Feedback and Networking
This week i would like to start with a feedback due to our meeting with other startups i met at the “Gründerfrühstück” at “Heimathafen Wiesbaden”.
During the last weeks we prepared out attendence at the Gründerfrühstück. I finished the homepage for the Group project. As a early feature we placed some links to our projects blogs and the prepared surveys on the page. We also finished everything to start some AdWords campaings to get traffic on the site (http://www.leanify.de). This will be the main object for the upcoming week – we have to generate traffic to get some user-feedback.
During the meeting at the Gründerfrühstück we had the great opportunity to pitch out project to about 20 people. We started to talk about our idea and the planned features and we got some great feedback and additional ideas which ill talk about later.
First i would like to say something about the people we met and the potentional networking we could take use of.
Rhein Main Startups
First thing ill talk about http://rhein-main-startups.com/ represented by Paul Herwarth von Bittenfeld. This is a network for startups in the region and he offered us the oppertunity to share our homepage in the network. Furthermore he is willed to mention our project in one of his upcoming blogposts which is read by many potential customers of leanify because many startups in the rhein main region pay attention to this blog. Also there are many facebook groups he stay’s in contact with and offered to announce our project in this groups.
Next thing i will talk about is the Heimathafen in Wiesbaden which was our host for the meeting and which is also a big network for startups in our region. I met Dominik which is one of the founders of the Heimathafen. He’s a very kind guy like Paul and he also offered to announce our project in many social networks and blogs he has access to. We should soon get in touch with these two guys and also we may should link them on our homepage.
Hitch on – Youtube Advertisement
Beside out pitch there were a young woman who also pitched her startup https://hitchon.de/. She’s mediating between companys and youtubers. The youtubers do advertising for the companys which pay for these advertisement. This is also a option for us in my opinion. The great thing is that we could aim for a special group of people when we hire a youtuber which talk about startups in his chanel. Furthermore youtube has no reginal bounds so we can reach almost every startup in germany or maybe the whole world. The price for a youtuber which got about 40000 subscribers is around 250€ which might be a good investment.
Another person we met was Wolfgang Elfinger from WeGo Finanzplanungs GmbH. He gave an interesting feedback by mentioning that we should inform startups about their form of company they can and should use in the early beginning of their business. Furthermore he told me some intresting facts about how to finance a business in the early days and what every potential startup should think about. He said every startup should be aware of having enough money to run their business for about two years. Otherwise they might have not the time to work propperly because they have to take care about getting new money all the time. Also liability is a interesting topic he talked about. As a early self-employed startup you should know your risks and you should think about how you minimize them or if you take care about them or you dont. This is strongly related you the amount of money you have access to.
Last but not least i would like to talk about Gesine von der Groeben. She attend also the meeting in the Heimathafen Wiesbaden. Not as a startup but even more as an representative of the Rechtsanwalt GmbH based in Frankfurt am Main. They support startups and give them legal advices if necessary. She told me some interesting facts and also i asked her to tell me the most important facts we should share with potential startups due to our website. She told me things like: employment law, freelance collaborators, assistans, taxec etc. We should think about adding some content due to these things on leanify.
Our first network
All of these people were very kind and they promised to help us starting up our business/project. I got adresses and telephonenumbers to get in touch with them and we should quickly discuss our oppotunities we have with them. Furthermore we should think about adding some kind of list about the ten most important legal advises on our website. Also we could write an article about possible forms of new companys like eK, GmbH, UHG etc. and maybe give adiveses or just tell our customers advantages and disadvantages. This content would also be nice for our google rankings because its very interesting to many people who want to startup a business and looking around for informations like these.
Also financing should be mentioned on the website. For all these questions ms Von der Groeben and mr Wolfgang Elfinger were open to help us working out the right content. And surely we got awesome law advise by our all favourite lawyer Jochen Deister. ;)
Interesting dates we might attend
We were invited to some interesting events:
01.07. – Pitchclub FFM, 10.10 Lea Camp Frankfurt, The next Gründerfrühstück at the Heimathafen which might be a little late, 09.07. Usability Testessen
We should talk about a participation.
Meet and greet
Last Tuesday i had several “meetings” with potentional customers to verify my hyphothesis. I talked to them, explained my idea and showed them the tracify website. All of them said that they like my idea and that they have the problems i mentioned due to my last posts. But this feedback wasn’t really helpfull. Moreover i thought this positive feedback would help me developing my product but the opposite is the case.
I thought they give me some improvement suggestions or somthing like that. Furthermore all said they would – maybe – use the product if it is finished but i think this states wasnt that meaningful so i’am struggeling the while last weak.
