Friday, 26 May 2023

Are They a Customer?

In my work with entrepreneurs, it’s not unusual to spend a substantial amount of time discussing who the customer for the product in question. 

Yes, spending so much time on such a foundational question may seem a bit silly. 

It’s only an indication of how limited our day-to-day transaction experience is relative to the richness of niche business models in existence. 

It’s worth being explicit about who is and, more importantly, who is not a customer. 

Who is not a Customer?

  • Likes are not customers
  • Follows are not customers
  • Users are not customers
  • Stars are not customers
  • Personas are not customers
  • Downloads are not customers
  • Awards are not customers
  • AI are not customers
  • Algorithms are not customers
  • Best of Lists are not customers
  • Conferences are not customers
  • Suppliers are not customers
  • Demographics are not customers
  • Psychographics are not customers 
  • If they say, “I would buy it if…” they are not a customer (thx to CG for this one)

Who is a Customer?

  • The individual person paying you to help them

Thursday, 11 May 2023

Media Tetrad: Generative AI

While generative AI (ChatGPT, etc) is red hot right now, and I’ve been rather cool on it. All of my experiments with it have resulted in rather ‘meh’, uninteresting, completely predictable outcomes.

Maybe I’m missing something.

Which takes me to one of my favorite tools for thinking through effects and consequences comprehensively, McLuhan’s Tetrad. While McLuhan developed the Tetrad tool to think through how media changes us, I’ve found it works for anything phenomenon impacting society at large.

The Tetrad asks four questions;

  • What does it enhance/amplify/intensify?
  • What does it make obsolete?
  • What does it retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  • What does it flip into when pushed to extremes?

(Note: this list will likely be continually updated as my understanding evolves)

What does Generative AI enhance?

  • Distribution of conventional wisdom (including all the implicit biases therein)
  • Near real-time machine-generated translation, especially English-to-English translations like
  • In-the-moment individualized learning of well understood concepts, including both programming like GitHub CoPilot or asking ChatGPT to replace Dr. Google in a telehealth context
  • Automated customer service / support / repair
  • Quality of interactions with Siri/Alexa/Google
  • Output velocity of fan fiction authors, self-publishers, vanity publishers, spam farms, content farms, junk texts.
  • the minimum level of writing quality expected by the general population
  • Out of office replies
  • Role playing games with or without the AI as the DM
  • Writing that is distinctly, unquestionably human
  • the value of fact checkers
  • the quality of NPCs

What does Generative AI make obsolete?

  • Generative AI
  • text-based news outlets, blogs, and social media
  • essay writing
  • CliffNotes
  • Instruction manuels
  • Test prep books
  • Paying human writers by the word
  • Lorem ipsum and other placeholder text
  • search engine optimization
  • Amazon’s Mechanical Turk
  • Press releases
  • CorpSpeak
  • Memes

What does Generative AI retrieve?

  • Handwriting
  • Paper towns, canary traps
  • Clippy
  • Ask Jeeves
  • text-based video games
  • oral traditions
  • pamphleteering
  • Pop Art
  • Luddites
  • Secretaries / administrative assistants
  • The dead (or at least those that have left a sufficient volume of writings behind)
  • The unpolished, clunky, sincere, and completely human, amateur web

What does Generative AI flip into when taken to the extremes?

After compiling all these, it still seems neutral to net negative. Maybe a net positive on the customer service side. I can see the technology providing a richer experience to those things that currently have an ‘algorithm’ or any kind of robust template, but current applications seems like a way to generate low quality, filler content even faster than we can today.

To that point, for comparison, for full disclosure, and for the smug superiority that the human generated one above is much more satisfying, here’s ChatGPT’s Generative AI media tetrad:

What does it enhance or amplify?
Generative AI enhances our ability to create new and original content using machine learning algorithms. It can generate everything from music to art to text.

What does it obsolesce or push aside?
Generative AI may obsolesce the need for human creativity in some areas, as machines become better and better at creating content that is indistinguishable from that produced by humans. It may also push aside traditional methods of content creation, such as manual design or composition.

