Mature Stage Companies

Andy On CNBC Talking About Apple's Success & Her Upcoming Panel of The Women Leaders Who Worked with Steve Jobs

Andy Cunningham on CNBC's Squawk Alley

Andy Cunningham on CNBC's Squawk Alley

Our founder Andy Cunningham appeared on CNBC's Squawk Alley to talk about Apple's earnings homerun, the allure of their products, and supporting women leaders in technology. To watch her interview click on the image above or follow this link:


Andy on Bloomberg West: Working with Steve Jobs and Which Current CEO's Remind Her of Steve

Andy on Bloomberg West: Working with Steve Jobs and Which Current CEO's Remind Her of Steve

Yesterday, Emily Chang from Bloomberg West interviewed Andy about her work with Steve Jobs. Of all the CEO’s that Andy has worked with, there are three in particular that left a deep impression, “I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs in my lifetime but only two that I’ve worked with that I think embody some of the traits that he had. I think one is John Chambers from Cisco, and I think the other is Reid Hastings from Netflix. And there’s a third CEO, Brian Chesky, whom I’ve never worked with, from Airbnb, whom I have great admiration and respect for. They all do those three things well; they inspire their workforce, they stretch people beyond their limits, and they are really bold and really brave. They don’t care what other people think about them.

5 W’s and 1 H of Getting Outside the Building

Steve Blank makes a set of simple but critical points in his recent Udacity video about the importance of getting out of the building and talking to customers. As we work with companies of all sizes and maturities at SeriesC, we often field questions about how to get this done, or see leaders who appreciate the need to talk to customers but aren't sure how to start.

There is an art to talking to potential and current customers. The first step is to ask yourself the right questions to find out the who, what, when, where, why, and how of getting the information Talk-to-your-customersyou need. Here is how to get that discussion started.

What? – What is it that you want to learn? This may seem obvious but dive a little deeper. Start by setting a hypothesis. Just like any other study using the scientific method, a hypothesis is necessary to help frame questions and determine the direction research needs to go.

Next, create goals for the study. This should be a list of facts that you would like to know – or, perhaps, things you think you know but would like to validate with outsiders who do know. Like any other goals you have set in the past they need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-based). For example, a goal for a company trying to understand poor reviews in the app store might be to learn which features have been mentioned most frequently in negative reviews in the last 6 months. A goal for a large company trying to bring a new line of business to market may be to validate its hypotheses on what its best customers would most likely embrace in new service offerings.

Who? - Who knows the information you are seeking? Do you need to talk to current customers, potential customers, lost customers, or industry experts? Maybe a mix of all four? Your hypothesis and goals should inform this. You should already have a clue as to who might have answers to your questions about your business. You may find out this clue is wrong once you start talking to people, but your best guess is the right place to start.

There is a big WHO and a small who. The big WHO is your hypothesized target group. The small who is the target sampling of a few who will give you a good representative perspective without breaking the bank on time and resources. The internet has many great tools for helping to select the right size and type of sample to answer your research questions. Or, you could just make some informed gut decisions: Choose a sampling of ten people, aiming for a mix of prospects and customers, segments, or other demographics that matter to you.

How? - How should you talk to your target group? Basic data collection techniques include casual conversation, surveys, experiments, secondary data or research, observation, focus groups and in-depth interviews. In picking the right type of data think backwards from what you want to know. In what form would this information be easiest and most actionable? How important is recording and sharing the feedback within your organization? Would the feedback be more objective if you had a neutral third-party do the interviewing, or are you likely to get better results if you take this person out for coffee in person? Combine the answers with knowledge your target group and you will arrive at how to best collect your data. Don’t become paralyzed if this all seems to difficult to implement. Even a casual conversation can be fruitful. If you’re stuck, just pick up the phone and invite someone to lunch.

Where? - Where is closely related with how. Begin by thinking about where to talk to your target group. Is it easier to reach them through an email survey, at your next client quarterly review, or directly at a retail location? Where are they most likely to give you honest answers and where are they most likely to give you useful answers? The answer might be the same place, but it also might not. Remember to return to your goals when making the decision about the best way to reach your customers.

When? - Set a calendar for your data or information gathering. Plan out how long you expect each step to take and stick to it. Research can be daunting. Having a schedule will help you stay on track. As part of this schedule make sure not to overlook your data collection times. For example, when talking to customers at a retail location try different times of day. By only talking to them during only one window you may be missing out on potential facts that are time specific such as wait times during the lunch-rush or the difference in customers during the week and on weekends. If your customers are enterprise leaders, be respectful of time commitments. Be on time, and take no longer than the time you promised to take.