Im sitting above my canvas and do not really know what to change or to improve. I started to talk to my fellow students in the project and actually im thinking about merging my project with someone of them.
Dont know what to do
So theoretical what are my options?
My first options is starting to build my solution and try to introduce it into the market resp. to my early adopters, which – to be honest – i dont know really yet due to the ‘meaningless’ feedback during my talks to some personal trainers.
Secondly i can stop my product now and maybe join one of my colleagues. This might be have the advantage that i’ll be re-motivated to work on the product. This is actually my main problem. Im seriously unmotivated – and unfortnately i dont know why.
Thirdly i can try to talk to some other potentional customers to get more feedback what might be the best idea but actually i dont know any more personal trainers i could talk to and furthermore i dont know if they’ll give me other feedback then the last one’s did.
Two days later
So i thought about my options the last two days and i came to the conclusion that ill start to build the first minimal product and beside that ill think about another idea i can start with.
Furthermore ill talk to my lecturer and ask him for his opinion, or maybe he could tell or advise me how to proceed with my problem.
Week 2: Failure is part of the game
The last week wasn’t that successfull as i thought it will be. I’ve tried to verify my hyphthesisses and tried to cantact potential customers via email. Furthermore i’ve send the link to the project showcase www.tracify.de to some friends and also to some personal trainers. Unfortunately i did not get any feedback except from one person.
Change the strategy
So i thought about changing the strategy. It seems to be not the best way to contact people via email because the inhibition level is way to high. To say it otherwise: most people are to lazy to click on an link in an email which comes from a person who they met just one or two times before.
After that experience i talked to a good friend of mine and we fugured out that it would be the best way to talk to people directly and show them the site during the conversation. Furthermore she told me to get some business cards which she can distribute to her colleagues. So today ill start to design some handy cards with my contact data and maybe the logo and homepage-link. We will see if this will work.
Otherwise i have to think about changing my product because at this point it seems to be that my hyphothesis cant be proofed and i have to embrace that the product in this form is not required by the potential market.
Unfortunately there isn’t much more this week i can write about because there was much other work to do. Maybe ill write some more line this evening or tomorrow.
Week 1: Choose directions
This week i would like to start with a little report due tot he progress of our community lean canvas project. We finally worked out the idea and started to build a first version of our lean it startup online course / knowledge database. I’ve nearly finished my two tasks regarding the logo and the website for our product called LEANIFY.
I created a few versions oft he logo before i created this one which is, in my opinion, a good one to start with. Ill show this and the other ones next week during our lessons to the rest oft he team and ask them to give me some feedback to improve the final version and make it fit our needs.
I’ve also finished the layout for the webpage and uploaded it. It’s now available at http://www.oaktek.de/leanify/. Before were able to launch the site we need some more content for the website and also we have to discuss about the wanted features of our product to create a usefull and conclusive showcase for our potential customers.
Feedback due to week one.
First i struggled on making a decision between the two ideas i had. Regarding to the feedback i got i’ve decided now to work on the personal trainer/fitness application i mentioned during my last blogpost. I’ll try to concrete my idead due to this post but first i want to say something about the second idea i had and why i choosed to not follow this one.
I created the lean canvas for both ideas and after that i tried to compare them. Firstly i checked the existing solutions for both of the problems because there where the biggest differents:
There are much more available products for business and project management as i thought first. There are products like asana, bootcamp, basecamp etc. which are all successfull established in the market. As i checked for personal trainer software/applications i figured out that there are not many solutions available. Also there are no german solution available at the moment. The existing one like zen planner is owned by an american company. Also theres a service called 52chalenges.com which comes from poland but due to my trial membership i detected the horrible usability. Another one, to be honest, good service is polarplan. Polarplan is a service oft he german fitness equipment manufacture polar but it focues more on whole gyms then on personal trainers. I’ll sign up this week to find out more about the service itself.
To sum it up:
Zenplanner is an american service (which is, to be honest, localized for germany) but as we learned: There is allways an existing solution for our problems ;)
52challanges is a polish service localized in english but it’s not really focusing on my problem
Polarplan is an existing german solution but it has it’s focus on gym rather then self employed personal trainers
The second reason is the potential customer segment:
Due to the feedback prof. Deister gave me i had a thought about the scope of my customer segments and the posibilities to find early adopters and also people who are willing to buy and use my product. So it will be much more efficient to focus on a smaller group of potential customers in the beginning and, if the product is accepted, build it up later to extrapolate and conquer new markets. This ist he next point that made me focus on this personal trainer again. There are a much more specific range on potentional customers which makes it easier to find concrete people to talk with and verify my hypothesis.
