Week 6 Reflection: Customer Creation

The fifth chapter of Steven Blank’s, The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win finally allow the audience a glimpse at what they’ve been working towards. While the goal is ultimately to create an amazing product and subsequently a flourishing business, it is most important to understand the consumers who will drive the demand for the product and bring in the revenue for the company. Here, “in the customer development model, the phrase “customer creation” represents the essential marketing activities necessary to help customers learn about a product and create a desire to buy it.” Startups need to understand the market they have entered so they can best strategize their positioning, launches, and plan how they will need to attract consumers and compete with their counterparts (Blank also introduces the New Lanchester Strategy which is an interesting way to understand your market and prepare accordingly with how you will need to proceed to make the venture sustainable in relation to your opposition.) He reminds us that, “in looking at any existing market, your startup is the weakest player with the least resources,” and, will certainly need to be well equipped to contend with other competitors. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Blank even goes on to compare business tactics much to fighting. He quotes Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War, to identify the best tactics to use on an enemy…I mean competitor.) He asserts that, “the major risk in entering an existing market is the dominance of the competitors and the consequent cost of entry.” This philosophy is expounded on as Blank inserts an interesting narrative about how adroit businessman Sam Walton re-segmented the market when he introduced “Wal-Mart” to small communities that were oftentimes overlooked by big box retailers such as Sears and Kmart. Fast forward fifty years and Walton would go on to create one of the largest, most profitable companies in the world while Kmart declared bankruptcy in 2002!

While Blank yet again delivers way too much information in a somewhat compressed format, he is knowledgeable and thorough and his experience drips from each chapter to climax to the best practices for entrepreneurs to follow. Although it is oftentimes overwhelming, it is masterfully placed together and gives founders a clear and concise method for victory!

References
Blank, S. G. (2006). Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win (3rd ed.). Cafepress.com.
Hayes, A. (2020, January 29). Lanchester Strategy Definition. Retrieved February 23, 2020, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/lanchester-strategy.asp

 Week Five Reflection: Customer Validation

 

In Chapter 4 of Steven Blanks’, The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, Blank continues to guide his audience on how they can effectively progress through the various stages associated with maintaining a startup. At the beginning of the chapter, he calmly quotes Nietzsche saying, “Along the journey we commonly forget its goal,” before repitiously throwing a massive amount of info directly at his audience. Blank maintains that customer validation has 4 phases which prepare the founder to navigate through the murky philosophies dealing with what market the startup is entering (existing, new, or re-segmented), and how these differences will direct and define the path the distribution channel will need to follow to successfully sell the product. Once you understand how the consumers for your products behave (how they spend their time and money) and how you must be innovative to stay ahead of competitors and trends, Blank argues that you can initiate activities to sell to your first “real” customers. Here, Blank affirms that the customer validation process is meant to help the startup gather indispensable intelligence about their consumers so that they can assemble a cohesive plan of action that will allow the entity to progress productively.

At this step, Blank also encourages startups to articulate a value proposition which will clearly express why your product is worth buying. “The value proposition builds the bond between you and your customer, focuses marketing programs, and becomes the focal point for building the company…Transformational value propositions deal with how the solution will create a new level of class of activity—i.e. something people could never do before.”

Once this is actuated, Blank wants founders to direct their attention to their distribution channels and understand how this “food chain” of wholesalers, distributors and retailers will work to support the enterprise. “One of the mistakes startups often make is assuming that their channel partners invest in creating customer demand.” Understanding these principles will be key to the longevity of the startup and to the overall achievements of the venture. Additionally, amassing individuals for their expertise on advisory boards is commendable at this stage and can only serve to facilitate the founder in getting things “right” the first time. As always, Blank urges his readers to continually iterate their ideas, return to the stage of the plan that did not yield the results that were predicted, and provide a solution for the issue. If it can’t be repaired, by all means exit!!! If it can or doesn’t need to be resolved at all, you are ready to proceed to the last phase of the plan, also known as Customer Creation.

References
Blank, S. G. (2006). Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win (3rd ed.). Cafepress.com.

