The secret to succeeding for startups: from Seth Godin’s lips to your ears.

How to overcome the resistance to shipping your product, why doing an app to spec isn’t enough anymore, why Steve Jobs is an artist and so are you, and lot more in this week’s the Startup Success Podcast (iTunes) with author Seth Godin. Pat and I had the great pleasure of interviewing Seth – author of a dozen bestselling books including Purple Cow, Tribes, Permission Marketing and now Linchpin – on how his insights apply to our world of startups.

If you don’t generally listen to the Startup Success Podcast that’s okay. But this is one podcast you really do want to hear.

Involuntary exactitude is involuntary servitude.

Maybe because we’ve all been burned at one time or another by a boss or client who didn’t spec out the software we ended up trying to build. Or maybe it’s because we live in a world where everything that matters is true or false, none of this messy in-between stuff that’s impossible to code. Developers crave specificity, exactitude, precision.

We are far better at dealing with 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288 than “a little more than 3″ so we don’t look for good enough, we want the best. The One True Answer.

For example,

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking for the best solutions when you build your startup – an absolutely zero chance you will find those answers outside of your codebase.

Best? By what standard? For who? In what context? In a world where there are programmers still at each other’s throats over whether VIm or Emacs “rules” setting your standard for what you’re going to attempt to an impossible degree of certainty is just another way of dodging the bullet you fire when you try to build something new, exciting and daring.

Defining the “best” process is a worthy and profitable way of making car seats by the million when the few less than best, the more money you make. But you’re building one software business, with probably one application and definitely one chance to get more business answers right than wrong. You can’t afford best – what you need is what will work for you, get that item off your multi-thousand entry To Do List and will let you move on.

Save the precision for your code, where it can do some good.

Are you going stale?

So here we are, starting another week at your software company. Are you excited? Eager to make new friends, features and customers? If you are not, it will show. Maybe you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for too long. Or maybe the press of business and constantly tending to your software application has left you just a bit bored and stale by the whole thing.

You may be a developer who’s fired your employer, but you’re still a developer first. And developers want, and need, to develop new software, learn new programming languages, explore new practices, push the envelope. That’s the part of what we do that most of us really enjoy.

No one ever said you can only have one app, only pour all your creativity and curiosity into one codebase, month after month, year after year.

So live a little. Go load up what you need to learn a different language, a different kind of programming, even a different platform. For fun. For motivation. As a reward for getting through the urgencies and priorities of your day job.

For example, For the past 2 years my day job has been learning Rails/JavaScript and coding http://startuptodo.com. But for fun, as a hobby, as a side project without deadlines, responsibilities, stress, I’m going to go play around with creating native iPhone/iPad apps.

I’ve never programmed one line of Objective C, don’t know the first thing about it and will start with Sams Teach Yourself iPhone Application Development in 24 Hours. I’ll reward myself at the end of day – If I finish recoding profile and about 4 other screens for version 2 – by becoming a real live Apple Developer.

Now that’s my idea of fun! And maybe yours.

MicroISV Digest – 02/13/2010

Community News:

  • The 19th annual Software Industry Conference will be held this year in Dallas, Texas at the Hyatt Regency DFW, July 15-17, 2010. The conference runs each year from Thursday through Saturday. It is designed for both beginners and experienced Micro ISVs and internet marketers. At SIC you can go to sessions on current software and internet marketing topics, take part in web site and marketing tutorials, participate in networking opportunities, attend Exhibit Night, and mingle with your peers at the Gala Networking Dinner. For more information on the SIC visit their web site at: http://sic.org
  • Mike Davis, Centripetal Software, has launched Centripetal Retrieve for Basecamp a comprehensive backup solution for 37Signals Basecamp. It provides automated backups of all your Basecamp files, writeboards and data and delivers it to you via Dropbox or FTP. If you’re interested, email Mike first and just mention mention my name, and you’ll get a discount.
  • Dennis Gurock, Gurock Software, has released his second product after 18 months of development: TestRail – a web-based test case management tool.
  • Will Rayer, ubercode.com, has updated Ubercode (a programming environment for Windows designed to make it easy to build EXE files). The improvements in v1.2 include full support for Windows Vista, updated help and documentation, over 63 tested example programs, CHM and HTML help, and many other tweaks and improvements.

