Hostages Strapped to the Tank: Coastal Commission Stories – Lesson 2

Steve Blank

“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

For six and a half years I served as a public official on the California Coastal Commission.Commissoner Badge Since it’s been a year since I resigned, it’s time to tell a few stories about what I learned as a Coastal Commissioner.

Each and every month I learned something new about human nature, deception and greed.

Here’s Lesson 2: Hostages Strapped to the Tank. (see here for Lesson 1.)

The California coast is a panorama of open farm fields and hundreds of miles of undeveloped land. Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) follows the coast for almost the entire length of the state. The kind of road you see in car ads and movies, it looks like it was built to be driven in a sports car with the top down. The almost 400…

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Assessing Market Demand

David Cummings on Startups

Earlier this week I was talking to an entrepreneur about his new idea. He was selling me hard on how it was such a great idea and that it’d be super easy to sell. I then asked about competitors and who else was in the market doing it. So, I asked, “If you were a buyer, what search terms would you use on Google to find this service?” We tried a half dozen searches and had no luck finding anything related to this idea. Do I believe competitors exist? Absolutely. Could I find anything? No. Without being able to research the idea more by way of competitors, I recommended he assess market demand.

Here are a few ideas on assessing market demand:

  • Browse LinkedIn for 50 people with the pain and send them an InMail message asking to talk
  • Ask 20 friends for introductions to any of their friends or…

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Initial Customers Always Find Bugs

David Cummings on Startups

Signing the first few customers is incredibly difficult (see The First Five Customers), yet after all that effort, the next challenge is keeping them as they inevitably find product bugs. No matter how extensively you test the software, end users always come up with edge cases and scenarios that you never dreamed of trying.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind with initial customers and bugs:

  • Product bugs are normal and it’s best to budget development time in advance for fixing them
  • Apologize whenever a customer finds a bug and set expectations that it will be fixed quickly
  • Find a balance between automated testing (unit, integration, etc) and human testing
  • As the product matures, new customers will stop finding as many bugs

Product bugs are commonplace. With customers it’s critical to communicate and get things fixed quickly, especially for the early adopters. Over time things will settle down and the product…

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