There's a pool party at sunset - everyone mark your chair with a towel

January 1st is a great day to look back and reflect on what you’ve accomplished.  As I think about my time, and how I’ve spent it, I’ve realized there’s some good habits I’ve created that have given me the most leverage.  Here’s a few ideas on how you can get more time back, and keep your new years resolutions in 2011!

1. Structure Your Day

The best advice I ever received was to create positive habits.  Simple, yes – but powerful.  For me, that means doing certain types of work, and in a certain way, at specific times of the day.  Overtime I’ve learned that starting the morning figuring out my big rocks, and moving those forward have the highest value for me.  Also, paperwork and creating “work products” are best done in the morning or at night – with the afternoons spent talking and collaborating with others – its keeps the energy flowing.  Having this structure means you can quickly understand where a task fits and know what you can realistically get done.

2. Ask For Help

There’s no reason to go in it alone.  If you know there’s someone out there than can get you moving along faster or in a smarter way, you’re best to ask for help. Even if you have to pay them – this can provide huge leverage and accountability.  I’ve had a virtual assistant for 5+ years now and have hired many consultants, trainers and specialist for various projects – if chosen correctly, it can be money well spent.

3. Have Them Follow Up

When people send an email or call and say, “hey, I’ll be in town next month – we should connect”, the best way to respond is to ask them to follow up a couple days beforehand.  This keeps your calendar clean and puts the follow up action on their plate, not yours.  It’s only fair.

4. Politely Say No

The great part about being in a startup and having some many great people in the community as supporters is that you’ll frequently get asked to participate in something; conference, demo, business development deal, etc.  however, these can be a huge time commitment.  The best way to approach something is to say no by default, until otherwise given reasons where the alignment with your new years resolutions make sense.  Yes, I know, sometimes you’re doing someone a favor, and you should help out – but I’m taling in general.  Respect your time – it’s easier to say no to something up front, then commit and back out at the last minute cause you’re getting pulled from your team. (I’ve had to do this, it sucks).

5. Share With Others

The best way to hold yourself accountable is to tell the world what you’re planning to accomplish. This way, you’ll have positive peer pressure implemented and it will certainly help you keep that commitment with yourself and others.

6. Leverage Your Health

If you’re trying to implement a time management process and you eat like crap, then I think you’ve got it backwards.  Most tasks or projects require energy, not time management – and if you’re not healthy, especially eating really bad lunches – only to go into a comatose for the whole afternoon – then you’re missing the point.  You need to have your health – energy is the biggest leverage for getting anything done. Think about it.

7. Learn To Communicate

If you’re trying to get anything done in life, it’ll probably require some level of collaboration.  The ability to communicate your ideas and vision is crucial in getting anything done.  It’s why I learned how to use OmniGraffle to create product mockups (also LOVE Balsamiq) and decided to blog more this year.  The biggest gain in productivity are simple ideas with huge impact communicated with clarity.  Invest the time in learning a new application to help with this, even if it’s only excel or powerpoint.

8. Less is More

Instead of making a list of 10 things you want to get done this year, why not choose 1?  What single goal, that if you accomplished, would have the highest impact on your life.  Do that.  Don’t “try” and do 10 at a time.  Pick one, say no to the desire to do too much, and you’ll likely get it done. Having 10 things half tried and not completed won’t make you feel good.

“.. most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade!” ~ Tony Robbins

9. Bring People Together
This is a super high value tip.  If people are constantly asking you for 15 minutes to pick your brain, or want to meetup – it’s actually best to bring 3-5 of those people together with you and connect them all together.  Not only will it add tremendous value to their ideas and conversations, you can kill 2 birds with one stone and actually get way more out of the interactions.

Bonus: JFDI

You can google the definition of JFDI, but I’m sure you can figure it out.  At the end of the day, take the first smallest step.  Action always trumps thinking about it – there’s so much more you learn when you actually do.  Get rid of the knowing, doing gap in your life and you’ll be amazed by what you can get done.

Got any other tips? Love to hear from you in the comments below.

Here’s to a kick ass 2011!

