The Lean Startup Toilet Bowl Trap of Getting Nowhere Slowly

Progress.  That’s a nice word.  “We’re making progress…”, says the workers cutting the road through the forest.   Then, a wise leader climbs a tree and says “but you’re going the wrong way!”

That’s all fine and good, and a good lean startup does this often.  It’s called “Pivot” and it’s central to the Lean Startup concept.  But what happens when you just keep pivoting?  Aren’t you chasing your tail?  Suddenly, you have a road to nowhere, or worse, a road that goes in circles.

This is a TRAP!  Your “lean startup” just got into a slowly dieing spiral of doom.  Your dream is getting flushed in the toilet because you keep climbing that tree and realizing that you’re going the wrong way!

Here’s an example of the Lean Startup in the Toilet Bowl Trap:

  1. You build a website and collect some preorders (yeah, progress!)
  2. You ship the preorders and get feedback from customers that they love/hate certain features (yeah, progress!)
  3. You fix the product based on the feedback, and nobody buys it (yeah, progress!)
  4. You PIVOT to a new product and collect some preorders (yeah, progress!)
  5. Jump to step #2, repeat, all the way to the toilet’s flush.

So, how do you get out of this toilet bowl trap?

First, remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.

You have to do something different!

In many cases, the problem is not ‘your product’ or ‘your idea’, but the marketing instead!

Instead of constantly pivoting on “product” you might need to pivot on some of the other 4 P’s of Marketing:

  1. Place: Maybe your lack of orders is because it’s not available where the customers are… and particularly where the customers are that are in the buying mood for what you offer!
  2. Price: Maybe your lack of orders is related to the pricing or pricing structure of your product.  Maybe you need to sell it in parts, or with different options.  It could even be too low!
  3. Promotion: Maybe your lack of orders is related to how you are attracting customers.  Sure, you’re getting a lot of ‘views’, but are those customers: the right ones, in the right mood (buying), with the right goals, with the right problems, with enough education about your solution, etc.?  Or Maybe, your just not reaching your right audience, or just not ‘appealing’ enough to their needs (messaging).
So, avoid the Toilet Bowl Trap: run Lean Startup Experiments on more than just ‘the product’…

5 Ways to Test your Startup Idea – Lean

So, you have an idea?  An invention even?  How do you know for sure it is any good? Here is 5 ways you can test your idea without building it first.

1.) create a free website at and make 2 pages.  Page 1 describes your idea, and includes a link to Buy Now!  Page 2 says “sorry” out of stock and asks for an email.  Now send everyone you know to the page… And see how many you ‘sell’.
2.) Setup some interviews with people who should really want your product/service.  Ask them about the idea and ask how much they might pay for that…  judge the amount as validation!
3.) Go to a trade show and try to hand out a flier about your idea… Judge people’s reaction and ask them what they think.
4.) Search the web for similar products and especially for  targey customer types actually complaining about the problem your idea solves.  Hear nothing/find nothing…. Probably not good for your idea.
5.) Make a mockup of your idea and stand at a corner where target customers might walk by.  Ask people if they would like to learn and what they would pay for that. 
The key idea is: will your target customer pay for the idea?
Go out and see BEFORE you build it.
Thats lean startup.

Is your product idea good? Top 3 Ways to Know for Sure!

Ever had a product idea and wondered if it was any good?  Whether you are an engineer, an MBA, or a stay-at-home mom, these 5 tips will help you answer definitively whether your idea is good… or not!

Tip #1: 
What is your goal?  Do you want to build it for yourself or friends or sell it as an idea?  Do you want to start a full business or just make some for side-money?
Depending on your answer, good has different meanings… And tip #1 is essential to answer before you go any further.
Three possible answers make your product idea good:
Sell the idea!   Stop.  Nobody buys ideas.
Start a real business.  Yep, step 2.
Make some for side-income?   Okay, but tread carefully to step 2.
If this is a lark, stop now and proceed to hobby lobby!
Tip #2:  
Who cares?
Really, is there anyone who cares about your idea?  Does it solve someone’s problem or is otherwise desirable by some specific kind of customer?
If not, stop.   Someone, some specific demographic, the smaller the better, must care, have the problem, or otherwise desire the product, or else, stop.

Tip #3:
Can you sell one and for how much?

I don’t mean build one then sell one.. I mean sell one!

