Lifelet: Surprised by Joy!

Day 157 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  170,000

One of my favorite book titles is from C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.  The book was a joy as well.

Yesterday, I was “surprised by joy” on my regular hiking trail on Bainbridge Island.  One of my favorite nature trails runs along our bluff on the east side of the island.  Three years ago, a tree sprouted a set of large fungus.

Somebody named Tim carved his initials into the top trio  of fungi.   I usually stop and acknowledge the presence of this delightful tree.

Yesterday, I did more than stop.  I was gobsmacked at the new addition to the tree – a gnome home.

As I drew closer, I  noticed the carving above the door “Black Lives Matter.”

I pause for a few minutes and thank the local craftsman for making this shrine and helping me remember that “Black Lives Matter.”

Thank you.

On a more trivial note, I was surprised by the joy that Google Photos brings to my life.  I wanted to find a before photo of my fungus tree.  I just typed “fungus on tree” in the search bar of Google Photos and immediately the photos appeared.

How cool is that.  I never know if a search term is going to work, but I always try given the tens of thousands of photos I have stored.  The date pops up as well.  I was going to write that I first came across my fungus tree a year ago.  It was three years ago.  My how time flies in a pandemic.

Thank you anonymous craftsman.

Thank you anonymous software product developers who evolve Google Photos.

Posted in Lifelet, Nature | 1 Comment

How do you create a product vision? Part 5

Day 151 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  163,000

Communicating the product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors

This post is the fifth part of describing how to create a product vision.

Getting to a product vision for an innovative product is a five step process:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate with domain experts and customers on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors

“They did what?” I exclaimed in my youthful arrogance.

“They took your reality of an ALL-IN-1 office automation product and your four Fortune 100 corporate installed customers and turned it into a vision that might be available sometime in the future,” shared one of my favorite sales people.  She described the product vision that the business products marketing department was distributing to sales and to customers.

As I reflect on those moments of my product leadership education, I realize that is the fundamental challenge – how do you take the reality of your generic V1 product and paint a vision of the potential product?

Steve Jobs did a masterful job of introducing the revolutionary iPhone as a continuing evolution of previous Apple products like the Mac and the iPod.  He had an hour and a half to show the path of arriving at the iPhone, describing its innovative features, and along the way shared how much better it was than the competition of the many attempts to marry “smart” with “easy to use.”  He illustrated in a simple 2×2 matrix how the iPhone was a leapfrog product:

I loved the way that he started with humor depicting their vision of a rotary dial attached to an iPod.

This image reminded me of the UX cartoon of the design of a new swing by committee:

Jobs uses a wonderful tag line to describe how smart phones with internet connectivity and cameras and music and a wealth of apps have evolved – “Your life in your pocket.”

Few of us have 90 minutes to introduce a new product and paint a vision of its future.  Few of us have a V1 product that took two years to develop and had over 2000 patents filed to protect the innovations.  Few of us have the history of Apple behind us when we are launching our first product.  Few of us have powerful partners like Google and Cingular (now AT&T) to join in our launch event.

So, what does an early stage entrepreneur do?

The recommended resources suggested in the first part of this series are a good place to start.

In addition to the Jobs launch of the iPhone, I particularly like the analysis of Elon Musk’s powerwall introduction outline:

  1. Name the enemy
  2. Answer “Why Now?”
  3. Show the promised land before explaining how you’ll get there
  4. Identify obstacles – then explain how you’ll overcome them
  5. Present evidence that you’re not just blowing hot air

Over the years, I’ve stumbled into a few additional ways of describing a product vision, particularly when you have little time and attention from your audience.

    • Tell a story
    • Develop an explanatory image
    • Start with an assertion that wakes the audience up
    • Like Tom Sawyer, invite people to help accomplish the vision

If you review Steve Jobs iPhone launch, he nicely hits all these attributes of communicating a product vision.

On my first day at work at Conga in early March of 2018, my chief product officer boss, Doug Rybacki, let me know that I had thirty days to come up with a vision and road map for the contract lifecycle management (CLM) products and then present that vision at the upcoming annual customer, senior management and all product development team event in Chicago.  I wanted to protest and argue that I didn’t know the products yet and I didn’t now the professional staff that worked for me and most importantly I had no knowledge of the Conga CLM customers.

Then I laughed and said “Sure, I’ll accept that challenge.”  I had no idea how I was going to accomplish that, but I had thirty days and a lot of travelling to the four US development sites to figure that out.

“Oh, by the way, you are making a presentation to IACCM members, the contract and commercial management association, in two weeks on the strategic value of CLM implementations with the director of IACCM,” added Doug.

“Great.  I can do that,” I eagerly replied.  My motor mouth was running while I was thinking “How am I going to do that?”

Fortunately, I had some background in the CLM market from building the Attenex Structure product for authoring contracts from a clause database library.

The month flew by (literally and figuratively) as I visited Orlando, NYC,  and Denver many times to learn, learn learn.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit any customers at their sites, but I talked to several by phone and teleconference.

I spent a lot of white boarding time with the product managers and engineering team leaders.  They were all eager to understand my vision of the future.  Images like these emerged from the discussions:

As I was in the middle of one two hour white board discussion, Doug wandered through and shared “By the way, you will only have 15 minutes to present your vision of CLM at the customer conference.”

Thanks, Doug.

After lots of sleepless nights and many discarded Powerpoint slides, I called my story telling mentor David Robinson and asked for help.  Pleaded for help might be a better way of saying it.  David listened for 30 minutes and then said, “tell a story and use the one word pitch from Dan Pink.”  Then he hung up.

Thanks, David.

Some time during the month, the words “Know Now” entered my head.  These words were the organizing principle that I needed and if I smashed them together I had my one word pitch.

Here is the 15-minute pitch I used to describe our vision of Conga CLM to our employees, our customers, and the influencers at IACCM.

What if we could “Know Now,” what is going to happen in the next 90 to 120 days with the Conga business?  Not predict, but know.  What if our customers could “Know Now” what is going to happen with their business for the next 90 to 120 days?  Not predict, but know.

“Know Now” is our vision for the future of the Conga CLM product line.

Twenty-Five years ago, I was the VP of Software Engineering for Primus Knowledge Solutions.  Our biggest customer was Compaq.  We spent nine months negotiating an enterprise contract with Compaq so that we could recognize the $2 million in revenue at the signing of the contract instead of spreading the revenue over the two-year life of the license.  We knew we were going public soon and we wanted to have a boost in revenues.

A month after the signing of the contract and Primus going public, I got a call from our customer support manager telling me that I had to send two of my software engineers to Valbonne, France the next day.  I laughed and hung up the phone.  He called me right back.  “No, I’m serious.  We are required by contract to put software engineers onsite if there is a problem.”

That was my first inkling that we were in deep financial trouble.

“Why do you think that?” I said.  “I was part of the contract negotiation and there was nothing in the contract that says we have to put engineers onsite.  All we agreed to is that any problems will be fixed in the next software release.”

“Well, the customer has an email from the salesperson that says that we will do this,” he replied.

I hung up and called the CFO.  After a set of emergency meetings (and a lot of yelling and screaming), we realized that we had to make a public announcement to restate our revenues.  Our stock lost, 80% of its value in the next two days.

The sad part was that none of the executives were aware of what the salesperson had committed us to supporting Compaq.  But our computer systems did.  If only we had a way to make sense of our email traffic in real time.

As I’ve gotten to know some of our Conga customer stories over the last month, I loved learning that when Conga Contracts was installed at Preferred Hotels, they immediately discovered that they had missed billing $600,000 to their customers.  The billing for services was in their negotiated contracts, but nobody went back and checked.  Preferred Hotels was able to pay for our product by the revenue that their current contract administrators didn’t know was past due.

The sad part was that the Preferred Hotel executives didn’t know, but the computer systems did.

While having lunch with the head of the FTI Consulting Forensics market segment, he wondered if our Ringtail product might help his business with his very large construction clients.  He shared that most large construction project clients like the multi billion-dollar airport in Abu Dhabi must allocate 10% of their costs to dealing with the inevitable litigation.  He lamented that in every forensic investigation they performed over his twenty-year career, all of the problems that resulted in litigation where usually found in email traffic in the first six months of the project.  He asked, “can’t we use Ringtail somehow to monitor the email and project plan changes and alert us?”

“Maybe,” I replied.  “If you’ve noticed any patterns in the emails, particularly common words that are used often, then we have a starting point and can turn our AI/ML and visual analytics loose on the digital information.”

“No problem,” Paul responded.  “When I get back to the office, I will send you the seven patterns we’ve noticed in all of our construction forensic investigations.”

