Monthly Archives: May 2013

Life, The Universe, Startups, And Everything

Recently I finally figured out what I’m doing in my startup.

Not how to succeed — growing very large is still ahead of me — but how to know what to do next. Here’s what I learned.

I have two theories to test, a value hypothesis and a growth hypothesis.

Value hypothesis: if I present this to you, in this format, you will exchange with me something that I find valuable. Perhaps money. Perhaps your time.

Growth hypothesis: if I do these things, I will be able to present my value proposition to X number of new people.

One of these is called sales, the other marketing. But do not be concerned with business-sounding words. You don’t have to start reading tons of business blogs or building imaginary worlds with spreadsheets. In fact, that can be very dangerous, as it causes you to emotionally bake-in ideas that most likely are completely fallacious. Just look at it like all you have is these two very tenuous theories.

Your job is to make very precise and defined hypotheses — if I do X, Y will happen — then run a test on them to see if they hold up. You are a scientist studying a completely unknown field of study. Come up with two hypotheses, one value, one growth, then test them. If they fail, change the hypotheses until they pass. A failure is a good thing! But it means you need to decide whether to give up or pivot. Most new people to startups build some huge product — one hypothesis — and never really test it. Good startups build dozens of testable hypotheses and test rapidly. Bad startups take forever to get to a test. Or they run out of money long before they ever get around to it.

Here’s the critical thing: The goal is the passing test, nothing else.

Value hypothesis: if I show a bunch of people a bushel of apples while they are at the flea market, 5% of people will buy one for one dollar.

Growth hypothesis: if I give you half-off an apple in return for your wearing an “I bought the best apples ever at Joe’s Booth!” badge, you will bring by two other people who will also buy apples.

By creating and continuing to define these hypotheses, you build a self-sustaining system of creating value, or a business. One way to break down your two theories into finer hypotheses is like this:


But there are others. As you make your hypotheses more and more detailed, you start creating a very defined structure to the test. This structure is your business model. A business cannot succeed — or fail — without creating and testing hypotheses. If you’re not testing hypotheses, you have an expensive hobby, not a business.

Want practical value? Create a Kanban board around the hypotheses you are testing, color-code your tasks to match up to what you are testing (Trello is really nice for this). Then you’ll know that every thing you do each day is for a reason. You’ll also be able to prioritize your time and energy better.

Write these down. Put them in a public, visible place for you. Everything you do — go to seminars, learn how to sell, read a book on startups, watch a video on programming, life, the universe, and everything else for a startup — everything fits into this model.

Use it.

If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.

Weight Loss 3 — Beginning the Fast



In a couple of days I start my fast (on Optifast), then after a couple of weeks, hopefully, on June 5th I have my surgery. So it seemed like a good time to catch up.

Being a systems guy, I couldn’t help but evaluate the various office systems I saw going from one test to the next in prep for the big day. I chose this surgical group because I felt they were one of the top three on the east coast of the U.S. I’m driving four hours each way for office visits. So I want to know what makes them so special.

First, they are part of a larger ecosystem. You don’t just meet the surgeon. Hell, I might meet him next week and then the day of my surgery — three times in the entire process. Mostly you meet his team: nutritionist, physical therapist, behavioral specialist, and so forth.

Second, he’s huge into tests. I am being tested for every possible thing that could go wrong before the surgery begins. I guess the way to make your numbers better is to be very selective about the cases you take.

Finally, people don’t talk about it, but it’s obvious there’s a huge amount of money in this gastric bypass business. Vendors contacted me almost immediately after my first appointment to get my tests done. Instead of a commercial fasting program, I’m on one of those deals where they charge you 3 times as much as necessary and then the vendor picks up a huge profit. And so forth. This business of helping people lose weight is a cash cow. For good reason. Lots of fat folks.

Some offices I visited were purely paperless. Most were a mix. Some places treated you like a number. Others made an effort to be personable, but it was obviously an effort. Everywhere, without exception, people were there because they cared about folks. That was nice.

One aide was interviewing me and couldn’t make a complete sentence. He started saying something, then stopped, then picked back up, only to stop again. A couple of times he just stopped and never picked back up. As it turns out, he was trying to chit-chat while also trying to master some complex piece of data entry on a hand-held. The two didn’t mix. So he sounded like he had some sort of brain damage. Here’s hoping the data got entered okay!

Many test-givers insisted on a follow-up. You pay one guy to refer you to the test, another guy to give the test, then yet another guy to read the test. Pretty good racket. If car repair was like that, you’d pay 500 bucks for an oil change.

So how am I doing?

I feel sad and down in the dumps gearing up for the big day, almost as if I were grieving some kind of loss. Perhaps I’m grieving my current life which consists of various grand eating adventures. As my nutritionist said, “Your eating life is going to become very dull for quite a while”

This I know.

It’s odd that a fat person would grieve eating, when eating was what got them into this mess. I guess eating and I are old friends. Many great memories of mine are found around a dinner table! (And they involve mostly people, not food) I feel nervous and unsure of myself without my food crutch.