Entering the Forest Alone

Photo – Entering the Forest Alone

If I wasn’t doing my startup in San Francisco, here’s some random thoughts on how I would do it in another city – most likely in my home town of Moncton, NB.

1. Start.  Build something. Launch. #JFDI

2. Ping friends on Skype and ask them to full screen share and do ad-hoc user testing.

3. Sit down once a week, in person ( you need to see their pupils dilate ) with potential customers to learn about their reality and problems.  Go to their office, see how they work and watch them try and use your application.  #Humbling.

4. Spend at least 50% of your day writing code and fixing things that you learned from your in person meetings. #Iterate

5. Read books (not blogs) on psychology, marketing and persuasion.

6. Build an admin dashboard that monitors high-level conversions (visitors, signups, activation, upgrades) and customer activities (essentially a “news feed“) so you can learn.

7. Once a week I would call (not email) someone brilliant who lives in the valley to get their advice on a specific marketing or product idea.  Call it getting the “pulse” of whats working and whats not.

8. Once every 2 weeks I would host a call with 3 other amazing Entrepreneurs and ask them about their top challenges, try and help out and keep in touch.

9. Run paid ads ($10 / day) to a landing page application so you can have a consistent amount of signups everyday to learn and iterate.

10. Survey your users in cohorts and try and understand why they signed up, what problem they thought you were solving and the greatest benefit they received from your application.

11. Keep the team small (2-3 people) and insure they are all extremely talented (only hire A+).

12. No government programs or grants.  They distract you.

13. Read TechCrunch, Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Dave McClure, Marc Suster & Chris Dixon

14. Follow everyone on Twitter from this list

15. Only hang out with entrepreneurs (any industry will do).

Anything you would add?

Quotes from the video:

  • When you want to succeed, as bad as you want to breath, then you will be successful
  • When you get to a point, that you want to be successful – as bad as you want to breath – then you will be successful
  • Most of you don’t want success as much as you want to sleep.
  • “Sleep is for those people who are broke” 50 Cent (video)
  • You will never be success until you don’t need a dime to do what you do

What message did you like most from this video? (leave a comment below)

Do you really need to move to the valley?  I get asked this question a lot.  The better question should be – Why should you move?  Two years ago, on this day (Sep 1st) I boarded a plane destined to San Francisco with nothing more than a suitcase and a mountain bike.  I had no plan. I didn’t know anyone.  All I knew is that I wanted to be where all the action was.

Here are the reasons why.

To Play a Bigger Game

This is powerful, so read it slow.

“Are your goals worthy of your life?”

That was the question that got stuck in my head the summer of 2008.  Essentially, was I thinking big enough? Was I playing a big enough game?  Even though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, I knew I would figure it out and go big.

The great thing about San Francisco is you’re ALLOWED to think big. HUGE. Be Crazy!???

Imagine that.

Actually, if you don’t – people will question you on it. Why aren’t you going after a huge market? It’s the same energy / time, isn’t it?

The reality is, people here are playing big games and if you want to belong, you need to do the same.

It’s been quite liberating actually.

Scare Yourself Every Once In A While

If you don’t do something everyday that scares you, then you’re probably not pushing yourself far enough.

Here’s a simple exercise: Every time you buy something today, ask for a discount. Yep, everytime.  How do you feel? Scary right? Well, after a while – it goes away and you’ve grown as a person.

When I moved, I made myself a promise that I would continue to do so.  It’s gotten to the point now, that if I’m asked to do something, or go somewhere’s where I’m like “???? What, How, What do I say, etc” – I say YES by default.

Eventually I figure it out.

Yes, sometimes I fall flat on my face .. but overall I’m way ahead and probably learned the most about myself and the situation in those moments.

Moving to San Francisco was scary, but it was also one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Getting Advice From The Right People

Here’s a real simple question.  “What % of your conversations (or friends) are related to your startup / passions?”.  Since I’ve move to San Francisco – I would say for me, it’s easily 85%.  When I was in Moncton, NB (Canada), more like 5-10%!?

It’s not only the conversations, it’s the people.

I have a belief that you should ONLY seek advice from someone who’s DONE what you’re trying to accomplish.

That’s a huge idea if you think about it.