As I reviewed Paul’s seven patterns, I started laughing because these patterns are present in every late software engineering project I have led.

The sad part was that the executives of these construction projects didn’t know, but their computer systems did.

Let me reiterate “no one person knows, but the computer system knows.”

When I built my first contract management product back in 2000, I realized that you could understand a corporation by the formal contracts with customers, suppliers and employees AND the informal contracts like business plans, product plans, sales compensation plans, and marketing plans.  When you combine these unstructured documents that move through email with the structured data that is in our financial systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and project management systems you KNOW NOW what is going to happen in the future for your company.  Cliff Dutton in his research paper “Empowering Board Audit Committees: Electronic Discovery to Facilitate Corporate Fraud Detection” proved my assertion.

Knowing Now what is going to happen in the next 90 to 180 days means that you can start making organizational interventions NOW to change future business performance instead of having to wait until the end of the quarter to figure out what happened.

I shared with you the very personal pain of not Knowing Now while at Primus Knowledge Solutions.  I vowed to myself that if I could, I would never let that happen to another company.  The painful Primus experience is why I started Attenex to create a powerful visual analytic software system that can make meaning out of terabytes of unstructured and structured data to support litigation and to achieve compliance with corporate policies.  I came to Conga to continue extending the vision of Know Now.  Conga’s CLM products today, along with the products of the three companies we just acquired are the repositories of most of the formal and informal contract information.  Our new AI/ML capability which we are announcing this week will make meaning out of that information in real time.

I am exited to share with you today the KNOW NOW vision and the reality of what we are creating at Conga.

Thank you.

Later in the day at an all hands employee meeting, one of the senior product managers stood up and referred to the above presentation.  She shared “Skip’s reason for joining Conga to keep other companies from experiencing the problems that Primus had, and that Preferred Hotels had, and that every construction project has, made me realize that I had a very myopic view of my job as a product manager.  I’ve been trying to define features and then make sure that we stayed on time and on budget with my products so that we could hit our financial goals.  I never thought to have a higher order goal or drive to make our corporate customers’ businesses healthier.  Thank you Skip for sharing a powerful vision for CLM.  And thank you for inspiring me to take on a powerful meta goal.”

Thank you.

Over the next two days, many of the senior software engineers, product managers, and engineering team leaders took time to thank me for providing a vision that they could relate to.  They shared their frustration at not being able to see how their daily work on their products would make a difference in their customer’s lives.  They related that they were having trouble figuring out how the new Conga Corporate vision we were presenting to our customers that week had anything to do with what they were building.

These wonderful conversations led me to the “Tom Sawyer” approach to product vision.  I shared that Know Now was a vision, but that I didn’t know how to get there.  I asked for their help every day to figure out how to get this vision built.  They all signed up to “paint that fence.”

I was not able to come up with a summary diagram in my first thirty days like Christine Martell provided to summarize my Valuation Capture methodology.

However, a few months later I was able to incorporate the Know Now stories and presentation into an explanatory 2 x 2 matrix that follows the scenario planning guidelines.

The Know Now example is a path to sharing a product vision with employees and customers.  Steve Jobs at the end of the iPhone product launch provides an example of what investors need – some idea of the business potential of your product and vision.  He showed a bar chart of the volume of units sold of different digital devices in 2006.  The mobile phone makers sold 957 million units in 2006 dwarfing other digital devices.

Steve modestly shared that he would be happy with first year sales of 1% of that market – 10 million iPhones at $500+ each.  It doesn’t take a calculator for an investor to see the business impact of the product AND the product vision.

Now it is your turn.

What is your product vision?

How will you quickly become an expert in your market domain?

How will you use influencers to develop and promote your product vision?

How will you help your customers adopt your product through an outcomes orientation?

How will you communicate the product vision to employees, to customers, and to investors?


The five parts of this series on how to create a product vision are:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors
Posted in Content with Context, Design, Entrepreneuring, Human Centered Design, Idealized Design, Innovation | Leave a comment

How do you create a product vision? Part 4

Day 150 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  162,000

Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation

This post is the fourth part of describing how to create a product vision.

Getting to a product vision for an innovative product is a five step process:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate with domain experts and customers on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors

Who is your customer’s customer?  How is your product or service helping your customer better serve their customers?

These questions are among the most powerful facilitation questions I use to get product teams to build better products and innovative product visions.

These questions arose after facilitating hundreds of Technology and Organizational Performance (TOP) Mapping sessions while at Digital Equipment Corporation.  While these sessions elicited useful representations of current and future state designs for organizations, I did not feel that we were getting the kinds of innovations that talented executives could create.  We would get good information about the inside of the organization under study, but not very good information elsewhere in the map.

Out of frustration one day, I asked participants to include in their TOP Maps not just the relationship with their customers, but also with their customer’s customers.

Immediately we got better and more innovative actionable results.  While we didn’t get much information about the customer’s customer, the extra level of abstraction helped participants do a better job of showing the relationships with their customers.

As part of the pre-merger meetings between Adobe and Aldus, we used TOP Mapping to depict the future possibilities for a merged entity.

The map helped the executive teams focus our discussions and actions on how we would create new customers that neither company was able to do alone.

Many years later I came across Mack Hanan’s description of growth partners:

“How can you grow your business?

“You cannot.

“You can only grow someone else’s business.  His business growth will be the source of your growth.  By growing, he will force growth back upon you because he will want you to grow him again.

“The businesses you can grow have a name.  They are called your major customers.  Their growth must be the objective of your business.  The capabilities you require to grow them must be your asset base.

Growth requires a partner. A growth partner is a special kind of customer.  He is a customer whose costs you can significantly reduce or whose profitable sales volume you can significantly increase.  In one or both of these ways, you can improve his profits.  This is the basis for his growth.  It is also the basis for his contribution to your own growth.  As the two of you grow each other, you will become mutually indispensable.

“If you cannot grow a customer, you cannot partner him.  You can continue to do business with him, buying and selling, but the maximized profits of growth will elude both of you.  If all your cusotmers are buyers instead of growers, you will be a slow-growth or no-growth business.  None of your customers will be growing you because you will not be growing them.”

It is a joy for me to see the “Ah Hah!” expression after a few moments of thought on the part of an entrepreneur.  Until this moment of comprehension, I think most entrepreneurs believe they are in control of their own business. Hanan’s simple question “How can you grow your business?” with the counter-intuitive response “You cannot” is an eye opener for an entrepreneur.

More recently, Jim Spohrer of IBM during our participation in a Computing Research Association  cybersocial learning systems visioning series of workshops introduced me to Service Science.

I had never heard of the discipline so I devoured everything that I could find.  I was delighted to find a wealth of research and insights that helped resolve a fifty-year management dilemma of mine – how do you manage both professional services and product development at the same time?  Over the years I’ve managed to do well with one or the other, but I’ve never been able to manage both simultaneously successfully. Jim’s research provided a wealth of answers and insights.

Value Co-Creation through Service Systems

Several key concepts from Service Science extended what I’d learned from  Rob Bernshteyn’s Value as a Service with Value Co-Creation being an important synthesis.

“For conciseness, we think pay for performance is a reasonable definition of a service—in that this phrase captures the idea that what the provider does for the client is essential, as opposed to exchange of an artifact or a good being essential. However, combining Fitzsimmons and Fitzsimmons’s definition with Hill’s definition, a time-perishable, intangible experience performed for a client who is acting as a coproducer to transform a state of the client, reveals some other essential characteristics of services: namely, that the client plays a key role in coproduction activities (the client has responsibilities) and in the co-creation of value (transformed state of the client) (see also Sampson and Froehle 2006). To understand the notion of responsibility in a coproduction activity, consider a teacher telling a student to read a book and work a problem set (exercises) or a doctor instructing a patient to eat certain foods and exercise more. In both cases, the providers perform certain activities, but the clients must also perform activities that transform their own states or else the benefit or value of the service will not be fully attained. In business services, if the client does not install the new IT systems and train the necessary people in the reengineered process, the client will not receive the benefit of the service. Thus, the provider in many cases must negotiate to monitor and assess that the client is performing adequately on the client’s responsibilities, and, of course, the client needs to determine that the provider is likewise applying satisfactory effort and quality controls in the performance of the provider’s tasks. These issues become of paramount importance in outsourcing services, when a client may outsource a component of its business to a provider that is in a different country with different government regulations and national culture of the employees.”

The next key concept from Service Science was how work evolves and cycles between professional services and products.  This diagram captures that sequence:

Work Evolution in Service Systems

The minute I saw this diagram was a head slapping moment.  Throughout my professional life of creating software products, I stopped at the Augment stage.  Then I went on to the next opportunity.  I never realized that there was a larger process and that the process was a cycle.  Creating a product vision is to take an important problem and go through the cycle, and then find the next important problem and repeat.