This brings me to my next topic: specify my hypothesis and verify it
There are to many different tools to organize appointments, paperwork etc. for self employed porsonal trainer
There is no tool available to track your customers fitness progress
VATS and stuff are to complex / complicated for many personal trainers and theres also no specific tool available
The customer segment:
Nearly every self-employed personal trainer
Potential to conquer other markets after a successfull launch (e.g. gyms or more generally: self-employed businesses)
Young personal trainers which are familiar with the web and which are not afrad of use webapplication for their business
I dont want to talk so much about my solution at this point but basicly there will be an web-application and an app. Maybe there ist he possibility to use some techie gadgets like smart-watches or fitness bracelets
With a focus on usability ill offer an easy to use and bundled application. Furthermore there is actually no service which is based in germany (as far as i know) so this might be another unique value for customers: they got a german company, german service and a german product. So there is a responsible person which is not based in poland or america or any other land.
After finishing my showcase this week ill try to get feedback during the weekend. Ill adopt our given goal of 10-15 persons to talk with
Im actually not sure about the amount of costs
To be continued during the weekend…
Finally i finished the landing page for the product. Its now available under http://www.oaktek.de/trace.
Rise of an empire!
First idea: Offer an complete webservice for self-employed fitness trainers.
So what is today a main problem when starting their own self-employed business?
There are many things you have to mention when your’re setting up your own business. To simplify my project in the beginning i’ll focus on one single group of potential customers. Personal-Trainers. There are so many services and tasks you have to take care of when you set up your own business e.g. accounting, vats, customer communication, social networks, web presence, organize your appointments and paper works etc.
So the first main problems is: merge all these interfaces/cut’s in the different services or applications into a single point of access.
On the other hand there are many existing solutions for the above listed things, but partially with a high complexity or an complicated handling. In the first days of your own business there are things like vats or accounting which can be real “time-eaters”. We want to automate these things and make you have more time for the important things of your own new business. Also there are many “over-complex” ressource-planning systems, accounting software, communication programs like outlook etc. which solve the problem but you have to manage many particular softwares which is also complex and time-consuming.
The next problem to solve is: many different services with partially a high amount of complexity.
There are already some webservices wich provide some services bundled in a single web-application like zenplanner.de or polarpersonaltrainer.de which i’ll analyse in the near future.
As mentioned earlier our focus will be on the business of personal training, furthermore on self-employed personal trainers, not on big gym’s. Fitness and personal training is in my opinion a growing and trending sector and there will be demand for a solution which makes it easier and more efficient to handle self.employed business.
Our early adopters should be one-person-businesses who just started their own business.
How can these two problems be solved?
I want to offer a single web-application to my customers with bundled functionalities which will have the following features:
Easy Accounting System
Training Plans Management
Easy to Use Webinterface
Integration of social networks
There are many features which can and will be added in the future:
Frontend with easy to customize webpage
Customer Connection via App
Solution for smaller businesses or gyms
Track your Clients Progress
Achievements for your Customers
Coupons & Activities
An other idea: Offer an modular webservice for project management and ressource planning in smaller businesses
During my job as a webdeveloper, which i work in beside my studying, i stumbled over another kind of problem. First let me intruduce the business of the company: It hires many students as freelance webdevelopers. Each student gets whole projects and is payed after finishing each of them. The students are forced to fill up checklists which contain most of the steps which have to be done during one project e.g. include social networks, seo, coding standard etc. It’s a small company which was founded quite recently and is now very successfull and fast-growing.
paperwork, organization, outsourcing
So one the one hand their actually struggling a little in organize all the checklists and paperwork. Their document organization is actual a little messy and the workflow of every project isn’t really reasonable.
Furthermore the communication between the foreman and the students is a little difficult because most of them are working from home and not in the office. So here is another possible problem to solve: Organize the communication and workflow.
Another current problem is that its difficult to find and aquire new students for develop websites, write texts or design logos and other grafical stuff. The company is growing fast and need a whole amount of manpower during the growth process.
How to solve these problems?
Like my first possible solution i want to offer a webapplication to support the business of small start-ups like this company. This service could be builded modular so that possible customers can build their own application according to their actual needs. I want to offer modules like client management, workflow management with buildable generic checklists etc., integrated webmailer, chat and cloud system, document management etc. Their are a huge amount of possible modules to be build and offered to possible customers.
