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Lean, Diversity and NOLA

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015


Today we welcome Janelle R. Alexander, a new voice at MAPping Company Success. Janelle is a successful entrepreneur and one of the smartest and most fun people I’ve met in a long time. (Click About Janelle to learn more.)

I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Lean Startup Conference a couple of weeks ago. While I had read and embraced the writings in The Lean Startup years ago, this was my first occasion to attend the now-iconic startup event. The environment there was buzzing with startup geekiness and I loved every minute of it. My takeaways from the event are 3 key learnings and one confession. First the confession: I missed the point when The Lean Startup went from methodology to movement.

The Confession

It’s brave of me to admit this. I espouse passions for early-stage companies, inclusive innovation (a.k.a. diversity in entrepreneurship) and positioning New Orleans as a leading startup hub—Lean Startup methodology provides a clinical process to power all 3 missions. I’m not sure under which rock I was sleeping. I understand the genesis of the movement—the wisdom of Eric Ries’s continuous innovation, minimum viable product and validated learning warrants a loyal following. And yet I still marveled whenever I met yet another devotee who had flown from Australia or Sweden or Ireland, all speaking in a shared Leansian language (“…it’s a lean startup company,” “by then they’d developed their MVP,” “then we iterated,” etc.).

Realization #1: Lean Startup methodology could be a pivotal force in fostering diversity and inclusive innovation

There are real barriers to entry for startups founded by women entrepreneurs and those of color. One of them is a disproportionate lack of access to resources—e.g. capital, networks, influencers, anchor customers. When these resources are markedly low or missing entirely, the nefarious runway becomes shorter; the importance of eliminating uncertainty and working smarter not harder becomes decisive. In short, adopting Lean Startup methodology is obligatory for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Realization #2: Data is the equalizer that makes innovation truly inclusive

I sat listening to Alistair Croll Lean Analytics talk. Nearly every seat had a laptop open, and, from what I could tell, every monitor was showing Slack. Mr. Croll’s talk drove home the measure and learn parts of the methodology. His Street Smart Tactics were distilled for maximum relevance and insight which rang true (and were a delight to hear).

At its core, Lean Startup methodology is powered by data. Data is the new abundant resource for diverse entrepreneurs, which will offset the historical obstructions to the old school forms of capital.

Some Quotes to Remember from his talk:

“Archimedes had taken a bath before.” Meaning: The old tale of Archimedes’ displacement discovery in the bathtub was used to show that it was the king asking the right question which led to the discovery, and more importantly, the new data.

“Business plans are a lot like drawing a map before you’ve gone exploring”

Realization #3: New Orleans is the perfect environment for Lean Startup methodology

New Orleans is quickly establishing itself as an emerging startup hub. Collision is coming here. Mega companies have relocated here. Forbes thinks we’re great. The energy surrounding entrepreneurship in this city is palpable, and New Orleanians embrace this new focus with their usual delight and fervor. I heard Steve Case say about New Orleans that it’s a model for community connectivity and inclusiveness. It is in such an environment that Lean Startup methodology can thrive. Here we support our entrepreneurs in a way this native New Yorker never anticipated when I first moved to the Crescent City. Here, the community organically does what it can to minimize the entrepreneur’s time through the loop that is the Lean Startup process.

I came back ready to spread the word, and excited that I had another tool in the toolbox.

Entrepreneurs: Pay Attention — Or Not

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


Have you ever considered that the comments and musings of so-called influencers and thought leaders carry more weight than they should.

Insider anecdotes from tech often show just how wrong those at the top can be.

Steve Jobs didn’t believe anyone would buy big phones.

Or the mindset of Jim Clark, as revealed by Michael Lewis, author of The New New Thing, a book about the tech industry in the late ’90s.

“At the end of The New New Thing, Jim Clark, who has made a fortune out of the internet bubble, says he’s getting out because he’s scared. Why’s he scared? Kleiner Perkins, the VC firm, has given $25 million to this startup called Google, which he thinks is outrageous. Why would anyone give $25 million to Google? A search engine is just a commodity, everybody knows that, it’s a silly name.”

There are always experts who will tell you why whatever won’t work.

I’m not recommending that you just ignore or dismiss them.

What I am saying is that you need to take everything with a grain of skepticism and not buy it because of who says it.

Flickr image credit: MSLGROUP Global

Recreating Mom and Dad

Monday, October 5th, 2015


Do you ever wonder why so many consumer startups are similar?

Not in terms of the products or services, but the similarity of what each accomplishes.

Each is aimed at providing the wherewithal to accomplish a basic function of living.

From locomotion to meals to dates or just sex; from cleaning to shopping to errands to child/parent/pet care.

They are developed for a generation that is used to having everything done for them.

And then adopted by generations used to doing things for themselves.

No, that is inaccurate.

They are adopted by those of whatever age who can afford to pay.

If the Shoe Fits: Drizly, Tough Questions and You

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mDid you see the story of Drizly Bear by founder/CEO Nicholas Rellas on LinkedIn?

Rellas wanted to disrupt the way liquor is purchased.

The idea was pure and incredibly simple: Alcohol delivery, connecting consumers to local retailers at the touch of a button to have alcohol delivered in just 20 to 40 minutes.

The problem is that liquor regulation makes the taxi industry look unregulated.

The question, given the amount of regulation and the fact that it differs state-to-state and even city/county-to-city/county within each state, was where to start.

Where many would have chosen to start in the least regulated market to get traction Drizly took the opposite approach.