As part of trying to create Service Science, the authors articulate premises that would allow the development of a theory.  While principles have not emerged yet, a series of premises have evolved over the last decade.

The key concept here is the customer must invest to gain benefit from the product that you offer.  Your product vision must include all of the work that a customer has to do to make your generic product into a whole product that works for them.

The service science authors summarize their insights through a Value Cocreation narrative diagram:

At FTI Consulting with the eDiscovery Ringtail product, we invested a great deal in moving from a waterfall development model to an agile continuous delivery cloud based product.  We invested in continuous integration, continuous testing, and continuous delivery devops infrastructure so that we could move from launching a product version once a year to launching every two weeks.  Yet, we invested very little to ensure that the features we developed were so valuable that our customers would continuously ADOPT our expensive work as routinely as we delivered updates.

Fortunately, I came across the Outcomes orientation to driving product development.  Joshua Seiden in Outcomes Over Outputs: Why Customer Behavior is the key metric for Business Success provides the rationale and examples for why outcomes have to drive a product vision and not features.

“So let’s start by defining the word in our context: an outcome is a change in human behavior that drives business results. Outcomes have nothing to do with making stuff—though they sometimes are created by making the right stuff. Instead, outcomes are the changes in customer, user, employee behavior that lead to good things for your company, your organization, or whomever is the focus of your work.”

Seiden, Joshua. Outcomes Over Output: Why customer behavior is the key metric for business success

If you are going to drive a business result, you must change human behavior.  And not just for your customer.  You also must change the behavior of your customer’s customer.

After trying many ways to get product managers and product development teams to switch from endless feature creation, I realized that to understand outcomes and behavior changes you first must understand how to do human centered design.  You have to get good at observing users in the wild (where they actually do their work).

Fortunately, there are resources like Engaged: Designing for Behavior Change that ease the way into designing and building products that enable the behavior changes required to produce outcomes and business results.

As we learned with Hanan’s needing to create growth partners, it is not enough to look at creating outcomes for your customers, you must create systems of outcomes:

Recently, Brandon Fleming, CEO of Chimerocyte, suggested an image of the Tao to illustrate how a company’s vision needs to reside inside their customer and the customer’s requirements needs to be represented as in Service Dominant (SD) logic in the product development organization.

Now that we have looked at several aspects of creating a product vision, I recommend rewatching the Steve Jobs introduction of the iPhone in 2007.  As you reflect on the evolution of the iPhone in the context of the vision Jobs laid out, identify all of the outcomes and behavior changes both of customers and of the application developers since the introduction of the iPhone and the iTunes App Store.  Use the frameworks from these product vision posts to identify key aspects of the vision that were present in the 2007 presentation.


The five parts of this series on how to create a product vision are:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors
Posted in Content with Context, Design, Entrepreneuring, Human Centered Design, Idealized Design, Innovation | Leave a comment

How do you create a product vision? Part 3

Day 149 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  162,000

Using an Influencer Centered Design Process to Collaborate with Customers and Domain Experts on your Product Vision

This post is the third part of describing how to create a product vision.

Getting to a product vision for an innovative product is a five step process:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate with domain experts and customers on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors


One of the challenges for most entrepreneurs is getting funding for their new venture.  An alternative to angel funding and venture capital funding is influencer centered funding of your startup venture.  Building on the network of experts that you created in the process of becoming an expert in Step 2, this network can also function as a collection of influencers.  These expert influencers can help you develop your product vision, help identify and close prospective customers, and help you fund your new venture.

William Luther in How to Develop a Business Plan in 15 Days pointed out that the term “customer” does not parse.  In my blog post on “Words Mean Something” I quoted Luther:

“In December 1984, I was hired by Clemson University to conduct a two-day marketing seminar for five state colleges in Florida.  The first half-day was most difficult, because the people from the colleges kept stating that there was no way someone with no experience in education could help them develop a marketing plan.  I tried to convey to them that the planning process was the same regardless of the type of product or service, but they just wouldn’t buy it.  The use of a bad analogy made matters worse – the analogy being that the planning process was the same whether you were selling a college or a can of beer.  The meeting did not go very well until just after lunch, when they were presented with a five-step procedure that helps you determine who your customer is and what the message should be.  As I went through the sequence, I proved to them that they had been spending all of their marketing dollars for the last five years on the wrong target audience.

“Like so many other institutions of higher learning, these colleges realized that they must get a better understanding of marketing, now that federal and state funding assistance has diminished.  The group was openly hostile until the purchase-process priority was discussed.  When asked who should be number one in the purchase-process priority, the college officials, after several minutes of discussion, stated that it was the parent.  Number two was the high-school guidance counselor.  The student was listed as number three.  At this point, I asked them how they had been allocating all their marketing dollars during the past five years.  Almost in unison they said words to the effect of ‘son of a gun.’  They had been committing their complete marketing budget to the students.”

Luther’s process starts by identifying those categories of people involved in purchasing decisions, and then classifies them as influencers, purchasers and users.  In the above example, the parent is typically the purchaser, the guidance counselor is an example of an influencer, and the student is the user.  When we start talking about customer, it is important to think just a little harder to understand which role the person we are talking about is playing – influencer, purchaser, or user.

One of the fundamental mistakes made in product development is focusing the design and functionality on the user.  The most successful products design in capabilities for the purchaser and influencer.

However very little is written about how to work with and develop influencers.  The previous section on becoming an expert is all about working with influencers – the recognized thought leaders in a given domain.  In this section we will look at ways in which influencers can help you with your product, the customers of your product, and most importantly for the CEO – the investors who are the customers for your business.

Working with influencers can help you co-create a product vision, help you sell your product to customers, and help you raise funding for your venture from investors.

While Y Combinator has done a good job of showing how to develop B2C startups, there is less literature on how to develop B2B and B2B2C companies as customers.  As Geoff Moore points out in Crossing the Chasm, influencers are critical in making the jump from early adopter customers to early majority customers.

For B2B companies that are unable to fund their new venture themselves, the only sources they see for funding are angel investors and Venture Capitalists. However, there are several alternatives for funding a company which involve creating a research consortium of 5-10 leading edge companies who would be interested in early access to the startup’s expertise.

I usually recommend that the startup pursue four sets of influencers at the same time to determine which approach makes sense to develop your product vision and help you fund your company:

    • Influencer centered “white paper” interviews and publishing
    • Research consortium
    • Pitching to second tier VCs (the off-Broadway approach)
    • Offering “pre buys” of tests at a significant discount

The general idea is to propose 3-5 activities in each of the four initiatives and then see where you get the most traction.

Two things happen as you pursue the above in parallel:

    • By preparing four different “presentations” for four different audiences with four different goals you see your startup in a very different light. This approach is like what Pat Whitney of the Institute of Design asserts “No medium is content neutral.” And it is similar to the six pitches approach in Dan Pink’s To Sell is Human.
    • Momentum with any one audience helps with momentum with the other audiences. As you interview more people for the “white paper” several of these interviewees are likely to be interested in becoming a research consortium member. As you get revenue from research consortium members, you increase your pre-money valuation when you talk to VCs.

The following content describes an alternative funding path for new ventures.  This process focuses on raising money from corporate strategic partners rather than angel or venture capital.  The ideal model is to find research partners who will participate throughout the virtuous funding cycle:

    • Provide significant dollars for a research project that corporations are interested in
      • The dollar amount is considerably less than they would spend internally to accomplish the same research. A good executive will realize that they are getting $5-7 of research for every dollar they spend AND access to expertise that they would be unable to hire.
      • The dollars flow through to the new venture as revenue dollars thus raising the pre-money valuation in following rounds
      • Their executives are interested in being recognized as a thought leader in the topic space
        • For the decision makers that participate in the research
        • For PR for the company that funds the research
      • They desire early access to research results, product insights and business model insights
    • Will become an early adopter customer for the product or service being researched providing additional revenue dollars for the new venture
    • Have the demonstrated ability to do corporate investments for Series A and beyond rounds eliminating the hassles of attracting external venture capital.  These investors are already convinced of the value of the proposition.
    • Will become high visibility reference customers and influencers for others in the market.

This process was used to fund Personal Health Connections in 1995 through revenue rather than through loans or equity.  Following the successful completion of the research project three of the six research project funding partners participated in both a Series A and a Series B round.  The result was that through two rounds of funding ($5+M) the two founders still managed to control >55% of the company.

