The amazingly good feeling of shipping.

Do you like to check boxes?  I sure do. Recently, I started using trello to organize and run scrum/agile at the Texas Venture Labs.  We all love scrum and I can tell you why: it feels good to ‘move a ticket to done’, e.g. to check the box.  Done.  Shipped.  Over.  Fini.

What else is done? My book, Lean Startings, is done!  I shipped it yesterday 3/16/2017.  To Amazon.  It’s available now for Kindle ($9.99) or Paperback ($24.99) on Amazon.  It feels oh so good.  Ahhhhh, shipping!

So, how did I do it?   How did I write a book while raising a family, working full-time, and working on my own startup?  The same way that I got my PhD while working 2 full-time jobs and raising a family: persistence and daily progress.  In fact, I broke the book down into 36 chapters, and wrote a chapter a day, skipping weekends.  I finished the book in about 3 months (a few days I was traveling and couldn’t write).  Yep, in one summer, I created something, something that could help people succeed in startups better than ever.  Along the way I got to check 36 boxes (each chapter), and just now, the final checkbox (shipped!).  Shipped is the best one to check by the way, and I’m only sad I didn’t check it sooner!

So, what are you sitting on that you could ship?  Don’t wait for perfection, ship it now.  You can always revise it later.


(My reward yesterday for shipping was: gaming, beer AND bourbon)

p.s. Got feedback on my book? I welcome it here or directly to me by email.

Harlan Teaching “Lean Startup Essentials” at the University of Texas Austin – Spring 2016

This coming semester, I will be teaching Lean Startup Essentials!   The 2-3:30pm section (section 2) still has seats open.  
NOTE: THIS COURSE IS OPEN TO ALL UT STUDENTS ( from any College, not just McCombs School of Business )!
 Tuesdays & Thursdays from    2pm-3:30 in CBA 4.344

If you are a UT Student, you can login with this link to register:

Want to know what this course is all about?   
First, hear what some students had to say:
  “great class”
  “awesome teacher”
  “course was awesome”
  “most practical class … at UT”
  “unique content and very useful”

Okay, interested?  Here’s the course description:

This course uses the “Lean Startup” concept as a canvas to give students the essential knowledge needed to either start their own business or join a startup and be a major contributor.  In addition to learning about entrepreneurship, the legal aspects of starting a business, and the life and experience of working at a startup, students will get hands-on skills they can use in any startup or to start their own business.  Every student will practice these skills in-class by building a real startup business (based on a pre-set collection of products and services).  This course focuses on the “Lean Startup” methodology, but will also cover the traditional new venture development and the entrepreneurial process (problem identification, innovation, business plans, fund raising, launching, and managing a startup). This course will also cover the essential knowledge derived from entrepreneurship research covering proven keys to success as well as scientific research about what it takes in an individual and group to succeed in entrepreneurship.  The final project is one of the pre-set business ideas, up, running, and operating in the build-measure-learn cycle that is the core of the “Lean Startup” methodology.

Prerequisites: None.

Need more?  Here’s a link to the syllabus for this Spring: 

Got a question, email me!
harlan.beverly@mccombs.utexas  (and dot edu of course)

Small Thinking; why Austin entrepreneurs need to think bigger!

I teach a class at UT Austin called “lean startup”, I also help run the UT Texas Venture Labs and I volunteer at Capital Factory.  I mentor or advise dozens of startups.  I also run my own startup and have started 3.   All this is to say, I am plugged in to startups in Austin.  As with all my blog posts, this is not anything official from UT or anywhere else, just my own opinions.

I see probably 50 (or more) startup pitches per year.  One thing I have noticed recently, since Venture Capital has mostly dried up in Austin and worldwide, people have stopped thinking big.  I see so many deals where “the startup” is really “a product or service”.  For example, your app idea, your IoT idea, your new restaurant concept, and so on.  If it could be done on Kickstarter or bootstrapped in a year or two, it’s probably not big thinking.

This article is a call to get entrepreneurs to THINK BIGGER!  It is also hopefully a few tips for entrepreneurs to do just that.

First, let me explain what I consider ‘small thinking’.  Small thinking is when an entrepreneur is so focused on ‘the first product’ or ‘getting to revenue’ that they fail to communicate (or possibly fail to think) what the big picture is.  If you are not thinking past ‘your first move’, you are playing Startup Chess with a massive handicap.  If you don’t have ‘a second move’, you are failing to plan.  In both cases, you are not THINKING BIG!