Week Four Reflection: Customer Discovery

 

Although the read is still unvaried and can get dull fast, it is full of gems that shine brightly through the rubble of details. In Chapter 3 of Blank’s, The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, he is explaining to his audience that the business models that were once widely acceptable and used across various industries are no longer applicable today! Blank ascertains that, “the general goal of customer discovery amounts to turning the founders’ initial hypothesis about their market and customers into facts.” Here, Blank wants the individual to work on getting the product out to early visionaries known as “earlyvangelists,” so that they can get the word out about the new “it” product to those they influence. He explains that at this point, the product should have minimal specs that address the customer’s concerns/issues and should not be crafted to satisfy a mainstream consumer.

In addition, Blank affirms that everyone who is collaborating on the project should be knowledgeable about differentiating between customer development and product development processes so that all associated have a clear understanding of the milestones that should be met at each stage (board members and investors are not always privy to what is transpiring in the company since they are oftentimes not directly observing the actions of the employees). Moreover, Blank encourages founders to create both a mission statement and core values statement of the founding team to reinforce fundamental beliefs and clarify why exactly the company is in operation when the vision is stymied.

Blank goes on to encourage entrepreneurs to maintain a dependency analysis so that they will have an idea of what needs to happen in order for their venture to be a success. “For each factor, the dependency analysis specifies what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, and what it means for the business if it does not occur as expected.”

Lastly, Blank urges individuals to build a reference story that will highlight key components of the product or service they are trying to sell. The story should entail how exactly your product features will be a beneficial solution for the customer. Blank says that after you have established this protocol you can then get out and talk to customers who are experiencing this need and are actively pursuing a resolution. He acknowledges that now that you have found a solution (your product) to a “real problem” (the market) you can begin to delve further into the needs of future consumers by asking, “if you could wave a magic wand and change anything in what you do, what would it be?” Blank maintains that this is an IPO question that, when asked (and subsequently answered successfully), it is almost sure to yield exciting results such as your company going public and you being ridiculously lucrative.

References
Blank, S. G. (2006). Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win (3rd ed.). Cafepress.com.

 Week Three Reflection: The Customer Development Model

 

In Chapter 2 of Blank’s, The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, the tone is much the same…and the struggle remains real to stay alert for Blank’s tips! While the information is certainly useful, it is delivered with no enthusiasm and leaves the reader wearied at times. However, Blank does a tremendous job of adding in fascinating narratives about startups who ultimately failed because in some way, shape, or form, they did not follow the advice (whether they were knowledgeable or not) presented in this book.
Upon delving into another chapter, I am always reminded of Jay-Z’s lyrics from the song, “Guns and Roses.” Jay-Z, Hove, Hova, Sean Carter, or whatever you want to call him clearly states, “You can get a return on investment if you just pay attention!” Seriously, did you get that play on words? Well, that’s exactly what Blank does in each chapter…if and only if the reader can stay woke to comprehend his command, he/she will be enlightened as to how to begin the customer development process and any other business process known to man!

Once individuals have identified their profitable problem to be “real,” the goal of customer discovery is finding out who the customers for your products are and whether the problem you are solving is important to them. Blank asserts that many startups fail because they simply burn through their cash with staff that should not have been hired. Early in the game, he asserts that a minimal number of employees are necessary and that will allow the company to conserve their capital.

Most importantly, Blank maintains that customer discovery entails getting outside the building to learn and discover your users and customers, learn what customers problems are and what it is about your product that solves their problems. Furthermore, the objective of this stage is to build a repeatable sales road map for the sales and marketing team to follow later down the road when it does become necessitous to make those changes.
Blank upholds that product development and customer development are parallel processes. “While the customer development group is engaged in customer-centric activities outside the building, the product development group is focused on product-centric activities that are taking place internally.”

References
Blank, S. G. (2006). Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win (3rd ed.). Cafepress.com.

 

 Week Two Reflection: The Product Development Model

 

Steven Gary Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win is a useful resource for founders looking to create successful products for the masses and market them appropriately. The book reads more like a manual (and is oftentimes very direct, and very monotonous!!!), but it does delineate each step and further detail how each phase should be enacted to ensure the most success for your enterprise. Blank explains that initially when founders are crafting their companies, they must think of their product development as, “the path hidden in plain view.”

Quoting Joseph Campbell, “A legendary hero is usually the founder of something-the founder of a new age, the founder of a new religion, the founder of a new city, the founder of a new way of life. In order to found something new, one has to leave the old and go on a quest of the seed idea, a germinal idea that will have the potential of bringing forth that new thing.”