The beauty of this city is there’s an endless list of people who’ve already paved the road for you. It’s like everyones paying it forward.  It’s a beautiful thing.

If you can drink from the fire hose, the information and experience is here.  It’s intense and fun all at the same time, so be sure to set some time aside to actually DO. :-)

(I would’ve love to list everyone who’s given me advice and pushed me forward over the past 2 years, but it would be huge.  If you got my email – you’re one of them.  Just wanted to say thanks!!)

Feeling Alive Everyday

When people ask how I like San Francisco, I always say “… out of 10, it’s like an 11″.  Honestly, it’s like they created a city around all my passions (startups, running, great food and snowboarding).

This city is full of amazing opportunities to experience the most ridiculous things in the world.

I remember one day I came out of my apartment and there was a group of 50+ people standing there not wearing any pants?!  I guess I didn’t get the memo re: Don’t Wear Pants Day.  Everything from Facebook F8 event to Bay to Breakers, this city will make you feel alive!

So What’s Next?

With things moving quickly at Flowtown, I don’t see myself doing much else.  I’m the type of guy that once I bite into something, I don’t let go.  Will I travel, yes.  Will I continue to advise startups, of course.

All I know is that I feel absolutely fulfilled right now, and want to keep that feeling.

So, with that – thanks for being a reader, supporter and friend.

If were friends, met in person, or even exchanged tweets, please leave a comment .. would love to hear from you.

Thank you.

Is this post a little self serving? Yes. (I’m a co-founder of Flowtown).  That being said – we use Flowtown every day in our customer development processes and after showing several startups how to accomplish this, I figured it only made sense to share it with the rest of the lean startup community.

1. Finding Early Adopters

One of the biggest challenges for most startups is finding early adopters for their application.

Early Adopters: Passionate, early users of new technology or products who understand its value before mainstream markets. Acquiring early adopters is important to jumpstart product adoption. (p.17 – The Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development)

They become extremely important in providing feedback on product features, competitive landscape, the market and potential business models.

3 steps to helping you find them within your teams network:

  1. Using Flowtown you can easily import all your existing contacts manually or by using one of our import methods: CSV, GMail, MailChimp or Campaign Monitor.  From there we analyze them and create a rich social profile.
  2. Now, using the occupational search feature – you can look for individuals who may have have experience in the market you’re targeting.  For example – here’s the search we conducted within all the founding teams contacts: CMO/CEO/COO, Social Media Experts / Consultant, Founders / Co-Founders, Marketer / Marketing and Community Manager.
  3. From there you can create a contact group from this search result and send them an email or tweet to connect with them. (tip: in person – get out of the building :-)

Bonus Tip - Here’s a list of people that you can ideally learn a lot from:

  • Industry consultants
  • Developers with domain knowledge
  • Founders in similar market addressing a different customer
  • Investors with an interest in your market

2. Learning and Engaging Your Users

Once you start having users – you can then do a variety of things within Flowtown to understand and engage with them better:

  • Create Twitter List from a User Group: Using the ability to create groups based on location, occupation or social network you can use this to engage with them on twitter.
  • Timed Survey Automation: Flowtown has the ability to schedule a customer discovery survey (ex: using Survey.io) to all new users 2 weeks after they’ve activated or sign up for your application.
  • Customer Advisory Board (CAB): Creating a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) contact group, you can then add customers and others individuals from your target market that have agreed to provide feedback and validate ideas before building them by sending simple emails with either surveys, product screen shots, screen casts or mock-ups.

These are just a few ways you can use Flowtown to interact with your users and potential customers.

3. Real Time Notifications of Target Users

Using the our web hook integration, you can setup your sign-up flow, newsletter subscriptions or contact form (ideally using Wufoo) to add that person to a Flowtown group.  From there, you can setup a social notification to be emailed anytime someone meets one of the following filters; twitter influence, occupation or location.  For example – anyone that signs-up for Flowtown that has either a Klout twitter influence score  >=15, occupation is either a Founder, Co-Founder, CEO, CMO, Marketer or lives in San Francisco – I receive an email like this.

