Blogging Fogbeam: Episode 1: A Customer Development Journey

... in which our heroes embark on a mythical Joseph Campbell'ish quest for fame, glory, money, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and world peace.

Wait, wrong story... actually, this is about a guy (perhaps soon, multiple guys, and / or a girl or two) from the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, founding an enterprise software startup that should become the Next Great Open Source Software Company. We like the phrase "The Next Red Hat," but then again, the great folks at Red Hat are practically our neighbors.

In short, this is the story of Fogbeam Labs and it's going to be quite the adventure. Or, maybe it already was quite the adventure... sssshhh... spoilers!

So, where do we start? How about Customer Development, that gets right to the root of things in short order.

About a year ago, Phil (that's me), started mulling over some new'ish ideas for a software startup. Being an open source ideologue anyway, and aware of the growing trend of enterprises preferring F/OSS, and long having been fascinated with tools like Reddit, Delicious, Yahoo Pipes, etc., the natural thing to do was to build an open source suite of tools using the same approaches and principles, but targeted towards the enterprise. And so that's what I did... 7 months or so later, Neddick was rounding into shape, and the ScrewPile vision was starting to take shape. And then somebody pointed me to Steve Blank and his book The Four Steps to the Epiphany... and that's when everything changed.

For someone who had spent his entire career as an engineer, reading TFSTTE was like "taking the red pill." When I finished, I had a very Keanu Reeves'ish "Whoooah" moment where it really did feel like I could see the Matrix. Steve's book was amazing in that it laid out a detailed, step by step plan, for taking the gleam of an idea that every startup founder begins with, and gradually, methodically, and iteratively massaging that into an actual business.

Before this book, I had only the vaguest notions of what it takes to build a startup... now, I still have no clue what I'm doing, but I have a plan... and more importantly, a plan for how to learn the stuff that I need to know. The Customer Development process is all about feedback, iteration and validated learning. Yikes! To summarize it in a nutshell, the core idea is "you have only guesses (Steve likes to call them "hypotheses") in your head... and only customers have the Truth. Go forth and talk to customers and find out if there is an actual market for the thing you're trying to build. Explore until you find a market, or - if and only if you can't find a market - change the product vision and go back to the beginning."

And so the real journey began... coding was set aside, and much time was spent writing down the initial hypotheses, and then the process of arranging meetings with potential customers, and other sundry players in this little performance, began. For the past few months Fogbeam Labs has been heavily into "Customer Discovery" mode, which is why we haven't made much progress on the open source stuff. Have no fear, though, we've just paused coding so we could make sure we were building something that the world actually needs, before investing a gob of time into a white elephant.

And so, here we are. Except that's not quite all of Episode 1. As an aside, Steve Blank heavily promotes Jim Collins and his work in Good To Great. So, taking Steve's advice, I sat down and read through the Good To Great book, and decided to put some serious time and thought into actually writing out the "Mission Statement" and "Core Values" for Fogbeam Labs, as we know them today. So we'll break here, at the end of Episode 1, by looking at what values form the underpinning of the Fogbeam Way... enjoy. Comments and feedback are always welcome! In Episode 2, we'll talk more about the Customer Discovery process, hit on business model innovation, and perhaps talk about the quest for that most elusive of prey: the perfect startup co-founder.

Fogbeam Labs

Mission Statement

Our mission...

Build software and provide services that enable organizations to display greater “organizational intelligence;” sense, respond and react to their environment in a more agile manner, and support more adaptive and effective organizational structures.

Democratize access to advanced information processing software by participating in the development of F/OSS software which can be used freely by organizations of any size or nature.

Give back to the world by participating as an ethical member of the world-side free-software / open-source software community.

Create an organization where people dedicated to the advancement of technology will *want* to work, will be rewarded for doing well, and will receive nurture, guidance, and encouragement.

Promote entrepreneurship as the best tool available for raising the standards of living for people worldwide, by sponsoring educational initiatives and supporting charitable organizations which promote: STEM ( “Science / Technology / Engineering / Math”) education and education on Economics, Business, and Entrepreneurship.

Core Values

We favor...

Transparency and openness... over secrecy and information hiding … in our relationships with each other, our partners, the F/OSS community, and our local communities.

Critical thinking, logic and reason … over … superstition, blind adherence to dogma, and groupthink.

Respect for the individual and their freedom of choice … over … herd mentality, conformance for the sake of conformance, and fear of what we consider different.

Courage and the willingness to commit to our principles … over … knee-jerk reactions, conformance to peer pressure, and compromise of our fundamental values.

The long view and building for the future, while not sacrificing the present … over … short-sighted compromise of our vision and values in order to achieve a tactical objective today.

Being Good … over … Being Evil.