Another idea concerning the last problem i quoted is to create a kind of social network for outsorcing small projects to a community of freelancing student workers. A reason for that is that its actually difficult to find jobs as a student during the semester because most of the companys want the students to work like 10-20 hours per week. This is, for most of the students, not possible because of their workload. For business like webengineering or design it could be intresting to outsource these tasks to students during this kind of network.
Decide which project im gonna start with
I’ll start with the second mentioned project because of three points:
First of all the first project can also be realized as a module for the second project. Later it should be easy to realize modules like that and include them into the web-application framework i gonna build.
Second there are my actual working condition as a webdeveloper at the earlier mentioned web development company. I’ll try to talk to my company and try to negotiate a corporation with them. I think this could be a win-win situation for us because on the one hand they got a fast and cheap solution for the mentioned problems and on the other hand i got some users who test my application, give me feedback and may suggest missing or unnescessary features.
Last but not least i got an invitation for a event-day with the topic project-management from a big german buisness- & it-consulting company in wiesbaden which grant me a scolarship. I’ll try to collect informations to improve my idea and implement this during my implementation of the application.
The business model.
Because of the low production costs (only my manpower, and little costs for webspace) i want to offer the basic version for free. there will be a license model which will orientate on useraccounts and used modules per company. The basic version will be free for up to 4 users and the basic modules like calendar, customer db etc. then there will be different versions like silver, gold, platinum with more modukes and users per company.
Free for educational use.
The service will be free for educational use. If the application will be good and easy to handle students are one of the core customer segments. Also as early adopters there is much potential to get creative feedback and ideas to improve the application. Furthermore many start-ups are founded by students right after or during their time at the universities. At this point i want to mention an interesting report i found during my search:
The report sais among others that german start ups have 12 customers in average. This will be the core customer segment for my application.
The first milestone or key metric will be the corporation with the web-development company and furthermore i want to get the basic application up and running till next week.
Communicate the product
As an webapplication the primary channel will certainly the internet. Beside the product itself i plan a presentation-site which will offer an tour and explanation of all features of the software. Also i think about to publish this blog.
Maybe i will use Google Adwords when the product is launch-ready to increase the advertising effect. Due to costs this will be postponed till the product is ready for the market. This means that the basic modules must be ready.
My weekly goal is to make the framework working and to implement the first basic modules. Also i want to discuss the possibility of a cooperation with my employer.
Embarking on a journey - to the past, present and future
Let the show begin!
Well, it’s probably more like “Let the rehearsal commence” because today we have started our Lean IT Startup course at the university of applied sciences in Wiesbaden/Germany - and we’re far from entering center stage (yet): A dozen business informatics students and their professor have embarked on a journey today. It will be a journey over three months with an outcome that is only barely visible now. We’re a lean startup ourselves, we have no clue (aka uncertainty) about what problem we’re going to solve - and an even lesser one (aka uncertainty squared) who our customer are or what our solution might look like (there is, I admit, a certain likelihood that the answer could be “42” but I’m digressing).
Each student is tasked (as this is a university class and thus require proper and objective grading) among other things to write a blog of around 1,000 words, describing individual lessons learned, wonders of the world, Eureka! moments or plainly just what he or she is working on or struggling with. And since we’re in an experiment together, the teacher might as well pitch in and act as a role model (of sorts) and commit to a 1k-blog as well. So, here we go: this is where the boss blocks ahh blogs - so the place for the most embarrassing post of the weak is already taken and the glory rests on the team.
Let me speak of the team here for a second. The students are in the fourth semester of a seven semester study program to become bachelors of business informatics. They are about to complete the first part of their university studies and slowly but steadily the view will broaden to the time after having obtained the degree. That’s where the course “Lean IT Startup” comes in. We’ve discussed quite a bit among colleagues if we should really offer it at this still somewhat early stage of the studies - or if it’s not something more suitable for a Master program. After a lot of thinking and looking back at my own career, I believe it’s both - because it’s never too early nor too late to start thinking about and testing the value of lean startup principles for yourself. Because lean startup is a mindset after all, it’s standing somewhat in the middle between traditional management with long winded planning and closely monitored execution on the one end, and let’s just do it and who cares what happens on the other end. It serves startups and established companies, it transports lean manufacturing and lean software development (aka agile or extreme programming) techniques into managing the rest of the processes, and it extends beyond that: if truly understood, the concept can apply to many more areas of life in general (whether that’s useful is yet another debate, see my blog post on negotify.com for a comparison of social and business levels of interaction (and related pitfalls)). That’s why I think that the class is suitable for bachelors and masters (not just in the sense of a degree) alike.