From there I typically do one of the following:

  • Ask them what problem they feel that Flowtown would solve for them
  • Ask them to join our Customer Advisory Board (CAB)
  • Ask them how they heard about us
  • Ask them for a 15 minutes phone call and conduct a customer discovery interview
  • Say hi to an old friend!

… Final thoughts

Most startups fail because they’re building something that nobody wants and they run out time and/or money before they can learn their way to success.

Hopefully you’ve adopted Customer Development (CD) within your startup and find some of the tips I’ve provided useful in regards to learning exactly what it is that’s going to make your product a must have.

Did I forget anything? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Speaking has always been a way for me to deepen my understand around a specific topic, as well as a way to gain a larger perspective around issues that face a the startup community.  I always get more out of it then I put in (it’s a bit selfish that way #honesty)!  With that being said, I’m super excited to be participating in 6 of the most amazing startup conferences in North America.

Startup Lessons Learned (videos are online) – San Francisco, April 25, 2010

Flowtown Case Study as a Lean Startup.

Lean Startup Intensive (Web 2.0 Expo) – San Francisco, May 2nd, 2010

Flowtown Case Study as a Lean Startup: This will be a similar case study to the one we presented at the Lesson Learned Conference with one additional slide on the techniques that we’ve since implemented that have had the biggest impact to our results.

Startup Camp – Montreal, May 5, 2010

Unconference Moderator:  Montreal + Startups = Super Excited!

Atlantic Internet Marketing Conference – Halifax, May 14-15, 2010

Startup Marketing Tactics: User acquisition, Conversion Optimization, Metrics and Channel Testing.

MeshU – Toronto, May 16, 2010

Lean Product Development: Learning is the Killer App

In todays world of open source, cheap computing power and APIs, it’s not if you can build it, but should you build it. The #1 startup killer is running out of time to “figure it out” before you get traction. Lean product development is the methodology that allowed companies like PayPal, Yelp, Ardvark and up and coming Flowtown.com (profitable in two months) to pivot into their market to become a dominate player.

There is a science behind the approach and in this talk I’ll go over customer development, feature prioritization, split testing, product metrics and agile development as approaches to increase your probabilities of succeeding as a startup.

http://meshu.eventbrite.com/

LessConf – Atlanta, May 21-22, 2010

Lean Product Development: Learning is the Killer App

If you plan on attending any of these conference, be sure to leave a comment with your Twitter name and a note on why you’re going (what do you hope to get out of it) and I’ll be sure to reach out to you and help enhance your experience.

See you on the road!

Next week Ethan and I will be speaking at Berkeley to the MBA class that Steve Blank and Eric Ries created around Customer Development (CD) and Lean Startup.

Am I nervous? Heck yeah! Steve’s the God Father of CD and known for being brutally honest. All we can do is tell our story with as much passion and honesty as possible.

If you’re new to Customer Development or Lean Startup, be sure to read Steve Blanks blog, or his book: Four Steps to the Epiphany.

Last month in Boston I got to speak with a groups of statrups about Customer Development and the best feedback I got was “get straight to the stories, don’t focus on the mechanics … tell us what YOU did it – not how to do it.”. So with that feedback fresh in my mind, our talk next week will be 100% story based.

The 7 personal stories on Customer Development / Lean Startup I’ll be talking about:

  1. Customer Developement (CD) is freakin’ hard.
  2. Focus on the problem, not the solution.
  3. Don’t solve problems you’re not passionate about.
  4. Being good at sales is a bad thing.
  5. You need thick skin to do it right.
  6. Stop geeking out on the numbers.
  7. Pivoting to perfection (again, problem not solution)

Interested in stopping by? Learn how here.

Are you implementing Customer Development / Lean Startup processes in your startup? If so, what have you learned?

Huge thanks to David Cancel and Performable for sponsoring the lunch!

———-

If you’re a startuper or marketer in Boston I’d like to invite you to join us this week at Performable’s 3rd Customer Development Lunch, this Tuesday (January 26th, 2010) at 12:30pm.

We’ll be welcoming serial entrepreneur and fellow marketing metrics geek Dan Martell to Boston. Dan is a canadian entrepreneur now residing in Silicon Valley; he is the co-founder of FlowTown a social email discovery platform.

