We should discuss this.

And now we can at StartupToDo.com. I just put into production Version 2.15, adding Group-centric Discussions to S2D. What’s Group-centric? It’s my stab at keeping Discussions and their Posts on-topic. Over the past 4+ years I’ve been a moderator at Joel on Software Business of Software Forum. Many is the time I’ve wished for some way to organize threads along major topics. At the same time, most PHPBB-like forums go too far, splitting up conversations into way too many topics costing too much time to move up and down their hierarchy.

Basically, I’ve taken the model of the Business of Software (threads with posts arranged by order) and added two things: the ability to see and rank Discussion and their Posts, and the ability to go beyond just plain text.

One of the best things about the Business of Software forum is how little if any spam gets in front of readers. Part of that is FogBugz’s automatic Bayesian filter and part of that is the ongoing efforts of the moderators. Keeping spam out of a forum, and if necessary banning trolls and the like, is a top priority for any good forum. At StartupToDo.com, first you need to be a member and secondly, there’s a “report spam” button available on every Discussion and Post.

In fact, if you are a regular at the Joel on Software Business of Software Forum,  the Association of Software Professionals Forum, the SoftwareCEO Forum or another software startup forum, sign up for free 30 day trial at StartupToDo.com, email me, and for the the asking and your participation, I’ll be happy to comp you a six-month StartupToDo.com membership.

Just to be crystal clear here, I’m not trying to woo you away from any of these forums. I’m hoping you’ll find additional value for your time and participation at StartupToDo.com and this is a small way to pay back all the help and good advice I’ve gotten at BOS and elsewhere.

Coming soon will be two more features I think will make for even more value: Discussion reputations will be accessible to all members as they browse and participate in Discussions and the ability to not just add a Post but add a Post with an embedded Resource, Tip or Event. So often, people are looking for answers when they participate in a forum: by making it really easy to create Resources, Tips and Events within Discussions, I hope to increase the value of everyone’s participation to all of us.

MicroISV Digest – 06/17/2010

Community News:

  • A quiet week…

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

  • So who are the 50 prominent startups who you should keep an eye on? Louis Gray knows.

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • No new Guides at StartupToDo.com this week. (StartupToDo.com is a subscription-based community of startup founders; if you’re not already a member, get your free 30 day free trial membership):
    • New: In the next day or so I will be rolling out Discussions in Groups. Discussions has been one of the most asked-for features; I think you’ll find the implementation I’ve come up with fosters useful discussions while keeping noise to a minimum and spam to zero.
  • One new show at the Startup Success Podcast:
    • Show #71 [link] [iTunes]. This week Bob and Pat talk with well-respected Silicon Valley strategist Nilofer Merchant about her book, “The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy“.

      How can you build a business – large, small or micro – that can compete and succeed in a world where constant change is the norm? Nilofer walks us through the components of the new how, why so many large companies suffer from an air sandwich between goals and execution, murderboards and their uses, and how even the smallest company needs to take conscious charge of their business culture.

  • Active Scholarships at StartupToDo.com:

====

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

Announcing the UserTesting.com StartupToDo.com Scholarship

It’s easy when you are a small startup to become 150% wrapped up in it; after all, you’re building your dream. That’s why it’s very cool when a startup takes time out from what they are doing to help other startups. Today we are announcing the start of the UserTesting.com StartupToDo.com Scholarship.

Here’s how Aimee Williamson, UserTesting.com‘s Director of Customer Support put it:

“At UserTesting.com, we support the entrepreneurial spirit!  We are a startup — as are many of our customers — so live the challenges daily.  One of the greatest resources out there for companies like us is StartupToDo.com.  StartupToDo.com is a startup by Bob Walsh, author of The Web Startup Success Guide, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, Clear Blogging, and two ebooks: MicroISV Sites that Sell! and The Twitter Survival Guide.  This productivity application offers: guides, site reviews, resources, events, groups, and much more!”

“To “pay it forward”, UserTesting.com is sponsoring 2 six-month scholarships to StartupToDo.com.  The lucky winners will also each receive a free test with 3 users from UserTesting.com (a $117 value).  Good luck!”

