So you’re a founder. Good for you. But are you really ready for what that means? If you are a good founder, you are starting something new, something that hasn’t quite been seen before. This means you are going to make mistakes, encounter failures, and struggle with incorrect assumptions. So how can you make sure these don’t destroy your company? Create a positive environment where failure can thrive openly, and be dealt with in a cool and confident manner.
Here are five steps to help you accomplish that at your startup:
1) Respond positively to small failures.
Reward employee failures that arise from taking a risk. Your company won’t innovate without risk, so employees must know you value it.
2) Hold blamefree Post-Mortems.
Blame never solves problems. When a failure arises, discuss with your team the process changes needed for avoiding it in the future, rather than pointing fingers at who caused it this time.
3) Find a failure every day.
Encourage yourself and your team to admit one failure every day, even if it’s fun and silly. This will make discussions around failure comfortable and easy. People will know they are in a safe place to share their mistakes, and that no one they work with is perfect (or thinks they are). It will also help you find potentially fatal failures early and fix them quickly.
4) Make failure fun.
Put up a pin-board at the office of top failures (ones that helped create new innovation, or identified a process problem you could fix). Capture them with silly photos or fun emails. In the “find a daily failure” talk, vote on the best failure and reward that member.
5) Distinguish good failure from bad failure.
Most importantly, know the difference between a good failure and a bad failure. From this post, it may sound like you should encourage ALL failure. Not so. Failure to get work done: failure to commit: failure to communicate: these will kill your startup and need to be identified quickly and handled cleanly. Someone who seems to be failing for lack of trying needs to be spoken with politely and privately.
First, ask what YOU can do to help them improve: maybe there is a team breakdown, maybe your expectations are too high (remember, employees are NOT founders), maybe this is the right company for them and just the wrong role. Keep the first conversation positive and proactive.
Then, if they still aren’t shaping up, you need to let them go quickly (I’ll put up a post on ways to to this, soon!) They are just hurting company moral.
However, you cannot mix those people up with people who are failing because they are pushing the envelope, because they are trying something new in an effort to make something more efficient or stronger. Those are people you want on your team. If their behavior is interrupting the flow of others, take them aside and work WITH them on how you can encourage that innovation while keeping process smooth, but do not stop them from doing it. Those are powerful failures that will lead you to succeed.
As a startup, how important is your brand? No, really. We’ve all heard about the glories wrought by maintaining a hygienic brand system in the likes of Apple, Red Bull, and Nike. Great. So, yeah, brand integrity and building equity is important. Got it.
But you might be asking yourself “jeez, easy for big companies to ‘police’ their brand and make sure everything’s on point. But I’m scrappy. My priority is nailing the service, not making sure the logo has the proper white space around it.” Having a pristine brand is a luxury, a mere afterthought in my world, no?
Because your brand is everything. EVERYTHING in the sense that it’s all-encompassing. That hip super saturated logo with a truncated vowel and dot-ly? Only the most visible slice of the pie. How does the experience flow? Is the UI intuitive? Does the button press down just right? Are the tweets adding value to the conversation? Does the founder sound authentic? Every point of contact users have with your company is your brand. Everything.
Which begs the question – how do you find your brand? You. It emanates from the culture you cultivate and grow. It’s the people you surround yourself with, and the experiences you all build. Sure, you can have elements refined and statements polished by so-called pros. But the soul can only swell up from the culture you build.
I’ll be talking about my experience creating, then losing, and rediscovering my brand on 10/22. Hope to see you there.
-Rahul Sood, Partner, Bing Fund
Follow us @bingfund
Would you lock yourself in a room?
That was the scene at SXSW earlier this year that indicated to Eric Ries, the founder of The Lean Startup movement, that things had really blown up.
The Lean Startup has grown from a philosophy with its roots here in Silicon Valley, to an annual conference, and at the official SXSW lean startup track where attendees piled into a room knowing they would lose their spot to any one of the folks lined up outside just waiting to replace them if they got up, even to use the bathroom. Even SXSW’s speakers, like the founder of Intuit and the CTO for the President, had difficulty getting in.
Heather McGough, Associate Producer of FailCon took a moment to interview Eric Ries. Ries is an entrepreneur and author of the New York Times bestseller, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business.
“It was like a huge coming out party for the movement,” Ries exclaims. “People thought it was out-of-the-blue overnight success, but that day was an indicator for us on our third year. We went from something small to practices now used all over the world.”
So what is it like going from a quiet engineer to a famous author?
“It’s a strange feeling,” says Ries. “I wasn’t seeking that result specifically. I’m not somebody who is very outgoing or fame seeking. I was an engineer my whole career – I started out programming computers for a living.”
Ries admits he would still be happy doing just that, as he enjoys the quiet and solitary nature of the work.