What does it retrieve that was previously obsolesced?
Generative AI retrieves the ability to create and innovate at scale, something that was previously limited by the time and resources required for manual content creation. It also retrieves the ability to work with vast amounts of data and patterns that are difficult for humans to perceive.
What does it reverse into if pushed too far?

If generative AI is pushed too far, it may reverse into a situation where human creativity and innovation are devalued, and machines become the sole creators of content. This could have negative implications for society, such as job displacement and loss of cultural diversity. It may also lead to a loss of control over the content produced by these machines, as their decisions become increasingly opaque to humans.

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

A Frustrated Sentence

After working with a variety of tools purporting to help define and develop new products, I can tell you I’m frustrated.

I’m frustrated by how difficult they are;

  • to use. Both ‘in the lab’ and ‘in the field’
  • to iterate on
  • to write from the customers’ perspective.

Even something as basic as the underlying need, whether articulated as a ‘customer pain’ or a ‘painkiller’ or a ‘need’ (vs. a ‘nice to have’) the final articulation is often too abstract and overarching to be understood by anyone other than the team that wrote it.

What’s needed is a clear, single sentence that can be memorized and repeated whenever anyone asks, “What are you working on?” or “What do you do?”.

Here is that sentence:

I help [customer segment] frustrated by how difficult it is to [specific activity].”

What’s great about this sentence – it works equally well whether you have an actual product or not. This means it’s well suite to the initial customer discovery process, incrementally getting more specific on both the customer segment and the specific activity as you become expert in the market.

Like so many of these tools, one way to test out their effectiveness is to try them out with known products. Here’s a couple off the top of my head, maybe you can guess who I’m referring to:

“I help parents with young children frustrated by how difficult it is to know their kids are watching age-appropriate content during discretionary screen time.

“I help small business owners frustrated by how difficult it is to integrate credit card processing into their online offerings.”

“I help software executives frustrated by how difficult it is to make products their customers will actually pay for.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Product is a trailing indicator of demand.  

Marketing is a leading indicator of demand.  

In between is art. 

Thursday, 9 February 2023

TikTok-ify your Projects

My preferred definition of ‘project’ is from David Allen (of GTD fame):

Projects = Your outcomes that require more than one action step.

We don’t often think in how small these action steps are, but as of late I’ve been more aware of it. For example, my younger son needed a dojo patch sewn on his new gi.

It’s a small, out of the ordinary, project so there’s inherently some inertia to overcome to begin with, and I was having a tough time to find an uninterrupted hour, so I decided to take it one step at a time. Just complete one step. Then walk away. Provided the entire project is complete by Saturday morning – all is good.

So, here’s all the steps I took over 3 days for this one project:

  1. Put the new gi (no patch) and the old gi (patch) on the coffee table and walk away.
  2. Find the sewing box, put it atop the gis, and walk away.
  3. Open the sewing box and find something to rip the thread of the existing patch, set it atop the sewing box and walk away
  4. Remove the current patch and walk away
  5. Find pins in the sewing box, pin the patch on the new gi, and walk away
  6. Find a needle and appropriate colored thread in the sewing box, set them atop the box and walk away
  7. Sew on the new patch and put all the supplies away.

A seven step project and finished two days ahead of deadline because it was chunked into the smallest, most discreet next action.

Each of these actions took about as along watching a TikTok (or three), which would have been just as easy to do – but far, far less beneficial. TikTok (and so much of our online activity) is fitting in between larger commitments. Same idea, rather than burning off your cognitive surplus like an oil driller with excess natural gas, break your more beneficial, overwhelming projects into TikTok-sized next actions that you can cleanly walkaway from and prepare you for the next step when you return.

Years ago, I wrote about scheduling in 30, 60, or 90 minutes, TikTok-ifying is thinking even smaller, it’s for when even committing to 30 continuous minutes seems overwhelming,

Monday, 6 February 2023

Saturday, 7 January 2023


I’ve always enjoyed the environment message within ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ it’s like a kid-friendly version of Harrison Ford is the Ocean.

Nature can reclaim the earth. The world will continue on without us.