Now, let me explain what I consider ‘big thinking’.  Big thinking isn’t doing, it’s thinking, and maybe talking.  Doing is what you are doing first and now (probably being Lean and Agile and building an MVP and focusing on Getting Customers and Feedback)… all very smart and important stuff.  However, while you are off ‘Doing’ that important stuff, you should be ‘thinking’ and probably ‘communicating’ your big vision a bunch more than you are.

Big thinking is having a big vision for wanting to ‘change’ something.  ‘Change’ is the operative word, and it implies a disruption in the status quo.  Big thinking is having ‘the end in mind’ before you begin.  This is more than a personal financial goal (which is also important).  This is understanding where your company might play in the big picture of the world.  This requires understanding ‘the world’ e.g. your market today, and where your market will be after you have risen to power and achieved your ‘big vision’.

Here’s the problem.  Many companies in Austin simply do not have this ‘big vision’ in mind for their company.  I ask you, how is your company going to change the world?  How are you going to “shake up” your industry.   If you do not have an answer, then you are not Big Thinking.

I urge you now, go out, and think bigger!  If you do it, WHILE staying focused on “DOING LEAN” there are so many awesome benefits.  Here are some personal examples I will share.

At my first company, Bigfoot Networks, our “big vision” was to End All Lag!  In fact, we even had a website, t-shirts and events, all around “Ending Lag Now!”.  We had a clear big picture mission, near 0-latency & 0-lag online gaming.  We were going to change the world… and as a result:

  1. The press cared about our story… even though many didn’t believe we could do it, it was still a story (rather than a non-story).
  2. Employees LIKED working for Bigfoot Networks… we all understood our mission and it gave us energy to tackle the day-to-day “Doing” because we knew where we were ‘Going’.  
  3. As a result, my attrition rate was lowest at Bigfoot Networks than any other company.  And my recruiting was the easiest.
  4. I was able to raise ‘big’ VC money, not because of our results (which were average), but because of our vision (and technology to back it up).
At Karmaback, my second company, our vision was also clear… we wanted to ‘Prove Social Marketing Works”, and create analytics behind social network marketing.  What is interesting here is that we did so many ‘day to day’ “Doing” that did not line up with this goal (to pay the rent) that we ultimately lost sight of this vision… when that happened, we had to sell the company.  It just wasn’t honest to say “this contracting job” had anything to do with our vision.  Had we stayed truer to our vision, Karmaback probably would have been even bigger and sold for much more.
So, I hope you can see where I am headed.  Have a big vision, execute on a plan towards doing it, and change the world!   If your company does NOT have a ‘change the world plan’… maybe it needs to get one.  Personally, I am on a mission to make sure all my endeavors have one.  At U.T. Austin, “what starts here changes the world”… and I’d like to see all of Austin take the charge and “THINK BIGGER”!
Harlan T. Beverly, PhD + Daughter, think BIGGER in Denali National Park

Losing your temper in business. The take 5 rule.

I’ve done it.  We’ve all done it.  At some point in your life, you lose  your cool.  You get mad, and you show it ~ sometimes quite visibly.  But what happens when you lose your temper in business?  What can happen?  And what are the long lasting effects of losing your temper in the office?  Here’s my experience and what you can do to avoid or minimize problems when it inevitably does happen to you.

1. I’ve lost my cool numerous times in the office, usually I get red in the face, start to frown dangerously, and get real quiet…. I can tell you from experience, that look usually shuts people down and RARELY does it get beyond this point for me.  Yah, it’s clear I’m mad, but people that have worked for me know that I’ll cool down in a few minutes… especially if….

1.b. The best tactic not to go beyond this point (turning red/ frowning) is to say “let’s take 5” and walk outside or get some water… remember to breathe, and that life is bigger than whatever you are mad at.  After 5 min. you should be cool enough to talk rationally again.

2. Occasionally, even after 5 min., I’m still angry.  Heck, I can still be mad after 2-days, and sitting down with that person again just sparks back up the anger.  I can’t keep “taking 5” constantly.   What to do?

2.b. The best thing to do is to try to take an ‘active listening‘ approach.  This involves starting at the beginning (after a take-5 or when you’re cooled down), asking again about the problem, then most importantly repeating the problem back to the person from their point of view.  They will feel heard and then they will be ready to listen.  Explain your problem.  Ask them to say it back to you.  Then ask them to explain what they want.  Say it back to them.  Tell them what you want.  Ask them to say it back to you.  Now find a solution.. you’ll both be read to figure it out.

3. So… uhoh.  I yelled.  I screamed.  I lost it.   Have I done that?  sure.  Just never let it get physical… more on that later.   All you did was yell… maybe you cursed… What do you do now???