These days though, life is quite different. Ries travels the world promoting The Lean Startup philosophy, serves on numerous advisory boards, and is humbly overwhelmed with requests to give interviews and presentations on the methodology he created.
“This is a very different thing than I ever expected to be doing. It’s wonderful. You hear from people who say your ideas have positively influenced them - it’s a really powerful experience. It’s also a bit terrifying because you never know if you’re doing a good job. And you’re always in the public eye,” he explains.
This Monday, Ries will speak at FailCon. He says, “Failure is a great topic. And it’s one that no one ever wants to talk about because it’s painful and embarrassing. I’m no exception.”
Even in the context of The Lean Startup, where Ries is trying to teach people to embrace failure and turn it into a learning opportunity, people still like to hear what the “gurus or some other nonsense word” have to say.
Ries continues, “It’s nice to be in a space where we can dispense entirely of all that mythology. Because if you’re at all successful, you’re going to have examples of failure to talk about. When we’re honest about it, we can cultivate the kind of humility we need to learn about what our failures teach us.”
So why lock yourself in a room with the founder of the lean startup movement? Because it’s a BIG force changing our world, and it’s cool to feel like all of us in the movement get to be part of that.
“I think we are on the right side of history here. We’re taking these ideas and really democratizing the tools of entrepreneurship, allowing people all over the world to have access to the same cutting edge thinking that we have in Silicon Valley,” Ries says.
It’s a new kind of work - entrepreneurship – and it’s open to everybody. Ries believes it’s going to make the world a better place.
He states, “It’s just fun to be on the right side of that change.”
You can hear Ries speak this Monday at FailCon and at The Lean Startup Conference in December.
Heather McGough, Associate Producer of FailCon, took a moment to interview Ben Blank. Blank holds the title of Innovation Leader at Intuit Inc. where his goal is to enable grassroots innovation, and make Intuit the best place to be for an entrepreneur. As a member of Intuit’s high profile Innovation Catalysts team, Blank has developed entrepreneurial coaching programs and has coached numerous teams through Intuit’s proven “Design for Delight” innovation process. Known for his unique combination of business, design and creative thinking, Blank excels at transforming ideas into opportunities within organizations large and small.
Blank is super excited about a program Intuit is currently developing within the company to jump start rapid experimentation: Lean StartIN. He explains that Lean StartIN is inspired by startup accelerators, hackathons, and code jams. The program enables teams to quickly launch and test new business ideas and innovations at Intuit by quickly running experiments with real customers.
Blank says, “So far we’re seeing big results, and I’m excited to continue expanding the program. The Lean StartIN World Tour launched this summer at Intuit with an ambitious goal of creating 100 internal startups in 100 days. We traveled to over 10 Intuit locations, and helped a wide variety of teams learn rapid experimentation techniques through real experience.”
Fans of FailCon, whether working for a startup or established company, will be interested to hear that many ideas failed, but several success stories emerged as well. Blank shares that, most importantly, they discovered a few insights that will help improve the way they work at Intuit.
So what did they discover?
“The same mindset, tools, and techniques which have proven successful to startups and new ideas, can be applied directly to sustaining innovation and daily operations. We’re already seeing a change in mindset, as well as improved results, so I’m optimistic we can do more in the future. Embracing ‘decision by experimentation’ is changing the way we work at Intuit, and I’m excited to continue exploring this process in the coming months,” Blank answers.
The FailCon team recommends considering this advice closely, which Blank offers to entrepreneurs: “Don’t fall in love with your idea. Fall in love with the problem you’re solving for your customer. By maintaining an agnostic point of view as to how you will solve this problem, you will be more open to discovering the best path forward.”
He explains that we all know many successful ventures end up in a different place than where they started. Blank advises, “You should give yourself and your team the space to change direction when you discover your original plan is not working.”
Blank offers up a lesson he was recently reminded of this past month: “You can’t do it alone. Seek outside feedback from advisors, mentors and customers as early and often as possible. External perspectives are absolutely crucial to identifying the insights and patterns which you are unlikely to see yourself.”
Blank is a goldmine of information, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering what he’ll be speaking about at FailCon this year! He says that he’s personally learned quite a bit from the startup community and is excited to give back as much as possible by sharing his journey as an internal entrepreneur. “It will be fun to show the FailCon audience the power of rapid experimentation and how having a decision by experiment mindset can help them accept the role of failure in their journey to coming up with those successful, breakthrough ideas,” Blank says.
By Bryan Zmijewski, Chief Instigator, ZURB
Having worked with over 200 startups since 1998, I’ve seen a lot of startups in a lot of different places when it comes to product design. To startup companies of all sizes, it’s apparent that design is crucial towards gaining a major competitive advantage over competitors. However, we’ve found that not all startup entrepreneurs and executives understand that great product design involves more components than the traditional entrepreneur may think.
