Author Archives: T.A.

6 steps to finding the right beta users

Finding the right early users can make or break a startup. If you find the wrong people, they will either waste your time with irrelevant suggestions or could easily send you off in the wrong direction. Here are a few suggestions on strategies to find the best early users.

1. Articulate the real target customer in as much detail as you can (I use a Mindmap to do this and have written about the process here). Try to expand with as many relevant customer attributes as possible, then generalize into a “Persona” that you paste up on the wall as the “target customer.”

2. Take the key attributes and build out a Survey Monkey or Google Form survey. This is designed to collect structured and relevant data about people you want to use the product.  In addition to all the normal attributes, try to understand how the target discovers new services and which related services they use today. Here’s the one we did for Gist (a company I started in 2008). From the time we announced the closed beta until the time we actually opened the site, we had over 6500 responses to this survey and a sweet group of users to choose from!

3. Develop a few marketing messages that you think will get people excited and are provocative. For example (around Gist) we might use something like – “wanna make Outlook social, sign up now for an early look” or “does your CRM system suck too much of your time, we are building a solution, sign up now.”

4. For a simple approach, skip to step 6.  For a more complex, but powerful solution, sign up for Launchrock or Waitlisted (newer solution) and build out “landing pages” for the key marketing messages.

5. As part of the waitlist process include the link to the Survey (response page and email confirmation) and try to collect responses there.  Tell people that they need to fill out the survey AND share to others if they want a chance to get into the beta.  You should be building something they value so ask for some effort!

6. Start promoting the marketing messages and launch site via social media with a focus on places where your target users hang out (e.g. LinkedIn for bizpros) and with some focus on key bloggers/twitter stars. You can search on BuzzSumo (find good blog posts/authors) for people of topics and @message these key players telling them about your plans/product and asking for input.

If your messages are good, people will promote and some portion will fill in the survey. These are the people who are likely to a) really want a new solution and b) likely to do real work and give you real feedback on the product. As the results come in, you can easily group people by relevant attributes (via survey responses) and then focus on releasing the product to a finite number and with a focus on the right people.

Tim Ferriss, of “4-hour work week” and “4-hour body” fame has also written about related ideas here and it is well worth the read.  Finally, the master of customer development, Steve Blank has a great post here on the relative value of users vs. valuable users and 1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly is a good reference too.

Corum group presentation – trends and predictions for 2012

Today I participated in an annual call with The Corum Group, a Seattle based M&A group focused on trends and opportunities for 2012 across the broad software, internet and mobile spaces. I was part of a panel that included some friends and people I really respect, including;

  • Dan Shapiro, Google — Social Domination
  • Chris Bray, IBM — The Year Ahead
  • T.A. McCann, RIM — Revolution in Mobile
  • Peter Coffee, Salesforce — Cloud Strategies
  • Steve Singh, CEO, Concur — SaaS in 2012
  • Reese Jones — the Berkeley Lab Sage
  • John Heyman, Actuate Partners — “Selling for a Billion”

I made the following key points about “revolutions in mobileContinue reading

Building your tribe – regular and efficient updates

To create a great and successful company, marking and communicating your progress to yourself, your team and your supporters is critical. Here are a few things that have worked well for me;

communicate every 2 weeks – this allows you to make meaningful progress, is a good frequency for your supporters to digest and sets you in a rythym towards monthly board meetings
– send your updates on Sunday afternoon – gives you an opportunity to finish out the week, have some time to put your thoughts down and will give your supporters a chance to read and comment before their busy week starts
– develop a specific format – I like to use the following: Continue reading

9 strategies to maximize the value of mentor meetings

I have been spending a bunch of time with the teams at Techstars Seattle.  It is exciting to see all the progress as we approach demo day on Nov 3, where all the teams show off their companies and plans for world domination.
Here are a few things that I have tried and/or learned from the entrepreneurs that can make most of these mentor meetings: Continue reading

The quick startup – done with a mind map

We are well into the Techstars Seattle season and I have been spending lots of time with many of the teams. As part of our discussions, we have been talking about how to simplify the pitches as well as capture all the different ideas and put them into context. One good way I have used to do this is with a mind map. I use Mindjet Mindmanager, but you could use others. Here is a template that I have developed that focuses on what I believe are the core elements of any startup – Customer, Value Proposition, Feature Set and Business model. In a perfect world, each of these concepts relates to each other in a cohesive story.  For example, if your value is saving someone time, are you charing them more for features that save more time, are you communicating that your features save them more time than the competition, does your customer have a way to quantify time saved, is it meaningful and are you thinking the features you choose by how much time they might save the end user…you get the picture.

