You know what is the number one mistake entrepreneurs make? No, it's not building something people don't want. That's just Silicon Valley lore. Building something no one wants is the symptom, not the cause. I want you to go deeper. What is the cause? The cycle goes something like this. You start out super-excited. You create something. But you end up wasting your precious time building something no one wants. Then months later you wake up and find there's a crater in your personal finances. And oh, by the way, your cat has left you. What's the cause behind this cycle of suffering, errrrmm, I mean, learning?
Let's take a walk through our
neighborhood Amazon bookstore. Grab a tall latte cappucino with honey & a side of chocolate. Now head over to the small business & entrepreneurship section. Have a closer look at your average bundle of dreams wrapped in advice that is oh-so-common in this part of the aisles. Most business books are a collection of actionable snippets loosely held together by a string of anecdotes. Entertaining? Hell, yeah! Stories sell, no doubt about that. Chock-full of practical, actionable advice? Yep! So what's wrong with this? I'll let you think about that for a sec while we switch locations.
Boom! Jump-cut that camera to a new location! Now I want you to imagine yourself at an average conference for entrepreneurs. Music is blaring. Famous people babbling on-stage in some sort of panel no one really listens to because everyone's prepping their hustle for the next networking opportunity. You run into a fellow entrepreneur you met before & you start the usual bonding ritual. Of course you are both killing it. They just shipped a new product. You've been building, designing. Getting shit done. Oh yes, sir-eee. We are busy-bodies. We are the creative class. We get shit done! Yay!
Entrepreneurs. Sigh. We are culture of doers. We like to read practical books about how to get shit done. We like to go to events to get all pumped up on doing. We do a million things every day to turn our dreams into reality. And that's cool. But it's also dangerous. Because sometimes we get caught up in our own activity.
You see, there's momentum in doing things. It kinda works like a flywheel. Each time you do something new in your business you make the wheel spin a wee bit faster. And that's great. If you are working on the right thing, that is.
What if you need to suddenly change direction? You've invested a lot of (mental) energy in getting that flywheel running hot & fast. Slowing down that wheel to change direction suddenly becomes very hard.
First you ignore it. ("Nah, we don't need to change just yet.") Then you laugh it off ("Probably a dead-end-street anyway!") Then you fight it ("We invested so much in this, we can't change now!") then you lose.
There's a sure-fire way to avoid all of this suffering. Most entrepreneurs already know it. It's simple. Talk to more customers! Because there's a subtle but very important difference between doing and talking.
Each time you do something (write some code, design a few bits, whatever it is you're specialized in) there's a subtle emotional invest you make. Talk is, well, just talk. Easy to ignore. So you can continue talking to customers without becoming attached to a specific idea. Once an idea keeps bubbling up naturally again and again during customer interviews, then (and only then) it is time to start doing!
TLDR; Do Less. Talk to more customers. Don't start pulling all-nighters until you have talked to at least 50 potential customers or you'll end up slouched over your keyboard at 3am like that poor lady in the headline of this blog post. Now, stop reading this & go talk to a potential customer.
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While doing research for my Lean Idea Book I stumbled upon something interesting. I noticed that when I talked about customer development, people kept asking me about tactics. How do I create an MVP? How do I do a smoke test? How do I do keyword research?
I've always been very reluctant to answer these types of questions. Because at the very early stage most people should not be bothering with MVPs and smoke tests and keyword research and all that shiz. They should be talking to customers.
Why? Because doing things tends to increase your attachment to the idea. And you want to stay detached & objective at the earliest stages of a venture.
Talk is cheap. It is easy. It does not breed commitment. It takes work, but it is not creative work. You're not doing, not creating things. This is the "Don't" side of the Tao of Do.
Doing on the other hand is expensive. When you work actively on your idea you increase your mental commitment. Hard to drop an idea when you've already created so many things for it. This is the "Do" side of the Tao of Do.
Now, back to the book. The first part, the "Don't" part is finished. It's available for purchase as an eBook at leanideabook.com. There's also a free chapter download. The physical hardcopy version will follow as soon as I raise enough money to offset the (significant) up-front printing costs. Proceeds of the eBook sales will go towards this. I'm also working on some sponsorship deals to get the lean idea book in your hands as soon as possible.
I've decided to write an addendum to the book. The "Do" part. It will be an inventory of practical methods to validate ideas. The "Do" part will focus heavily on quantitative validation of ideas. Thing like MVP's, smoke tests, keyword research, etc ... Stick these two parts together & you get the full book I am working on: The Tao of Do (codename, I'd never publish something with such a ridiculous name ;-)
The first edition of the lean idea book sold out in 24h. I'm well into taking orders for the second edition now. Yesterday's blog post was frontpaged for a couple of hours on Hacker News. What this tells me is that I'm onto something here. But I'm far from break-even on this, so every extra order is welcome. I promised to reveal the ranking of the contributors to the first edition of the Lean Idea Book. So here are the Top-10 contributors from the first 24h, calculated based on a simple weighted formula taking into account time & quantity of orders.
I was teaching a customer development workshop a little over 3 weeks ago when a thought struck me: "Why don't I take my old Moleskines with business ideas & create some business model canvases for them. Just for practice".