I’ve talked about my great-grandfather Fritz Kempe in the class today. When I prepared for the semester, I took a one-week-sabbatical from my family and (to a lesser degree) from my other jobs to our ranch in Ostfriesland which was home for a branch of my family for two hundred years and my personal refuge for clarity of thoughts for as long as I live (close to two hundred years, at least that’s what my body felt like when I went playing indoor-soccer with another course last semester…). My great-grandfather was well-educated (in Hannover/Germany, which not just is synonymous for the best in soccer but also - at least at the time - for its engineering classes) in electrical engineering. When Fritz obtained his doctorate as one of the first in this newly established course, electrical engineering was what the internet is today or maybe even a couple years back even - it was the hotspot, it was where every aspiring young person would seek fortune, an abundance of opportunities. So Fritz was right in the epicenter where the foundations of companies that determined the landscape for years, if not decades to come. And like many around him, my great-grandfather founded a company (and not just one), deeply rooted in the belief that all he had to do was use this amazing new technology and build an even-more amazing product - and then people would just come and tear it out of his hands. “Build it - and they’ll come” is what we call it these days in short. And so Fritz did: At first, he brought electricity to Ostfriesland, a remote corner of the country (see it as the Wisconsin of Germany - and as another side note, there is even an East Friesland in Wisconsin…). Our farm was the first in the vicinity of some 30,40 miles with electric power. Unfortunately, that remained the case for the next years because as it turned out East Frisians did not happen to be the prototype of early adopters - and so he lacked customers for a sustainable business. But Fritz embraced failure (as is en vogue today as well) and went on to another endeavor: this time it was modern agricultural equipment aka tractors. The technology of steam engines was a bit older so maybe that was something for his rural customers. If they couldn’t see the benefit of electric power, maybe they would see the efficiencies that modern farm equipment would bring them. As we still have quite a large collection of photographs and even videos (Fritz was an avid early adopter, did I mention that? Needless to say he possessed the only videocamera in probably a hundred miles around), you can observe on these documentaries how the land was farmed: manually, by horse… but again, unfortunately not by tractors. Our own farms at the time were not sufficient to sustain a farming business so… this venture failed again. Twice you would have thought that the ideas and the technologies, the benefits, the early start, the reputation, it would have all been laid out for success - but it wasn’t. Both failed endeavors had quite a big impact on the family fortune so when the third one (a bottling plant) closed its doors in the big recession, almost all (financial) resources had been destroyed.
Why am I talking about this at length? Have I become so old that nostalgia plagues me so badly already? I hope not, at least. This is my personal story why I believe that the lean startup method helps to avoid waste - and wasted resources. Being in the right spot at the right is not sufficient - nor has it ever been (as Fritz proves). There needs to be something more: there needs to be a business case that extends beyond a great product or an amazing technology. “Build it and they come” is a legend, it’s never been true nor will it ever be. Wake up, world, life is complex, but we can reduce its complexity in a coordinated manner. Instead of big-banging a solution that might be attractive, we can inch towards an offering with validated and proven success features. If we apply the lean startup method properly, we will have a chance of succeeding or at least we will come out of failure with a lot less bruises. That’s why I think lean startup is something for every age, not personally but generally. That’s why I hope that the students in this class will wholeheartedly engage in it. The coming weeks will tell if and how successful we are going to be. I’m confident - but I’m nervous as well. And if anyone happens to invent a time-machine in a lean way, my wish would be that Fritz Kempe would have an opportunity to take a course like ours.
The top three reasons to write a lean startup progress blog
Part of the assignment in the Lean IT Startup Class is to write a blog. Why a blog? Why is this relevant, you might ask. Shouldn’t an entrepreneur rather focus on working on her product and not on writing about it? Yes - and no. Here are my top three reasons for a blog.
1) Validated Learning
Validated learning is at the core of the lean startup method. Validated learning means that you establish a hypothesis, test it in real life and then revise your business plan/product according to the results. Despite the perception that a minimum viable product is closely related to just getting started and thus the “just do it” school of management as Eric Ries describes it, validated learning (and the MVP as part of it), take a much more rigorous, scientific approach. You need to have a clear understanding what you would like to learn - before you start experimenting. Otherwise you will find something out - but what it means and what it is good for you will not know. It’s like walking without a goal: you will make progress in that you are not where you were before. Only if you have a goal (i.e. something you want to learn), will you know if you have made relevant progress.