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

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

  • Four new Guides at StartupToDo.com:
    • Getting Started with Rails if you’re a .NET developer.
    • Continuous Integration – Why Do It?
    • Creating a Business and Marketing Plan for a startup. Part 1: Introduction.
    • Email Productivity for startups.
  • Show #55 of the Startup Success Podcast is up:  [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat interview David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done ™ methodology on what GTD can do for you and your startup. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the projects, tasks, and emails you need to manage to successfully build your product and startup, this show is for you.

    We focused in this interview on how to apply GTD to the common problems startups face: coping with email, beating your project/task list down to an actionable next steps, how and what a Weekly Review is and how it keeps the process going, what tools and technology David uses and much, much more.

  • Show #54 of the Startup Success Podcast:  [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat talk with Brian Fitzpatrick about his project at Google, The Data Liberation Front. The Data Liberation Front is an engineering team at Google whose singular goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products – and promotes making it easier for everyone to be able to do the same for any software product. And, Bob and Pat mull over the announcement of the Apple iPad.

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(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.)

And the winner is…

Michael Buckbee. Michael asked the best question during our recent contest with Legal River and its new answerboard. Michael gets an hour of free legal advice/work and a free year’s membership to StartupToDo.com.

“I’m a software developer for The Social Collective (http://www.thesocialcollective.com) we create specialized social network tools for conference, festivals and tradeshows. If you’re going to SXSW this year, we’re the company behind their my.sxsw.com website where you can create your own custom personal schedule on the site, sync it to your iPhone and see where your friends are heading.”

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Also, Patrick and I are interviewing productivity guru David Allen on ways and methods of applying his Getting Things Done methodology to building software companies and working online. If you’ve got a question for David, add a comment now.

MicroISV Digest – 01/30/2010

Community News:

  • Rob Bazinet, Stillriversoftware.com, has purchased Expens’d from Atlantic Dominion Solutions (Robert Dempsey). This is a good move for Rob, Robert and Expens’d's customers. It’s also a good model – on both sides – how to create and grow value.
  • Michael Douma, IDEA, has launched ColorRotate – a 3D color picker for PhotoShop and other programs unlike – and better – than any color picker you’ve ever seen. Seriously. Their pricing model is interesting too: $39 as a PhotoShop plugin, $49/year as an online service. Also, checkout what else IDEA is up to.
  • Mike Schoeffler, http://roadbud.com/, has launched a site to support his new iPhone exercise app. Not much info here, but I like the concept: put play back into workouts.
  • Rade Stojsavljevic, Jet Set Apps, has released BottomLine for the Apple iPhone. BottomLine allows small business owners to quickly and easily track key financial data anytime, anywhere. Users enter three simple data points daily (opening amount, closing amount and average cost), and BottomLine displays the business’ weekly and monthly progress.

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

As you may have heard, Apple introduced the iPad January 27th, unleashing a wave of opinion to follow the wave of speculation. I’m very much of the [as yet unsupported by evidence] opinion that iPads are a Very Big Thing and startups/microISVs who ignore the opportunities and disruptions the iPad will bring do so at their peril. Here’s three posts, in my opinion you should read.

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

  • Three new Guides (so far!) at StartupToDo.com this week:
    • Getting business legal services in the US at an affordable price.
    • Meeting up with other startups via Meetup.com.
    • The power of Twitter Lists.
  • Show #53 of the Startup Success Podcast is up:  [link] [iTunes]. Bob and Pat talk with Ben Hatten, co-founder of Legal River, a startup creating a marketplace where attorneys bid for your startup’s business. Proper lawyering, like proper plumbing, makes sure bad stuff doesn’t flood your startup. But finding the right attorney who understands IT and startup issues is hard outside of Silicon Valley and impossibly expensive if you deal with a large Silicon Valley law firm. Legal River turns this situation on its head and in your favor.
  • Legal River/StartupToDo.com contest (ends Monday, act now!) – see this post and this post for details.

