was gearing up to produce a revolutionary low-cost OBDII/wifi interface that would dramatically cut the cost of diagnostic tools for auto mechanics, a competing group at Benz bought out the entire capacity of processor chips that we had based our design on, for the following three years. Did they need the chips themselves? Nope, they were just screwing us over because they could. I have tons of stories like that, but I'm saving them for another book. Heh.

So where were we? Ah yes, the constraints of resource dependence, legacy competencies, political infighting and brand identity are absolutely deadly to creativity and risk-taking. Enterprises that seek disruptive innovation must find a way to escape those constraints or it will never match the kinds of innovations that pour out of startups of Silicon Valley, New York, Boulder, Seattle and Boston, etc.

The ability to innovate repeatedly and reliably must be carefully woven into the fabric of an organization. Innovation teams shouldn't have to think about how to navigate the corporation to get ideas approved or resources allocated. If they have to scratch their heads about how to be innovative, they've lost the war before a shot has been fired.

The goal of producing disruptive innovations demands a new organizational structure. Existing products, customers, markets, and competitors are irrelevant to the work that needs to be done. Innovation teams must be untethered from the legacy corporate mission and allowed to operate outside the corporate culture. They need a structure that not only allows but also incentivizes them to look beyond the current landscape and envision a world that doesn't yet exist. Only then will the enterprise be positioned to thrive amid chaos.


Interested in what that new organizational structure looks like? I’m writing a book that covers it in detail, along with my business partner and co-author, Trevor Owens. The book covers applying Lean Startup to corporate entrepreneurship and is called The Lean Enterprise.

Learn more on our book’s website: http://LeanEnterpriseBook.com

You can also follow The Lean Enterprise collection on Medium for regular updates and ideas on the subject.

 

November 08, 2013

How to staff innovation teams in your company

Throughout the time I was running Hashrocket, we constantly entertained innovative ideas that might allow us to evolve into a product shop, ala 37signals. Actually, we didn't just entertain those ideas, I also tried to set them in motion by tasking people in my organization to execute them. In doing so, I learned first-hand about the motivations that drive normal employees and how they differ (dramatically) from entrepreneurs.

Risk is everything.

It doesn't make sense to throw people who aren't entrepreneurially minded into innovation efforts and expect them to come up with new products. Innovation teams should be made up of employees who have agreed to take on personal financial risk in the interest of reaping financial rewards. The most independent and creatively driven employees will gravitate there naturally. Would-be startup founders who are considering leaving to launch their own business will have an attractive alternative — and the company not only avoids losing capable, ambitious employees but increases the profit in retaining them.

It takes only one person to leave and found a successful startup for your company to lose out on a huge growth opportunity. If they leave anyway, you should consider investing in their startup. But this all assumes that you employ entrepreneurial people in the first place!

Once a company leaves high growth behind and matures, the way that we did at Hashrocket, it forms an implicit social contract with its employees, a promise to provide them with stability over the long term. At that point, much to my frustration, the risk-takers are long gone. They've either gotten out of the building, permanently, or they have evolved along with the company by putting down stable roots of their own. At Hashrocket, I witnessed singles couple up and get married, and childless couples begin having one, two or more babies. We began hiring more and more people with families. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but their priorities are completely different. Those people might entertain entrepreneurial fantasies, but their chances of following through on them are very slim.

Therefore, I had a really hard time finding anyone willing to take on personal financial risk in new innovative ventures. It just wasn't feasible for them, and at some point, you need to bring in other entrepreneurs to lead those efforts. The CEO can't be responsible for all innovation.

---

Like this topic? I’m writing a book with my co-author, Trevor Owens, on corporate entrepreneurship called The Lean Enterprise. 

November 04, 2013

The Lean Enterprise

Theleanenterprisebook

I'm happy to announce that my esteemed business partner and I are writing a mass-market book about how enterprises can adopt Lean Startup techniques to think like and compete with Silicon Valley. We're drawing from our experience and the wisdom of our wide network of contacts at Lean Startup Machine to make the book hard-hitting and relevant to modern managers.

If you have an interesting Lean Startup case study or are trying to implement Lean Startup in your company, I'd love to hear about it. Click here to get free early access to book content, all we ask for in return is your feedback.

September 13, 2013

New Template: Lead Referrals Agreement

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 8.18.43 AM

My little legal documents template side business continues to chug along. It's not bringing in quite as much as it was six months ago, but I think a summer lull might be to blame. Nonetheless, I have news: A new product!

This tried and true template is based on an agreement that I have been using successfully for the past couple of years. You'll want to put it in place with companies that you refer business to on a regular basis.

The great thing about it is that both sides benefit from the arrangement, and done properly you can keep a steady stream of passive income.

Check out the Lead Referrals Agreement. Only $29 for a limited time.

July 01, 2013

Lean Startup Machine in 2013

LSM 2013 Infographic

June 14, 2013

I'm Hiring: Web Developer and Designer for LSM Javelin

I'm going to hire two full time, experienced web people in September as the first members of my product delivery team at Lean Startup Machine. We'll mostly be working on Javelin, our killer app for product managers that's currently entering pilot phase at a handful of Fortune 100 companies.

Senior Web Developer

Primarily looking for full-stack web technology experience, especially with modern browser-based MVC and CSS. Best candidate will be a generalist with broad understanding of OO application design, automated testing, cloud-based production environments and Agile processes.

UX Designer / Front End Specialist

Looking for someone special with experience designing and coding modern web and mobile user interfaces. Javascript/HTML/CSS experience is a must. RubyMotion is a big, big plus.


Location: Anywhere in the United States

Compensation: Short-term contract to perm. Low six figures annually plus generous equity

More Information: We are a results-oriented work environment, which means all team members must possess a strong work ethic and high-degree of emotional maturity. Unless they happen to live near me in NW Atlanta suburbs or New York City, candidates must be able to work from home reliably and communicate well via email and videoconferencing. Additionally, as an investor-funded startup, the pressure is often quite high and the right candidates need to be confident enough in their skills and opinions to hold their own among co-founders (me and Trevor) with strong personalities.

Our current technology stack includes Mongo, Ruby on Rails, Spine.js, and Twitter Bootstrap, so experience with those is definitely a plus. Existing interest in lean startup topics is (of course) another big plus. Occasional travel will be required, for company meetings and/or attendance and support of our weekend workshops around the world.

 

If you're a recruiter don't bother contacting me.

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