So… what does this have to do with writing a blog? Nothing? Not quite: The blog helps sharpen your thoughts. If you write something down, you cannot hide behind some vague thought in a cloudy brain, you cannot hide behind an ambiguous bullet point that allows for various interpretations. No. You have to commit. You have to describe what it is *exactly* that you want to learn, why you are doing this and what you hope to do with the results. Writing is part of creativity. At first you start with a blank page and have little to no clue what to write about. Then you commence (and the first sentence, if not the first word, is the hardest) and while the letters form meaning on your formerly blank page, your brain engages and -subconsciously- advancing your ideas. This will then be enhanced even further, if you have your first paragraph or first rough outline. At the end of the page, you might wonder why you hadn’t been able to think of all that right from the start. Well, that’s the magic of writing - and forcing yourself to writing.
2) When the pain hits
A startup will go through several phases, often many times over. One of these phases will be despair, frustration, the craving for giving it all up. It will come, believe me. And it will stay. And if it leaves, it will come again. And again. Psychologically, we feel more attached to something we have struggled for, so psychologically this valley of hopelessness is very useful. Thank you very much, Mr Smart Aleck, for this insightful recommendation when I’m down in the dumps. Not very helpful, indeed. What you require when you’re feeling down is something motivational. Here’s where the blog comes in: If you’ve lived through a valley before, great, then read about it, what helped you then and that the world continued to turn if you just stayed focused and committed. If it’s your first encounter of despair, read your blog until then. You’ll notice that your path so far has also also been bumpy on occasions. And you’ll notice that you’ve achieved something already. Not the great breakthrough maybe, but would you really want to throw away everything that you have done so far? For what? Also, reading your older blog posts will spark the creativity engine of your brain and kick-start the creation of new ideas. Suddenly you realize that you might be at a dead end but that all you have to do is to walk a couple of steps back out of the alley and then turn right or left to continue. Blogs are motivational vitamins for times of frustration.
3) Document your progress
If you’ve ever worked in a larger corporation you’ll soon encounter the response “As far as I know, we’ve always done it that way but I wasn’t around in this department when it was developed.” when you enquire why a particular process was followed and why not another. Even though a corporation is full of many bright brains, the collective memory often is shorter than in smaller teams or companies. In the worst case, you try something presumably new, only to find out that it doesn’t work. And maybe another team before you (or one after you) has had the same idea, tested it and let go of it. You need a notebook in which you store your thoughts and ideas. Even if you pursue a certain path (e.g. develop an app), you might later come back to this point to see if there aren’t any alternative products that you could build. If you follow the validated learning approach, you will have already thought about and tested these alternatives. It’s much, much easier for you to quickly revert to them than if you had to desperately try to remember what on earth drove you to that initial decision.
Blogging is difficult (and I’ll get to some help about how to go about it in a different post). But it’s definitely worth the effort. It not only helps you to act as your notebook in which you can document your thoughts and progress. Doing so (i.e. writing) helps you to become crystal clear on your thoughts. Written words are much less cloudy than other means. And finally, it serves as the rope on which you can pull yourself out of the swamp in which you will inevitably fail. So get down to writing! Now!
How to write a startup blog post - Part 1
A number of people struggle with writing their first blog post. And their second. And their third. And it takes quite some time for them to getting used to it. Then they have a bad day without inspiration and question the whole idea of a blog altogether. By the way, that “they” is actually me…
Crossing the Pyrenees
Back in 1993 when I was studying Business Informatics, I started to wonder if that degree would really be the right thing to do, the right area in which I would spend to the rest of my life working in. So in the March/April break, I went on a hike. Back then, the Camino de Santiago was still fairly unknown and so I started to hike those 1,000 kilometers from France. I remember getting up in the Pyrenees freezing (as my students know, it takes a lot to get me freezing but shivering like an elephant in the Antarctic I was…), realizing that the shed I selected to hide from the pouring rain was actually a chemical dump (any weird post behavior can thus easily attributed to this event), and I still didn’t really want to move on. Emptiness overcame my body and mind - but I soon realized that staying in that shed wasn’t a viable solution either. So I stepped outside (needless to say it was still raining), took a deep breath and walked on. Later that day I got to Roncevaux (or Roncesvalles) and slept in a dorm that was made for thousands of people but since it started snowing by then, I was actually the one and only there. However, I realized that my situation had improved from the prior shed and that I achieved that by focusing my literally last ounce of energy on the next step and then on the next and the next and the next.