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Apologies for the lateness of this Digest – I’m really busy right now. I’m going to try posting these on Saturdays and see if that works better.
(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.)

Disrupting the Law with a Lending Tree for Startups

It’s been an axiom of mine for a long time: everybody wants justice, but you’ve have to have the money to buy it. And for bootstrapping startups and microISVs, lawyering up even when you desperately need to has been too damn expensive.

Legal River, a new Washington D.C based startup is standing that on its head. Instead of a sellers market based on relying on recommendations of friends or the local bar association, Legal River has created a buyers market. At Legal River you anonymously post your requirements for free and within a business day bids by attorneys with their experience, price (fixed or hourly), and Legal River references start arriving. No more paying five grand for ten minutes with a partner while your file actually ends up on some paralegal’s desk.

The attorneys who Legal River vets and change per bid tend to be attorneys who have spun off their own practices after years of toiling in large legal firms and use and understand technology:  You’ll can get the key legal advice you need, not a suit filling in the same ZoomLegal.com forms you could figure out.

Whether it’s drafting a partnership agreement that won’t have you at each other’s throats, forming your business or protecting your intellectual property, Legal River lets you get what you need at a reasonable price.

Four other things you should know about Legal River:

  • They offer free Privacy Policy and Terms of Service generators, vetted by the law firm of General Counsel P.C.
  • They’ve launched an answerboard like Stack Overflow or Answers.Onstartups.com just for business owners (including startups and microISVs) with U.S. law questions. While the attorneys answering questions there can’t dispense free legal advise, that can give you accurate, timely and experienced advice about the law, and they’ve vetted as real live attorneys by Legal River.
  • In conjuntion with General Counsel P.C., Legal River and yours truly there’s a contest at Answer.LegalRiver.com this week: the Startup or MicroISV who gets the most votes for their question gets one full hour of legal services from General Counsel P.C. and a full year subscription to StartupToDo.com. More details here.
  • There will be more info up at this week’s Startup Success Podcast as we interview Ben Hatten, founder of Legal River. That should be available Wednesday.

Here’s a post in the New York Times about how Legal River works.

Legal River is only for Business legal matters, and only works with U.S. based attorneys, although since they soft-launched in October have helped several overseas companies find local representation.

Not sure if you need a lawyer? Do any of these practice catigories ring a bell with you?

  • Business Formation
  • Contracts
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Employment
  • Real Estate
  • Intellectual Property
  • Government Contracting
  • Internet / E-Commerce
  • Corporate Tax
  • Bankruptcy
  • Arbitration / Mediation
  • Regulatory Compliance

47Hats: There’s an iPhone app for that!

Woke up this morning to a pleasant surprise: my Apple iPhone App was approved overnight and is waiting for you to download free! [iTunes link]. There’s a couple of reasons I thought this was worth doing for me and for any microISV or startup who wants to reach out to the 40 million or so iPhone users:

  • As good as HTML5 iPhone apps are (go to http://47hats.com on your mobile and you’ll see what I mean), they’re just not as good an experience as a native app. Click a post, it’s there. Click a podcast, it plays. Nice!
  • Since I don’t code iPhone apps yet, going with AppMakr looked to make sense and at the price last week of $50 I was willing to give it a try.
  • Like most of you reading this, my challenge isn’t creating worthwhile stuff, it’s getting known for creating worthwhile stuff. Anything that helps me reach my primary market of microISVs/startups is a Good Thing.

There’s only one Big Problem: 47Hats, the app, needs your love! Please download and rate it – I’d really appreciate it.

MicroISV Digest – 01/20/2010

Community News:

  • Anthony Williams, Just Software Solutions Ltd, Tired of waiting for the upcoming C++ standard (C++0x)’s support of multithreading and concurrency? Just Software Solutions’ just::thread library is an implementation of the C++0x thread library for Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and g++. V1.3 introduces support for the new std::async function for launching asynchronous tasks, support for 64-bit Windows and support for g++ 4.4..
  • There’s more than one way to create a startup: my friend Tsutomu Kodama in Japan has launched a site for non-Japanese who want to get to see the real Japan at Kotodamaya.com. If you’re thinking about broadening your horizons in 2010 by visiting a really different country than what you’re used to in the US or EU, check out this site. (I hope this clown’s picture doesn’t scare away visitors!)

