“Minimum Viable Product” jive

My college homie Dave is working on the “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) version of his Baqbeat product. I’m always interested in what old friends are doing, so I asked him about it.

Baqbeat is a little hard to describe. Dave filled me in:

Baqbeat generates timelines of configuration changes to all the servers in
your development and operations environments – version control, build
servers, app servers, databases, and others. It automatically infers
related events on different timelines. So for example, you can see problems
in your production environment and immediately trace it to the code change
that broke it.

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Help right now for tech-dependent startups!

(tl;dr: Answer a few easy questions to see if I can help your startup!)

Do you have a startup company that’s not yet all the way started up? Not quite done with the software tech product that defines you? Not sure how to finish it, or where to go next? Are you still stuck for a platform? Worried about funding? Afraid of making expensive mistakes?

I’m hearing you.

So you have this small business. You probably just started it. You’ve got a pretty good business plan, you’ve stashed some money to keep it going until it breaks even and can pay you, you’ve worked out health insurance and stuff… or maybe you’re keeping your day job and working a lot of nights and weekends to get it together. And it’s a cool idea: some product or service that people are definitely going to want to pay money for. It’s exciting and terrifying, because you don’t know what could go wrong, but you’re also a little apprehensive about how it will go right in the end.

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Pre-Announcement: Help for your tech startup!

Well! I just spent a lot of time with various tech-related startup companies. Some of them have Projects That Suck; others are simply getting started with new things. I’ve learned a lot more about what does and doesn’t work, and I’m ready to share the results with you.

Do you have a startup that’s not yet all the way started up? Not quite done with the software tech product that defines you? Not sure how to finish it, or where to go next? Still stuck for a platform? Worried about funding? Afraid of making expensive mistakes?

If this sounds like you, watch here next Wednesday for the plan and the details. We can work together to get your startup project on track, within budget, and under control. I’m really excited about this. I think you will be too.

What to ask first

Oh my. Here’s a Project That Sucks. It sucks so much I seriously don’t (yet) know how to make it not suck. How crazy is that?

Good thing I that Making It Not Suck isn’t the immediate task. My job now is Figuring Out How It Might Potentially Be Made To Not Suck. In other words, it’s a pre-desucking evaluation. The deliverables: one report with a recommended technical process, and one report with business recommendations.

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When they won’t let you do Agile

If you’re a fan here, or if you’ve had more concrete experiences of working on Agile software teams, you probably have a good sense of how well the Agile values and practices can really work.

Problem: Not everybody sees that. Especially (perhaps) your boss or project sponsor.

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On Releasing Early

Jason Cohen guest-posted in December 2009 on the great blog On Startups, disputing the startup cliche that it’s always good to release your product early. He makes a good case to the contrary, although like some commenters I don’t think the iPod is a fantastic counterexample. (I mean come on. It’s Apple. They can get away with wild new design ideas, it’s what they do.)

My attention was grabbed by one of the comments in particular, from Trevor Lohrbeer. He says, in part:

Selling the product before release can also have the advantage of financing the development while at the same time focusing on the customers who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. It gets rid of the biggest problem of eliciting feedback, getting feedback from people who will never buy your product anyway (or may never buy at a price you can make money at).

Which, it should not surprise you to know, reminds me of a story.

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Jazzed about products and projects

It’s Friday, which is usually my day for the big-picture, deep-thinking, philosophically confusing kind of blog post. This time, however, I’m going totally commercial.

I’m excited about this!

A couple of very different items that I’ve been working on for a long time have finally reached a state of substantial completion. I’m ready to get them into a market-friendly state that will enable me to help more people, in a very sustainable way that everyone can afford.

The first thing

The first thing is a Windows application that was custom-made for a local nonprofit organization. They’ve implemented a very successful environmental health program (one of many) that works with families to identify home health and safety hazards, remediate those hazards in a cost-effective manner, and educate the family on ways to maintain the healthy state of the home. There’s a lot of “workflow” involved, and the reporting issues are fairly intense because of federal grant requirements, and it’s further complicated by the need to support an offline distributed database because the inspector with his Tablet PC doesn’t have remote access in the field.

The new application has been in a solidly usable beta state for about six months. Now we’re calling 1.0 done!

[main dialog for Healthy Homes application]
The main screen looks kind of like this.

The next step

So consider this a pre-release announcement. If you’re working with HUD Healthy Homes or any similar program, and manual recordkeeping is making your quarterly reports a nightmare, or if you just want a better way to schedule all those inspections and followups… we should totally talk. Get in touch with me now and we can arrange a preview.