Naturally and over time, we’ve seen startups make a significant number of design mistakes, which ultimately have slowed their progress and damaged their prospects for long-term success. Here are three of the most common product design errors/mistakes I’ve seen:
The startup or entrepreneur assumes that there’s a problem, but doesn’t have that particular problem nor access to users or customers who have that problem.
It’s not uncommon that an aspirational entrepreneur assumes there is a problem, when in reality, the problem is actually quite different. You can’t build a great product solely on assumptions — it will inevitably result in a product with little-to-no traction, and a lot of wasted time.
This common error arises as a result of ignoring or undervaluing the design strategy component of building a great product. Design strategy involves aligning your business goals with user needs. If you’re not building while considering both components, your product’s success will be muted.
The startup tries to be cutting-edge and different, but the product is unusable.
Let’s face it — with more and more companies sprouting up by the day, opportunities to differentiate from competitors tend to fall. There are times when we’ve worked with companies who place a premium on being different and being the “next big thing.” While there’s nothing wrong with aspiring for this, an entrepreneur can quickly get into trouble if the focus is taken off the product.
This is an interaction design problem, which encompasses what a user expects to do with the actual system itself. Usability is a core component of interaction design.
When developing products, all of the best ideas in the world are no good if the product itself isn’t usable. As a product designer, you can’t sacrifice usability in favor of beautiful visual designs or unique feature additions. While a beautiful product is a great thing, it still needs to work to deliver value to a user.
There are tools out there to test designs and concepts — use them! Our ZURBappssuite is a great place to start in evaluating your designs and exchanging feedback with your team. You can learn a lot by testing your ideas before putting good time and resources toward making them a reality. And if you’re an entrepreneur, you have to have conversations with potential users and customers to ensure that the problem you’re solving is a worthwhile one.
Startups that ignore mobile devices.
It’s apparent to most startups that they need to have a mobile presence — but surprisingly, some companies ignore these devices altogether when building out their broader company strategy.
In today’s multi-device world, it’s a significant disadvantage to ignore or de-prioritize your mobile design and development efforts. Smartphones are only continuing to grow in popularity (include intriguing statistic here). Ignoring mobile when developing your product is a startup death sentence.
Companies can be best prepared for the new mobile landscape through prioritizing responsive design in their design efforts. Foundation, our responsive front-end framework, is a great place to start building — whether you have a mobile-optimized presence already or not. As more and more devices emerge, you can take solace in the fact that your mobile web presence will be optimized across all of these devices.
Heather McGough, Associate Producer of FailCon, took a moment to interview Cathy Brooks. Brooks has spent her life saturated in media – from print to broadcast and on-line. A career communications strategist, she presently operates Other Than That, a firm offering advisory services to companies and individuals wishing to navigate the complexities of persuasive storytelling in business. To slake her thirst for content creation, Brooks blogs for myriad sites and hosts The Conversation, a weekly, on-line program that focuses on how technology is changing our world.
When asked about something awesome she is working on at the moment, Brooks shares that ironically she has an utterly awesome, life-changing endeavor on the top of her playlist, but it’s too early to discuss in any public forum. She apologizes, “Suffice to say, however, that it plays directly into having learned a ton of lessons over the course of my career – the biggest of which is to never compromise your passion for a paycheck.”
Brooks was reminded of a crucial business lesson this month. She says, “Always trust your instincts (you know, that little voice in the back of your head and that feeling in the pit of your stomach) and make sure you keep your eyes open for serendipity.”
To first time entrepreneurs, she offers the following advice: “If the business you’re working on isn’t the first thing you think about when you wake up, the main thing you think about all day, and the thing that’s on your mind before bed, you’re doing the wrong thing.”
At FailCon, Brooks will share what she’s learned from her mistakes and hopes that somewhere in the crowd there will be someone who can avoid those mistakes and make spectacular big ones of their own that they’ll come share at a future FailCon!
We interviewed Clate Mask, CEO & Co-founder of Infusionsoft. Infusionsoft is an all-in-one sales and marketing software designed exclusively for small businesses that automatically converts leads into new customers.
FailCon: Tell us about Infusionsoft and the failure story you’d like to share.
Clate: In 2009, we decided to remove the setup fee in our subscription service. We were on a mission to reach 100,000 small business customers worldwide and I wanted to get there faster. This decision nearly killed Infusionsoft.
Ambitious entrepreneurs will always push hard to acquire more customers, but too often, we push forward in our business growth initiatives without realizing the cost of acquiring the wrong customers. These are the ones who complain often, demand extra resources and erode employee morale. They might add to the top line, but they certainly don’t add to the bottom line—or the balance sheet. Know who your target market is so you weed out these bad customers and protect your bottom line.