Interesting  Answers.Onstartups.com questions with useful answers:

News/posts for microISVs and Startups:

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

  • Two new Guides (so far!) at StartupToDo.com this week:
    • Copy protection of desktop software.
    • Handling subscription e-commerce with Amazon Payments – the Business Viewpoint.
  • Show #52 of the Startup Success Podcast is up:  [link] [iTunes].Bob and Pat talk again with entrepreneur and Silicon Valley consultant Sramana Mitra, this time about her newest book, Positioning: How To Test, Validate, And Bring Your Idea To Market. This is the third volume in Sramana’s Entrepreneur Journeys series. This was a fascinating interview that sliced through the what do I build – how do I find my market conundrum. Pat and Bob also talked a little bit about how Pat is positioning his new microISV, Spackle Software.
  • Sramana did a guest post here that’s must reading if you stuck because you don’t know the right questions to be asking to define your startup: Clarify your story.
  • Sramana offers free weekly strategy roundtables for entrepreneurs to address positioning, financing, and other aspects of a startup venture. Up to 1,000 people can attend each session, but only the first five who register to pitch will be able to present their business ideas. All attendees are able to join in on the conversations via a live chat.

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(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.)

Clarify your story.

(Note: Sramana, our guest for the Startup Success Podcast Show #52, was kind enough to let me reprint here the appendix of her new book, Positioning: How To Test, Validate, And Bring Your Idea To Market. These are the kinds of “killer questions” you need to think on, research and define your unique answers for.)

Excerpt from Positioning: How To Test, Validate, and Bring Your Idea To Market
by Sramana Mitra

For Enterprise- and SME-Facing Businesses: This set of questions will help you through the process of testing and validating your idea while building an effective Go-to-Market strategy for a B-to-B venture.

Product or Service Value Proposition:
• What pain does your product/service address?
• What is the profile of your ideal target customer (company)?
• What is the profile of your ideal target user (within the target company)?
• What is your technology?
• What is the application of this technology?
• What are some compelling use cases?
• What is your differentiated, must-have value proposition to this customer?
• Which market? Which segment? Why?
• How big is the market? Is it big enough? How do you expand, if not? Should you expand, or should you focus within a niche?
• What is the usage model of the product?
• How does the user currently solve the problem in question?
• Who is the buyer?
• How strong is the pain? Does the buyer care to solve the user’s pain?
• How do you prove your value? Pilot? Free trial for a month? Three months?
• How long does it take to prove value?

Competitive Positioning & Pricing:

• Who is the competition, and how do you differentiate from them?
• What are the various classes of products in immediate and related categories?
• What, of those, compete directly with you?
• Which ones are likely to move into your space?
• How do your product features compare with the competition’s? Can you compete on the basis of functionality?
• How does your product pricing compare with the competition’s? Can you compete on the basis of price?
• How do customers and prospects view your offering, vis-à-vis competition? Do they see you as 1/10 the functionality? 1/5 the functionality? 300% the functionality?
• What value does the customer see?
• What are customers willing to pay for your solution? 1/10 the key competitor’s price? Same price? 200% the price?
• What price can you charge based on perceived value?
• What is the ROI for the customer? How long will it take to realize the ROI?
• Can you offer both better performance and lower price?
• Whom do you need to partner with to offer a full solution?
• How do you position win-win deals for partners?
• Can you turn some of the competition to partners/channel/OEM relationships, so not to go head-to-head?

Sales Cycle & Messaging:

• What are the top target segments (verticals, size, geography)?
• What is a typical repeatable sales cycle for each segment?
• Who is the relevant VITO (Very Important Top Officer)/economic buyer (EB)?
• What job title does that correspond to within the target company/segment?
• Who is the technical decision maker (TDM)? What job title?
• Who is the user? What job title?
• Who is a likely champion for your solution? What job title?
• Who can coach you inside an account? How do you gather information required to qualify the lead? Extract the pain? Position the solution?
• What is your value proposition to the VITO/EB? TDM? User? Champion? Coach?
• How do you communicate that value in 20 words or less?
• What pain extraction questions correspond to that value? In other words, if a sales rep gets a relevant stakeholder on the phone, what should she ask? Or, what should she ask in a succinct email, to gain permission for further engagement?

