So, where were we, Gentle Reader?
Right, our intrepid hero had just written a mission statement and some core values for the Next Great Open Source Software Company. But, as important as a mission statement is, and as much as core values matter, it takes some action to get the ball rolling... So, now, let's talk about:
Mission statement and core values. Wait, what? Didn't we just say that this mission and values stuff isn't enough? Well, yes, but we didn't say it wasn't important? You think I (Fogbeam Phil) spent all that time writing this stuff just because it sounds good? Action must be guided by values, or you're not congruent. So, given our values, what actions have we taken recently, to support them? Well, if you go back and look at the previous post, you'll see that one plank of our mission statement is:
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.
So, how can a startup, a self-funded, bootstrapped start at that, do anything productive in this regard? Well, I'm happy to announce that Fogbeam Labs is already attempting to make the world a better place in this regard, by sponsoring two local organizations that are devoted to education and the spread of useful knowledge. In recent months, we have signed on as sponsors / contributing members of:
SplatSpace - the new(ish) Hackerspace in Durham.
TriFunc - the Triangle Functional Programming Group.
Both of these organizations are fighting the good fight to educate and inform people, and help people tap into their innate ability to create things, through software, hardware, art, etc. As an aside, if you live in the Research Triangle area, and aren't part of SplatSpace and/or TriFunc, you should definitely check both organizations out!
Now you're probably thinking "Ok, that's nice, but where's the bit about doing something to lead this startup towards actually making money?" Fear not, Gentle Reader, that work remains in progress as well. So let's move our topic of discussion to:
Customer Development. Yes, this again. Since getting on the lean startup bandwagon, we've been working hard to progress through the steps laid out by Steve Blank. The first phase of Customer Development is Customer Discovery, and it starts with a step titled "Friendly First Contacts." In the FFC step, a startup founding team basically calls on anyone and everyone they know, who works in, or is associated with, the kinds of firms that they believe may represent part of their eventual target market. Now that probably sounds a bit fuzzy.. but this is OK; it's by design. The thing is, in the early phases of founding a startup, you only have (guesses|hunches|hypotheses) about everything: the product requirements, the target market, the customer problem, pricing, distribution channels, etc. So the goal in this earliest phase is to "get out of the building" and start talking to people... find out what problems they have, and start assessing whether or not your model of the world has any grounding in reality.
As you iterate through this process, you collect feedback which may eventually be used to guide a pivot, where you make substantial changes to your product and/or business model. As Steve points out, however, the goal is NOT to collect an uber list of requirements, and then try to build a product with every feature that anybody asked for! This way lies madness. No, the idea is to find a market for the product, as currently spec'd. If, and only if, you determine that there is no market for the current product, do you pivot... and at that point, you use the feedback gained earlier in the process to guide the new, reshaped vision.
So, this is where Fogbeam Labs has been for the past couple of months... interview after interview after interview, with people from companies around the Triangle, collecting information and validating (or invalidating) hypotheses.
Happily, we've done enough "Friendly First Contacts" interviews to feel like we may have a handle on customer problems. So now we're moving into the "Problem Presentation" step. More about that next time...