So how do apply? Run don’t walk to your favorite Twitter client and tweet to @usertesting “I want a StartupToDo.com scholarship”. Be sure to mention @usertesting so we see your tweet. We will be in touch with the lucky winners. Thanks again, UserTesting.com!

MicroISV Digest – 06/09/2010

Community News:

  • Sarat Pediredla, hedgehog lab, wanted to let MicroISV Digest readers know about a special offer: buy their bug tracker, fixx, and get 50% off the purchase price until the end of July. (Promo code: SQUASHMYBUGS). (Check out their site in any case: nice use of a custom font.)
  • What’s better than having four iPad apps out? Launching four more. Kristina Godfrey, School Zone, has launched “Phonics Learning Game,” “Preschool Learning Game,” “Kindergarten Learning Game,” and “First Grade Learning Game,” for $9.99 each, for preschool, kindergarten or first grade children (or their parents who actually have the credit cards.)
  • Women 2.0 Labs is a new 5-week afterwork program (July 6 – August 5, 2010) for engineers, developers, biz dev folks, and marketing mavens to develop high-growth technology ventures in San Francisco, sponsored by Women 2.0 and open to both women and men. If you want to join one of five teams building a startup with great mentors and support, definitely check this out. Deadline to apply for this program is June 20th, 2010. (StartupToDo.com is donating six-month scholarships to all team members.)

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • One new Guides at StartupToDo.com (StartupToDo.com is a subscription-based community of startup founders; if you’re not already a member, you will need to start your free 30 day trial membership for these links to work.):
    • Getting Legal Advice or Services as a Lean Startup.
    • New features: You now have the option of getting a tweek, email or StartupToDo.com message when another member completes a Site Review you requested and you can choose to be notified with a tweet and/or email when you are messaged within StartupToDo.com.
  • One new Show at the Startup Success Podcast:
    • Show #70 [link] [iTunes]. This week Bob and Pat talk with Social Media and PR thought leader Steve Rubel on the changing roles of blogging, social media, public relations, and advertising. The days when a startup could get by with only a blog to engage people online are over as increasingly, social media weaves its way throughout organizations small and large. As SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, a division of Edelman (the world’s largest independent PR firm), Steve shares his insights from the bleeding edge of social media transformation.
  • Active Scholarships at StartupToDo.com:

====

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

If Our Prices Are Wrong, We’ll Just Change Them Later

By Lincoln Murphy, Managing Director
Sixteen Ventures

If there was ever any doubt that the “Pricing is Marketing” mantra of Sixteen Ventures is true, just look at the SaaS and Web App pricing related stories that have come out lately. From the positive, where RightNow used changes in pricing in an attempt to disrupt the status quo in the SaaS CRM world, to the extreme negative press generated by Zendesk – and the accompanying customer backlash – last week when they jacked up their prices. I’ll focus on the latter of those two examples in this post.

I’m going to lay it out plain and simple so there are no misunderstandings: you need to get your pricing as right as possible out of the gate – don’t just guess or make up numbers. Once you are in the market, you will learn new information, customer buying behavior, feature bundling problems, etc. This is like the Mike Tyson quote “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” This isn’t terrible, as long as you got it close in the beginning – but if you are off by a significant factor, or if you didn’t train to fight Mr. Tyson, then you are going to have a hard time changing your pricing without hurting your existing customer base, or you’re going to get knocked out as soon as the bell rings

Pricing is not static; rather, it is fluid over time, moving with market conditions, time in market, market segmentation, etc. This doesn’t mean it changes every day, or week, or month, but it is not something that you figure out once and then never think about again – until you need to make a huge adjustment. You want to avoid huge adjustments, and you can do that by getting your pricing as right as possible out of the gate and then monitoring it over time. Ensuring that your prices are part of an overall pricing strategy that is aligned with your overall marketing strategy is critical. It appears that Zendesk didn’t get their pricing close to right at first and then had to make some significant, sweeping changes; and they paid for it – and likely still are.