Our first Customer Development Lunch featured our Advisor, Sean Ellis, and was graciously hosted and sponsored by Spark Capital. Our second lunch featured Jonathan Mendez and was hosted by our friends at Compete and sponsored by Charles River Ventures. This lunch with Dan Martell will be hosted by our friends at TechStars Boston and sponsored by Performable.

Please register on EventBrite if you can attend this Tuesday: Customer Development Lunch with Dan Martell.

———-

Originally posted at Making something from nothing by David Cancel

In a recent tweet, Micah Baldwin boldly declared, “If you do SEO for a living, you will be out of business or irrelevant in 3 years.”  We’ve been reading about the death of SEO since the late 1990s when SEO was still very much in its infancy. But lately there’s been something different in the cyber air about the future of SEO and it got me wondering …

In the race for relevancy, could 2010 be the year that SEO is forced to relinquish its organic search throne to give way to the power of search filtered through and against the social graph + geo?

I think so. Here’s why:

Twitter on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs)

A few weeks ago, Google started testing real-time Twitter search results. That got me ‘hmmm-ing’ like crazy.

If what I saw is what there is, wow. This thing is sooooo easy to game.  Check this out: Let’s say I’m looking for a new dentist. Do I really care about conversations about dentists, from dentists or dentistry in general? No, not really. But what if I could geo-filter those same conversations? Okay, that’s more interesting. Now what if I could add a second filter to these same conversations, only this time showing only those tweeple I’m following on Twitter? Ahhh ….

Are you hmm-ing, too? Now let’s take a look at this …

Social Graph Recommendations

With over 350 million Facebook users and growing, there’s a pretty good chance you have a ton of Facebook friends just a click away. With these incredible numbers, how long do you think Facebook will wait before it announces the complete revamp of its anemic search engine and launches brand-new, totally pumped search engine functionality that will make Google a little weak in the cyber knees? Perhaps it already is. Google’s recent integration of Twitter into its results is evidence of ‘first-strike’ thinking.

So ask yourself – when the search playing field finally becomes level in the not-so-distant future, which engine will be your first choice for research: Facebook or Google?

GEO the Evolution of Local Search

In a tightly woven global world, people still care most their needs at home. It’s the main reason consumers have stubbornly held onto their big yellow phone books, despite all the bells and whistles of Google and its SE brethren. When your toilet stops working, you need a local plumber. When your roof has a leak, you need a local roofer. GEO search technology? Of course! And its where EVERYONE is throwing money and lots of it.

Google Sidewiki

Love it or hate it (and most site owners seem to be crowding into the thumbs-down corner. That includes me, too.), there’s no doubt in my mind that Sidewiki’s ability to allow comments, rants, etc. adjacent to specific sites was done with an eye toward affecting overall search, perhaps even PageRank. By offering yet another way for people to comment and engage in the same space smells like another not-so-thinly-veiled strike against Facebook.

The power of social recommendation certainly isn’t new. Anytime we ask a friend to make a recommendation about anything – a new restaurant, a physician, an awesome new WordPress plugin – we’re using the power of relationship-based word of mouth (WOM). What’s different now, and incredibly exciting, is our ability to expand WOM beyond physical borders, time zones and even face-to-face personal relationships.

Today, everyone is a friend or a potential friend. Wow.

Add the quick hit of Google Adwords, Google Local 10 Pack, and a niche platform sites like Yelp (which Google is negotiating to buy for something like half-a-billion dollars, or maybe not.) Oodle and the upcoming Gowalla & FourSquare turf war (my bet’s on Gowalla) and with startups like SimpleGEO, there’s no doubt that the future of search will change. In fact, it already is. It has to. When you combine the search filter through the Social Graph and add GEO for recommendations, what you deliver are vetted results people will use and trust. Elegant. Simple. Completely awesome.

Note: I originally wrote this on ShoeMoney.com as a guest post. It includes concepts and ideas that are changing the way businesses will engage customers and I wanted to insure my readers had read it.

How do you see the way businesses are communicating with their customers due to new social networks and data?