Blank goes on to explain that much like heroes in movies, founders must prepare a path for themselves that will allow their startup to be more prone to success. Although this will not eliminate obstacles, it will mitigate risks and increase the chances of the enterprise being profitable for a substantial period of time. Blank asserts that, “startups don’t fail because they lack a product; they fail because they lack customers and markets.” He maintains that before founders worry about first product ship dates or utilize the product development paradigm to predict the future of the enterprise; they must initially “focus on reaching a deep understanding of customers and their problems, discovering a repeatable road map of how they buy, and building a financial model that results in profitability.”

In order for individuals to successfully decimate these obstacles Blank insists that before any of the traditional functions of selling and marketing can happen, the company has to prove that a market could exist, verify that someone would pay real capital for the solutions the company provides, and then go out and create the market.
If founders have effectively answered these aforementioned questions, then they will set themselves on the “hero’s” path, learning about their customers and their problems; and, creating a market that will be lucrative and further substantiate these claims.

References
Blank, S. G. (2006). Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win (3rd ed.). Cafepress.com.

 

 

“I don’t know what they want from me, it’s like the more money we come across the more problems we see!” – Sean “Diddy” Combs, Christopher “BIG” Wallace, & Mason “Mase” Betha

 

After reading the selection for this week, I was left somewhat perplexed in relation to the duties of a CEO. I mean hypothetically speaking CEO’s are encumbered with the duty to raise capital, hire a team of knowledgeable and experienced individuals and set and hit financial goals for the organization. However, did you know that after slogging, sweating and hustling for your company that the board can simply oust you?!? Me neither, but now we do…. So, now that we’re armed with this information let’s delve a little further into this and get a lesson in Hip Hop simultaneously.

Founder’s must initially strategize how they will acquire capitals through the life cycle of the startup while also bearing in mind that utilizing funds from friends and relatives can leave relationships hanging in the balance if the company fails to turn a profit and loses the investment. Likewise, utilizing angel investors and venture capitalists both, can leave a bitter taste if the business transactions turn unpleasant. Depending on how much funding is granted and for how long, VC’s can somewhat surreptitiously come in and pretty much take ownership of the entire organization (i.e. every round of funding that the VC offers is another round where their ownership stake grows stronger in the company); and, it’s only a matter of time before they assert themselves and establish their own guidelines and protocols for the business. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems…

As we’ve noted from previous blog posts, being prepared in business is key! Having the business acumen to know when to make dynamic changes to existing protocol or organizational structure is what sets excellent CEOs apart from average CEOs. Executives who are not able to evolve with the ever-changing environment poses a risk to their company’s progress and profits. If this issue is not diminished, the organization may miss critical deadlines and subsequently lose out on lucrative business opportunities. On the other end of the spectrum however, are CEO’s who do their job (and well might I add) only to find that the board feels that the company needs a CEO with a different skillset to guide and propel the business through its’ next phase of growth. In my opinion, this is guaranteed to happen, and founder/CEOs should prepare appropriately for the time when they may be seemingly snatched from their “baby.” During this period another individual is being championed for the CEO position. While this sounds somewhat harsh, voluntary successions occur all the time and allow the prior CEO to remain in some capacity with the organization as it levels up. Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems…

While we all like to think that with additional capital comes additional flexibility, as business owners, we have to be mindful that each incremental profit increase also boosts the company’s legitimacy to investors and exposes future obstacles that the founding CEO may encounter (and may not have the appropriate skillset to deal with). Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems….
As long as we are mindful of the pitfalls associated with entrepreneurship, we can only do our best to plan for the challenging times (i.e. the roller coaster) and any of the scenarios that could potentially rise. In any event…stick to the code…stay true to yourself, stay true to your organization’s mission and try your best to mitigate the nuisances that come with Mo’ Money!

References

   Herrenkohl, Eric. How to Hire A-Players Finding the Top People for Your Team – Even If You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department. Wiley, 2010.

   Wasserman, Noam. The Founders Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton Univ Pr, 2013.

We are NOT our mistakes.