Personal Health Connections (PHC) Story

PHC grew out of a struggling venture, PhyCom, that was limited both in the market it was going after and by the random way that the company had been funded.  The two PHC founders, Bill Ellis and Skip Walter, had an interest in developing a Virtual Health Plan concept to reduce the inefficiencies in the health care insurance model circa 1995.  We knew that we didn’t have enough knowledge to put a coherent business plan together so we decided to approach a range of companies to see if they would be interested in funding research into the opportunity.  In our early customer discovery sessions, we found a surprising amount of interest.

We formed PHC while Bill and I split amicably from PhyCom.  We wanted to target a diverse set of companies to fund the research.  We hoped that the companies would be instrumental in being both customers and suppliers (content and “patients”) to the expected venture that would result.  The kinds of companies that we wanted were:

    • Health Plans
    • Financial Services Company
    • Telecommunications Company

We targeted companies in each category that we felt were either looking to be recognized as innovators or that we had previous relationships with.  This is a partial list of who we targeted:

    • Health Plans (Group Health of Seattle, Health Partners of Minnesota, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Catholic Health Care West, Kaiser Permanente, Humana, United Healthcare)
    • Financial Services Company with health care insurance (GE Financial, Fidelity, Aetna)
    • Telecommunications (MCI, Sprint, AT&T)

We started with Group Health of Seattle where we had a very strong relationship with the CEO, Phil Nubelman.  He agreed to the research project in the very first meeting.  However, his biggest assistance was reaching out to the other health plan partners like Health Partners, Harvard Pilgrim, and Catholic Healthcare West etc.  Within a week we had meetings with all of the health plans, and we got tentative approval from Health Partners, Harvard Pilgrim and Catholic Health Care West with just 2-3 meetings each.  With these four health plans on board, we were then able to get meetings with GE Financial and MCI.  Within another two weeks we had our six funding companies at $200K each for a projected one year research project.

The funders were:

    • Health Plans (Group Health of Seattle, Health Partners of Minnesota, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Catholic Health Care West)
    • Financial Services Company (GE Financial)
    • Telecommunications (MCI)

The offer and promise that we made to the funders was that we would do a research project to detail the current reality of the virtual health plan market and then write a business plan for starting a company to provide virtual health plans on the Internet.  The research consortium companies would have right of first refusal to fund the planned entity. Each company was required to appoint a permanent representative who would attend the bi-monthly meetings and working sessions.  In addition, we agreed that either Bill or I would provide a quarterly update presentation to each member company at their business location so that they could expose what we were learning to a wider audience within their company.  [NOTE:  Two of the representatives with the blessings of their sponsoring companies became full time employees of PHC after the research project was over.]  The good news is that all of the permanent representatives so enjoyed the value of this project that they spent at least 20% of their time on it.

The deliverables agreed to in the proposal were:

    • Final Deliverables:
      • a standard business plan for a new venture to provide virtual health plans on the Internet – suitable for raising money from investors
      • a presentation to each company at their location of our results
    • Monthly research updates
    • Bi-monthly detailed write-ups of the meetings between the PHC team and the company representatives.  At least two of these meetings were workshop sessions where we did things like Scenario Planning for the health care industry.

With the $1.2M in funding, Bill and I were able to pay ourselves a salary and we were able to hire three full time employees (MD-CIO, nurse practitioner, and a business development researcher).  In addition, we had several part time consultants (marketing/branding consultant, actuarial experts, web designers).

Like many startups, we had to make a major pivot about three months into the project.  Working with the health plan experts in our member companies we realized that because a virtual health plan would have to operate in all 50 states we would need to get a health plan license in each state (no federal license available) at a cost of between $1-2M each. This finding alone was worth the $200k to each funding company as they realized that they would not be able to do an internet virtual health plan.

Yet, we didn’t want to stop so we changed the research to what could we do that is health related that we didn’t need to be licensed by each state.  We realized that one of the major drivers of health care costs were behavioral health issues like smoking and obesity.  Health plans and physicians hate dealing with these issues, but they cause about 40% of overall health care spend.  We refocused our efforts on how we could create a company to significantly impact behavioral health issues.  This market is what we wrote the business plan for and spent the rest of the research dollars on.

By about month 9, the four health plan partners (Group Health, Health Partners, Harvard Pilgrim and Catholic Health Care West) were sold on the idea of starting a virtual behavioral health company.  They each agreed to do a Series A round of $1.5M each and all of the partners agreed that we could roll our remaining research dollars into the new entity.

We hired a development team and had a product ready to go in about 9 months (it was 1995 after all).  Then we crashed into the wall of missed assumptions.  We expected that because each of the four health plans had an investment in us that they would “dictate” to their organization that they use our product.  As it turns out the execs that funded our research and that funded the Series A round were not the folks that determined what software was used with their members.  We had to start at Ground Zero with the delivery side of each organization as if we were a random vendor coming in off the street.

Our assumptions about revenue growth from our members were blown out the window and it was clear that we were not going to come close to meeting our revenue goals.

The summary of this story is that along with getting the corporate partner funding folks on the research team, we also needed to identify who would be responsible for deploying the product within these companies and get them on board early in the research process.

In many ways this story resembles part of the Frost Data Capital Model of pre-selling potential customers to invest in a fund that invests in startups that will provide products that the large companies need.

“Unlike most other incubators who chase the latest hot startups across multiple areas, we are very strongly focused on Big Data analytics. This still gives us a lot of scope – after all, Big Data is impacting just about every area of human activity. Yet it also means that all our companies operate in a similar way and use the same or closely related technologies.

“Our portfolio companies have similar business models and sell to the same kinds of customers. The result of this focus is that the core incubator execs don’t have to context switch when talking to the various companies. In addition, it means we are creating one of the biggest ecosystems of related Big Data startups anywhere in the world.

“Most people struggle to come up with one compelling startup idea in their lifetimes, so we get asked how the Frost Model can produce ten or more great ideas each year? Part of the answer lies in our focus – Big Data is all we think about, pretty much 24/7. This focus has enabled us to build an incredible ecosystem. As of this writing in early 2014, we have 12 companies in the portfolio, all with their own CEOs and CTOs discussing Big Data ideas and opportunities with strategic partners and customers.

“We also have a shared team of highly experienced business development staff, who are talking about Big Data on a daily basis with senior execs at Fortune 100 companies, strategic partners like the major software vendors and leading system integrators. As a result, we generate a significant number of new ideas. Recently we’ve added a more intentional program to generate ideas in conjunction with a small number of strategic partners. Let’s look at this next.”

One of the secrets of the shared business development staff is that they are generating ideas, pre-selling their portfolio company products, AND seeking venture investment from the potential customers.  This is a concept that Microsoft realized whenever they purchased an IT product from an early stage startup.  Microsoft purchasing the product helped to dramatically increase the valuation of the startup for their next round of funding.  Microsoft smartly required that future startups “allow” them to invest and not just buy the product.  Microsoft transformed a pure expense into an investment that had the potential for a gain of multiple times the cost of the startup’s product.  While giving up early stage equity is always painful, the startups realized that they could win two ways – they could claim Microsoft as both a customer AND an investor.

Influencer White Paper Process

One of the big challenges of a new startup is to get in front of decision makers at targeted customers.  When they do get a meeting with an executive, naive founders go in with guns blazing in full on selling and pitching mode. A better way is to do the “no sell sell.” The white paper process is an example of the “No Sell Sell.”

The first step is to identify the list of recognized thought leaders in the industry market that you are aiming at. These thought leaders within corporations should be at the C-Level. Then identify the leading consultants and financial analysts in this sector. You then identify a topic that is relatively new to the industry and approach your targeted thought leaders for thirty minutes of their time.

An example of the approach is:

    • Who are the smartest people in the industry you are interested in?
      • Once you have a picture of the existing wisdom, you use that to build out a list of the 20 smartest people in the industry.
      • Approach the first four or five to get them interested.
      • Each of the first four or five will give you two to four additional names
      • Continue interviewing until you get to twenty interviewees
      • Approach these smartest people with the phrase “You were selected by your peers as one of the 20 smartest people in the industry …”  The magical word is “selected”.
      • The people that you interview should be practitioners (not academics) and should be actively operating in the industry.
    • The types of open-ended questions that work to capture insights are:
      • What is the future of the industry?
      • What are the drivers that shape the forces of the industry?
      • What are the implications of these forces?
      • What are any startling conclusions?

As a leave behind from the interview provide your current interviewees collected wisdom of forces and strategic insights.  Offer to come back and provide an hour-long presentation of your research to their team (paid for of course).

Ideally, there should be two of you doing the interview.  One person should ask the questions and stay in relationship with the interviewee through deep listening skills.  The other person should be taking detailed notes (preferably handwritten as typing on a keyboard can be annoying and distracting). If possible, record the conversation so that you can get exact quotes right (always ask for written permission to use any quotes).

