Getting Started

Kawasaki’s guide to for start-ups provides some real world advice on business planning, fundraising, bootstrapping, recruiting, marketing, and selling. Its a useful collection of common sense ideas clearly illustrated.

One example, often heard but not followed, is the importance of actually getting going. It is important to plan, but even more important to get out right away to see if your products and strategy resonate with customers and investors. Find out what you don’t know or have got wrong early to avoid going too far down the wrong path.

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Long Term Vision, Short Term Goals

While examining what was common among sucessful companies, Collins and Porras distilled a framework for communicating the purpose and goals to an organization. The key idea is to make clear the unchanging core values and purpose of an organization while envisioning the strategic goals that will require change to achieve. It’s a good way to keep the objective of a strategic push summarized on one page. The challenge is to avoid overdoing it: we’ve all seen Dilbert-type mission statements that don’t really say anything. Use it as a tool to help reach a goal and not as an end in itself!


Notes on Building the vision

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Competitive Strategy

Porter created a useful framework for analyzing competition. It expands the idea that a company is part of a value chain, looking at not just the upstream suppliers and downstream buyers, but also substitute products and barriers to entry. The idea of complementors (companies that add value to your product by helping to create your market but don’t compete with you) was later added.


This is a good reference when considering your strategy- scenarios from emerging to declining industries are discussed along with generic strategies like low-cost leadership and focus.


Notes on Strategy for Emerging Industries

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Climbing the Learning Curve

Every project is based on a set of assumptions. It is only when these assumptions get tested that you find out what you really know (or don’t know). This gain in knowledge is often called ‘climbing the learning curve’. You can think of design iterations as wheels to help make the ascent. By this analogy, faster and larger wheels get up the curve quicker. Larger wheels come from getting more information for each iteration, ie testing more key assumptions. Faster wheels come from shortening the iteration cycle times.


Testing more assumptions

Get the most knowledge you can out of every design cycle by planning ahead to try to validate key assumptions. One good assumption: this design iteration will still have some problems, so build in ‘hooks’ for debugging where possible- this allows building the insight needed to solve unforeseen problems.

Shorter iteration cycles

Shorten the full design cycle (design/build/test) wherever possible. Once you find the bottleneck that prevents further cycletime reductions, never let it have idle time- keep it busy working the program. Try staggering design iterations that check different sets of assumptions to cut down on pure sequential learning.


Notes on Design Iterations

Acting on Knowledge

Knowledge about best practices across many industries is widely available, yet it is often not implemented. This gap between knowing and doing is explored by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton in “The Knowing-Doing Gap”. While there is no simple answer, several contributors are:

  • Substituting “talk” for action
  • Substituting past practice for thinking
  • Fear in organizations
  • Bad metrics

These contributing factors can be overcome with some common sense:

  • The team understands “why” before figuring out “how”: the philosophy behind missions matters!
  • Realizing that truly knowing something comes from doing
  • Valuing action over planning: nothing exposes false assumptions and lack of knowledge like actually trying something
  • Treat failures as a opportunity to learn
  • Drive out fear from your organization (often the toughest change)
  • Fight your competition, not each other: in-fighting wastes precious attention cycles!
  • Measure what turns knowledge into action: this is the behavior that needs nurturing
  • Leaders must set the example


Notes on Acting on Knowledge

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Getting Things Done

Everywhere you turn, people feel overloaded from the frantic pace of a quickly shifting, always-on world. Effectively dealing with a growing stream of action items and projects can seem impossible at times. Previous ‘systems’ for time management just don’t seem to work anymore. That’s why David Allen’s insights on getting things done are so valuable.

The Getting Things Done (GTD) method is based on:

  • Get ‘stuff’ out of your mind and into a system you trust. This frees your attention to focus on actually doing things.
  • Being clear about your commitments are and what next steps are needed to make progress towards meeting them.
  • Using your system to make sure you follow-up

GTD can be implemented with just paper or through software; the key is to use what works for you. The act of capturing tasks and actively deciding the next action is very focussing. The basic method is:

  1. Collect everything in one ‘Inbasket’
  2. Decide if an action is required for each item. If not, either send it to the trash, a tickler file, or reference bin
  3. For actionable items, decide on the next action required. If it requires less than two minutes to complete, just do it!
  4. For bigger tasks, delegate where possible
  5. If it is your task, either schedule a time to work on the next action or get it on your master list of next actions
  6. Regularly follow-up with delegated tasks and review your list of next actions to see what can be accomplished right now

Simple, but it works! See how you can adapt the method to your workflow. If you use Microsoft Outlook, Sally McGhee’s book shows how the GTD method can be implemented right in email.

GTD resources

43 Folders- GTD on Merlin Mann’s productivity and life hack site

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Disruptive Innovation

Christensen’s work has provided an excellent model for understanding how new technology can overtake and replace existing technology.

The market-dominating technology will continue to improve (sustaining innovation) at a rate faster than customer requirements grow with respect to a particular performance metric. New, disruptive technology will often gain a foothold in some other application where it offers an advantage like lower cost. While the disruptive technology initially has worse performance than the leading technology, it too will improve until it can match customer expectations. Once the performance gap is closed between what a technology can provide and what a customer can use, competition shifts to some other metric. At this point, the new technology can disruptively unseat the former leader.


This is a powerful model to use when thinking about technology start-ups and where a market may be heading.


Notes on Disruptive Innovation

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Market Niches

Moore’s model explaining how new technology products get adopted provides a useful framework for deciding which market niche to first attack and how to market. You must become the owner of your niche if you want to establish a reference point for sucess with the next set of customers on the lifecycle growth curve. This is Moore’s method for bridging the chasm between the early adopters and early majority, customer groups with different needs.

Owning a market niche requires that you pick a market that matches your size on a battleground you can win. In the end, it will require committing all resources on this target in order to win- focus can be powerful but it better be on the right target!

Classic marketing reading…


Notes on Crossing the Chasm

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Freeplane|GTD add-on available

The Freeplane|GTD tool for extracting Next Action lists from a mind map can now be installed using the add-on manager in Freeplane:

  1. Download the add-on from SourceForge
  2. Using Freeplane 1.2.x, select Tools -> Add-ons
  3. Click the Search and Install tab then use the Search button to navigate to the downloaded add-on
  4. Click Install
  5. Restart Freeplane

You can download an example mind map showing how project and next actions are marked with icons, along with various options to include attributes like where the next action will be done, etc.
Many thanks to Volker Boerchers of the Freeplane team for help on the add-on.

Happy mind mapping!