3.b. My best advice is to quickly acknowledge you lost your cool and you need to “take 5”.  The world is not over.  This happens. Has happened to me.  Nothing too terrible is going to happen.  Follow 2.b above, and all will be okay.  After your take 5, acknowledge that you were wrong to yell, but you are still angry, and then move to active listening.

4. So, you got physical?  This has not happened to me.  Hopefully you’ve taken 5, got away from the situation.  In my companies, there is a rule: no-one can refuse or get upset about someone’s need to take 5.  I HAVE seen someone get physical at work 1 time.  I was the manager.

4.b. So, what happens if you get physical at work?   I can tell you what I did. I fired the person, immediately.  On the spot.  No regrets, no 2nd chances.  You get physical at work, you should be fired.  Period.  Hopefully your workplace has a take 5 rule… if not take it yourself.  Getting docked 5 minutes of time is better than being fired.

I hope this blog has left you with some thoughts.. feel free to post them below.  I respond to all comments and questions.

Patent Thoughts for Startups

Patents are an odd thing… if you might have one, it’s valuable.  If you do have one, it’s of little more value than maybe having one.  Writing one is hard.  Getting one is hard.  Using one is nearly useless.  So what should a startup do?

In my 15 years and 21 patents worth of experience, this is what has worked for me.  As with all such thoughts, this is not legal advice, simply my experience; I am not a lawyer.

First, it is cheap and easy to file a provisional patent.  Just got to and file it.   Utility Provisional is what you want, and startups can usually pay even less by selecting small business option.  Less than $200 is all you should need.   Write it in plain English, what it is and does, and include at least 1 figure.  Easy-peasy.  Suddenly you get the MOST value out of a patent you can get, but it expires in 1-year so be careful!   During that year, you can say “patent pending” and that’s crucial for startups (sometimes).

Next, don’t bother filing the real (non-provisional) patent unless a.) you have the money [around $10K, because a patent attorney is a must].   AND  b.) either the product is somewhat successful or the patent seems really good to you.  Remember, you have 1 year to file it, and must reference the provisional… or you lose the date of the provisional filing.

Last, why bother?

Because, saying patent pending is good marketing (usually).  Also because investors like it.   After you are funded, they will like it if you keep building up your actual patent portfolio (of real patents, not provisional patents).

Now, get out there and LAUNCH a real product, stop worrying about patents, just write your own provisional and move on!  It won’t matter unless your product is a success anyway!

CES 2015 Marketing Fails (World’s Best!)

I greatly enjoyed CES 2015… Perhaps most of all, the startup corridore (some of which was sponsored by ).  However startups, big and small, seemed to fail at several key marketing elements.  Here are some of my favorite marketing fails from CES 2015.

1.) Worlds First:   Several startups made this claim proudly on banners, some of which not more than 100 feet from a similar product, also the worlds first.
Why a marketing fail?  Not what you think… Its not the claim itself that fails (maybe its true, maybe not). The problem is WHO CARES!  Marketers must train themselves to think from the customer point of view….   And tell them the benefit of your product, from their perspective, not a useless claim!
2.). World’s “whatever” (smartest, best, smallest, whatever).
Why a marketing fail?   This one is the reason you think…  How can you verify this claim?  Unless it is self-evident, you cannot back it up.   And anyways, its not from the customers perspective… so again, who cares!
  Can you find the claim?
3.) No Idea What You Do…   Too much clutter!
Why a marketing fail?  This is the most common problem.   I just want to scan your booth and see what you do or make or your product… If I cant figure that out in 5 secs, i am gone.

   What is this selling exactly?

4.) No Goal! No point to even be there!
Why a marketing fail?   If you don’t have a “MEASURABLE GOAL” how can you know if you achieved it (or anything).  I’m not picking on my UT friends, but I’m not sure what it is they are trying to do… maybe looking for partners?  How will they know how many they met?  If I go to a show like this, I would have a specific goal and agenda, and a way to measure it.  Give-aways/raffles are a great way to do this.
What fails did you see at CES this year?

Startup Life: When to tell your team… we’re almost out of cash!

Is your startup nearing $0 cash? When do you tell the team?

You are not alone!

Doing a startup is hard.  Whether you are bootstrapping, VC funded, or even backed as an internal skunkworks, you may find that your bank account is getting awfully close to zero.  You are not alone.  Nearly ever startup I’ve ever been a part of has hit this point.  It is scary.  It is stressful.  And what do you do about the team?  Some of them, you know, depend on that regular startup paycheck!