Blogging first steps
Like taking a first step in hiking, blogging also takes a first step. Actually everything challenging in life takes that hard initial first step. In more mundane terms, there is a lot of great advice out there on blogging and I’d like to take Michael Hyatt’s recipe for a 70 mins blog post as a starting platform. So, here are Michael’s steps and my comments on how they matter for the lean startup progress blog:
1) Start the night before
Quite a strange one to get off the bat. However, when I was back at Clifford Chance working on issues that I not even knew existed before, I used to take a lot of work into my sleep and dreams. More than once I woke up with a much clearer picture than with what I went to sleep with. We had these timesheets in which you plugged in your working hours on a matter and what you did so that they were billed to the client. I recall one time telling the partner I was working for that I would like to use the letter “D” which was used as shortcode for drafting as “dreaming” because I was dead certain that the solution occurred to me over night (he refused).
Only much later when I spent more time trying to understand the brain and its works, did it occur to me that the brain really never stops working. True, it doesn’t work at the same intense power level but it uses the physical downtime of the rest of the body (aka sleep) to connect the dots (aka synapses) much more thoroughly. That’s why sleep is so helpful for learning - and less sleep incredibly less helpful (which now solves the mighty mystery why frequent party goers are less prepared the next morning).
2) Use downtime to think
Think whenever you can, in the bus, in the park, waiting for a drink. Chris Brogan calls this time quilting (he may not have invented the term but I heard it there first). We have lots of downtime moments, e.g. waiting for a bus, drink, girlfriend, boyfriend, both, neither. Those tiny intervals of a couple of minutes are actually quite useful to spend thinking because your brain will be at the ready to process at your discretion - because there is nothing exciting to work on around.
Way back when I learned Japanese (I spare the details of what/who led me to doing this) and like Japanese school kids I learned Kanji with little cards that depicted the Kanji on one side and the often incredibly numerous explanations on the other side. Those cards had a hole stamped into them and were then put on a ring. You would then flip through the cards pretending to know the contents. A few years afterwards, I used that technique to remember legal terms and issues prepping for the final exam. I relentlessly wrote legal issues onto those cards and ended up with stacks of several thousands (you’ve read that correctly - and guess what I did with the incredibly treasure after my final exam… I threw them away…). So when I walked through Constance, my university town, I used to carry these cards at my belt (which, as rumor has it, led to people calling me Django or other unpleasant names). I learned the cards waiting for anything, in fact, there wasn’t an unused second in my life (which depicts the usual state of a law student in his final year, though). It served me well and I still believe it to be the most effective technique for me personally.
What does this have to do with blogging? Well, if you have at least some mental cards or your lean canvas at the ready when such a short moment of mental downtime arrives, you might want to use that time to think about one and only one issue (because the bus will ultimately come). Use the brain superpower time to focus on an issue you’ve been struggling with at your desk. Make it a habit to think in the bus about the unique value proposition. Every day. Just imagine how many minutes you can add up (ordinary bus ride of 10 mins each way, makes it 20 mins a day, four days a week (what, you don’t come to uni every day???), sums it to 80 mins a week, 15 week semester (struggling to do the math in my head and probably need mental downtime to calculate it), true, it’s an incredible 1,200 mins a semester. Broken down, that’s 20 hours or 2.5 working days… don’t ever say that bus rides are useless!
What are the remaining eight blog ideas you might wonder? Well, this blog post not only passed the 1,111 words mark, also, my drink’s arrived so I unfortunately have to focus my mental processing power on that. I’ll be back.
How to write a startup blog post - Part 2
I had started with Michael Hyatt’s ten points on how to write a blog post in 70 minutes in an earlier post. The first two topics were
1) Start the night before
2) Use downtime to think
Let’s move on to the next points on his list:
3) Go offline
This is easier said than done. Michael recommends using a tool like Anti Social to prevent interruptions like e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. You can’t completely turn off the internet complete because oftentimes you need to check something or do general research on the web.
The underlying message is, however, to have a focused, distraction-free mindset. Isn’t it most pressing to update your computer, sort your books, put new paper in the printer, do the dishes, watch that episode of Twin Peaks or go for a walk - just to prevent you from sitting at your keyboard and typing like a mad person? When we look for excuses, for reasons to procrastinate, we suddenly become so utterly creative that we wished we’d only have half as many insights for topics that actually do matter…
So going offline means that you should avoid any outside distractions. That could be starting really early in the morning for your most creative work. I get up a 5 to 5.30 a.m. every day and write until the rest of the family wakes up. During those early morning hours, I have a completely free mind because I am not using up other day time that might be reserved for “real work tasks”. But it is only a small window on the other side because ultimately I will hear noises in the house and then the “normal” day unravels. This helps me to get started. And to make the best of the limited time.