The publishing of the white paper then gives you thought leadership credibility.

Each time we have run this process, two to three of the interviewees become customers for the Research Consortium.

The “white paper process” of influencer centered design is a “no sell sell” for the research consortium.

Influencer Centered Investor Pitching

Dan Pink shares that the “30 second elevator pitch” needs to be replaced by six pitches:

    • The one word pitch
    • The question pitch
    • The rhyming pitch
    • The subject line pitch
    • The Twitter pitch
    • The Pixar pitch

Coming up with each of these pitches helps you see what your company and product are really about.  My favorite is the Pixar story structure.  It is a fun and informative way to summarize collaborative workshops and user research.

These two slides show two different ways of summarizing the same information from an internal corporate workshop aimed at developing a vision for a portfolio of products:

As you interact with influencers, the Dan Pink six pitches are a quick way to summarize what you are learning.

Using the six pitch types of Dan Pink, the white paper pitch and the research consortium are primarily aimed at customers for your product and service.  Investors have a very different take on market opportunities than do customers.  Pitching to an investor helps you focus on what the business is about, not just what your product is about.

While the work of putting an investor pitch together is outside the scope of this document, pitching to an investor helps you understand where the market is in its evolution and how much of an opportunity there is for innovation.

As you interact with professional investors like VCs, you want to learn their thoughts about your target market and how crowded the early stage company space is.  You will also get a sense of what an investor likes about the market and what they think of your team.

Process Steps for Influencer Centered Research

The following are the steps for getting to the research partners:

  1. Identify likely target corporate partners who have extensive action-oriented research programs and budget
    1. The entry points for a corporate partner are:
      1. A target organization that could use your product
      2. An R&D organization to draw from their budget and supplement their research dollars (Citrix funds their accelerator through R&D dollars)
      3. A Corporate investment group (do this as a last resort as the money will become equity funding)
  2. Rank order the potential research project partners based on:
    1. Ability to get to the decision maker
    2. Likely dollar amount ($50k, $100k, $200k) that each company would be willing to spend
    3. Identify the type of relationship that they are most likely to spend money on and the research problem they are interested in
      1. Product Panel (enlist early adopter customers to help define next product version – $50K)
      2. Shared research project into an interesting topic like behavioral economics models – $100k
      3. Research into a new generation of analytics tied to financial results (like the IBM patent for maximizing revenue from types of talent – $200k
    4. Identify the internal cost of doing this research by themselves versus a shared research collaboration (at a minimum each company gets a 5 to 1 leveraging of their research dollar)
    5. What is the likely calendar time to funding?
    6. What is the likelihood that if the research is successful they would become a customer of the resulting product?
    7. What is the likelihood that they would be a Series A investor?
  3. Identify a “friendly” company on the list that is not necessarily the top ranked by the criteria and set up an information interview to test your value proposition
  4. Put a 1-2 page offer and promise (might have to do 2-3) that represent what we want to research and have the friendly conversation.  Use the “Hollywood” script process from Dan Pink to calibrate, tune and adjust the offer and promise.
  5. Repeat the previous step two more times to figure out which of the research projects looks most timely.
  6. Figure out which is the most influential anchor customer (like Group Health’s CEO).  You are looking for a close with a decision maker who will help be the strategic networker to get you in front of the other companies you want to bring on board.
  7. ABC – Always be Closing.  Go for the Gold and get the $600k to $1M into the influencer network of your new venture

As you execute your research process, plan on developing “white papers” each quarter and endeavor to include the work and quotes from your research partners in the white papers.  In parallel with the research process, you should be creating your product and your product vision.  Working with the influencers to identify potential customers in their organization, you can constantly test your product ideas and longer term product vision.


The five parts of this series on how to create a product vision are:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors
Posted in Content with Context, Design, Entrepreneuring, Human Centered Design, Idealized Design, Innovation | Leave a comment

How do you create a product vision? Part 2

Day 148 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  161,000

Becoming an expert quickly

This post is the second part of describing how to create a product vision.

Getting to a product vision for an innovative product is a five step process:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate with domain experts and customers on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors

Over the last 40 years as part of the innovative software development I did in small and large companies, I had to become an expert in some new content arena very quickly to sell investors, potential employees and customers.   Dan Pink in To Sell is Human calls this type of selling process “pitching and catching.”

“One Oscar-winning producer told the professors, “At a certain point the writer needs to pull back as the creator of the story. And let [the executive] project what he needs onto your idea that makes the story whole for him.” However, “in an unsuccessful pitch,” another producer explained, “the person just doesn’t yield or doesn’t listen well.”

“The lesson here is critical: The purpose of a pitch isn’t necessarily to move others immediately to adopt your idea. The purpose is to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation, brings the other person in as a participant, and eventually arrives at an outcome that appeals to both of you. In a world where buyers have ample information and an array of choices, the pitch is often the first word, but it’s rarely the last.

Pink, Daniel H.. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (p. 158). Riverhead Hardcover. Kindle Edition.

Becoming an expert in 30 days is another exercise in pitching and catching.  Your pitch is to engage the expert catchers to help you build a better understanding of a knowledge domain.  If done right, the catcher is engaged in continuing to help you build your “product.”  If you really do a good job with the collaborative pitching and catching, the expert will become an influencer to aid others in buying your product.

What may not be obvious is to become an expert in some domain, you need to have mastered at least one domain of knowledge and put in the requisite 10,000 hours.  In my case, I invested well over 10,000 hours in becoming an expert in information technology (hardware, software, databases) and software development.

Developing deep expertise is also required to stand up to competitors.  This “become an expert process” allowed me to be indistinguishable from actual experts who had labored for at least 20 years (or in the Malcolm Gladwell description of the 10,000 hours rule of developing expertise).  I knew I would never have time to devote 10,000 hours for any given domain of expertise, so I had to shortcut the process.

Here are a few of the “become an expert” endeavors I went through in order to build a product or a business in the targeted domain.

In the blog post “On Questions” I write about the process of becoming an expert quickly.  In brief, it is all about finding the current questions that are driving any knowledge discipline.

It’s the Questions Stupid!

“What is the moisture content of the tobacco you put in your cigarettes?” Fred Zayas asked the IT manager from Philip Morris in 1977 as we sat in a computer room installing a PDP-11 computer for the automated control of their cigarette production line. This question came innocently enough after about thirty minutes of our getting to know each other while the computers whirled away on the software installation.

“Nice try,” said the IT manager becoming very guarded suddenly.

After we left the site, I asked Fred where that question came from.  He smiled and said “every time I get involved in a new industry or new company, I try to find what people in that industry consider to be highly proprietary and what they are willing to share. In the tobacco industry, the most highly kept secret is how much moisture is put into the tobacco. The moisture content determines how “fresh” the cigarette will taste for how long as it goes through the distribution system to the consumer.  By asking this one question, I immediately establish that I am in expert in their industry.”

A few years later on our Japan Study Mission trip to understand Japanese manufacturing, we found that there was a huge difference between what American companies considered proprietary and what Japanese companies would talk about. In the US, we talk freely about the processes by which we invent and create and manufacture and service our products. Yet, we hold closely anything that has to do with our next product or our product road map. In Japan, they will share anything about what their next or future products are, but they will share nothing about the processes they use to invent or manufacture such products.

Over the years, I’ve found that I developed a process to appear to be a Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hour expert in any domain. I’ve had to do that every 2-3 years as I enter new knowledge domain areas to create an innovative product (like I am doing now with data science and the use of Jupyter notebooks).

My assertion is that if I work full time using the process for a month, a twenty-year veteran in each knowledge domain will have a hard time figuring out that I haven’t actually spent twenty years in their industry.

The process is simple – I alternate between immersing myself in the literature (articles, books, online classes, videos) of the field and then interviewing experts in the domain.  What I am in search of in this process is the key questions that are driving the industry or the domain of knowledge.

It is the questions that are asked that create the perception that you know what you are talking about. The perception from the real industry experts is tacitly “if you know to ask that question then you really have worked in this industry for twenty years.”

Part of asking knowledgeable questions is to know when to balance the simple questions with the more detailed and complicated questions.

To this day, I remember my first encounter with the simple question phenomena.

“Who is our customer?” David Creed, Vice President for the US Area Software Services organization of Digital Equipment Corporation asked in May of 1982.  I’d just been promoted to the corporate level as a part of our developing ALL-IN-1 in Charlotte, NC. This meeting was my first exposure to the two-day monthly meeting of the US and regional VPs.

Sitting at the back of the room I rolled my eyes as nobody in the room answered Creed’s question. “Are you kidding me?” I thought. “Even I know the answer to that question. These bozos don’t have a clue.” And what kind of idiot is my new boss, Mr. Creed, if he doesn’t even know who our customers are?

Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut and didn’t blurt out what I was thinking.

It took a while to get going, but quickly the discussion became quite lively and enlightening. David was really asking where we were getting our revenue from and had the nature or characteristics of our customers been changing over the last year.

“Who is our customer?” is a simple question. Trying to answer it with the wisdom of the crowd sheds more light on the qualitative aspects of our customers than simply looking at a list in our Salesforce CRM systems.

What are the key questions that are driving the continuous development of knowledge in the domain under study?  The goal is to capture and update this list of questions AND research the current state of the answers to those questions and best practices.

The Attenex Origin Story – becoming an expert in eDiscovery

A key part of becoming an expert AND continuing to develop your expertise is to NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK.  Networking should never stop.

While our wives were in the meeting part of a spring Sunday afternoon gathering of the volunteer Bainbridge Island Educational Giving Fund, Marty Smith and I caught up on what professional mischief we were into.  Marty shared how excited he was about an internal project at Preston Gates and Ellis (now K&L Gates) to “Work Smarter” within the law firm.  He rapidly interspersed terms like “large SQL DB, computational linguistics, natural language programming, information visualization in 3D, and WYSIWYG.”

I chuckled and asked Marty “what is going on?  Most technical people would have a hard time using those terms in a paragraph and here you are a lawyer, not only talking about these concepts, but understanding them as well.  Give me some more context.” The next hour went by quickly as Marty shared the research project they were doing with PNNL in Richland, WA, to use technology to be more productive with Microsoft’s legal eDiscovery needs. Just as the conversation was really getting interesting, the chimes rang, and we were called to dinner with the ten other couples.

The next morning the phone rang at 7am.  It was Marty telling me to get my butt on the next ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle so that I could meet with Preston Gates Managing Partner, Gerry Johnson.

“What is the meeting about?” I asked groggily.

Marty responded, “We want to make you an offer you can’t refuse to help us with what we talked about last evening?”

Not having anything else on my blank calendar I answered “Sure.”  Then I scrambled to get to the ferry and walk up the hill to the Bank of America tower and ride three elevators to get to the 50th floor.

After brief introductions, Gerry shared that Microsoft was getting frustrated with the escalating cost of doing electronic discovery for their lawsuits.  The anti-trust lawsuit required 150 attorneys over a year to review printed versions (in bankers’ boxes) of 300GB of emails and Microsoft Office documents. Microsoft was strongly encouraging Preston Gates to reduce their attorney fees, move the reviews offshore or find a technology solution to reviewing their documents.

Marty and Gerry wondered if I would be interested in consulting with them to do two things:

        • Evaluate the PNNL technology to see if it could be turned into a product
        • Develop a business plan for a new software company to bring the technology to market.

I was flattered and accepted their offer on the spot with one provision – that I would not be asked, nor would I accept an executive position to run the company if the business plan indicated that it made sense to go after the eDiscovery market.  I shared that I had my fill of working inside a company after my recent experience of going from a private company at Primus Knowledge Solutions to a public company.  They agreed and we agreed on a compensation plan for the project and we were launched.

As I walked back down the hill to return to Bainbridge Island and start to work on a project plan, I shook my head at the fastest sales effort for professional services I ever experienced – less than twelve hours from contact to contract.  I wish I knew how to do that every time.

The next two weeks were a quick immersion into the world of legal eDiscovery and visual analytics technology using my tried and true “become an expert” professional services technique.  This technique has the following steps:

      • Find easily accessible experts in the area under study:
        • David McDonald and Martha Dawson – Preston Gates eDiscovery Practice
        • Dennis McQuerry PNNL Spire Project
          • [NOTE: When you are looking to build a product, there are at least two domains of knowledge that are important – the expertise in the knowledge domain and the technologies that underlie the products in the domain under study.  Both need to be studied.]
        • Interview the accessible experts to understand the map of the territory from their point of view:
          • How do they think about the domain?
            • What frameworks do they draw from?
            • What mental frameworks have they developed?
          • Who are other experts in the domain?
          • What are recommended resources for understanding the domain (articles, books, courses, videos, journals, professional magazines)?
          • How did they educate themselves in this domain?
          • What are the important or leading-edge questions in the domain?
          • What are the hassles (Slywotzky hassle maps) in the domain?
          • What are the hard problems yet to be solved?
        • Observe the working environment of the system under study:
          • I spent one day walking through the entire end to end work process for eDiscovery with Martha Dawson
          • I spent two days observing the reviewing attorneys (over 100)
          • This observation is the role of human centered design user research and ideally where video ethnography comes in. If you can’t video, at least try to take some photos of the working environment.
            • You are looking for what isn’t in the computer system
            • You are looking for what is in the computer system and how data flows within the computing network
            • Use mental checklists like POEMS or aeiou.
          • Read and experience as many of the resources you observe
            • Capture the key vocabulary
            • Identify experts mentioned in at least three different resources
            • Identify the key insights and questions and problems and hassles and TOC bottlenecks
            • Continue to expand the list of resources
              • Keep this list up to date for the time that you are in the knowledge domain
              • These experts will be used to develop other talent in your company
            • Interview 3-7 identified experts in both the knowledge and technology domains
              • Using the list of experts identified during the resource view and the connections of the Preston Gates and PNNL experts, contact at least 20 of the experts
              • Do an in depth (at least one hour) interview with three legal experts and three visual analytics technology experts
                • If at all possible, conduct the interview in the experts actual work setting (like at their desk or office, not in a conference room)
                  • You want to be able to see what artifacts they touch or use or refer to during your discussion
                • Record and transcribe the interviews where possible
                  • In the age of the pandemic, a Zoom call and recording is terrific if the expert is in their office.
                  • Make sure to ask questions about the environment that the expert is sitting in
                  • Refer to artifacts that you can see to understand why they have that artifact in their working place

By the time the two weeks were finished, I had a robust view of the eDiscovery industry and was ready to evaluate the PNNL technology.  While I did this research in two weeks, the immersion continued for the next year with the virtuous cycle of continually finding resources in order to find the experts in order to interview the experts in the eDiscovery and the visual analytics domains.  In addition, I started a technology and vendor landscape diagram.

I liked the product opportunity so much that I asked Marty and Gerry if I could be part of the new company.  They both smiled.

Most importantly, keep updating your list of key questions.  As you encounter new people in the domain, ask the questions or subsets of the questions.  From a networking perspective, this will establish you as an expert and you will find others in the domain connecting with you.

The more I learned about the technology and the needs of the litigation space, the clearer it became that there was a market and a business and a product opportunity.  Within a year I was participating in Continuing Legal Education panel discussions as a peer with experts who were in the domain for 20 years and had the 10,000 hours of experience.

The actual contract with Preston Gates was to look at all 10 “Working Smarter” investments in software for different parts of their legal practice and determine which ones had a large enough market to fund a company like Attenex.  After becoming an expert in eDiscovery, I quickly had to become an “expert” in other legal areas like contract law, Intellectual Property law, trusts and wills, etc.

Continuous Synthesis of Your Expertise

For me, becoming an expert through accelerated learning techniques is always a fun and engaging endeavor.  However, I have to keep reminding myself that the purpose of becoming an expert quickly in a given knowledge domain is to create a better product AND to develop a longer-term vision of the Whole Product.

To keep on track, I constantly draw diagrams and frameworks for the product vision.  I regularly present the vision to experts and potential customers to check my understanding and to confirm there is a real need.  After my 60 days of becoming an expert at Attenex (30 days for eDiscovery and 30 days for the other relevant legal practice areas) I produced this product vision for our funding partners at Preston Gates.

As with Dan Pink’s description of pitching and catching, the goal of the synthesis is to create collaborative conversations.

With an understanding of how to become an expert quickly, we move on to the third step – using an influencer centered design process to collaborate an your product vision AND aid in funding your new enterprise.


The five parts of this series on how to create a product vision are:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors
Posted in Content with Context, Design, Entrepreneuring, Human Centered Design, Idealized Design, Innovation | Leave a comment

How do you create a product vision? Part 1

Day 147 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  160,000

Developing a Product Vision in an Early Stage Startup

While coaching an early stage startup CEO, she asked:

How do you come up with a product vision?

I have written a lot about entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, but I have not written about how to get to a product vision.  Sometimes this question is asked as “how do I develop a product roadmap?”

I was silent for quite a while as I searched my memory, but all that came back were examples of product visions.  I have a lot of those.  I tried to recall an explicit description of how I arrived at those product visions.  I could not.

Since I love good questions, my work for the next several days became clear.