I tell myself that I am making the best choice I can given the circumstances I am in. After all, what are my options? Continue with being morbidly obese and die in my 50s? Or lose weight and have a chance of seeing some grandkids one day? So I give up exciting huge meals — so what? If I want to lose weight, I’m going to have to do that anyway, surgery or not.

I think of people who have been injured in some terrible conflict, say a war, and undergo the same surgery I’m electing to do voluntarily. They carry on, don’t complain, and do very well. This is a cherished time for them, when they escaped almost certain death. All of this for God and Country. Surely the cause of a longer life and love of family is just as precious.

I’ll just tell people I was injured in the battle of Dunkin Donuts.

So, oddly enough, that’s my emotional state. You’d think I’d be psyched, pumped up, and ready to go! But instead I feel as if I have a lot of work ahead of me. Time to buckle down and do the best job I can.

Time to take the “before” picture. The adventure continues.

If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.

Southwest Florida Beach Trip (Photos)




After some time on Don Pedro Island, I returned with a nice stack of digital pictures.
stump on beach


A stump at a place called Stump Pass. This was shot in HDR. I love the difference in texture between the front and back of the stump; it draws the eye inward.



Ibis taking flight


Beach Sunset


This was shot using my FujiFilm stereographic camera. It looks even better in 3D. I found the 3D camera worked very well with the ocean, for some reason. Something about a continuous 3D field as opposed to the usual “cut-out” effect you get when taking shots of things clearly in the foreground and background.

Daniel and Jack check charts


Jack and I study the navigation charts for the inland coastal waterway. At low tide, we had to navigate just 2 or 3 feet of water in places in order to find our way back home. A lot trickier than I expected!


2014-05-Don-Pedro-Dolphin-Pelican-webA pelican flying over a dolphin. Your argument is invalid.


2013-05 Back Walk BW 2


Shot this in HDR then reduced it to black and white. Not a bad effect. I love B&W photography, but I always associate it with darkrooms and chemicals. Feels weird shooting digitally and then “pretending” it’s black and white.


2013-05-Don-Pedro-Find-The-Bird-webVery interesting color and current variation on the island. There was also a very noticeable difference in color, which comes out nicely in this shot. Love the high contrast with the bird. Reminds me of an Escher drawing.



If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.

The Startup Story I Want To Hear

Been listening on my iPod to Andrew Warner interview a ton of founders. Wow, I think he’s up to over 600 now? He said something the other day about having some criteria for people he spoke to: he only wanted to talk to people who had made it big, who had a powerful story to tell.

Likewise I also spent last week at #Microconf 2013 down in Vegas. What a great experience! Some folks have called it the best conference they’ve even attended. Beats me, this was my first, but I had a blast. Lots of people who had successful startups taking the time to share what they knew with the rest of us. Last year they were sitting in the audience. This year they’re making 5-digit profits or more each month.

But there’s a type of story I want to hear that I haven’t heard yet. I understand that startup success is a mix of many factors. Some factors I can control; others I cannot. Luck plays an important part in it. After listening to a zillion stories and reading books, I’ve had enough. I’m not buying into the idea that startup stories need to have a hero and be dramatic. I’m separating the “self-help” part of this genre from the nuts-and-bolts part. I’m not buying into the idea that some part of Mark Zuckerberg is “magic”. Yes, he had the execution nailed, but he was also the right guy in the right place at the right time. No business porn for me. I want struggle, not Disney.

I want to hear the opposite of the traditional startup story because I think it speaks to many more of us.

I want a story about a person that struggled for many years. That made lots of mistakes. That learned lessons the hard way. That eventually combined the right idea with the right execution in the right market to make a living. Not buy a boat you can land a helicopter on. Not conquer the world with iPads. Just make a living. The real startup story that most people live.

In the startup community, we keep emphasizing the dramatic, the kids out of college cashing in on a billion-dollar IPO. But hell, that’s not the story that any of us who are actually doing the work are actually living. We need more realistic success stories if we truly want to help each other out.

Tell me more of those stories. Please.

If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.

MicroConf: Go Do Something

I’ve been reading a lot about MicroConf in Vegas this week. As an attendee, I was very impressed. I don’t go to conferences, but if every conference were like this one I’d become a conference freak.

Patrick McKenzie was awesome. All of the speakers were. The material was on-target, actionable, and useful. Just when I thought I couldn’t learn something else, that my brain was full, along came even more information. I could write a very long blog article about all the cool stuff I assimilated.

But as much as I was impressed, I have very hard criteria for a conference that’s supposed to help me in my startup. I want it, well, to help me in my startup. I’m funny like that.

So the real test comes today, and tomorrow, and the rest of the year. I’m willing to put in the work, but unless I see a difference in performance I’ll be left with just having a good time talking nerd stuff.

Part of Patrick’s presentation was telling those of us still consulting to get out and make the move to micropreneur. So today I created my first long-form landing page for training Agile teams.

So while I really enjoyed the social nature of the conference, and the material seemed targeted and useful, evaluating its value is yet to come. That begins now.

Scrummaster landing page shot

If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.