Why? - To be blunt, you don’t know it all. You never will. And just when you think you do know it all, rest assured that the market will change, and throw what you know back into question. Your best assumptions are only assumptions until they are validated by the people who matter most – the people who are buying what you exist to sell them. So start with smaller questions. Why did I collect this information in the first place? How can it benefit my organization? How can use what I now know to change my strategy to appeal to the right target market?

Hopefully these questions can guide your next marketing research project, whether it’s a simple brave trip out of the building or a full-blown objective study. Need help? Leave us a comment or contact our consultant team.

Five Ways to Market Your Tech When You're the Underdog

We were recently challenged by a client to re-position a mature product, a table-stakes part of a suite of B2B services.  The company’s sales and marketing teams believed the product was falling (or had fallen) behind the competition. Great development plans were in the works, but with delays and shifts, it didn’t appear there’d be much new to talk about in the coming six to nine months. That got our team to talking.  What’s the best way to market a technology when you know you’re the underdog in the marketplace? We shortlisted five of our favorite ideas, all of which we’ve tested with success in the course of our marketing careers.

1. Confirm, don’t assume. If you suspect you’re behind, confirm it with customers and prospects before you believe it as truth. Avoid the inferiority complex trap that can be very common, especially among weary and overwhelmed sales forces. Even when your product is terrific, sometimes all it takes is one competitor trumpeting boldly about their newest bell or whistle—however strategically unimportant it may be—to put your marketing and sales teams on the defensive. A non-confrontational way to learn what your customers and prospects truly think is to ask them these four simple questions when you talk to them next:

  • What are the features/functionalities of your current solution that you couldn’t live without?
  • What is your favorite feature/functionality of your current solution?
  • If you could change one thing about your current solution, what would it be?
  • Knowing what you know about our solution, would you recommend it today to a colleague?

These questions will give you insight into not just how you’re perceived, but also why people might think you’re behind, and what they most value in a solution.  If you find you are in fact competitive, a dose of sales training about your product’s strengths and differentiators could go a long way.

2. Change the product, or change the target market. It’s a beautiful thing about human beings: We don’t all want or need the same things.  What is “must-have” to one customer may be overkill to another. If you’ve confirmed your product has fallen behind in the eyes of your target market, then it’s time to change the product – or change the target. First, identify your product’s strengths. Perhaps it’s the price leader. Perhaps its differentiated by strong personal service and relationships.  Perhaps its more customizable. Then look at a gap analysis of what you’d have to build to re-emerge as a fierce competitor, and where.

  • Can you build a strong business case to invest in changing the product to close the gap and compete for your existing target market?
  • Is it more effective to shift target markets?  Consider if there is a different market segment that might rank your product highest based on your particiular strengths, at the product and company level.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.28.44 PM3. Forecast your strategy to customers—boldly, rationally and transparently.  Develop a crisp point of view about what must be true about solutions in the future to meet your target market’s needs.  Then find ways to elevate the conversation to that strategic point of view, and to your intention to make all those things true.  Also, show them, don’t just tell them, what the future state might look like. If you have a concept in development that’s a year or less out, consider investing at least a small amount in conceptual user experience mockups or other visualizations. (Frankly, these could double as an aligning force for your development and product teams.) If something is more than a year out, conceptual artwork and thought leadership pieces, such as white papers, might do the trick. WARNING: Don’t be irrationally exuberant! If you promise something at a specific time, and you don’t deliver, you’ll do more to harm your credibility than any marketing may be able to repair.

4. Focus on your strengths.  Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that your company is not all things to all people, and that your product cannot immediately be made to do all things.  Own up to your shortcomings when challenged by a customer. Then emphasize what does differentiate you—either with the product or with the way you deliver it: your people, your service, your processes, your accuracy, your consistency, your price, your geographic scope, whatever it may be.   Talk about your priorities, and discuss how they serve your customer’s needs best.

5. Play the Co-Opetition game. Ready to get really strategic and brainy about this?  Check out the classic ideas behind Co-Opetition, the game theory approach that Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff (of Harvard and Yale respectively) brought to the market in the mid 1990s.  You can shape the game, not just play the game, by using what they call the PARTS framework, which is explained pretty succinctly here.  This one takes some study and discipline, but it’s a great holistic exercise that could help align your executive team on the strategic priorities in front of you.