Here’s what you need to know!

  1. Fiduciary Duty: First, you have a duty to your shareholders which is actually very simple: if you are nearing “insufficient cash” to pay your debts (defined as non-investment capital), then you must inform your shareholders (and/or board of directors) very soon.  They may be able to help.  My advice: have a plan in place that shows how much you need, or how you will come through anyways.  Even better: don’t get here… raise more funds before this point.
  2. Duty to Employees:  If there is ANY doubt that you might miss a paycheck… you need to tell people as soon as you have that doubt.  Personally, I like the 1-month left rule… if you will be able to make 1 more months of paychecks, and then no more… it’s time to share the news… REMEMBER TO ALSO share your plan.  Employees will want to know how they can help!  Let them.  Let them help with the fundraising… make slides… etc.  Let them help with sales (the whole company can do sales!).
  3. If it get’s dire… like down to 2 weeks… one thing you might do is ask if any employees can take partial deferred salary.  This is salary, you are asking them to risk, on the hope that you’ll make it through.  100% is not a great idea (unless you are the founder), but I’ve gotten nearly 100% participation in a 50% program in the past… and we made it through!
I hope this helps you know what to do (this time or next time).  Remember, it’s normal, it’s stressful, but you DO need to tell your people.  The best employees will only respect you more for your transparency.  The worst, who quit on you, you don’t need anyways.
Good luck!

SPIN Selling for Engineers: How to teach Engineers to Sell!

“Wow, that was so cool, it really works!” – University of Texas Engineering Undergraduate

This was the general sentiment this week when I demonstrated the SPIN Selling technique to a group of undergraduates (mostly engineering-types) who are studying entrepreneurship at The University of Texas in the 1 Semester Startup Class (now called Longhorn Startup).  I volunteered to demonstrate the approach on their very first sales call (yes they are really that far along, and I’m so proud of them!  They have overcome the first and second hurdle of entrepreneurship: 1. Selecting a Target Market.  2. Getting over their Fear.).

So what is SPIN Selling?  And why is it a great technique for Engineers?  Read on My Friends!

First, SPIN Selling is a technique originally developed by Neil Rackham.. in his book SPIN Selling.