“Your mistakes don’t define your character. It’s what you choose to do after you have made the mistake that makes all the difference. -Dave Willis

It’s no secret that life can catapult us into overwhelmingly pleasant situations (i.e. think becoming engaged) or hurl us into catastrophic uncertainties (i.e. loss of employment, loss of loved ones etc.), each of us has a unique narrative which helps to solidify the people we have become or will become in the future. With that being said, each of us also has a unique set of life skills special to only us (or individuals similar to us) because of these specific scenarios we have experienced. If I’m not making any sense yet, give me just a minute more to delve further and better explain my thoughts.

Case in point, I myself KNOW that I am an “A-player” as Herrenkohl so eloquently dubs those in the workforce who diligently and consistently work to perfect their craft (no matter the job/organization) and grow themselves and the business exponentially. I have worked for approximately fifteen years in various roles (i.e. healthcare administration, nonprofit organizations) that have allowed me to perfect quintessential skills needed in the workforce (i.e. strong communication and interpersonal skills, excellent writing and speaking ability, blah, blah, blah). I have formal education to back up my experience in the workforce, and several prior employers who are willing to guarantee future employer’s of my work ethic and prowess. HOWEVER, I am often overlooked by organizations because I don’t “seemingly” fit the prototypical idea of what an “A-player” should resemble.

Because of this, I promise to make it a point to explore various avenues of locating suitable employment for roles. I know what it’s like to know damn well that I would kill a position, that my resumé speaks specifically to my capabilities, but that I oftentimes never receive additional calls or meetings when I should be one of the top candidates. My friends always say, “they just don’t know what they’re missing.” But, sometimes it makes me feel the same way!?! What am I missing?!?

As a future employer, I hope not to overlook talent or the opportunity to hire talent because of their cultural background, religion, perspectives, or past mistakes (technically known as discrimination). A person is not their mistakes…or so I heard recently! Although no one wants to hire an ex-convict, they are a pool of applicants that may offer a few “A-players” if an employer took the time to further investigate the individual and not their indiscretions. If the person was convicted of a non-violent crime, had prior related work experience or skills, completed their sentence without difficulties and wanted to successfully re-enter society; they would be ideal candidates for positions. With the proper amount of coaching, these ex-convicts could potentially be exemplary employees in your organization. They’re certain to be on time and will want to be consistent to continue receiving an income if they have to provide payment for probation services or other parole-related expenses. Furthermore, there are several programs geared towards companies that hire persons with criminal records. These programs provide substantial tax breaks and further incentivize businesses who have taken the risk to hire individuals with criminal records.

To me, this is also what being an entrepreneur is all about. The freedom to make an income, while also having the ability to make an impact ?

 

References

Herrenkohl, Eric. How to Hire A-Players Finding the Top People for Your Team – Even If You Dont Have a Recruiting Department. Wiley, 2010.

Petersen, Lainie. “Tax Breaks for Employers Who Hire Felons.” Small Business – Chron.com, Chron.com, 6 Mar. 2019, https://smallbusiness.chron.com/tax-breaks-employers-hire-felons-14421.html.

 

 

 

Homogenous Teams are a No, No!!!

More than anyone else, the CEO is accountable for being the “visionary” of the team, meticulously collecting the most fitting individuals who can additionally bring the most desirable skillsets to the table. CEO’s must value diversity and the tremendous effect it plays in the overall success of the venture. Hiring individuals from various backgrounds (i.e. culture, employment experience, education, socio-economic status) promotes several underlying positive factors. As a result, the company is now marketable to this new employee’s social network; and, chances are if he or she enjoys the company enough to work for it, this individual will also promote services/products amongst family and friends alike. After accumulating the necessary social capital for the enterprise, CEO’s must continually plan and confer with these team leaders to maintain relationships, oversee departmental projects and determine how the organization will fit in with the ever-changing economic climate and the unmet needs of customers.

Since the overall successes (and therefore failures) are primarily attributable to the employees that are screened and successively hired, it is vital to hire and keep A-Players. As Eric Herrenkohl notes in How to Hire A-Players, “nothing has a bigger impact on the results of your business and the quality of your life than hiring and keeping A-players.” It is noted that these individuals will play an exponential and not incremental role in the business as they will facilitate the overall growth of the company while also sharpening their skills and developing the talent assigned to their department. Herrenkohl also asserts, “a good A-player can take responsibility for important pieces of the business, oversee other people and bring in new business.” Furthermore, it is imperative to note that once these individuals are accustomed to the culture of the organization, they will be able to “move the ball” well in the absence of direction.