The best way to know if your product idea is good, and the TOP TIP to know for sure if your idea is good is to PRE-SELL it!

Literally, setup a 2 page website where page 1 introduces the product, page 2 accepts a pre-order.  If you can get a few pre-orders, go ahead a build *a few*…
You could also do this with Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but those services expect bigger ideas and a real budget for video/marketing/etc.  Instead take the money you make on the first few orders to build some…. then build a few more… once you’ve sold 100, go ahead, do your kickstarter!

Good luck!

Go out and SELL!  Sales is the only way to know if your product ideas is good or not.

Now, back to my Smart Watch idea….

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!

7-Step Results-based Marketing for Startups Harlan’s 2014 Captivate Conference Slides

I hope you enjoyed my talk this year at the Captivate Conference on Marketing for Start-ups (and specifically game startups).

Here are my slides from the talk, and as always feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn (see sidebar) or Twitter ( @harlanbeverly ).

Comments, email, and feedback welcome.

Slides Follow:

7-Step Results-based Marketing for Startups by Harlan T Beverly from Harlan Beverly

All of marketing should be about results! When you are a startup this is even more important, because you have no money to waste on “brand”… you certainly don’t have the time to waste. Harlan T. Beverly, 3-time Start-up Founder & CEO, will present a 7-Step process to create an effective Results-based “marketing engine” that will drive results for your startup. Harlan will give specific examples from marketing campaigns he has created from: Bigfoot Networks, Harlan’s video game hardware company, Night Owl Games, where Harlan developed marketing that attracted more than 1,000,000 players, INGZ games, where Harlan created marketing campaigns to drive users to install mobile games, and Key Ingredient, where Harlan is currently CEO and drives 3,000,000+ visitors/month to

How to Do Sales & Marketing for Startups

Today I got to present to The University of Texas Austin Technology Incubator SEAL program. This is my favorite presentation to give: Sales & Marketing for Startups.  It was a lot of fun as always, and my favorite part was yelling at one of the attendees that he should NOT buy my Nissan Minivan!

Why would I do that?  Because (in my fictional example) he has 4 teenagers and I am NOT a slimy car-salesman… this minivan (fictional) will NOT fit his teenagers!  He should go to Toyota instead.

Remember, true sales-people are NEVER slimy.  They always want to sell ONLY if the sale will create value…  e.g. that the price is lower than the value that the product/service delivers AND that it solves the problem you are trying to solve.

So buy Toyota….

Anyways, here are the slides from my talk… I greatly enjoyed it and love almost any opportunity to talk about Sales & Marketing for startups (or non-startups).

Feel free to contact me @harlanbeverly

Selling Sucks. Do someone a Favor instead!

In the past, I’ve blogged about the SPIN Selling Technique.  I think this is definitely a great technique for selling, but there is one very important thing to remember.  Selling sucks.  Nobody likes to be sold to.  Instead, the whole point of SPIN Selling, the whole point of “transacting value between two peoples” is a POSITIVE exchange of value.  E.g. the result of the sale should be of MUTUAL value.  So, when you find yourself in need of selling something… DO not sell it… simply see if “the exchange” would be mutually beneficial or not.  The whole point of SPIN Selling, or selling of any kind, is simply to determine if you or your company would be benefited by buying this.  When I SPIN Sell, I try to discover, truly with an open heart and mind, would you or your company benefit from buying this (product or service).  I like to think of it like this: Would you consider my selling you this thing or service like “a favor”?  If not, maybe there isn’t a match.

By the way, if you don’t believe in your product or service enough to think of it as “a favor”, you should take the time to learn more about your product and who it was built for, or else get a new job ASAP.

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.

How to Do Google Adwords and Google Adsense Marketing Right

I was speaking to my students this week at, and realized I have never posted this short training on Google Adwords I put together.

It’s a quick read and I think highly useful… so check it out!

Slideshare is Cool!

You will see a number of new blog posts coming up today, all because I recently decided to post every personal training presentation I could find in my old inbox.

I hope you will find some of these useful.

You can see all my presentations here:

Meanwhile, I am continually impressed with Slideshare:

They somehow have figured out a way to really make it easy for people to upload Powerpoint in a useful way to share with the world.

Let the knowledge be unlocked!

Who’s with me?

What PPT have you uploaded recently?