Top Ten Best Practices for Managing Your Board

One of the most challenging things an entrepreneur must do is communicate effectively with his or her board. After spending countless hours with lots of entrepreneurs helping them prepare for board meetings and working with lots of boards to get what they need from their entrepreneurs, I’ve come up with a list of ten practices that make for good relations with this critical group of experts as you build your product and get it ready to go to market. How many of these do you regularly practice today? Choose the ones where you're deficient, and dig in. You'll get more out of your board relationships, and so will they.

  1. Understand how the board operates. Who is the alpha dog? How do the members communicate with each other? Know who your sponsor is. Respect the structure and fit in.
  2. Organize your thoughts ahead of time. Edit ruthlessly. Be concise. Use pictures, diagrams, infographics to convey messages.
  3. Never surprise your board. Reach out ahead of board meetings and run ideas past people. Use your sponsor to share good news and bad news ahead of board meetings and ALWAYS have a solution in mind if what you are sharing is a problem.
  4. Assign each board member a “role” in your mind to provide advice, counsel, context, whatever, and use them for that. Build a relationship with each one on a specific platform.
  5. Speak Metrics. Your preferred way of communicating may be words or pictures or even voice. But board members, especially venture capitalists,speak metrics. Learn the language and convey your points in it.
  6. Know more about your business than they do. Drop a “golden nugget” or two that they don’t know about your market, your competitors, your industry. Assume that they think you know everything about your business. Add something new each time you meet.
  7. Forecast accurately. A forecast is not a hope. And hope is not a strategy. Use a framework. Be conservative. Meet your forecasts. And if you will not meet them, let the board know ahead of time—why and what you are going to do about it. Start with your sponsor.
  8. Be confident. You are the CEO. There are people’s expectations and money resting on your decisions. Take the responsibility seriously and project accordingly.
  9. Set expectations. Be the voice of reason as it relates to goals and objectives that are first reviewed by and agreed upon by the board—before the clock starts ticking. Then remember to continue to set expectations in every conversation and especially every meeting. What is happening next and how does it fit in the plan and move the company forward?
  10. Provide follow-up that is also well organized, thoughtful and concise. Show your board that you took note of their questions and took the time to get the answers. Send them additional nuggets of good news between board meetings that show progress from the last meeting.

Five Truths About Marketing to Millennials (From a Millennial)

fotolia_bridgebuzzcollegestudents1 This is my first blog post for SeriesC. I am a second-stint intern at SeriesC, and also a 21-year-old senior business major concentrating on marketing and management at Trinity University, a small liberal arts school in San Antonio, Texas.

I want to share some insights on marketing to millennials, based on my perspective both as a marketing professional and a millennial consumer. Countless articles and guides are floating around on the Internet about how to market to millennials. From my experience, I assure you that not all of them are steering you in the right direction and not every company knows what they are doing. So how do you navigate the clutter and get to the realistic and useful guides? Here are a few tips and insights:

  1.  Use social right- Everyone will tell you that you need to use social media to reach millennials. Brands can see huge benefits from an effective social media presence, but this advice often neglects to emphasize that first you need to grow your user base and do it in the right target market. If you fail to do this you are wasting your social media investment. Campaigns that create natural buzz and drive traffic to your social pages are the best way to do this quickly. And you don’t have to break the bank to create them. See Louisville Slugger for a great case study on jump-starting organic buzz through social media.
  2. Don’t forget to be lean – A common mistake companies make is jumping to develop a mobile app too early because studies tell them that millennials are using apps. If you are considering doing this, stop and think about lean principles (see another SeriesC blog post on more about this).  All it takes is asking your customers if they want that mobile app that you are building, and just as important, whether there are enough of them who will use it. Yes, millennials are mobile and we do use apps frequently, but for companies that plan to launch their app as a secondary customer destination, it is important to first have enough demand on your primary selling point to support it. Just like any other piece of building a lean company, telling yourself, “If [we] build it, they will come” is not enough.
  3. Help us convince our parents- For products that are expensive and require consumers to go through all the preliminary stages of the buying process (need recognition, information search, and evaluation of alternatives) before making a purchase younger millennials are probably going to need to consult their parents for advice or money. It is not enough to just market to your target customer; you must also have messaging for their key influencer. More often than you might realize, those influencers are Mom and Dad.
  4. Give us a discount- Millennials, especially college students, do not have much disposable income at this point. We love discounts! Companies like Amazon (Student Prime membership with free two day shipping) have done this effectively and seen a huge growth in millennial customers. Do this now and we’ll stay with you when we do have money.
  5. Be authentic – I can’t emphasize this one enough! Just because we are younger than you, it doesn’t mean we were born yesterday. We can see through false claims or attempts to be funny in ways that don’t relate to your brand or product. It’s ok, and in fact encouraged to be creative in marketing to millennials. However, you cannot forget your key messages and brand pillars. Add nuance to your messages; but don’t try to be someone you aren’t.