Hopefully, after reading this blog you, the entrepreneur, will better understand the importance of having diverse teams over those with a more homogenous makeup; and, the benefits that come as a result. While it may initially be challenging for diverse teams to coalesce, with small efforts on the part of management (i.e. team retreats or team building exercises) individuals can and will grow their sense of involvement and commitment to the enterprise. This in turn can only be more promising as the venture gains stability and eventually elects to expand to various promising markets.

 

References

  Herrenkohl, Eric. How to Hire A-Players Finding the Top People for Your Team – Even If You Dont Have a Recruiting Department. Wiley, 2010.

 

  Lahm, Robert. “Starting Your Business: Avoiding the ‘Me’ Incorporated Syndrome.” EZinearticles, 18 Oct. 2005, https://ezinearticles.com/?Starting-Your-Business:-Avoiding-the-Me-Incorporated-Syndrome&id=84345.

 

  Wasserman, Noam. The Founders Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton Univ Pr, 2013.

 

 

 

 

When implementing plans to start a new venture, founders must take inventory of all the possible resources available to them. Noam Wasserman, author of The Founder’s Dilemmas ascertains that if individuals have the financial capital to adequately and efficiently get the startup through the initial (often murky) stages, then they have a higher probability of succeeding. Since financial capital pertains to money or other tangible resources that can be used in the funding process, knowing definitively where funding will come from is a preliminary battle that many lose. Nearly 51% of individuals who want to become entrepreneurs do not do so because of a serious lack of financial capital.
On the other hand, there are many instances where individuals lack financial resources, but are still able to fulfill their dreams of being an entrepreneur solely because of their social connections. These connections, whether from childhood friendships or work relationships, translates to big bucks if the individuals commit to the longevity of the venture. Furthermore, they must not only commit to their roles, but must also satisfy job requirements and achieve milestones within the company. Wasserman asserts that, “larger founding teams, which arm the organization with additional resources, have higher organizational growth rates and rates of survival.” This social capital, or the benefits derived from one’s place in information and communication networks, can easily push a business to top tier levels without ever having a physical dime. As Kevin Costner so eloquently states in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

Now, this brings me to my next point…Which is more crucial to the movement? Social capital or financial capital??? Again, just as in my last blog…there is no definitive answer. In my opinion, it depends on the venture and the resources available to the founder. Let’s take the first scenario where we have the financial capital to fund the venture but may be lacking the social capital to take necessary steps (and know when to execute them) to facilitate the business in being successful. One could argue that with sufficient financial resources there is no need for social capital. Money is a resource in itself that can easily acquisition the elite human capital (i.e. advisors, team members, co-workers, employees etc.) essential to managing a fruitful company. Yet, Wasserman points out that, “each additional person also adds more nodes to the communication network, slows things down, and weakens incentives.”

Conversely, those who start out with ideas, no capital, and several connections are seemingly at the mercy of an investor who has confidence in their idea, is willing to fund it but, will want a considerable amount of compensation and control in the end (think Shark Tank). In the overall scheme of things, is this worth it? Since there are too many variables and outcomes to consider, it is simply best for the founder to assess and evaluate their own personal circumstances and determine what will be most advantageous for their company in the long run. Part of being a CEO is having the capacity to make educated decisions that will assist the company in furthering the brand. If individuals can’t make these initial assessments, they may want to rethink their plans to become an entrepreneur.

References

Wasserman, Noam. The Founders Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton Univ Pr, 2013.

Introduction

 

 

Hi! Thanks for joining me…My name is Tiffany King and I am excited to begin what I’ll call my “entrepreneurial voyage” with you all. Born and raised in the South, I am a native of New Bern, North Carolina. I recently graduated from Fayetteville State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. Afterwards, I stumbled across the Master’s of Innovation, Leadership and Entrepreneurial Program at Western Carolina University and immediately knew that this program is what I would need to learn about building my brand and subsequently an empire! I have worked since I could legally enter the workforce, but always knew I wanted to be the boss. Determined to build something better for myself and my family, I won’t deter from an “empire state of mind” until I’m out for that long nap…

 

Please follow along as I blog about my journey….the bitter and the sweet….Look out world, here I come 🙂