It is even more critical for startups that don’t have time in market and historical data to pull from to start with a solid Pricing Strategy. If you understand why you are developing the pricing that you are, you are more likely to get it right. Ask most startups what their pricing strategy goals are and some statistically significant amount will say something about “making sales.” Then they’ll ask what you mean. On our Pricing Page Tune-Up™ sign-up page, for example, we ask what your Pricing Page goals are; included selections are User Growth, Increased Sales, Lead Generation, Market Position, etc. Remember: Pricing is Marketing.

But many companies don’t get it even close to right at launch – likely because they neglected to develop or execute on a real pricing strategy. So what if they need to make a big change, like Zendesk did, and raise prices? Is it even possible to do this without a negative outcome? The answer is yes, but you need to have a strategy and execute according to plan. Some people will always be upset by a price increase – they will be vocal in their opposition. Let them vent and then let them move on. Have you successfully raised prices without causing a backlash? Please comment on this post and share your story!

Engage or Alienate

If you have a mailing list, a registered user base, or active customers using your app, you have what we refer to as a voluntarily captive audience; exploit it! When you need to raise prices, there are only two options with your users and customers: engage or alienate. Its your choice – I suggest the former. One method is to find your top users – the oldest active users – and get them to help you. Engage (there’s that word again) with them. For startups with a beta user base, this is your chance – the kids these days are calling this “customer development” – whatever the term is, get out and talk to your users and existing customers. Maybe even call them on the phone.

Find out what these folks want, if they’ll pay for it, what they’ll pay, how they’ll pay, etc. Just like anything, this should be executed according to a well thought out plan. Not only will you learn a lot while you engage the user base, you could even create evangelists. The more engaged and respected users and customers feel, the more they’ll be happy to help you – which is what you’re asking for.

The backlash from the Zendesk users was more likely that they felt betrayed and less about the actual pricing. Pricing is neither good nor bad – its empty – its all about perception and the betrayal likely clouded the perception of their customers (that, coincidentally, is very Zen-like itself). If Zendesk had actively recruited their customers to help or otherwise made sure that every customer knew something was going on with pricing, the customers might not have revolted in such a way. In fact, had Zendesk done this, they would have been made aware of some of the use cases that they should have known about, but obviously didn’t consider – the ones that lead to the 300% price increase some customers mentioned.

But to find out on a blog or via email after the fact that the prices are now 300% higher is a slap in the face. Consider that your current users (especially early adopters, beta testers, etc.) and customers want to feel special – like they’re in a club – and by telling outsiders first, you take away that special feeling of belonging that we all long for. At the end of the day, would Zendesk still have alienated and irritated a segment of their customer base? Sure. But it would have been a lot smaller and they would have had the rest of the customer base to defend them – rather than add the attack!

Grandfathering is NOT the Answer

Okay, so Zendesk admitted that they messed up with their price hike. They probably needed to do something to respond to the backlash, but what they did seems to further indicate that they really didn’t have a strategy going into this. What did they do? They “grandfathered” existing customers and are only applying the updated pricing to new customers. Let me make this very clear: “grandfathering” prices is not an acceptable alternative to having a good pricing strategy or failing to execute on it!

So, while the tactic of grandfathering prices might appease some of their customers, what is the cost – in real dollars, PR, position as the market leader, etc? Why would a company backpedal on something that was good – their new pricing? Ultimately, this all comes down to lack of a strategy, lack of preparation, and an overall inability to execute if they did have a plan. It shows they didn’t talk to anyone outside of perhaps some “star” clients and now it shows that the new customers are going to get the “bad” pricing. Pricing is Marketing and what message is grandfathering sending?

Remember, it isn’t like this grandfathering is a secret – especially when the CEO posts this to their blog and it gets picked up by Techcrunch and every other tech news site – exactly Zendesk’s target audience, by the way. It is clear that those who were members on or before 5/18/2010 paid one price and anyone else that joins after that date has to pay more. Period. What a great way to entice new customers to join, right?

Some commenters on the Zendesk site and Twitter said that they were talking to Zendesk about becoming customers in the days leading to the price hike and were not told about the pending changes nor given the option of locking in “legacy pricing.” Way to start that relationship off on the right foot! I imagine sign-ups slowed immediately following the announcement and will be slow to come back until this gets swept under the virtual rug. Which it will, but that 2Q update to investors will be interesting, to say the least.

