What’s a Startup Dorfism? ‘Robert’s Rules’ to Remember

As I travel the world talking about Customer Development (earlier this month in Moscow, last week South America), I never listen to myself when I’m talking, oddly enough. But apparently at least a few in my audiences do so. At one such talk, a busy Tweeter came up to me after the session and said “check your Twitter feed. You gave so many tips, I Tweeted each one as you talked.”

The tips aren’t quite as organized or sequential as they might be. Steve Blank and I literally argued (er, debated) on and off for a week about the prioritization and relative importance of the 14 tenets of the Customer Development Manifesto that beats at the heart not only of Customer Development, but The Startup Owner’s Manual we’re both so proud of as it starts arriving in 20 different languages all over the world (except Germany for some strange reason. Achtung! They must know everything already).

  1. Don’t settle for anything less than great: One estimate suggests that every year in America, 650,000 startups are born. One pundit estimates that, in a good year, only 12 of those startups will eventually matter, either in terms of impact, revenue, or—even better—social good. Honest, diligent founders will commit at least 20,000 hours to their startup—five years of 80-hour weeks—whether it succeeds or fails. Please, please, take the first thousand hours or two, use ambitious, relentless customer discovery effort to improve and improve and pivot and iterate your idea… before you build too much, commit yourself, or (worse) launch another boring startup that sucks.
  2. Business plan=fairy tale: How can you look me in the eye, and tell me how many customers you’re going to have in the second quarter of 2014, or your revenues in Q3 2015. It’s cow dung, so don’t waste time writing Grimms’ fairy tales. Use Alex Osterwalder’s brilliant business model canvas as your starting point instead. Save eight weeks writing fairy tales for customer discovery.
  3. Don’t settle for “yeah that’s great”: Most startups suck because they accept… ‘oh, this product is pretty cool’ as approval to march forward with their plans, because entrepreneurs always prefer to propel forward rather than pause, study, think, and iterate. To build a successful company, your product has to generate so much excitement that you have customers pounding the table and saying, “I don’t care if it doesn’t work now, I need to get that.” Relentlessly pursue that kind of customer excitement.
  4. Teams must include “the hacker, the hustler and the ‘artiste’ “: It’s an axiom in Silicon Valley. Scant solo superstar startup teams soar. One team member is focused on the customers, their feedback and needs, and is “outward facing.” One founder is the developer, focused primarily on product. The third referees between the two, working on UI, usability, messaging—translating the results of leadership by the other two. If you don’t have a holy trinity like this in your startup, start recruiting now.
  5. Avoid “Premature Evacuation”: (This is not a Viagara ad.) Since the word “pivot” has become common parlance in startup-land, founders everywhere consider pivoting a badge of honor. It’s not. Mark Andreesen recently said that pivot isn’t new, it’s just a cooler, more pc word for “fuckup.” Founders everywhere are seen pivoting their business models every few days, often based on three or six or ten doses of customer feedback. That’s the diagnosis for premature evacuation… too many pivots too quickly, driving your current customers as well as people thinking about engaging with you absolutely crazy. Before pivoting, do a few things: first, make sure you gathered adequate feedback in volume and depth. Then call in your entire brain trust, review the reasons for pivoting (changing a key component of your business model), and only then—when everyone’s sure—do you take a giant step sideways, burn some time and money, and move forward again.

This article first appeared on http://www.linkedin.com

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