Our team at SeriesC creates positioning and jumpstarts innovation for established and emerging tech companies daily. If we can help you find your true authentic voice and the ideal messages for millennials, you know where to find us!

Measuring Your Company Value - a Holistic Blueprint

True story: A wise CFO was meeting with the rest of his small start-up team, eighteen months (and a few pivots) into the group’s journey as a business.  He was about to report to them on the firm’s financial situation.  “Everything we do is about increasing value for all our stakeholders,” he began.  “Let me show you how we measure that we’re doing that.”

Up came a slide with sixteen simple words:

  • Revenue growth
  • Profit
  • Cash flows
  • Ability to obtain new business and deliver it profitably
  • Intellectual Property

He landed there only briefly, just long enough for the team to grasp the five obvious and easily measured items the slide contained.  Then he flipped to a second slide.

“And then there are the less easily measured, more subjective value drivers,” he said.

The team read the long list together:

  • Size, depth, and breadth of the sales pipeline
  • Share of potential market penetration
  • Quality and depth of the customer portfolio
  • Volume and breadth of the customer portfolio
  • History of repeat and loyal clients
  • Skills, experience, and specific expertise
  • Contacts and network of the team
  • Delivery methods and operating efficiency
  • Reputation
  • Succession plans

There were nods all around the room, a stated appreciation for the holistic approach to defining value, and some good discussion about the group’s resulting priorities.

My immediate impression on seeing this list was to write it down and share it here as a strong example of a business measurement scorecard – applicable to both start-ups and the largest enterprise teams. (Mind you, I’d only moments before it read Paul Graham’s good thoughts on the importance of start-up teams’ focus on doing things that do not scale, so holistic nurturing was on my mind, anyway.)

Are you measuring the health of your business – and the value you deliver to every stakeholder you serve – in terms of this extensive list?  Are you pausing from time to time as a team to discuss performance across the span it represents, and not just looking at cash flows?

Do you have a recommended amendment or addition to this list?

Why In-Company Incubators Aren't Working… Yet (Part 3)

239px-Brown_Leghorn_rooster_in_Australia This is part 3 of a 3-part series.  <<Part 1      <Part 2

In this three-part series, I'm addressing the topic of why in-house incubators don't necessarily work, and specifically answering the question about whether organizations should entrust innovation to their entire organization or just to an elite team, incubator style.  The answer is, it depends on where your organization is in the three-part innovation process.

In my first post I explained this concept, and covered the first phase, Ideation.  A few days ago I covered the second phase, Validation.  Today, I'll tackle the one that seems to be most comfortable for enterprises and startups, and yet also the failure point for  many of them: Execution.

Once your idea has been validated, it's time to start thinking of bringing that idea to market like building business. Here is where a lot of organizations make the mistake of putting the nascent product or service in a current business unit and letting them run with it. After all, now that it's a product with a defined market, you should just treat it like every other product in your portfolio, right?

Well, sort of.

Sometimes, your new innovation will inherently play by a new set of rules, a set that doesn't apply to your existing products.  These new rules need to be identified and dealt with -- through permissions, process, skill sets, etc -- as the innovation is developed and delivered.

To explain this more clearly, I'll offer a story from my own experience, when I was at PeopleSoft managing the eProcurement product. There definitely was a market (thanks to Ariba and CommerceOne), and there was traction in the growing number of customers that we had. However, there was a lot of catching up to do with what the market expected, but we were constrained by product development processes designed for maintaing something like Accounts Payable and General Ledger in a 12-18 month product cycle, while our more nimble competitors were able to ship in less than half that time. It felt like we were competing with the proverbial one hand tied behind our back.

To get around our constraints, we had to break the rules and ship new functionality when we weren't' supposed to (long-time customers may recall version 8.0 SP2) and make PeopleTools dance in ways it wasn't designed. I credit the engineering team and the creativity of their manager, MJ Guru (now at Workday) for making this all work. He had just enough of a rebellious edge to make it work without getting fired.

The lesson here is that this innovative product had to iterate and add functionality faster than our more mature products like AP and GL. It also was a new kind of solution for PeopleSoft - one meant for all employees to use without training, not just people in the back office. It was different, and playing by the rules set by a more mature product line would have killed the product if it weren't for the team that wanted it to succeed.

