Recap from Fri-Oct-27 in Mtn View: Branding, Managing Commitments, and Developing an MVP

This is a recap from the Fri-Oct-27 Bootstrappers Breakfast in Mountain View. We covered a number of interesting topics including branding, managing commitments, and developing an MVP.

Branding, Managing Commitments, and Developing an MVP

Definitions for Branding

We discussed branding for startups and came up with a couple of useful definitions:

  • Kristin Zhivago: “Your brand is the promise you keep.”
  • Brad VanAuken: “A brand promises relevant differentiated benefits to a target customer.” We discussed the fact that promises kept are far more valuable than benefits that are promised but not delivered.
  • Aeschylus Fragment 385: “It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.”

Unlike a financial prospectus where past results are no guarantee of future performance, case studies and testimonials for a product or service, if based on actual results, do indicate the validity of a brand promise. A long way of saying “have done, can do” is a strong promise.

Managing Commitments

We also talked about the challenge of launching an MVP that may not contain all of the features you have envisioned for your “Whole Product.” I found Seth Godin’s “A Hierarchy of Failure Worth Having” a useful guide:

FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.

FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.

FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.

FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.

FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.

The foundation of a successful business is the ability to make and meet commitments to customers, partners, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders. If you inform them in advance, “we are going to try the following experiment” they may or may not take part, but they can offer informed consent.

Developing an MVP: how to keep moving forward

We also came with some tips for how to keep moving forward when you are bootstrapping an MVP (or freelancing / working a day job and developing a product nights and weekends):

  • Write out your thoughts to define
    • A clear target audience or target customer
    • A clear description of the problem or need you are addressing for them.
    • A clear value proposition: the impact of your offering on their situation
  • Find one or more “workout buddies” and schedule specific times to work on your MVP or review progress. You can also offer to ‘trade hours’ with other entrepreneur where you schedule a two block and spend an hour each on the two MVP’s.
  • Carve out an offsite for your team to look at strategy.
  • Hire a part time researcher .
  • Pay attention to any “negative self-talk.” Constructive criticism and constructive pessimism (e.g. a premortem) can be productive if it helps you to prevent or navigate around potential problems or failures. But telling yourself it’s not going to work without outlining clear risks you can address is just self-defeating.
  • Instead of to do list schedule blocks of time on your calendar to address a specific concern. Work on it for 30 minutes or so: if it doesn’t unlock a flow of ideas save your notes and schedule another time to try again. This timeboxing technique is sometimes referred to as the Pomodoro technique.
  • Trello or other Kanban / card systems can be more useful than a simple to do list as a way to minimize the number active but unfinished tasks (your “work in progress”).

It was interesting to consider at the end of a wide ranging conversation how branding, managing commitments, and developing an MVP had connected in various ways.

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