We learned this lesson the hard way. For over a year, we watched our cancelations skyrocket and our lifetime customer value plummet. I knew we had to figure out a solution and fast. I couldn’t stand by and watch this decision ultimately lead to the death of Infusionsoft.
What we did was get totally clear on who our target customer is. This is the most important thing you can do to avoid hemorrhaging cash on costly customers. This clear understanding informs every function of the business. Entrepreneurs who don’t invest enough time in this will pay a tremendous price when their growth ambition outstrips their target customer clarity.
In 2011, we reintroduced an implementation service to enable our customers to succeed. This service is well worth the investment to new customers, and we realized that charging for valuable services actually discourages the wrong customers from purchasing. Requiring customers to purchase implementation services leads to customers who are more likely to show up for training calls. They are more likely to invest in their own success. Infusionsoft isn’t for every small business or startup. It’s a powerful all-in-one sales and marketing solution for small businesses that have a proven business model and marketing/sales acumen. Today, Infusionsoft has 10,000 small businesses customers. That translates into nearly 40,000 users in 70 countries. We made the right decision.
FailCon: What was the biggest misstep or challenge you faced early in the business? How were you able to recover from that?
Clate: We agreed to private label our software to a domain expert in the dentistry industry. We got several months down the path and realized it would essentially require us to replicate our business operations, tailored specifically for that industry. The partner wasn’t paying us 1/10 of what we’d need to make the operation work. We had to re-negotiate our way out of the contract, roll-back his much-needed equity investment in our business and part ways with our tails between our legs, hoping we had done the right thing and the right thing for our business.
FailCon: What are 3 lessons learned from your story that you’d like to share with other startup founders?
1) Never take no for an answer when applying for a bank loan.
2) Make the Vision for your company clear to everyone… and enroll people in that Vision.
3) Never quit, even when it looks like the company is going under.
FailCon: Finally, tell us about your book!
Clate: At Infusionsoft, we are all about helping small businesses succeed. We are not okay with small business failure. Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy is a book written by business owners for business owners. Scott Martineau, co-founder of Infusionsoft, and I wrote the book to help every business owner get control of their business and their life. In the book, we explain the six strategies to find your freedom, grow your business and achieve your purpose.
Scott Berkun is a writer and speaker. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Guardian, WIRED magazine, National Public Radio, The Huffington Post and other media outlets. He has taught at the University of Washington, blogs for Harvard Business and BusinessWeek, and has appeared frequently as an innovation expert on CNBC and MSNBC. Since Aug 2010, Berkun also works for Automatic on WordPress.com. He worked at Microsoft from 1994 to 2003, mostly on Internet Explorer.
What is something awesome you’re working on at the moment?
I’m hard at work on my 5th book. It’s about the year I just finished working at WordPress.com – where everyone works from home. It’s an amazing story.
Tell us about one business lesson you’ve learned this month?
Sometimes, working for free pays in amazing ways that getting paid never can.
What is the biggest piece of advice you have for first time entrepreneurs?
Muaaaaahaahahaa…Invest in good whiskey.
What are you most excited to speak about at FailCon?
Huge things exploding, collapsing and being destroyed – all for the benefit of attendees! BOOM!
Burken will be speaking at FailCon October 22nd. You can register HERE.
Interview by Heather McGough.
Heather McGough, Associate Producer of FailCon, took a moment to interview Gina Bianchini. Bianchini is passionate about bringing together people in small, intimate communities around their interests and passions online and in the real world. She was an early pioneer in social software, beginning work in this area in 2004, when she and Marc Andreessen co-founded Ning, the first and largest social platform for creating your own social networks for anything. She served as CEO of Ning from its inception until March 2010 when Ning had 90 million monthly users, adding 1M new registered users every 14 days. In 2011, Glam Media bought Ning for $150M. Today, Bianchini is the CEO and founder of Mightybell, a new social platform seeking to revolutionize creative online spaces for groups.
Bianchini says that she currently has taken on “the gigantic mission of scaling intimate communities of people who come together around their interests, passions and goals.” She shares that this is not the standard way people are thinking about social software.
When asked about one business lesson she’s learned this month, Bianchini shares: “I’m working with a friend on a project and, while I thought I was a crisp writer, she takes simplicity and phrasing to another level. Now, I want all of my communications and writings to be short and powerful.”
Her biggest piece of advice for first time entrepreneurs?
Bianchini says, “Start a company only after you have tried everything possible to NOT start a company. Only a burning, unrequited, critical need you personally feel as a human being should be a reason to start a company. This stuff is hard. It’s the mission that takes you through to the end.”
At FailCon on October 22, Bianchini is excited to share the simple things that social science research has known for fifty years that can help people, especially women, be more effective in whatever they have chosen as their path.