TLDR; In this post I explain how I MVP'd a book project. Why it is important to start a conversation with your audience. Why exclusivity works. And why people paid me 30 euros for a friggin' notebook that doesn't exist yet.
So on a beautiful Saturday morning I did just that. I shut down the interwebz, cracked open my crusty old Moleskines & started drawing business model canvas grids by the dozen. Turns out adding that business model canvas to my existing paper-based idea workflow was pretty useful. Because it forced me to consider all aspects of the business idea in a systematic way. My old notes about the idea always seemed to skip some important parts like, e.g., oh, channels (I seem to be notoriously bad at that particular one) & cost structure.
That made me wonder. "What does the idea workflow of other entrepreneurs look like?". So I posted up a thread on one of my favorite forum for Entrepreneurs: "How do you keep track of your ideas?". Boom! Featured post. Dozens of replies. "Wow, people are passionate about this."
A vocal minority in that thread was pretty passionate about using paper, just like me. I love paper. Time for an experiment: "What if I created a Moleskine-like notebook with pre-printed business model canvas grids? Would you buy it?" I pumped out a nice little landing page for the fictitious product & hooked it up to a Mailchimp form. Leanideabook.com was born.
So on April 1st I sent out a message on Facebook explaining the concept & started driving traffic to leanideabook.com. There was a bit of buzz. "Is this an April's fool, or what?" My goal was to get to a launch list of 50 people quickly & then immediately follow up with an order form on the landing page.
That didn't happen. Instead I started a conversation with some of the people on the list. Did a couple of customer interviews & quickly found out that "A shitty notebook with a pre-printed grid." is not exactly an appealing value proposition. Back to the basics: customer interviews.
I shut up about the lean idea book during my conversations with potential customers & started listening. I asked questions like "What does your workflow look like?" and "What do you value most in a paper notebook?"
This is what I learned. First, people don't mind paying a big premium for best-quality notebooks because as knowledge workers they care a lot about their ideas. Your ideas are worth it seemed to resonate pretty well. Second, most people do customer development in a haphazard way. There is room for some editorial content here, explaining exactly how to do customer development. Third, there's a common pattern in how most people work with ideas. Capture, Refine, Validate. Finally, almost everyone needs to make the switch from paper to digital at some stage in their idea workflow.
Next I made a few calls to printers to get some numbers on what it'd cost to create this thing. Moleskines retail for 20 euro & cost maybe a few euros to produce. But as always in the printing business, volume is king. Turns out that with small print runs it'd cost me at least 25 euros if I wanted high quality.
While doing my own customer development I kept the conversation alive on the mailing list, wrote a couple of blog posts, did a short interview about the project. Then the day before yesterday I created a secret order page & gave people on the list a 12h lead to get their orders in before I'd make the link public. The reasoning behind this was that the kind of people who pay top dollar for Moleskines value exclusivity & scarcity. Plus, if you put up with my barrage of annoying questions & emails, you deserve to cut in line.
I put up the pre-order link on a Tuesday evening. Something you're absolutely not supposed to do, right? Always send out marketing messages at 11AM on Tuesdays is pretty much the standard these days. The reasoning behind this was again the 12h lead-time I wanted to give to people on the list. Plus, for plenty of people this was going to be a private purchase, so why bother them during business hours?
I sold about a dozen in the first 5 minutes & then I went to bed. I'm an early to bed early to rise type of person so you can imagine my surprise when I woke up at 5AM the next morning to around 30 pre-sales. This is gonna be fun. At that point I was pretty sure I was going to make 50 sales in the first day, so I queued up two more emails in Mailchimp. One at 9AM to tell that the pre-order link would go public at 12 & one around 12 to tell that the pre-order link now was public. Why so many emails? Even on a warm mailing list you can assume that less than 50% will actually read your message. But not always the same 50%. If people are going to unsubscribe on a launch day because you're sending out too many messages, let them, they were probably not the best leads anyway.
Why did I go for only 50 pre-sales? Why not 100? Or 25? 50 happens to be the point where my wallet will stop screaming bloody murder for ordering so many friggin' notebooks. And getting 50 notebooks in the hands of people is enough for a first MVP.
Let's look at who bought the notebooks. The 80/20 rule seems to apply. 80% bought in bulk to give away as gifts. 20% bought single copies. This is an MVP, so I'm really interested in observing how people are using those notebooks. I'm going to include a registration card so that I can get feedback even from the gifted books.
Finally, a couple of take-aways from this mini-launch / crowdfunding effort. First, exclusivity works. Scarcity is a surprisingly strong emotional driver. Second, doing a conversational launch really works. People want to be part of the story. So don't let your launch list rot in some corner while you work on your product. Keep it warm by sending regular updates & use it to ask questions to your audience. Third, competition works. I added a competitive element by turning the thank you page into a leaderboard. Ordering early & in bulk got you higher in the rankings.
So what's next for the lean idea book? First of all, more conversations. I'll be doing more Skype interviews with customers to exactly define the feature set. Then next week I will drive to the printer & take some pictures of what the final product will look like. I'm keeping the order page open for a second & less exclusive edition. If you're not quire ready to order but want to be part of the story, subscribe to the mailing list.