Of course, every new product can't require a new organization to be created. It wouldn't work. What companies should consider doing is creating some sort of "half-way house" for products that are still in the early stage to allow them to iterate quickly for the first year or two. Just because you have traction and have validated the solution does not mean that you have a complete product and are finished learning. Far from it. In fact, from my experience, the amount of learning grows exponentially as you get more customers and start receiving more pointed feedback from people using your product every day.

In the end, every product and solution has its development "supply chain" and its point on its lifecycle in addition to having an affinity to other products that have the same economic buyer and market. For companies looking to launch new products and become innovative, it's not only about coming up with the next great idea, but also knowing how to make it work with the organization that you have.

<< Part 1: Ideation      < Part 2: Validation


Get in touch with SeriesC to talk with us about how we help clients navigate the innovation process:

Why In-Company Incubators Aren't Working… Yet (Part 2)


This is part 2 of a 3-part series.  < Part 1       >>Part 3

In my last blog post, I discussed Ideation, the first of three phases that make up the innovation process. In many organizations, innovation efforts are most intensely focused on coming up with great ideas, and I can't blame them. Pie-in-the-sky thinking is great fun and, let's face it, there are a lot of ideas out there that seem feasible. And it is a great way to drive employee engagement and get them thinking about innovation on a regular basis.

Ideation, however, is only step one in a three phase process, and the phases matter when you're trying to decide who to involve, when, in bringing innovation to life. This second phase is crucial, and many organizations skip this part of the process. It is incredibly important that these ideas go through Validation.

Innovation ProcessAh yes. Validation. "Of course we validated our ideas! We built a whole business plan! A customer asked for it! I mean, there's lots of opportunity in the market - let's invest big!"

Well, that's one way to do it.

The important thing to remember is that business plans are built on a foundation of hypotheses -- and those hypotheses need to be tested and validated before any significant investment can be made. Many experienced entrepreneurs know that no business plan survives intact all the way through its journey to the first customer delivery, even ones written by smart folks with tons of research behind them. Heck, if it were that easy to just jump on great ideas, investors would have a better track record in picking which startups to fund.

Here is where big companies can learn from what's going on in the startup world. Everyone is talking about Lean Startup - heck, even the Harvard Business Review published an article from Steve Blank, who you could say is the godfather of the movement along with Eric Ries. The beauty is, what this movement advocates is not new at all. Lean Startup says you should talk to your customers. Get out of the building. Put your hypotheses to the test.  Do it quickly, learn, and repeat.

What is new is the easy availability of your potential customers, and the speed with which you can test your hypotheses with them and learn from them. The Internet has democratized access to your potential market, whether it's consumer or B2B. The old way was doing phone surveys and focus groups, which is tedious and often times difficult to get a good sample size. With a lot of web-based tools out there, you can test your ideas and put surveys up to quickly validate your concepts. (One of our team at SeriesC would gladly talk with you about the tools we recommend most.)

It is in this validation phase that organizations should start sheltering the innovation process from the rest of the organization. The sole purpose of a small, focused validation team at this point should be to validate each idea's underlying hypotheses. In other words, test the idea to see if it fits the market. The mandate for the validation team should not be to timebox the build process of an idea and model the revenue it will contribute, business impact it will have, revenue it will yield in year 2, etc. How could even the best innovation team nail those things if you aren't first certain the idea passes the test of validating its underlying assumptions? Indeed, many of an organization's best initial ideas may not pass this phase, and therefore must either pivot or shutdown. And that's ok, because the goal here is to learn before you invest expensive resources.

When we at SeriesC coach clients on the innovation process, we often get the question, "how will we know when an idea is validated?" It often depends on the market, product and time between iterations. We've seen it be as short as a few months and sometimes up to 18 months.  Here are three tips to keep your process moving:

  1. Be precise. Make sure you're identifying the right hypotheses -- in other words, asking the right questions -- and measuring the right things.
  2. Design your tests well.  Design them purposefully to measure those right things, and to learn as much as you can in as little time as possible.
  3. Iterate. This idea is sometimes called "fail fast," but I don't like that phrase because it misses the learning aspect of it. Failure connotes lack of progress, which you should be hoping to make with each iteration.

I know that taking time for the validation step is  uncomfortable for large organizations that are relentlessly driven by Wall Street to grow revenue and be predictable about it. That's why it is even more important to have this testing and validation outside of the mainstream processes. And you know what? Your startup competitors are doing just that.

Part 1: Ideation     > Part 3: Execution