The Cambridge Startup Masterclass I gave in late 2011 turned out (for me at least) to be a fun and pleasant experience. I spoke about the Lean Startup and tools that help a Startup stay lean.
It’s a timely topic as during that same week Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup”, announced some speaking dates in Cambridge (January 13th) and London (16th). It’ll be a chance for me to hear if I did a fair job of summarising the book!
The Lean Startup concept isn’t a step-by-step rulebook for developing a company or an idea. Yet it seems there’s an order in which tasks should be tackled, and talents become valuable at different times. There is an analogy here with Edward De Bono’s “thinking hats”.
I wanted to devise the smallest number of categories possible to list these talents and skills (which I call Abilities). The premise is that every Lean Startup needs to do all of these but it does not need to do them all at the same time. If you were to analyse any individual Startup and you found they were excessive or deficient in any one category, you could make a reasonable prediction of how that Startup will falter or even fail.
At any stage of a business plan you should be able to profile your venture and assess strengths and weaknesses in these Abilities.
The full presentation is online, but I will summarise it here.
In my view there are 6 Abilities:
Forming is about generating new ideas for features, process improvement or cost reduction, but it is also about forming teams and wider networks. It’s also about forming a company culture – one that will hopefully be desirable and last the course when the company grows. Good research is the ideal companion to good forming.
Transforming is taking those ideas and making things – software programs, chemical compounds, books or whatever. Where software is concerned, it’s best treated as an iterative process and it’s good to keep a model of users at all times in your design thoughts.
Projecting is letting the world know that you have made that thing. It’s about spreading the message to customers, enthusiasts and investors in a way that ensures it will be noticed. Some of them will be interested enough to seek out more information.
Persuading is how you take that initial interest to a level of adoption where they use your software or read your book. If your product has minimal viability, so too has your business model. Knowing where it can be improved takes research.
Collecting is how you get rewarded in return for the value you’ve given them. Bear in mind that Lean Startup disasters are often pricing-related.
Protecting can be about patents and intellectual property, but it is also about making sure your e-commerce server stays up during your peak sales period or avoiding your site being hacked.
In the slides I give examples of how specific tools can help enhance these Abilities.
Some tools fit closely with the Lean concept, others not at all.
Over the last few years I’ve gathered information on literally 100s of software tools and what I found interesting was that they could be readily sorted into one of these 6 categories.
The tool I prefer for sorting is a Mind map, and I created a mind map (using an open source tool called Freemind). At the time of writing it has hyperlinks to somewhere in the region of 300 tools. I can’t claim that I use all of them, but I have tried to keep the list down to the ones I think are best. The list excludes tools that are constrained in usage (e.g. only run under one OS) and they are all standalone (web browser add-ons typically not included).
Hopefully this will be a useful resource for others – if you are looking for a tool to help with web site SEO, for example, follow the Projecting path of the mind map.
To use it, hold down your mouse to drag the image around the screen, and left-click on any node to expand or contract it. Clicking on any link will open a new tab or window onto a web site for that tool. In most cases you can download or register for free or a small fee, so the pricing is Startup-friendly. When you are finished browsing the mind map tool, just close the window.
The intention is to add new tools as they become known, and also to capture more of my notes about the value in each tool. But that’s for another day.
As an aside, this is an example of content (a Freemind .mm file) that is managed using CogniDox. When I add items and up-issue the version there, it is automatically published to our website (the document entitlement rights are set to public). Freemind is an open source tool. Our website is managed using open-sourced Joomla, and extensions are available to display Freemind maps in a Joomla article. I mention this as an example of the type of “virtuous circle” Startups should be looking for in tools. This is a powerful way to help me with Projecting, but the tools involved cost us time rather than money.