It’s happened before:

  • Singapore, Michigan (swallowed up by sand dunes)
  • Casabre, Bolivia (swallowed up by the Amazon rainforest)
  • Zaiku, Iraq (swallowed up by the Tigris river)
  • Doggerland (swallowed up by the North Sea) this is my personal favorite as I’m continually delighted imagining walking from England to Norway.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Is This a Good Idea?

7 Questions to Determine if You’re onto Something Big
After decades of working with entrepreneurs, product executives, and creating a few of my own products (a few modestly successful and many absolute duds), I’ve developed a short checklist for whether an idea is worth the significant time and effort to develop into a product. Far too often these questions are left unanswered and the founding team plows forward continuing to build (hell, I’ve done that myself) but the questions don’t go away just because you’ve build around them. They get more problematic. The earlier they’re answered, the easier the next steps are.

0. Why do we care if its a Good Idea?

  • Our time here is finite, so we need to prioritize;
  • Solving meaningful problems is fun. 
  • Helping more people is better than fewer.
  • Making money is fun.
  1. What frustration are we eliminating, and for whom?

State it in a one-sentence MadLib, e.g.

It’s for [hyper-specific customer segment] frustrated by [an acute, persistent problem]. “

As the adage states, “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.”

If we’re going to have any measure of success, we need to identify an it that’s broke. It can be very difficult for anyone – even those directly experiencing the problem to fully, clearly, and accurately, articulate the broke it – they can more easily articulate their frustrations, demonstrate when these frustrations occur, and describe the outcome they’re struggling to achieve. It’s that frustration we want to articulate in a single sentence.

Consider this an initial hypothesis. Personally, in early stages of idea development, I like to have 3 of these sentences – each with a distinct potential customer. This helps to ensure you’re casting a wide-enough net an thinking creatively about all the ways your idea can help people

2. Why will the number of people with this frustration exponentially grow over the next 3 years?
There are a number of trends flowing right now – some mega, others not. Knowing which emerging trends amplify the idea will suggest how big and how fast the customer base will grow.

Exponential growth over the next 3-5 years is needed to support a growing and maturing company. If the frustrated customer base isn’t predicted to grow in scale, the idea can’t support a company. Then, we should act like the frustration has already been solved, and move on to what comes next.

3. Are we (the founding team) currently experts in this frustration?

Signs of our expertise include;

  • We have this frustration currently and have already tried multiple ways to eliminate it – including spending money, and we’re currently using this solution.
  • 20 other people/organizations have told us they have this frustration currently and they’ve tried multiple ways to eliminate it – including spending money.
  • We know 10 different ways to eliminate this frustration and all the (non-obvious) reasons they don’t actually work.
  • We can make a logical argument on why more exponentially people will have this frustration in 5 years.
  • We could give a TED Talk, start a YouTube channel, etc on this frustration.
  • We can identify the precedent (the player, in any market, validating our highest risk)

4. What’s our unique insight that everyone else has missed?
Here we’re looking for the characteristic that sets us and our solution apart from the other available solutions.

Some examples:

  • We’ve eliminated something everyone thinks is mandatory (this is my personal favorite)
  • We have exclusive access to a technology, material, process, expertise, or customer segment

5. Can we demonstrate the idea right now?

I don’t care how rudimentary the demonstration is, I want to see the frustration solved leveraging our unique insight. This demonstration means the idea is real, tangible, and usable – verses simply theoretical.

6. What does this look like at >$10K/transaction?
All businesses have a price floor below which it’s not worth the time and effort to pay the invoice. In my experience, that floor is $10,000/transaction. Founding teams either don’t think about price early or price far too low ($<10). Imagining how the idea could support a >$10K price tag is helpful when trying to imaging all the different customers the idea could help at scale. Yes, B2B customers enthusiastically paying >$10K are all that matter as they’re the fastest way to profitability.

7. Where’s the opportunity for network effects & zero marginal costs?
Two of the biggest costs a young company has are; the costs to get the next customer (customer acquisition costs) and the cost of producing the next item (marginal costs). Finding ways to leverage network effects – where the value of the product increases as more customers use it – is one way to structurally counter those headwinds and position the product for zero marginal costs. This also compliments the earlier question about exponential growth in the customer base.