Your distraction-free time might be another time of the day, like later in the evenings. I know I am not a night-worker and did anything but enjoy the all-nighters that sometimes you had to work as a lawyer. I also know that the quality of work I do later in the evenings is lousy - and requires substantial rework once I have a clear mind again.
4) Turn on some music
This isn’t for everyone. Some people can’t work with music in the background at all. And that’s fine. It’s all about finding your personal way of doing things. But even if you’re someone who likes a little music in the background, you’ve still got to select the right one. Choosing the new album that you’ve waited for a long time and have just downloaded will take all of your attention away and spoil your concentration for the real task at hand. The music should accompany the writing task and not the other way around. For instance, when I am working on a presentation that I want to start with a bang, AC/DC is my music of choice. If, however, I have to finalize a difficult legal piece, Beethoven symphonies oversee that. It’s surprising how much the music we listen to to affects our style of writing. Just look at when you have written long-winded sentences - you have probably had some calm music running in the background.
5) Set a timer
Michael Hyatt uses this topic to hint at the many distractions that I have touched upon further up already. The idea is that you set a timer (like Pomodoro) and then work for the set time (e.g. 20 minutes) without interruption.
I have experimented with timers as well but found that time frame to be too artificial to suit my working habits. You never need exactly 20 minutes for a task, sometimes you finish early, sometimes you’re in a flow and go on much further. That’s why I work in sprints: Like agile programming, I set small intervals to write and then I reward myself. For instance, I set myself a goal of writing a paragraph about something. During that time I do not look at e-mail or other social networks. Yes, I am tempted to do that but I am able to withstand that urge - and if it’s only for a paragraph. Once I’m done, I could check e.g. a sports website for a short while - and sometimes I do it and sometimes I don’t. What’s important is that I have a short, reachable goal.
6) Use a template
A template is a set of headlines or subcategories that guide you through your blog post. For instance, start with a personal story, then develop a general statement, apply that to practice and finish with some take-away. Every post is then structured in this particular manner. The beauty is that you don’t start with a blank page but already have some rough guideline on which to base your subsequent ideas. Sometimes, you have a great personal story, sometimes you don’t but an interesting general idea - in any case you have a start where to plug that in.
For your startup, the template could be along the following lines:
a) Start with the one to three top things that you’ve learned in the last week, that were really new to you, that you don’t quite believe (yet) or which confirm a long-held believe. This is your blog so make it personal.
b) Then go along the nine areas of the lean canvas and highlight any changes or learnings. Which experimental outcome made you change the content of the problem-field? Which test led you to add or strike out a customer segment? Sometimes you don’t have anything written down in your lean canvas (most likely for the unique value proposition or the unfair advantage) but you start developing thoughts and small ideas. Capture those in your blog.
7) Create an outline
For me, template and outline go hand in hand. Whether you use the SARI (Situation - Action - Result - Interesting Fact), SCORRE (Subject - Central theme - Objective - Ration - Resources - Evaluation) or any other method, the important part is that you have a rough scaffold on which you climb up. Whether you then use lists or write it all in prose, is really a matter of personal preference.
It’s always useful to write it in a manner that the eyes can scan the outline and content easily. Compared to books or newspapers, people spend even less time on a blog post. It’s only if they find an interesting nugget in it, that they actually start reading it from top to bottom. I you apply the template outlined above, a reader will get used to your way of how you present your material and have a much easier time scanning it. Once you’ve made it easy, she will come back for your next post and your next. Traffic, good traffic that is, is key for a successful product because it increases the number of people on whom you can test your hypotheses.
That’s it for part 2 of the principles of blog writing. Part 3 is to follow shortly.
How to write a startup blog post - Part 3
This is the final part of the how-to-write-a-startup-blog-blog based on Michael Hyatt’s ten points on how to write a blog post in 70 minutes. So far, we’ve covered
1) Start the night before
2) Use downtime to think
3) Go offline
4) Turn on some music
5) Set a timer
6) Use a template
7) Create an outline.
What are the final points that we need consider when writing a blog? Here we go:
8) Write without editing
Michael Hyatt rightly points out that creating is something very different than editing. Despite the fact that the hemisphere theory of left and right brain is not state of the art any more, our brain is best when it can focus on a major task and doesn’t need to juggle multiple work packages. Think about writing a blog like building a sand castle: first you need to put a lot of sand on one spot (that’s writing) and then you need to carve out windows, bridges, towers etc (that’s editing). If you edit inbetween, you are likely to have to throw some more sand on what you’ve just edited because the pieces don’t fit together well. Avoid that by separating writing from editing.