Here is the simplified, expanded version of the mind map.

and the MindJet template you can use. Do more (companies) faster! (thx Brad Feld).

I have also used which is pretty good if you want to collaborate with others.

The Future of Work

Recently, with the help of Mike Folden, I recorded this video on the “Future of Work” in an attempt to capture many of the things we have learned over the last few years both building Gist and interacting with many of the key thought leaders in the space.

Another key leader (and maybe the master) is Jason Fried from 37 Signals, who recently did this interview. More good concepts, with a little more focus on “how” you can work better.

These are a few opinions, what do you think? What am I missing and where am I off-base? Part of the “new workstyle” is continuous learning and I am just getting started.

A more efficient toolset (part 1 of n)

I really like software tools that make me more efficient. Over the last few months I have really come to love and rely on Text Expander and Mind manager.

Text Expander helps me quickly insert text blocks, mostly into emails. I have a few scripts that I use all the time that save me a ton of typing and ensure I include the right stuff every time. For example, when someone wants to meet with me, I type “ttungle” (my Text Expander label for this action using a calendar service called Tungle that I love) and get the following automatically inserted.

I know your time is very important, so in an effort to make scheduling easier and more efficient, here is my free/busy info if you want to suggest some times that work well for you. I am also copying my assistant, Teresa so she can confirm and work out any details. I look forward to connecting with you soon and if you need any more of my contact info, it’s on my Gist Public Profile, you should consider getting one as well.

Or, when I do my internal status reports, I type “tstatus” and get;


Important info:




Need help:

I have about 10 of these “text expansions” that I use all the time. Other people on my team use Text Expander as well including Greg Meyer, our awesome Customer Experience Manager. He and I are now sharing our scripts which makes us both even more efficient. Here is how we do it;

Take a snippet that allows you to set a date 3 days in the future. Paste it into TextExpander and name it with a memorable name. Then you can add a character code such as r-3days (for me, this means reply + 3days)

Can you please respond to this emall by %@+3D%A (%m/%d) and confirm that you received this message?

Give entire folder of snippets:
File > Save a copy of folder

Give all snippets:
Set Text Expander to back up to Dropbox, then share this file (attached)

Import Snippets:
File > Add Group from File


We all have lots of ideas and organizing them quickly and then being able to combine, move, organize… is critical. The best tool I have found is Mindmanger. I can quickly create “Mindmaps” of everything from product ideas, to new company concepts to list of influencers in a space…all in a way that I can easily edit, evolve as my thinking evolves, share and use to communicate with others. They have tons of templates on their site like the one below.

I hope these tools work well for you and I would be very interested in others that will help me (and others) be more productive!

building a big idea = lots of very small updates

At Gist, we have a team of just north of 20 very productive people, investors and advisors. We run an Agile development shop and try to apply Agile to everything we do. A fundamental value/activity of Agile is the lowly “status report”. Status reports are critical to keep everyone going in generally the same direction, remain efficient and to get early understanding when things are going sideways. We have developed a bit of a process that includes;

  • status reports every other day (M, W, F) – sent to the team via email before 10am
  • the reports follow the form (persona status (Red, Yellow, Green – so we all know if you need help or are going to screw anyone else up), kudos (nice to recognize good work from someone), what I did, what I am doing, where I need help)
  • we do a “stand-up” every other day – :20 whole team meeting to check in and discuss key issues that affect key milestones, not to solve the issue, just to let the team know it exists.
I believe so much in this process and have been lucky to be advising a Seattle TechStars company trying to make this process even better, Here’s a Scoble video where Brandon explains a bit more about what they are doing. We were early beta users of ThinkFuse and hope to fully replace our ad-hoc approach to status reports with ThinkFuse soon.
In addition to running Gist, I advise alot of startups and entrepreneurs. My advice always includes getting into the habit of bi-weekly status reports which include the same format (did, doing, need help) with generally a bit more detail on the key areas of the business (users, product, partners…). Writing these makes you acknowledge all the good stuff you accomplished and set the stage/priority of what you need to do next as well as train your investors/advisors to help you in specific ways. Over time, these status reports become a “board package” but keeping all your supporters (team, investors, advisors…) on the same page with very regular, standardized status reports can really accelerate your ideas and success.