This question arose out of an interaction with a CEO where she thought the first focus of her CEO coaching would be on how to manage a software product development team.  She was not a technical founder or a scientist, so she was not sure how her skills as a marketer would translate to managing technical talent.  As we talked about what this meant, we realized that creating, managing, and evolving a product vision was a precursor topic to understand how to manage software product development.  Understanding how to create a product vision for a single product is a precursor to understanding how to manage a portfolio of product visions.

Getting to a product vision for an innovative product is a five step process:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate with domain experts and customers on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors

The following discussion assumes that you have gone through the initial steps of a startup that include:

The first step involves identifying what a good product vision looks like.  While most of the public product visions are after the fact and well crafted, they help to understand what you should be trying to achieve.  The following are some of the more famous product visions.  Some are written and some are product launch videos for the first product in what will be a stream of products.

As you read and watch these presentations, identify for yourself the patterns of what a good product vision looks like.  The challenge is not getting lost in the weeds or the details of the product vision.

The Outcome frame orientation is a starting point for capturing the essence of each of these presentations and then comparing the product visions:

    • What are they trying to create?
    • How will we know that they created it?
    • What resources did each company have to get started right away?
    • What other opportunities will their product vision lead to?

Because each of these visions is older, we can see through the passage of time how the product vision played out.

Geoff Moore popularized the Whole Product concept in his book Crossing the Chasm.  A brief description of the Whole Product is:

Whole Product = Whole Experience

“To help our understanding, let’s use a car as an example. If you buy a car that has the features that you want but it doesn’t have some of the other critical components of your ownership experience, like a nearby service center, an adequate warranty, availability of parts, etc. then you won’t be happy. The whole product is the entire experience, not just the features of the product.”

Katherine James Schuitemaker extended the Whole Product diagram to include four other dimensions of the whole product – the Technology, Operations (what does it take to operate the product), Service (what services help the customer get started), and Know How (what is required by the customer to make use of the product).


The early stages of a startup are focused on the core product and getting to a product market fit.  The product vision should include components of the Whole Product like the augmented and potential products.

After you make notes on what a good product vision looks like, revisit the product vision resources to identify how the authors or presenters communicated their innovations and visions.  Kim Erwin in her book Communicating the New, shares the challenge of presenting a product vision – getting from the sender’s conceptual model to the receiver’s conceptual model:

In communicating the product vision you need at least three of these maps:

    • For an employee
    • For a customer
    • For an investor

With an understanding of what a good one looks like, we move on to the second step – becoming an expert in your product’s knowledge domain.


The five parts of this series on how to create a product vision are:

  1. Understanding what a good one looks like
  2. Becoming an expert quickly in the knowledge domain of your product innovations
  3. Using an influencer centered design process to collaborate on your product vision
  4. Creating the product vision using service dominant logic and an outcomes orientation
  5. Communicating the Product vision – to employees, to customers, to investors
Posted in Content with Context, Design, Entrepreneuring, Human Centered Design, Idealized Design, Innovation | Leave a comment

Lifelet: Culling and rearranging a lifetime of books

Day 145 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  158,000

I love books.

I don’t love organizing my books.

I hate culling my books.

I really hate finding that I bought the same book multiple times.

My brother urged me on my organizing quest by sending several articles from the Washington Post book critic, Michael Dirda.  Michael realized that the pandemic lock-down might be a good time to start culling his books:

My books are scattered all over our house.

Skip’s Library of Books

Inspired by Dirda, I decide that most of my mystery and thriller fiction books need to go.  For the last ten years, my kindle library holds all of the fiction books I acquire.  I box the hard copy and paperback books up to free at least one bookcase to consolidate random piles of my professional books.

Reorganizing in progress

As I start the re-arranging, I encounter fives years of accumulation of dust on every surface including every book.  Deep cleaning needs to occur in parallel with the great re-organizing.  My lovely bride “volunteers” to help with the cleaning.  Thank you Jamie.

Dirda shares:

“So, picture me two weeks ago, as I sat on a white plastic lawn chair inside a gigantic metal oven, picking up book after book and only occasionally feeling a Kondoesque spark of joy amid many spasms of regret. The whole process made me feel old. I was almost certainly taking a last look at novels and nonfiction I would never read or never return to. I no longer had world enough and time.”

The fiction books were easy to part with for me.  They are mostly mysteries, thrillers and spy novels.  I don’t think I have a classic fiction book anywhere in my collection (or should I say hoard).  The Excel for Dummies and HTML Programming books are easy fodder for the great give away.

But there is no way I could part with:

I never read the book, but the title says it all.  I keep finding books that I forgot I had.

With great mental fortitude I refrain from opening any of my treasured friends.

I take a break.

Moving all the books to and fro in this one room is back breaking.  Taking the occasional author series of books upstairs to the “main book case” begins to strain.  Yesterday, I got 10,000 steps on my Fitbit and I never left the house.

I pull out Dirda’s latest column to find some inspiration:

“Over the past two months, I’ve been sorting and culling the vast number of books I’ve accumulated in a lifetime of reading and collecting. What do I mean by vast? It’s hard to say precisely, but, overall, we’re talking the equivalent of a small, but not that small, neighborhood library. Given that I also own several hundred LPs and CDs, a substantial number of movies on DVD and many oversize illustrated volumes devoted to the major artists of the world, this modest, overstuffed brick Colonial can also function — if you possess a seriously vivid imagination — as a concert hall and art museum.”

Head slap to forehead.  I forgot about all my CDs, DVDs, and VHS movie tapes.  That is two more rooms that have to be reorganized.

Clearly, this is a first world problem.

I am privileged that I was able to afford all of these escapes from reality.

I need this activity to put all the existential crises and doom scrolling out of my “groundhog day” mental anguish for a few hours.

I hope my children and grand children will appreciate The Great Re-organizing when I am gone.

Posted in Amazon Kindle, Content with Context, Curation, Lifelet | 4 Comments

The folly of growing an avocado tree

Day 144 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  158,000

In month two of the never ending ground hog days of the Covid 19 pandemic, I decided to grow an avocado tree.  While on my vegan diet, I’ve grown to love avocados.  I started with one seed and when it sprouted a tap root, I decided to grow six more.

I tried different experiments.  I tried small avocado seeds and large avocado seeds.  The large ones never grew a tap root.  I tried scraping the bottom of the seed and not scraping the bottom.  I had better success with the scraping.

Of course, being a guy I never looked up online how to actually grow an avocado seed into a tree.  Nor did I look to see what the likely success will be of my seed turning into a tree which produces an avocado.  And I certainly didn’t look to see how long it takes for an avocado “fruit” to mature into something that I could eat.

What I do have is time.

So it was a pleasant surprise when one of the seeds got a long enough tap root to plant and I could see a stem start to emerge.  After a few skirmishes with the squirrels and raccoons trying to dig up my fragile little avocado plant, I was amazed to see leaves start to appear.  And within a week, the fledgling plant was above the rim of the planter.  My wife suggested that I put a little cayenne pepper around the plant to keep the squirrels away.  So far that has worked.

With the patience of being quarantined, I watch my avocado plant grow each day.   It’s not much, but it is my attempt to add a little green to my life.

Now that I’ve gotten this far, I figured it was time to look in the Googlesphere for what I might expect of my future avocado “tree.”

Will my avocado trees ever grow fruit?

Hard to say! Sometimes avocado plants will begin growing fruit after they’re 3 or 4 years old, others take 15+ years to grow fruit, and some never do. It helps to have several avocado trees growing together to aid with pollination. However, don’t expect the fruit to be anything like the avocado that yielded your seed. Commercial avocados are grown from grafted branches to control the outcome of the fruit – a naturally grown avocado may be very different than its parent!

I guess I should have checked with the Interwebs to see what my future probability of fruit would be.  Oh well, I guess I will go plant something sure fire like zucchini.

As I watch my avocado grow, I read  We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer.  Once again, I encounter the power and the problem of not having a good narrative for something like climate change that moves forward oh so slowly.

“It is natural to assume that if we are to summon the necessary will to meet the planetary crisis, we will have to summon the necessary care. We will need to regard Earth as our only home — not idiomatically, and not intellectually, but viscerally. As the Nobel Prize– winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who pioneered the understanding that our minds have a slow (deliberative) and a fast (intuitive) mode, put it, “To mobilize people, this has to become an emotional issue.” If we continue to experience the struggle to save our planet as a midseason away game, we will be doomed.

“Clearly, facts aren’t enough to mobilize us. But what if we can’t summon and sustain the necessary emotions? I’ve wrestled with my own responses to the planetary crisis. It feels obvious to me that I care about the fate of the planet, but if time and energy invested are expressions of caring, it’s undeniable that I care more about the fate of a specific baseball team on the planet, my childhood-hometown Washington Nationals. It feels obvious to me that I am not a climate change denier, but it is undeniable that I behave like one. I would let my kids skip school to participate in the wave at opening day of baseball season, but I do virtually nothing to resist a future in which our home city is underwater.”