If you don’t like reading, this site has a nice summary of the book on 1 page:
However, I’ll also summarize SPIN Selling in my own words below with one major tweak: from the perspective of an Engineer trying to make his/her first sale…
  1. SPIN Selling is great for engineers because it is an easy to understand acronym: S=Situation Questions, P=Problem Questions, I=Implication Questions, N=Need-Payoff Questions
  2. One of the best approaches to sales naturally emerges by “following the process” which, following processes is easy for engineers to do.
    1. This process is one of ‘connecting to the client’, ‘understanding their needs’, and ‘fitting or not fitting your product to satisfy their true needs’….   if you can connect the dots for the prospect: the sale is just a natural thing!
      1. And they’ll want to buy from YOU specifically, not necessarily because your product is superior (a concept Engineers need to not focus on), but because you understand them best, and have built a rapport with them through “the process”.
  3. The Process:
    1. Ask a few “Situation Questions” to get them thinking about their business, not yours: Initially on the call or in the meeting, simply ask how his/her business or life is going and uncover the specifics of their business as it might relate to your product. 
      1. Examples:  How is your business going?  How do you measure success?  What kinds of files do you use?  Who are your clients?  etc.
    2. Ask a few “Problem Questions” until you uncover a problem you might be able to solve: Basically try to uncover what problems they have (not if, we all have problems)..  Focusing on Throughput or Cost (throughput questions are ones of ability to deliver product/service, or inability to get new clients/customers)… cost is cost and headache (mental cost).  Obviously, focus on those areas which your product/service might solve…
      1. Examples: Do you feel you have plenty of clients?  Do you have any major cost problems?  Are you able to fulfill all your orders on time?  What is preventing you from being more successful today?  What gives you the biggest headaches today?
    3. Ask enough “Implication Questions” such that they agree that the problem is serious: Try to get them to see the light that the problem has real consequences.  To understand, for example, that those extra costs are cutting in to margins, which slows growth.  Or that the lack of enough customers means you are wasting resources from under-utilization.
      1. Examples: Do you agree that the lack of customers means you are under-utilizing your fixed resources?  Do you agree that the extra costs you are incurring is hitting your bottom line, and that extra cash you could have had would be useful to help you grow?  Do you agree that your headaches might be making you distracted on other issues?
    4. Ask enough “Need-Payoff Questions” such that they agree a solution has real value.  Need-Payoff sort-of restates the Implication question in such a way that a solution has real value.  Once they agree to real value… then, and ONLY THEN, can you pitch your product/service…. and it will be in their terms…  
      1. Examples: Do you agree that getting rid of that headache would let you be more productive at other more important things?   Do you agree that your increased productivity is worth real value?  In hours per day?  In Dollars per day?  Do you agree that being able to get more customers has real value?  In Dollars per Customer?  Do you agree that reducing costs impacts the bottom line directly?  In real profit dollars?
    5. Now, and only now that they agree there is real value in a potenial solution, are you permitted to pitch your idea… AND ONLY PITCH IT IF YOU CAN GIVE THE PAYOFF (or a part of it) THEY AGREED TO IN STEP 4.  If not, continue with Steps 2-4, until you can or until they hang up!
      1. The pitch should be short, just 3 slides (more on this next time): Benefits, Tech, Price.
      2. Don’t talk to the slides, talk to how YOUR PRODUCT might help solve THEIR PROBLEM… And point back to those NEED-PAYOFF questions you asked.
    6. Finally, Ask a few “Qualifying Questions”, and then “ASK FOR THE SALE”: You need to “flip the conversation” to be more about potentially fitting them to your business….   Now, they need to SELL YOU!
      1. You truly want it to seem like buying your product/service means belonging to an exclusive club.. and only some people are PERMITTED TO BUY!
      2. You questions now are “Qualifying Questions”… here is some good ones:
        1. We want to work with ‘thought leaders’ and ‘early adopters’, how forward-thinking about new stuff is your company?
        2. It is important that we work with companies of just the right size, how big is your business?
        3. We want partners who will become our reference customers, if things we work together to solve your problems, would you be willing to be a reference customer?
        4. Alright… it seems like we might be a good fit… it also seems that OUR PRODUCT/SERVICE will really help SOLVE YOUR PROBLEM and has a REAL DOLLAR IMPACT TO YOUR BUSINESS… 
          1. ASK FOR THE ORDER!!!!
            1. How many units can we sell you today to see how well this works?  or  
            2. What size initial order can you place today to test our ability to deliver?  or
            3. Who in your organization needs to sign off on this deal?
    7. Level Up!
      1. Regardless of the answers to step 6… be sure you try to “level up”.
      2. Often-times in a big sale, it takes many approvals and other folks to help decide.
      3. Leave EACH MEETING with a date/time for the next meeting and try to “level-up” the meeting….  TRY TO ATTEND ANY APPROVAL MEETINGS IN PERSON.
      4. Bring up all you have learned about their problem and the NEED-PAYOFF in REAL DOLLARS! (I hope you took notes).
And that’s it my friends!
Go out and sell!  But remember, only sell IF you can make a real dollar impact… if not, trust me, you don’t want them as a customer…. they won’t be happy, and neither will you.

Great Products Need Little Marketing

Do truly great products need a lot of advertising help? Will lots of advertising expense overcome a bad product?  I intend to find out, at least in one vertical: video games.

The presentation below is a presentation I gave which outlines my research goal and motivation around how products succeed in the marketplace.  Specifically Product Conception Quality, or how well a product is conceived during the Fuzzy Front End of product development, is a moderator on product success controlling for advertising expenditure.

What do you think will be the answer of my research?   Will products that were better conceived perform better in the marketplace when we control for ad spend?  Or is it purely a factor of how hard companies ‘push’ their bad products?

Do you have a Purple Cow?  Or are you shoving a Normal Cow down peoples throats?

The Greatest Start-up Book Ever?

I’ve read dozens, maybe almost a hundred books on start-ups.  I’ve loved many of them, but none of them really seemed like ‘science’ to me, more like opinion.  After reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, I now understand what I’ve been missing!  I really do feel like The Lean Startup is the greatest start-up book ever.. and here is why you MUST READ THIS BOOK NOW!

  1. It teaches entrepreneurs the “Scientific Method” for building a startup.
  2. It teaches entrepreneurs the proper ORDER of building a startup.
  3. It teaches INVESTORS the propper criteria to evaluate a startup.
  4. It explains in detail the right time to ‘get funding’ and more importantly ‘spend funding’.
  5. It explains very clearly why so many startups fail.
  6. It has dozens of examples of the process being used successfully.
  7. It truly teaches you about scale-able business models.
  8. It builds a great foundation for managing people and teams in a startup.
  9. It even applies to big organizations that want to be more startup-y.

DO NOT WAIT, get this book now.