Lead Generation & Qualification:

• What are the top target segments (verticals, size, geography)?
• What is the best way to generate a list of the target accounts within the segments?
• What job titles are we after within those accounts?
• What is the organizational map within the account that maps to the sales cycle?
• What are the names of the stakeholders who correspond with the economic buyer, the technical decision maker, etc.?
• What is the pain extraction question/value proposition message if someone with the right job title gets on the phone?
• What are the criteria for a qualified lead?
• What lead generation programs do you plan to pursue? Google PPC advertising? E-mail campaigns? Tradeshows? Other forms of online advertising?
• How do you plan to qualify the leads? Telemarketing? Outsourced? In-house?

Sales & Business Development:

• What is the appropriate channel strategy (direct, OEM, resellers, system integrators, telesales)?
• Are there channel conflicts? How do you resolve?
• What is your territory plan and prioritization, based on market segment targets?
• What paid proof-of-concept/pilot engagement/evaluation framework will get you to a deal within a short time?
• What are the appropriate sales cycle steps, next steps, and duration breakdown?
• What is the likelihood of a deal by sales cycle steps? How do you forecast?
• What are the must-have key target accounts? Why? What do you need to accomplish in those engagements to be able to achieve high leverage for reference selling, proof-points, and metrics?
• Do you have reference accounts? What is the best strategy to leverage the reference accounts and proof points?
• How do you build new reference accounts? Who is your target? Why? How do you penetrate, sell, and demonstrate ROI?
• Are there must-have channel relationships? What do you need to do to appropriately establish and manage them?
• What kind of channel discount do you need to provide to enlist the channel to perform on your behalf?
• Can you get OEM deals that may help you accelerate adoption?

Corporate:

• What is the product roadmap for the company?
• What is the unifying theme that positions the company and leverages its strengths (technology, product, channel, current customers, references, etc.)?
• Is there a platform strategy? A point-product strategy? A solution strategy? What holds all these pieces together? How do you position to make it into an integrated big story?
• What products/pieces need to be repositioned/repackaged to align with the corporate strategy?
• What is the full story? Is it a powerful, differentiated story that can go beyond a point-product/one-trick pony, to become a category leader?
• What is the category? Do you define a new category, or position within an existing one?
• What technology/product/channel/media elements need to be introduced/influenced to make it into a larger story?
• What broad scale industry trends can you impact based on your offering, and how do you position to align with such trends?
• What is your funding strategy? How do you position, package, and sell?
• What is your exit strategy? How do you position, package, and sell?

Execution Roadmap:

• What is your next major milestone? Product launch, funding round, exit?
• What derivative milestones/related projects do you need to accomplish to be able to stay on track and execute on the strategy?
• What is the project-resource-timeline map tracking to the next milestone?
• What is the messaging matrix?
• What is the collateral map, based on the sales process/sales cycle steps?
• What are the reference account milestones?
• What is the PR strategy?
• Do you have the resources to staff all the projects that lead up to the milestones?
• Who will manage lead sourcing/lead generation/lead qualification?
• Who will manage the PR process, pitches, follow-ups, etc.?
• Who will write the collateral? (Web site, sales pitches, data sheets)
• Who will design and produce the Web site?
• Who will manage events/tradeshows?
• What are the key additional hires/timeframe?
• Does everything align with your operating plan/budget? What tradeoffs do you need to make? What are the prioritization algorithms?

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Sramana Mitra is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has founded three companies and provided strategy consulting to over 80 organizations, large and small. She writes a business blog, Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is a columnist for Forbes. She is also the author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series: Entrepreneur Journeys (Volume One), Bootstrapping: Weapon of Mass Reconstruction (Volume Two), and Positioning: How To Test, Validate, And Bring Your Idea To Market (Volume Three), all available from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle, and from Smashwords.com in all e-book formats. Mitra has a Master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.