The other thing

The other thing, which I’ve been talking about on Twitter a lot recently, is my new Startup Booster series for entrepreneurs whose software projects do not yet suck, but might! If you’re starting a company, and particularly if it’s not a software company, the last thing you want is a software project that costs too much, takes forever, and doesn’t solve the problem you had in the first place.

Isn’t it hard enough to get your idea off the ground? The software part of your strategic plan has to help, not get in the way. That’s why I’m building the Startup Booster. It’s a series of super-accessible information products that show you a really clear path to making stuff work even if you aren’t a software person yourself.

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on the first module, Buy or Build? It addresses the first and most important question that a lot of entrepreneurs miss: “Do I need to do a software project at all?” In it, I show you a really simple and thorough eight-step process (with a flowchart!) to help you decide whether to buy an existing package, get set to develop something custom, or skip the whole thing.

That’s the perfect implementation of my favorite rule of thumb: the only bug-free program is the one you don’t have to create to begin with.

Here’s what you get

The first module, Buy or Build? delivers a PDF and an MP3. The PDF includes an overview of the whole process, the aforementioned flowchart, and a super-simple workbook that you can write in as you go along. The MP3 is half an hour of my soothing voice, giving you background on the buy/build decision and explaining all the steps with real examples and a few bigger insights.

Here’s when you get it

At this moment, Buy or Build? is in preview. You can buy it at a special discount price of $17 if you’re on my free keep-in-touch eZine list. Otherwise, you have to wait until next Wednesday to join in the fun.

Of course if you now buy the preview, which is honestly kind of rough around the edges, you’ll get the tidied-up finished version for free next Wednesday. Like duh.

The rest of the series

But wait! There’s more! Future Startup Booster installments will help with topics like these. (Not all will be separate modules though.)

  • Can you do the software project yourself? Is that so crazy?
  • Figuring out what kind of help you need… how to get it… how to manage it… and when to fire people.
  • Is Open Source or Free Software right for you?
  • Deciding on a platform (e.g. Mac OS X, Windows, Web) and tool set.
  • How to know when your contractor is snowing you.
  • Protocols for problem-solving.
  • Measuring return on investment.
  • Can you turn your project investment into a profitable product of its own?
  • When to upgrade.

I haven’t worked out all the pricing, but each module will be pretty similar to the first in terms of content and bulk: a half hour of audio, a workbook, an overview, and a visual aid. There will be a really good no-regrets bundle price if you decide to get the whole series. (By “no regrets” I mean the bundle price is discounted by what you’ve already paid for individual modules, so you won’t have to go “Dang! I should have waited for the bundle!”)

Next up:

I’ve already started on the installment that addresses getting help with your custom software project. I’m hoping to get that preview out to friends as early as next Monday and releasing it to the public in mid-February. This is an ongoing process, with new content at least every month or so.

So there you go.

You can get on the keep-in-touch list right now and order the preview of Buy or Build? at a pretty cheap price with the free update, or you can hang around until Wednesday and pay a bit more for the flowered-up product.

Up to you though. I really hope you decide to check this stuff out, because if you’re trying to get a startup going this stuff can really cut out a lot of the cost, hassle, and stress of software projects gone bad–and so much more affordably than figuring it out with a consultant!

80% of what?

I’m a big believer in the 80-20 Rule. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s the idea that almost everything you do yields 80% of the benefit with the first 20% of effort. Similarly, you’ll find that 80% of your sales come from a 20% subset of your offerings. Stuff like that.

Sure, it’s a back-of-envelope rule of thumb sort of deal, but still a useful planning concept. (I love heuristics.)

On Monday, I blogged to the effect that non-software startup companies be satisfied with commercial off-the-shelf software that satisfies 80% of the functionality they require… because that’s so much cheaper than embarking on a new project when you are already hard up for cash.

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Perfection is the enemy

Right now I’m finishing an infoproduct. It’s a handbook, with audio and flowchart, for software-dependent startup entrepreneurs who don’t have a grip on the “buy vs. build” decision. In short, I’m creating this thing to help you figure out whether you should buy (or download!) some pre-existing software to support your business, or whether you’ll be better off doing a software development project even if you personally can’t get past “Hello World.”

It’s going to be a series, naturally, and the next segments will show you how to get started with that development project if you’ve decided it’s really necessary.

Continue reading Perfection is the enemy