While the majority of this post has been talking about how to engage existing customers and users, it is very important to consider the impact of these changes on new customers. Does your value proposition correlate to the new prices? Obviously Zendesk didn’t talk to their customers to get to this point so by continuing with the pricing, are they going against the customers’ value perception? What about trust – are new customers going to trust that they too will be grandfathered on the next huge price increase?

It should be obvious that you just don’t want to get to this point. It is much better to be transparent leading up to the pricing change than during the backlash and accompanying backpedaling. Forced transparency is ugly! But what happens if you do find yourself in this situation? How should you handle it? There are a lot of different ways to work with this. Keeping in mind that Pricing is Marketing, you want to make sure you clearly understand the Value Perception from the eyes of the customers who will pay the higher price. Nobody wants to pay a higher price just for the privilege of doing so. What’s in it for them? Can we give them something more?

Perhaps you could consider one of the following if you must raise prices and are backed into a corner where grandfathering seems to make sense:

  • Grandfather privately – reach out to the legacy customers and tell them that their existing pricing will be in effect for some amount of time
  • Offer to let new customers lock-in “legacy pricing” for some amount of time if they sign-up in the next 30 days
  • Add value to coincide with the increase in price – this is the preferred option – is there a much-requested feature or service you can dedicate some resources to work on in an effort to appease them?

So, if grandfathering isn’t the answer, what is? Strategy – plain and simple.

Intentional Alienation – or – Firing Unprofitable Customers

There is the reality that sometimes it is just wise to get rid of customers that cost more than they are worth – a strategy that was undertaken by Ning when it dropped its use of Freemium. Raising prices to force low-profit or high-cost customers to leave your company and hopefully bring their troubles to a competitor is a valid strategy. Just be prepared for the backlash! From what I’ve seen, it is usually the low-end customers that do the most complaining – they have more time to do that sort of thing which is likely why they are low end clients.

They will be loud, vocal, and spread the bad word everywhere they can. When they do, you know you did the right thing – now they will move to your competitor and be unprofitable for them. Win – Win. In dealing with them, it is wise to just let them vent and then let them move on. If you have a strategy in place and know that this will happen, it is easier to deal with them and you won’t be as tempted to give in to the noise.

But to be clear, Zendesk obviously didn’t just irritate the low-end customers – they hit everyone equally hard. Again, this is something you will want to avoid. By having a complete pricing strategy at the beginning, you will know who your target audience is and perhaps save yourself from having to deal with a similar mess.

The great thing is, with SaaS or Web Apps, you can actually create different versions of your application for different target market segments – in this case low-end and high-end customers – with the same code-base! This is why we advocate decoupling the pricing strategy from revenue model in SaaS and why single-instance, multi-tenancy – or everyone using the same version of the app – is a key component of real Software-as-a-Service.

A great example of a this is the company behind SendPepper and OfficeAutoPilot. They have one marketing automation SaaS product that, through feature configuration and skinning, serves two very different market segments. Nothing like being able to send people to “the competition” and having that company be… you. Behold, the power of single-instance multi-tenancy in SaaS that few companies really understand and take advantage of.

——–

Lincoln Murphy (@lincolnmurphy on Twitter) is Managing Director of Sixteen Ventures, where he works with SaaS & Web App companies on Business Strategy, Revenue Modeling, Distribution and Pricing Strategy – check out the new Pricing Page Tune-Up™ service for on-demand Pricing Page feedback and improvement recommendations.

MicroISV Digest – 06/02/2010

Community News:

  • There’s a new startup podcast: Startups for the Rest of Us. It focuses on actionable strategies for bootstrapped startups, microISVs and Micropreneurs, with hosts Rob Walling of Software by Rob and Mike Taber of SingleFounder.com. There’s a new episode every Tuesday at StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com, with full episode transcripts provided. [iTunes link]. Way to go Rob and Mike!
  • Will Rayer, Ubercode Software, has a new release of Ubercode out with an improved code editor, optimized highlighting code, and improved tooltips. Ubercode is an easy-to-use environment allowing you to create your own software, Free download available.
  • Keith Platfoot, RBK Inc., has started an open beta of Maintaino, an online, subscription-based maintenance scheduling and tracking application.  Beta participants will receive a 50% discount for a full year after they launch.