Grab the Keynote of this blog post

Friday, 8 April 2022

Staying On Track 2022

  1. Every Commitment is in the Calendar.
    For personal and family commitments, I use Apple Calendar. I’ve set up calendars for each person in the house w/ a phone (currently 4 people) + an overall ‘Family’ calendar. All these calendars sync across (at least) nine devices in hopes an up-to-date calendar will always be right at hand. Every commitment – whether with to yourself, or others – goes in the calendar. A sampling:
  • take down Christmas lights (repeating annually)
  • install Christmas lights (repeating annually)
  • Monthly Goal Review (monthly)
  • take out the garbage (weekly)
  • Weekly (P)Review (weekly)
  • each run of my marathon training plan (daily)
  • the next logical, atomic, step for each active project (e.g. Grade Beer 4 of my current BJCP Tasting Exam step, start pizza dough, make yeast starter for saison, the ‘Now’ across the Trello boards)
  • and the usual smattering of kids’ instrument lessons, sporting activities, and social commitments.
  1. “I would be thrilled if…” in Apple Reminders
    In addition to shared shopping lists (Groceries, Costco, etc) in Apple Reminders, I’ve recently moved all of my Goals and Aspirations into a series of nested lists in Apple Reminders. The different timeframes help me maintain focus because I know the other stuff is coming up next month, next year, etc.

Yes, I frequently move stuff between the lists. Often kicking a given item from month to month to month. No worries, it’s the ‘I would be thrilled if…’ list not the ‘I must list’.

Here’s how it’s currently structured:

  • Backlog (default)
  • “I would be thrilled if…”
    • (the current month) in April 2022
    • (the upcoming month) in May 2022
    • in 2022
    • in 2023
    • Before I’m 50
    • Someday Maybe
  • My Life was Unsuccessful Because I Didn’t…
  • Waiting for: (Stuff on hold until a pre-requisite is fulfilled)
  1. Tactical Backlogs in Trello
    For big, complex, ongoing projects (e.g. family vacations, new applications I’m building) I create a project-specific Kanban board in Trello to breakdown the aspirational outcome (#2) into bite-size tasks for the calendar (#1). Each Kanban board has the following four columns:
  • Backlog (all the things)
  • Next (3-5 of the most significant, riskiest assumption things)
  • Now (the most significant, riskiest assumption thing – this is likely in my calendar)
  • Completed
  1. Weekly (P)Review
    Every Sunday afternoon, I grab a pen, a notebook, and two devices. I scan the past week’s calendar looking for key accomplishments and highlights for the family Jar of Awesome, and I preview the next week. Looking for key commitments in need of additional preparation, resolve potential conflicts (e.g. my running schedule w/ early work meetings), then once the core calendar is in place, I scan through all the Reminder lists, and Trello boards looking for things to fill out upcoming week’s capacity. This takes 45-90min.
  1. Monthly Goal Review
    Additionally, the first of each month, I take 30-60 minutes and review all the aspirations in the Reminders lists. For each one of them I ask the following:
  • Am I making progress on them?
  • Do they still resonate strongly?
  • Are they currently in the right time horizon?
  • Are there things that should be removed or added?

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Don’t Reschedule; Commit or Cancel

The world doesn’t actually care if you do the things on your calendar.

It’ll keep spinning either way.

In fact, in many ways it would prefer that you just didn’t.

For, every time you do – the world changes a little bit. ‘Doing’ starts an chain reaction of cause and effect unsettling the natural course of things – entropy.

There are consequences to inaction. If you don’t pay your rent or mortgage for long enough – eventually you’ll lose the roof over your head. Stop improving the relationship with your spouse and eventually you won’t have one. Stop filling up the gas tank in your car – and eventually you’re stuck.

These are hyperbolic examples, yet their lesson can be applied to both smaller more banal tasks as well as your most meaningful projects.

If you don’t work on them – there’s very little immediate downside. Long-term? That’s a completely different question. But, short term – likely nothing.

Right now, admit to yourself that there will be commitments you made, commitments that are clearly identified, well estimated, perfectly aligned with your energy that you simply don’t do.

Instead, you end up running errands, talking with co-workers, taking an extra-long shower, cleaning your office, resolving some completely unexpected emergency, or attempting to capturing some unexpected opportunity. Or you’re simply binge-watching ‘Nailed It’ on Netflix.

