Conducting customer interviews is a great way to validate, or invalidate, your product idea. Interviewing potential customers is almost always a cheaper and faster way to learn what your customers’ needs are, compared to building the product first and then discovering that you built the wrong thing. Even with an existing product, you can discover which new features will be most valuable through customer interviews. Here’s a great video that explains how to do it.
A team without a woman is like a bicycle with… some fish? So it would seem, according to Grace Nasri, who writes in the HuffPo about the gender gap in tech from an interesting perspective. She got my attention with a 2011 HBR story profiling research by Anita Wooley and Thomas Malone showing that the one significant factor that demonstrably upped the measurable collective intelligence of a team was the presence of females on it.
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What kind of agile training company would we be if we didn’t try to build our company from the ground up using agile methods for everything from team decision making to hiring to how we pay ourselves? Here’s how we arrived at a radical new way of paying ourselves. (Hint: if you’ve seen the heist movie Ocean’s 11, our team compensation model is a lot like theirs.)
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According to Eric Ries, another way to say “agile” is “extreme troublemaker.” If you think you know what’s given, constant, and unchangeable — think again.
In an interview with Lara Druyan at a recent Silicon Valley gathering hosted by 106 Miles and Hackers & Founders — Eric poked holes in the foundation of entrepreneurial sense and sensibility we all “know” so well.
From his interview, my favorite five agile ways to rock the boat of status quo are:
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What's a good mother/son spring break activity? Why, going to Startup Weekend and spending 50 hours building a company with ten total strangers. Perfect because my 17 year-old vastly prefers the company of adults to that of other teenagers, and because he's been on the high school treadmill for so long that I thought it would be nice for him to see what the light at the end of the tunnel might look like–that the world of work can be a rather thrilling place.
Several years ago, I visited the very first Y Combinator class of college-age founders when they were only six weeks into their startups and was astounded at the number of fully functioning products. Turns out six weeks is an eternity, way more time than you need to build and launch a startup!
This weekend, 150 of us crammed into a giant room in Microsoft's Market St. facilities. We were given lots of food (thanks to Sana of Women 2.0) and very little direction. After a free-form round of idea-pitching, with coaching from the lovably dyspeptic Dave McClure (our team-member Han Pham describes his style here), we were cut loose to self-organize into teams.
Tyrone and I were interested in Connor Lee's idea for a venue-rating site for event planners (easy to build in a weekend), and Julian Bryant’s pitch for a site that would allow people to interact around pending legislation. As it turned out, Connor, who had legislative experience Tyrone and I all joined Julian, along with developers Marcus Phillips and Philipp Pfeiffenberger, SEO/Social Media/Web Marketer Aris Vlasakakis, marketing gurus Sherbeam Wright and Mariam Ishpahani, journalist Han and a couple of others who came and went over the weekend. Julian emerged as the natural leader, as well he should being a former Senate intern and Georgetown Law grad with a startup around language learning.
I have worked as an employee or long term contractor on three tech startups, one VC funded, one angel funded, and one bootstrapped. This team outshone them all in terms of raw talent, intellectual horsepower, organization, distribution of skillsets, commitment and efficiency. And we were not alone. In all, 23 teams had working demos or prototypes to share on Sunday evening, and a couple had actually launched fully functioning products (I was using Snoozemail in my gmail inbox before the evening was out). There could be no better demonstration of the power of self-organizing teams than this display of exponential creativity and productivity.
Marcus and Philipp–both Y Combinator alumni if I'm not mistaken–were curious about Agile, and we talked about it a little bit, but there really wasn't time to talk about anything but pushing our product out the door. What I found enlightening was that their native values, instincts and practices were inherently Agile. Being Web 2.0 guys who work in Ruby and Python, they have never been exposed to Waterfall. (The only team that did anything resembling a Waterfall process was the one team that had absolutely nothing to show on Sunday, having spent all their time creating specs.)
This makes me think that perhaps the best way to promote Agile is to take a cue from crime prevention and literacy drives: don't focus on reforming those who have already been "lost" to Waterfall methods; focus instead on preventing the destruction of our talent pool in the first place!
Our team, christened "Democlarity," divided rather quickly into two right-sized sub-teams (also quite Agile). Tyrone went with the bus dev side, working on business planning, market research and content creation, while I went with the development side–the first time I've ever worked on a project and not been the writer/editor. I did some HTML wireframing, then turned my attention to CSS styling while the devs blasted in the functionality.
We had technical difficulties here and there–the wifi broke, version control broke, my host account where I was hosting images while designing went down at a critical point. Marcus and I paired on merging the disparate html files, then Philipp and I paired on some last minute CSS (he is 10x faster than I am, so my main contribution was saying things like, "Can you make that greener?").
Everything got done, and Aris and Marcus had time to practice their demo pitch. We weren't live online, but we were certainly way too cool for powerpoint, and were able to show a site with functionality and an amazing amount of depth.
Aris and Marcus rocked the demo, with Phllip driving the mouse so they wouldn't have to break their patter, and we disbanded feeling like we'd accomplished something fairly spectacular and been a part of something pretty important. The Democlarity team is looking forward to a reunion in a month, and plan to continue developing what we started in an open source-ish sort of way. In the meantime, a demo of our site should be up on www.democlarity.com fairly soon.
Tyrone went back to swim team practice today, and I'm back at work too. But I learned more about teams and teamwork this weekend than I did in the previous year–and that's a year in which I wrote an Agile training manual and helped organize the Orlando Scrum Gathering's Open Space Conference. I'd highly recommend the startup weekend experience for anyone who is seriously committed to working on or with software teams–the pressure of an insane deadline like that compels you to strip everything down to the purest, simplest form: communication, decision making, work flow, product features, everything, and conversely, it also leads one to discover the enormity of one's own personal resources. We were like those people who, in a crisis, lift a car off of a person. Heady, empowering stuff.
This weekend was Startup Weekend World, with 50 cities participating. There will be another soon enough. Hope to see you there!
On Wednesday, I’m doing a presentation on doing presentations. One of the little gems that I was looking forward to passing on was Lucky Oliver. It has been my favorite source for images for presentations and the web. The quality and variety of the images has been consistently great, and the prices were more than affordable. Today I discovered that Lucky Oliver will be closing down on May 15th. I’m sad to be losing this source for great photos, and sad to see the business fail. Best of luck to Bryan, and everyone else at Lucky Oliver.
Now where am I going to get my images? Any suggestions?
I spent the evening at the SDForum Software Engineering Management Special Interest Group (SEM Sig) meeting. The room was filled with engineering managers of almost every type and experience level. The presenter tonight was Narinder Sandhu, who worked at HP and Intuit before founding T-Rex Global. He managed to get everyone in the room to do a basic skills-assessment and career action plan, as part of his presentation comparing large companies to small startups.
After the formal presentation, the informal discussions were amazing. I talked with people about things as diverse as: finance, feedback, agile development, a mathematical model for organizational structures, and C vs. Lisp vs. Verilog! Oh yes, I’ll be back.
I wasn’t liking my business cards.
So Hillary and I spent a couple of hours on Overnighttprints.com today and came up with something that I like better.
What do you think?
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I’m looking forward to it!
I just met with Shobeir Shobeiri and Kayvan Baroumand at Plug and Plug and Play Tech Center. It has been almost a year since I was there for techdirt greenhouse (one and two). The place has really come along. I think that they were hosting about 20 companies back then. Shobeir told me that they now house over ninety!