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

====
(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me atbob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

MicroISV Digest – 05/26/2010

(Apologies to all for the six-week hiatus the MicroISV Digest took while I was working to get out StartupToDo.com Version 2 and start marketing.)

Community News:

  • BP and the feds may not be able to turn off the Gulf Oil Spill disaster, but maybe you can code a mobile app that will help. At least that’s the approach Jeff Haynie and the rest of the Appcelerator team is taking. Two open source apps – Oil Reporter and Oil Tracker – are in use, and the company that developed these two apps is working to connect other volunteer developers with government agencies and animal rescue organizations. More info here and especially here.
  • Chet Karella of Dangerous Decisions has created the perfect high school graduation gift for parents worried about their speeding sons and daughters: Save Driver Program uses the iPhone GPS and accelerometers to email you when an iPhone toting driver exceeds whatever speed or acceleration set points you want them to stay below.
  • Richard Nichols has released Draw 5 (iPad version). What caught my eye was when he said, “Imagine, it actually took me less time to write a full featured Draw 5 Video Poker game that it did for the iTunes reviewers to review and pass it! This was all from scratch and is fully animated with voice prompts and detailed score history. I say this because someone actually accused me of using a 3rd party game framework!” I think I’m in the wrong business. Details here.
  • Need to be willing to share. Besides all of the cool apps for adults coming out for the iPad (remember a mere two months ago when it was all the rage to diss the iPad? I do.), there’s plenty of goodness for the wee ones. Case in point: School Zone was among the first companies to launch titles, which parents and teachers can download for $9.99 each: “On-Track Time, Money & Fractions,” “Flash Action Multiplication & Division” and “Flash Action Addition & Subtraction.” More info.
  • Steve Cholerton, Arten Science, have recently released the Multi-User MySQL Edition of their popular ContaxCRM software.  Further information on ContaxCRM Cross Platform Contact Relationship Management Software can be found here.
  • The conference schedule for the 20th annual Software Industry Conference (SIC) has been posted. Join your fellow MicroISVs in Dallas, Texas July 15-17, 2010. Special topics include: Selling Your Product on Amazon.com, Code Signing and Authenticode, 25 Ways to Get Google AdWords Wrong, Software Update Strategies, Conversion Optimization, Essentials in Successful Software Promotions, and e-Commerce 3.0. Network with MicroISV pioneers and hundreds of your peers. See the full conference schedule at: http://sic.org/fullsched.asp. Hope to see you there!
  • Speaking of conferences, I’ll be giving the keynote for Deploy 2010 June 24th in Seattle – more info here. Early bird pricing ends Friday, so now’s a good time to hop on it.

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

StartupToDo.com, The Startup Success Podcast and other plugs:

  • Seven new Guides at StartupToDo.com (StartupToDo.com is a subscription-based community of startup founders; if you’re not already a member, you will need to start your free 30 day trial membership for these links to work.):
  • Five new Shows at the Startup Success Podcast:
    • Show #64 [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat interview Maria Ly, co-founder of Skimble, an iPhone app for tracking and sharing all your sports activities (from rockclimbing to yoga and everything in between). Maria shares her experience as an Apple iPhone developer, how she and her partner and co-founder Gabriel Vanrenen make a business and personal relationship work, and lots more.
    • Show #65 [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat interview two key players in the Startup Visa Act – Eric Ries (see show 59) and Representative Jared Polis (CO-D) who is sponsoring this bill in the House. Eric is also the organizer of the Startup Lessons Learned Conference on April 23rd about the lean startups methodology.
    • Show #66 [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat interview Tom Foremski, one of the foremost journalists covering Silicon Valley, the world of startups and the shifting sands under the feet of traditional media. Tom was one of the first top rank journalists to go solo and leave the sinking mainstream media ship. You’ll find his analysis of the coming media tsunami and why every company – including your startup – is now a media company nourishing food for thought.
    • Show #67 [link] [iTunes]. This week, Bob and Pat talk with Steven Rodin, President of StoragePipe Solutions, one of the first companies to provide online enterprise backup in North America about the changing face of business backup needs in the age of cloud computing. And we talk (starting about 19:20) with Marsh Sutherland and Ken Herron, 2 of the three co-founders of SocialGrow, a still-in-alpha New England startup that holds the promise of restructuring our social media relationships with business peers and personal friends.
    • Show #68 [link] [iTunes]. This week, Bob and Pat interview friend of the show David Schenberg, CEO and cofounder of BusyEvent.com about new events technologies that change the equation both for organizers and attendees. David shares his insights on why being first matters, not being afraid of creating a hardware-based barrier to entry for potential competitors and choosing a business that can scale.
  • Four active Scholarships at StartupToDo.com:

====
(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me atbob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

StartupToDo.com: why all the scholarships?

I’d don’t know about you, but if I hadn’t gotten a couple of small, key scholarships, I would not have gone to college. It wasn’t just the money – it was having someone real tell me that, yes, I should be in college that made a huge difference. When you’re doing something new, different and scary, getting that kind of validation matters.

That’s why I’m very pleased to say there’s not 1, or 2 but 3 different scholarship programs running right now at StartupToDo.com. Like scholarships in the academic world, each of the sponsors decide eligibility, but they all share a real desire to see more startups succeed.

OnStartups.com – (See this post at OnStartups.com for details). Dharmesh Shah and Jason Cohen – the cofounders of Answers.Onstartups.com – are giving away 20 six-month scholarships to StartupToDo.com. Dharmesh’s day job just happens to be creating and running HubSpot.com, a startup that has raised $33.5 million in VC money in the past year and a half. Jason, of the A Smart Bear blog and founder of Smart Bear Software, is known for his insightful posts on many startup topics. They guys have plenty on their plate. But it matters to them your startup succeeds.

Atomic Object – (see this page at Atomic Object). It’s easy for people in California in general and Silicon Valley in particular to scoff at the IT/startup communities in “flyover” country like Grand Rapids, Michigan. Easy and oh so wrong.

Software development companies like Atomic Object roll up their sleeves and get the job done right for global companies, and in the process move their communities from light-industrial to heavyweight post-industrial and a great place to live. Carl Erickson, President of Atomic Object, isn’t just thinking about getting the job done for AO’s many clients, he’s thinking about how to grow and nurture the west Michigan IT/Startup hub. That’s one of the reasons AO is sponsoring 20 Michigan-based startup founders to be part of StartupToDo.com.

Microsoft WebsiteSpark – (see this page for details) Speaking of scoffing at, let me just come out and say that all too many people in our industry profile Microsoft as the big, bad corporate wolf. Bull. Like every other company and organization, Microsoft is the net effort of the people who work there now, not what it was in the past.

That’s why Jacob Mullins, who runs WebsiteSpark in the U.S. anted up 130 six-month free StartupToDo.com scholarships for budding startup founders who’s day job is building web sites for clients. And it’s people like Midori Lawler, Ludovic Ulrich (and before him, Julien Codorniou) and Tom Halabi who are the reason Microsoft BizSpark exists and why I’ve volunteered my time to help 392 startups to date join BizSpark in the last 18 months.

As you read this, whether you’re the CEO of a software company with 10,000 employees or you are it, I’d encourage you to find a way to help other IT startups get off the ground. Whether that’s sponsoring scholarships at StartupToDo.com, bringing on a summer intern (I’ve got someone for you if you’re interested), being a sponsor of a startup event in your geographic area, you can make a huge difference. And if you’re not making a difference in this world, what are you doing?

It’s new, hot and matters: the Lean Startup Methodology

For years, startups and their founders have built their products, then searched for their markets and prayed for the best. I won’t dignify this as a methodology – it’s rolling the dice, hopefully with somebody else’s money.

If you want to roll the dice, go to Vegas. If you want to build a successful business producing software, then now is the time to learn about the Lean Startup approach.

In one short year, Lean Startup has gone from a keynote at one Web 2.0 Expo to its own full-blown conference streamed to no less than 50 meetups around the world. That’s what’s called traction in Silicon Valley, and the creators of the Lean Startup approach – Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Sean Ellis, Dave McClure, and others are on to something Big.