So, what do we do now that we we’ve admitted we’re not doing the thing we committed to?

First stop and take a breath.

Next consider why you didn’t.

What about the activity wasn’t compelling to you enough to simply start at the designated time? Most likely, it was an activity you weren’t fully committed to, that you didn’t fully see the outcome of the activity fulfilling one of your most meaningful goals.

In short, it’s a commitment you made for someone else – not for yourself. And because it wasn’t for you – anything, absolutely anything was more fulfilling and more significant than this thing you scheduled.

So, why did it end up on your calendar in the first place? At what point in the history of the commitment could you have made a different answer – said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’, delegated it, resolved it in the moment – to prevent it from ever being scheduled in the first place?

Think of that moment, visualize it like it’s happening again. Feel yourself agreeing to the commitment. As you do, ask, “What negative outcome am I trying to avoid by saying ‘Yes’?” followed by “What part of my identity is afraid of this activity?” (For it’s your identity that kept you from starting in this moment).

Once you have these answers, you’ll know which of the following actions to take:

1. Delete the activity off your calendar and completely forget about it. That’s right, you’re obviously not excited about this activity enough to start – so, say ‘No’ to it now and forever. Just delete it, write in what you did instead – and continue on with your day. If it likely will return, take a moment and determine who you’ll delegate it to. This is ‘When as a trigger’ that Patrick and I talk about in ‘The Power of When’ – When this task returns – I’ll delegate it to John.

  1. Reschedule it. If upon revisiting the significance behind the task and your reasons for not starting it this time you realize that this is still of value, your punishment is to reschedule it. This punishment is felt three ways; going through the next two weeks and finding a spot for this activity you didn’t do the first time, re-evaluating and rescheduling all the other commitments in its way, and running the risk of blowing it off a second time.
  2. Do it with whatever amount of time remains.Yea, rescheduling it is a horrible option – you’re moving a bunch of other commitments around to squeeze in one you obviously don’t want to do in the first place. So, rather than have Future You pissed at you (again!) take this time, whatever remains, and crank it out. Complete as much of it as you can, knowing that this is all the time you have, whatever value you can create in the next 14 minutes – that’s what this commitment gets. This stress, urgency, panic, is the price you paid for committing to something you shouldn’t have. Wherever you land when time is up that’s where you land. If by some miracle you complete it – you are not the hero. You are the villain – you took a commitment you shouldn’t have, you added greater stress to your life, and you crowded out something else that far more meaningful and significant, while delivering a low quality outcome.

Pick one.

Rescheduling the commitment is the worst of three options.

The easiest option is to simply admit the commitment wasn’t actually significant in the first place and delete it from your calendar.

“Rescheduling kicks off a chain reaction of comparing all the upcoming commitments by their significance, energy, and time to find the next best date & time for a commitment that obviously wasn’t the most significant thing when it came around the first time.”

Which means the rescheduled thing is never the most important thing. Why would it be? To add to the problem, the commitment has already been canceled, forgotten, or ignored once, so the chances of it being canceled, forgotten, or ignored a second time are more than double. Then there’s the issue of ensuring everyone has the new meeting details.

Don’t reschedule without adjusting the nature of the appointment to be aligned with the level significance for everyone involved.

This can be done two ways:

  • increasing the significance (stronger positive outcomes, greater risk minimization) of the effort
  • decreasing the resolution of the meeting. For example, if the initial meeting was a 60 minute face-to-face, propose a 20-minute phone call. If it was a phone call, propose addressing the entire issue via email, or suggest request an introduction to someone in a better position to fulfill this commitment.

Both of these methods of changing the effort’s nature transform it into a new substantially different thing. So it’s not a reschedule – it’s a more accurately-sized commitment that can be better judged against the rest of your scheduled commitments in terms of significance, energy, and time.

Of course, this assumes the change in nature still passes the significance threshold for you and your collaborators. It could be that you’re secretly relieved the effort isn’t important. In which case – delete it happily and ignore the reschedule request and determine how you’re going to maximize this newly found time.

All of this leads us back to where we started: Don’t Reschedule; Cancel or Commit