Full house in Sunnyvale this morning at Coco’s with a good mix of newcomers and returning attendees.

One of the things that’s neat for me is that a number of bootstrappers are making measurable progress even in the midst of this downturn. Folks that a few months ago were talking about developing or finishing their product now have either initial test sites or actual paying customers. Several folks looking for additional co-founders to help scale up. And a number of entrepreneurs contemplating new businesses.

One test I will sometimes offer individuals or teams at a breakfast is “What are three questions that people around the table can ask potential customers of yours to know that you can provide them with significant value? It’s one of the ways to think about building a referral network. There are some constraints:

  1. Answers have to be yes, no or a number.
  2. The question can reasonably be answered different ways based on the prospect’s situation. For example the question “do they want to save money on their car insurance?” is worthless because everyone will answer yes and it doesn’t offer meaningful test.
  3. The questions can branch or depend upon prior questions, but above one or two dependencies it can get hard to communicate and for people to remember.

It’s something you might think about for your own bootstrapping efforts: what were the characteristics of customers that we have offered the most value to? Or what symptoms does a prospect have (a symptom is their perception of a problem or a need, vs. the “practitioner’s diagnosis” for the problem) that indicate your highest probability of providing some value. The difference between these two is that first may uncover a large population of prospect for whom you can provide little or not value but some that you can offer tremendous value (there may also be the need to refine your criteria in this case) and the second may offer the vast majority some value but not necessarily be compelling (again may want to refine your criteria so that you have a high chance of offering compelling value).