The Lean Startup approach puts front and center finding the intersection between the founder’s interests, deep domain knowledge and passion and the market. Though building rapid prototypes and learning from prospective customers what’s working and what’s not, a Lean Startup does its homework to find Product/Market fit before investing in a complete product.

Instead of buying into the traditional industrial model of having separate departments (or at least separate roles) for product development and marketing/sales/pr, a Lean Startup has a product team (development, QA, operations) and a problem team “that is asking the bigger questions, such as: Who will our customers be? What problem does our product solve for them? How many of them are there? And how will we reach them?” (see this post by Eric Ries)

“And the problem team is not merely engaged in a series of whiteboard exercises. Rather, they are working to validate or refute their hypotheses, and to then share their findings with the rest of the company so they can be used to reduce uncertainty and further chart the firm’s destiny. Each iteration leads to a “pivot” in which the company systematically changes some part of the vision to adapt to reality.”

What we are talking about is post-industrial model of product development and marketing here: putting learning what the market has to say before all the blood, toil, sweat, tears and money is spent, not after.

So how does a Lean Startup learn? By taking a fact-based approach and leaving faith-based to others. Lean Startups are numbers driven, and built atop of a development environment (continuous integration, continuous deployment, massive automated tests and more) that supports feature testing in depth by your customers, and using real analytics to understand what they experience.

If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because Lean Startup has a lot to do with applying the best practices of lean manufacturing with true continuous improvement. It’s taking the Toyota Way instead of the GM crash and burn approach.

Here’s a few places you can go to learn more quick and easy:

Now you can ignore Lean Startup. It’s your startup. And maybe you’ll do alright. But the most practical thing in the world is a good theory, and Lean Startup is well on its to being the Next Big Thing and as important a theory to what we do in this industry as Agile Development. Don’t take my word for it – read what Kent Beck, the creator of Extreme Programming, Test Driven Development, and one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, has to say.

Announcing StartupToDo.com Version 2

It’s been a long haul, but StartupToDo.com Version 2 is officially out today!

Four times faster loading each and every page. Supports all current browser versions. With a new layout throughout thats easier to read, easier to work with and just plain more attractive. And now with an industry-standard 30 day free trial period before you need to pay for it.

And to get the ball rolling again, 3 new Guides (clicking the title of the Guide will take you there if you’re logged in:

Improving your copywriting (http://startuptodo.com/guides/63) by Pietro Polsinelli. Pietro’s Guide will help you write better blog posts, copy for your web site and even tweets.

Recording audio guidelines for videos, podcasts or Skype
(http://startuptodo.com/guides/64) by Corey Maass. This Guide will get you started with improving your computer-captured audio for videos, podcasts or Skype – however you communicate.

Managing your testimonials with Propadoo.com
(http://startuptodo.com/guides/61) by colospeedskierboy. Testimonials boost sales, but can be a pain to manage. With Prooadoo.com, that pain goes away.

So what can StartupToDo.com do for you?

Guides – 49 today and a firm plan for creating at least 3 a week. Guides take 3.5 hour tasks and turn them back into 30 minute tasks. Rated and commented on, Guides are the wheels for your startup you don’t have to research to reuse. What happens when instead of spending hours bouncing between google, blog posts, and out of date pages you can take a Guide, make it your Project, work through it and get it done? You save time, frustration and energy – and build more of your startup faster.
Site Reviews - Instead of asking at public forums (where your customers can see it) for feedback on your site, create a Site Review Request at StartupToDo.com and let your peers provide you with targeted quantitative and qualitative feedback. And by reviewing other member sites, you’ll develop the skills you need to explain your product or service, connect with your intended market and facilitiate the sale.

Track your progress, build your momentum. Whether it’s completing projects, reviewing member sites (or asking for Site Reviews) or just recording your development time and business decisions, everything you do in StartupToDo.com earns you points. And points let you compare your progress this week to last week, to what your StartupToDo.com friends are getting done, and to an average of everyone.

Tips, Resources, Events, Groups, StartupToDo.com Friends and more.

Why not try StartupToDo.com today – free 30 day trial before you have to pay, costs between $30 and $15 a month. Be Successful Faster.