Archive for December 2009
Here’s a list of the most popular content from my blog in 2009.
- Venture Capital Career Resources
- Why cloud-based load testing is a killer app (thanks Hacker News!)
- About me
- Online Backup is the Trojan Horse of the Cloud
- Systems management or cloud management?
Thanks for reading, commenting, and taking an interest in me and my blog.
Happy New Year, stay safe, and I’ll see you all next year!
My core belief on beta software is that if somebody takes the time to download it, try it, and then give you feedback of any kind, respond to them with a personal note as soon as you can. Within 3 minutes (I clocked it) of Kevin’s post, we had 100 downloads. Within 5 minutes of that (8 minutes total), the first feedback came in and I answered it, 300 emails later into the night, I was still pounding on the keyboard. Then we have twitter stuff, then Crackberry started forum comments, as well as comments on the blog post itself. My happiest emails, for the last 20+ years, have always been those magic words: Thanks for your prompt reply. We will, of course, put in an auto-responder to ensure people know we got the note. We now have two extra people tracking and logging the bugs, etc. The core of any good company is how you treat your customers and what they say about you. You can get “product wasn’t for me but, wow, great people” and that’s win for many reasons. Raising capital? Trust me, investors simply Google/Twitter/Search for this stuff to get sense of your culture. I know, I did it for eight years.
Content delivery networks/CDNs want to provide end users the best possible performance and quality – often delivering high volume video or data files. Traditionally CDNs build large storage arrays and processing systems within data centers, preferably adjacent to either a carrier hotel meet-me-room or Internet Exchange Point/IXP.Sometimes supported by bundles of 10Gigabit ports connecting their storage to networks and the IXP.Lots of recent discussion on topics such as Fiber Channel over Ethernet/FCoE and Fiber Channel over IP/FCoIP. Not good enough. I want the SSD manufacturers and the switch manufacturers to produce an SSD card with a form factor that fits into a slot on existing Layer 2 switches. I want a Petabyte of storage directly connected to the switch backplane allowing unlimited data transfer rates from the storage card to network ports.Now a cloud storage provider does not have to buy 50 cabinets packed with SAN/NAS systems in the public data center, only slots in the switch.
Yesterday I got an email from an ex-student lamenting that only 2% of their selected early testers responded to their on-line survey. The survey said in part:
The survey has 57 questions, the last three of which are open ended, and should take about 20 minutes to complete. Please note that you must complete the entire survey once you begin. You cannot stop along the way and have your responses to that point saved.
If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. I called the founder and noted that there are SAT tests that are shorter than the survey. When I asked him if he actually had personally left the building and talked to these potential customers, or even had gotten them on the phone, he sounded confused. “We’re a web startup, all our customers are on the web. Why can’t I just get them to give me the answers I need this way?”
I recently replied to an email (excerpted below) from the lean startup googlegroup where someone was looking for tips on how to find people to give him feedback on his product. I have quoted a part of his email as well as my response to his quoted questions. I spend a huge amount of time on Customer Development and outreach at VMTurbo, so this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
If you have any best practices on getting feedback on your startup product, please let me know in the comments.
START OF EMAIL EXCERPT —-
> So I’m at the point that I’d love to bounce ideas off of people who’ve
> been down this road before;
> – I’ve been doing just cold emails & calls to higher-profile
> developers asking for them to betatest, and it’s not going all that
> great – is there a better way to gather the attention of some early
Try to get a warm intro through a mutual friend or acquaintance to
these folks. People are much more inclined to engage if you come
through a trusted source. LinkedIn is a great way to identify these
mutual connections. Other things you could try:
- Trade show and conference speakers & panelists: I recently ran an
outreach campaign to get feedback on our product from speakers at a
recent industry conference and got a very high hit rate (~10%+ replies
to a cold email, with many of them following up to have initial
discussions with us). I think this channel is effective because these
are folks who a) are deemed to have expertise in a specific area b)
like to talk about the technology in question and c) like to keep up
with industry trends and new companies. If you structure your
approach in a personal way, I think this could work well for you.
- Press releases: Watch your industry and competitors for press
releases. Usually a customer is quoted in competitor press releases,
and generally via LinkedIn or Google you can figure out how to reach
them. Again, one could argue that these people might be in bed with
one of your potential competitors, but at this stage of the game, I’d
say that the feedback you will get will far outweigh the risk of your
idea or ‘secret sauce’ being exposed.
> This wasn’t in the original email, but it goes without saying that customers of complementary technologies and products are also quoted in press releases :)
- LinkedIn: People self-identify on LinkedIn via joining specific
interest groups or by indicating in their profiles that they are a
member of various user groups. Why not approach these folks in a
personal way (doing some homework on their background, reading their
blog, etc) and see if they’d be willing to chat to provide feedback?
Also, user group leaders are always interested in bringing in new
vendors to demo products at meetings, so they are generally receptive
to speaking to startups and providing feedback.
I’d avoid cold calls where possible. Your market (Rails developers, I
guess?) is large enough where you should be able to find some
potential customers who could provide feedback.
I’d also add that you should be polite and persistent in your
outreach. If you make a cold call or email and it is not returned, I
see no harm in sending a polite, gentle reminder a week later. Same
if you’re introduced through a mutual acquaintance.
—- END OF EMAIL EXCERPT —-
I ask everybody what they use the product for, and I’m trying to see, really, who has the most passion around the product. And usually it breaks down by use cases, sometimes by user types. It’s really just looking through the initial data to really understand who really needs this product, and it can be on demographics, it can be on use cases, it can be on a lot of different things. But once you really understand a group that really needs the product, then you start to have that true North for the business — the part that you can actually start to build a business that will grow and thrive around if they represent a big enough market.
If you fold at the first un-returned email what hope do you have as an entrepreneur? As an entrepreneur, people aren’t going to respond to you and it’s your responsibility to politely and assertively stay on people’s radar screen. You no longer work for Google, Oracle, Salesforce.com or McKinsey where everybody calls you back. You had no idea how important that brand name was until you left it behind. Your customers don’t care that you went to Standford, Harvard or MIT. It’s just you now. And frankly if you went to a state college in Florida you’re at no disadvantage in the tenacity column. Persistence will pay off.