So last sunday I described the idea workflow used in the lean idea book. Today I want to give you a quick update on the actual book. What's it going to look like, what kind of perks you can expect for pre-ordering. Answer you questions. That sort of thing.
I'm going to start by printing a first "Limited Edition". 50 pieces only. Signed. Numbered. If you pre-order your name will be featured on the "thank you" page in the book. If you order multiple copies you can have your logo & website featured in the book & on the site.
The pre-order link will go out to the mailing list today, to give the earliest supporters a chance to get in first. I expect these to sell out quickly. So if you're not on the list already, subscribe now!
ETA is approximately 6 weeks after I have received the first 50 orders. In the unlikely case that I don't get 50 pre-orders, you'll get your money back.
What do I get for pre-ordering? The book, of course. Also. If you pre-order your name will be mentioned on the thank-you page. If you pre-order 5 copies you can get your logo on the thank-you page. If you pre-order 10 copies you can get your name, logo, url, slogan & short text blurb included in the book.
What's the price going to be? The Limited Edition will be priced at 30 euros & 25 euros (volume orders). I'm aiming for pricing akin to Moleskine (20 euro range) for future versions of the book.
Can I pre-order multiple copies Yes. Please do. Several people have already committed to multiple pre-orders. This makes a perfect gift! If you're a co-working space, accelerator, or just anyone who wants to see more people apply lean methodologies, buy multiple copies & hand them out like candy!
How will they be delivered? I'll hand-deliver pre-orders in the Cologne area to a coworking space of your choice. For International pre-orders I will take on the postage costs.
Will you use white or cream-colored paper like Moleskin? White. Why? Because it makes it easier to scan into e.g. Evernote. Also, when you want to draw illustrations white just makes everything more crisp.
Will the labels of the lean canvas be pre-printed? No. There will be a specific section of the book where you will have a bunch of empty lean canvas grids pre-printed. Some people prefer the business model canvas, some prefer the lean canvas. The book will explain the differences & leave it up to you which one to use.
What if I don't want to use the grids? I've found a very subtle printing process which means that if you don't need the grid, you can simply write over it.
Will there be a lean canvas grid on every page? No. After talking to a bunch of people about their idea workflow, I found out that while there needs to be lots of space for capturing initial ideas, most people don't need a grid on every page. The grids will be pre-printed in the center section of the page to support the capture/refine/validate workflow.
Will the book be available outside of Germany? Yes. Designed in Germany. Manufactured in Germany. Distributed worldwide. What's more, I'll take on the shipping cost for the Limited Edition.
Will there be a way to scan my idea book I'm working on that. I found a neat way to help you scan the pages & import them into e.g. Evernote. Think Evernote Smart Moleskine, but with a twist. I'll include the paper things that need to make this happen in the Limited Edition, but I can't guarantee that the app will be ready.
Will the book's paged be ruled, squared or dotted? None of the above. I'm leaving the pages pristine white for now. I did think about adding a tiny isometric dotted grid, but only in the appropriate parts of the book (capture). But not in the first limited edition.
What about the editorial content, what will that be like? The idea is to create a notebook you can give to someone who is not familiar with lean methods & get them up-to-speed in a matter of days. Not by having them read an academic textbook. But by doing customer development. Expect real, practical, actionable advice on customer development techniques scattered throughout the Lean Idea Book. Here are some of the questions what will be answered: How do I use the business model canvas grid? What is the difference between the lean canvas & the business model canvas? Which parts of the grid should I work on first? How do I conduct customer interviews? What should I be paying attention to? What should I do before, during & after the interviews. How many interviews should I conduct? Which other kinds of experiments can I conduct to validate a business hypothesis? How do I setup a smoke test? What should a good experiment look like?
What about the howto's & checklists? I'll include checklists for the following: how to capture ideas, how to use the lean canvas, how to conduct customer interviews.
When will I be able to see pictures of the actual product? As soon as I hit 50 pre-orders I'll jump in my Volkswagen, hit the Autobahn & head over to the Buchdrucker (printer) to take pictures. Can you tell this product has "Made in Germany" written all over it?
This product is too expensive! A book with the lean canvas grid pre-printed is not worth that kind of money! Yep, couldn't agree more. But there's more to it. Read this blog to get a better idea of what the book will be like. It's an ongoing story & I'll blog extensively about the development of the book. You'll also get a best-quality notebook; e.g. I'm aiming for paper quality that is far superior to your typical Moleskine. You're also getting something rather unique: the book is half notebook, half textbook. The idea is to build a book that you can give someone who is not familiar with customer development & get them up-to-speed quickly by having them DO customer development. The 30 euro introductory price is also for the limited edition only. As volume goes up, prices will come down. I'm aiming for a final product price similar to Moleskine. But to get there I need your help, so pre-order now!
Why only PayPal? It's the easiest way to accept payments early & assess demand for this product. That being said, if you're in Germany you can also pay by wire transfer. Just shoot me an email & I'll fill you in on the details: email@example.com