We started Drizly in Boston, MA, a city steeped in alcohol lore and one that is so tightly regulated that there are no happy hours.

If you think he was crazy, then he was, as they say, crazy like a fox.

The definition of a tough (or hard) question is one of the the most critical things that everybody needs to know.

And it’s incredibly simple, too.

It’s something that every salesperson learns immediately, but it applies to any industry, field, situation or effort.

A tough question is any question that can draw a response of ‘no’.

Rellas believed if Drizly could address every regulation in Boston, then they could address regulations anywhere — and he was right.

What we formed was a cookie cutter model of adding supply to our network that now scales with minimal capital and human investment and has allowed us to expand to over 18 cities in as many months.

Rellas wraps your take-away perfectly.

So ask the hard questions. Answer them upfront. Be truthful about your answers. There are reasons why great ideas won’t, or didn’t, work. We fight those every day. Some are insurmountable, others are not. Knowing which mountain to climb is as much of the challenge as the climbing itself. But by not asking and answering the hard questions, for a new business or a new line of business in an existing one, we’re doomed to fail from the very beginning.

Image credit: HikingArtist


If the Shoe Fits: Innovation vs. Marketing

Friday, September 18th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mThere is a myth out there that large companies aren’t creative and don’t innovate.

Not only is it a myth, it’s pure BS.

Watch this video for a look at pure innovation as done by Samsung.

So why the persistent myth?

There’s a great answer in the comments.

In two years Apple will come out with the same thing for their semis, call it iPass, and be lauded as innovators. –CommanderCorner

It used to be that if you built a better mousetrap the world would beat a path to your door, but these days the mousetrap matters less than the mystique of the builder and the skill of the marketers.

Image credit: HikingArtist Video credit: Leo Burnett

Entrepreneurs: Think Security from Day One

Thursday, July 30th, 2015


There are dozens of startups working on wiring everyday products to become part of the Internet of Things (IoT) and a few weeks ago I cited an article that raising money in that arena was tied to building security into a product from the beginning.

Security used to be a function to which consumers gave little thought, but that is rapidly changing.

Anything can be hacked, but awareness was heightened recently when security experts hacked a Jeep’s entertainment system and took control of vital driving functions.

The result of their work was a hacking technique—what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—that can target Jeep Cherokees and give the attacker wireless control, via the Internet, to any of thousands of vehicles. Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country.

And if none of this makes IoT startup founders rethink their cavalier attitude towards building tough security into their initial design, perhaps this comment from Colby Moore, a security research engineer at the cybersecurity firm Synack, will make them think twice.

“Really, the state of security on these things right now is pretty atrocious… A lot of these device manufacturers are just not security people and they really just don’t have security people on staff, especially when it comes to IoT start-ups. What they are doing is phenomenal with all of these new uses for technology. But security isn’t a concern for everybody. It’s ship now and patch later mentality.” (…)  If you are worried about it then don’t put yourself at risk. It’s kind of up to us to demand a higher security standard and hold the manufacturers to it.”

Flickr image credit: centralasian

Hacking Colorblindness

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Business Insider published an article today about glasses that let colorblind people see color, including the video below.

I’m sharing it to help along the effort for it to go viral, so more people will learn about this technology.

And also why you should never take anything for granted.

Entrepreneurs: the Truth about Warm Intros

Thursday, June 18th, 2015


The questions on Quora provide a fascinating look into today’s mindset, which makes for a giant time-suck, so I rarely allow myself the luxury.

However, Why are VCs so adamant about warm intros? caught my attention, because I am asked it so often.

Most of the responses were justifications from VCs, but two provided a refreshing dose of reality.

Not surprising that neither are VCs.

The reason they want warm intros is because they are too lazy to research things themselves and many of them don’t know anything about starting a company or building one. The smart experienced guys at the top who have actually done something are too busy so they have the dime-adozen MBAs they hire do grunt work. Since the d-a-d has never actually built anything, and doesn’t really know what you do, they want a “warm” intro. Warm means someone else they can blame if they screw up yet again.David Feldman, CEO, ZF Micro Solutions, Inc.

Classism. No further to look than that. Let’s not make it complicated by trying to avoid the unpleasant.Michael O. Church

The ‘warm intro’ investor bias is one of the worst, because it raises the funding bar to almost insurmountable heights, which limits the entrepreneurial pool and even reduces the chances of success.

Whether it’s laziness, fear of the unknown or insecurity outside of their comfort zone doesn’t matter — the result is the same.

Too many good founders/companies don’t get funded.

Flickr image credit: Alexx Malev

If the Shoe Fits: the Power of Working Alone

Friday, June 5th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mMore and more research is showing that real creativity is a more solo function than a team effort.

Susan Cain spells this out in a thoughtful LinkedIn post that is well worth your time, especially if you are a young founder raised on social media, with a penchant for crowdsourcing and Yelp.

Consider the words of Steve Wozniak in his memoir iWoz.

Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.

Then read, digest and tweak Cain’s ideas to fit your situation, then put the concepts to work in your company.

Image credit: HikingArtist

A Different Kind of Diversity

Monday, May 18th, 2015


I’ve had a lot of inquiries lately from managers who believe their teams have lost their edge.

Productivity is fine and they innovate, but in a predictable, prosaic way.

All were facing the same problem, but none could see that the source was themselves.

It is the same problem many bosses face, including Dan, whom I wrote about seven years ago.

So rather than spend my time and their money identifying the likely cause I sent each one this link and told them to call if they needed additional help.

So far I haven’t heard from any of them.

Flickr image credit: Denise Krebs

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