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.