This paragraph so painfully describes my stepping into the world of advocating for trans-formative changes in our behavior to do everything we can to reverse climate change:

“When researching this book, I was often shocked by what I learned. But I was rarely moved by it. When I was moved, the feeling was transient, and it was never deep enough or durable enough to change my behavior over time.”

Foer, Jonathan Safran. We Are the Weather (p. 27). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Read those words again:

I was often shocked . . . but I was rarely moved.”

So much of my “Ground Hog Day” life in the Age of  Tя☭mp, replays over and over the shock, but not enough to move.

It is time to move.  It is time to transform.

But first, I will go for a walk in the woods.

Posted in Biodynamic, Climate Change | Leave a comment

The Future Earth by Eric Holthaus

Day 142 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  157,000

At the top of my existential crisis list is the climate change dynamic disaster.  To see he who shall not be named ( Tя☭mp), not only be a science denier and a climate change denier, but also a strong supporter of the coal industry is beyond repugnant.  As we see an expanding range of climate anomalies around the world, we no longer have to imagine what the future holds for humanity.

My oldest daughter, Elizabeth, is constantly after me to get more involved in helping with climate activism.  She urged me to join the Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL).  I’ve enjoyed the companions on the journey of learning and advocating for legislation like the carbon dividend act.  I admire all that Representative Derek Kilmer is doing for our congressional district to advocate not just for climate change, but for the native Americans living along WA state coastal lands adversely affected by rising seas.

Recently, Elizabeth urged me to read The Future Earth: A Radical Vision for What’s Possible in the Age of Warming by Eric Holthaus.

“Dad, it is the first book that gives me some hope that I/we can make a difference and that we have some time to make the critical changes,” she said.

Holthaus grabbed me by my “time to make some changes” ethos early in the book and didn’t let go:

“Scientists are now certain that our use of fossil fuels and our destruction of the planet’s ecosystems are quickly bringing the future of human civilization into doubt. My goal with this book is to help you imagine your own part in building a better world that works for everyone, regardless of status or class or gender. And to remind you that you were born at exactly the right time to help change everything.”

Holthaus, Eric. The Future Earth (p. 5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

I posted the following on Facebook:

Reading the following as I gaze out on the Puget Sound:

“The projections have been clear for a long time: more than $ 1 trillion of coastal real estate in the United States is expected to be literally underwater by 2050—almost 10 percent of our current economy.”

Holthaus looks at the next 30 years of change we need in 2 to 10 year increments.  He shares the thoughts of many current change activists, the innovations that climate scientists are proposing, and then narratives of what the earth could be like if we get started transforming now.

The path forward will not be easy.  Experiencing all the science denier loons who will not even wear a mask to protect themselves and others in the middle of a global pandemic does not give me confidence that humans can collaborate to bring about a “future earth.” Yet, anything that can recommend actions that I can do is desperately needed.

I love any author who can explain difficult topics so elegantly:

“Climate change itself is simple. I can explain it in one paragraph: by a quirk of physics, fossil fuels are an almost perfect store for energy, and their discovery helped accelerate centuries of colonialism, locking us into an extractive relationship with our planet and one another. The subsequent imbalance in resources was exploited by those with economic or military power, enriching the few at the expense of the many.

“But the fix is not simply technical. The too-familiar apocalypse narrative leaves no room for justice or regeneration. We must do better. Somehow we must also learn to treat one another better.”

Holthaus, Eric. The Future Earth (p. 197). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

While I can’t do all of his recommendations, I regularly walk in the woods “across our island.”

“In the meantime, my most immediate advice is to go outside and enjoy your present Earth. There are physical and mental benefits of getting outdoors. Do a bunch of these things (or at least a few of them):

Go for a walk in the forest.     

Make art (outside).       

Go snorkeling.       

Actually meet another living person with shared interests.       

Look at the bugs.       

Go bird-watching.       

Go to a star party and ponder your place in the universe.       

Go kayaking.       

Hike across an island.       

Go to an orchard and pick fruit at peak season.     

 Stay in a tree house.       

Go to a baseball game.

Thank you, Eric Holthaus, for giving me hope for my future, my children’s future, and my grandchildren’s future.

Posted in Biodynamic, Citizen, Climate Change, Curation, Grand parenting, Health Care, Idealized Design, Innovation | Leave a comment

A Case for the American People by Norm Eisen

Day 141 of Self Quarantine             Covid 19 Deaths in U.S.:  156,000

As I begin another “Groundhog Day” in self quarantine, I am gobsmacked that the impeachment of he who shall not be named occurred in 2020.  It was this year.  It seems like two decades ago.

Norm Eisen wrote a page turner of a book to present his case to the American people for why he who shall not be named must be VOTED out of office.  Having watched the Mueller investigation fail to dislodge the Trump crime family and the impeachment and Senate trial fail to move the Senate Republicans to impeach and remove the president, Eisen presents the facts to America in A Case for the American People: The United States v. Donald J. Trump.

“If Trump had been removed on February 5, his denial and deflection, his refusal to deal with the virus, could have been avoided. Tens of thousands of American lives could have been spared, and millions of American jobs. If any other president were in the White House, surely there would have been an effort to address the discrimination and police violence that have led millions of Americans to protest. Instead, Trump inflamed tensions and responded to complaints of excessive force with more of the same, denying it all the while. He went so far as to claim tear gas was not fired on peaceful protesters outside the White House even though the world saw it with their own eyes. In the months since the impeachment trial, we have the latest turns in Trump’s endlessly repeating pattern of abuses and obstructions. As a commentator once said, there are not many Trump scandals. There is just one. And it has turned deadly.

“You have the power to stop the next scandal, and the one after that too. By voting. By doing so in such large numbers that there can be no challenging the results or our message. By turning out across the country and making your choices known not just at the top but all the way down the ballot. By ousting not just Trump but his enablers in the Senate and the House.

“Will that solve all our nation’s problems— the underlying ills that gave us Trump? No. But until the uncivil war is over, the peace cannot begin. Judging the president in numbers too large to ignore is our starting point. The electoral judgment must be so vast that even he cannot deny it or attack it. A vote that will be loud and overwhelming is the first step to reclaiming America. Many people have worked to get you all the evidence you need about the high crimes and misdemeanors of President Trump. I have been proud to be one of them. Now it is up to you. Justice and the future of our country depend on it.

Eisen, Norman. A Case for the American People (pp. 277-278). Crown. Kindle Edition.

Eisen brings us directly into the hundreds of rooms where it happened.  My favorite images are of Eisen and his partner in the endeavor, Barry Berke, retiring to their windowless office at the US Capital for a few sips of Widow Jane bourbon to reprise the ups and downs of their day.

The impeachment was in January of 2020.  Just six months ago.  How could this be?

156,000 Americans would still be alive if he who shall not be named was removed from office.  We would not have to watch another 200,000 Americans die while we wait until January of 2021 for Trump’s removal from office.

“SHORTLY BEFORE MITT ROMNEY GAVE his historic February 5 speech, and just hours before the final impeachment votes were cast in the Senate, a group of senators from both parties gathered with senior members of the administration in a Capitol Hill briefing room. The secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, filled them in on a new, deadly disease that had spread from Wuhan, China. A few hours later, one of the senators who had attended the briefing, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, headed to the floor to explain why he was voting to convict the president of impeachment. It was the moving speech that I was lucky enough to catch, sitting among scattered press and a handful of others in the near-empty chamber. Murphy was already anticipating the next Trump disaster. He had laid it out earlier that day on Twitter right after leaving the briefing, stating, “Bottom line: they aren’t taking this seriously enough. Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake. Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now.”

Eisen, Norman. A Case for the American People (p. 268). Crown. Kindle Edition.

On the same day of the impeachment vote, the administration warned of the pandemic but didn’t take it seriously.  The next waves of the Trump crime family dysfunction just kept rolling along.

I enjoy finding out what happens behind the scenes of important events.  How Jerry Nadler led the proceedings while his wife Joyce was diagnosed and treated for cancer. How Adam Schiff persevered by pounding Advil for days before he could get a root canal for a terrible tooth ache.  How so many staffers worked 24 x 7 to make sense of the volumes of information in spite of NO DOCUMENTS coming from the White House or the Executive Branch.

If you want a good insider view of a continuing very painful episode in American democracy I strongly recommend this book.

Thank you Norm Eisen for spending the time to make the case against he who shall not be named.

Posted in Citizen, Content with Context | Leave a comment