What Lean Startup Is Not

I feel for Eric Reis. He seems compelled to say, in every talk, right in the beginning, “Lean is not ‘cheap’!”

I’m sure it’s because he gets hit with this constantly. Just yesterday I was reading about Education startups and a well-regarded startup founder and investor was quoted as saying that startups in the Education space need to be “pudgier”

“One of the things I feel strongly about is that everybody
pushes the notion of a lean startup,” said Katzman, who founded
the Princeton Review, online education company 2U (formerly
2tor) and his current startup Noodle Education. “And I’m kind
of in favor, especially in the education space, of a pudgier startup.”
John Katzman, as quoted in GigaOm

Katzman goes on to say some pretty smart things about the complexities of the Education market, but this “pudgier” statement has nothing to do with Lean Startup.

I believe the “good mix of people with deep backgrounds in education and business” Katzman calls for would do well to validate their assumptions and develop their product using the Lean Startup approach. Katzman seems to agree — he goes on to recommend strategies very much in keeping with Lean Startup. The video is worth watching.

Katzman makes a great example because he’s an experienced entrepreneur who actually agrees with the Lean Startup approach, whether he knows it or not. This is a guy who knows his stuff, who knows how important it is to listen closely to customers, who tells great stories of realizing after just a few usability tests that his assumptions were wrong. This is a guy we should be listening to, other than his mischaracterization of Lean Startup.

How to Hire for Tech Support

Tech Support folks should also be friendly and like helping people. They should be communicative both inside the organization and with customers. Dont just expect your team to "be professional". That admonition is at the core of the wooden, scripted responses that frustrate customers.

What should you look for when hiring Tech Support staff? My answer to this may be a little counter intuitive.

Great Tech Support people are:
– Problem solvers
– Friendly and they like helping people.
– Communicative
– Confident enough to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”

This last point is very important, and too often overlooked. It’s critical in Tech Support to have a team that will respond well when presented with something they don’t know. Every one of them should not only be comfortable with it, but should relish the opportunity to figure something out.

Tech Support folks should also be friendly and like helping people. They should be communicative both inside the organization and with customers. Don’t just expect your team to “be professional”. That admonition is at the core of the wooden, scripted responses that frustrate customers.

“Knowing the answer doesn’t scale. Hire Tech Support people who can figure things out.”

Why didn’t I include something about technical qualifications? While a foundation of technical expertise may be important in your business, a candidate who is a better problem solver and better with people will still be the best choice, even if they lack experience in some aspect of your product or market. The best Tech Support people learn very quickly, and learn best while solving real problems.

Knowing the answer doesn’t scale. Focusing on “knowing the answer” is part of the “Quick Resolution Paradox” – it puts you on that treadmill that brings ever growing costs and support staff burnout. If you know the answer, you should be working to make sure you never get that question again, first by putting the answer at the fingertips of your users, and then by fixing the product so that this problem goes away forever.

Knowing the answer is a side-effect of providing good support, not its goal.

To make a great Tech Support team, the right hiring is critical. The right folks, with the right skills, will build your reputation with your customers with every call.

The Search for Meaning… from the Square Peg Blog

Arianna Huffington was the morning Keynote Speaker at the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-Profit, Saturday in Berkeley, CA. I was looking forward to her speech. I enjoy Arianna on KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center and usually agree with her editorials in The Huffington Post. I knew it would be a good speech – an inspiring and thought-provoking speech. it was a lot more.

P1020327

[More at Square Peg Blog]

Craigslist Foundation’s Boot Camp – June 20th, 2009, in Berkeley, CA

My wife and I founded Square Peg Foundation in 2004, the same year Craigslist Foundation had their first “Boot Camp for Non-profits.” That first Boot Camp was an amazing experience for me, and since then I have only missed one.

As Craigslist Foundation describes it:

Boot Camp is an inspiring and unique community effort that connects people to the resources they need to help build stronger and healthier communities. Our focus is simple – to connect, motivate and inspire greater community impact.

[From Craigslist Foundation’s Boot Camp]

If you work at a non-profit, volunteer, serve on a board, or have always dreamed of starting something that really matters, you should join us at the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-profits! I hope we’ll see you there.

Difficult people… or worse.

A few days ago, someone walked up to Michael Arrington and spat on him. For those who missed this news, here is an excerpt and link from Michael’s own blog:

Yesterday as I was leaving the DLD Conference in Munich, Germany someone walked up to me and quite deliberately spat in my face. Before I even understood what was happening, he veered off into the crowd, just another dark head in a dark suit. People around me stared, then looked away and continued their conversation.

[From Some Things Need To Change]

This isn’t about Michael Arrington. Or Techcrunch.

There are many people who have inexplicably aggressive or even violent responses to what most of us would consider everyday frustrations. So what can you do? In the heat of the moment, it may be hard to choose your response because you be too shocked, confused or furious to think straight.

I’ve found myself distressed and frustrated after these encounters, even ruminating over the response I should have made, or the visceral reaction my ego would have enjoyed. But sometimes I manage to handle something really well. This doesn’t happen because I’m brilliant or cool, but because I’ve spent years working in support and service professionally.

In the support and service business, the customer who flies off the handle shouldn’t shock you, and certainly shouldn’t make you react angrily. You’re dealing with people, so it’s just part of the job – but too many companies don’t give their teams the training and support they need to handle tough customer situations.

The typical class on handling difficult customers is a couple of hours of role playing where people give rote responses to faked aggressive behavior. This can be great for giving your team basic ideas about what’s acceptable, but it’s not going to be enough to build the poise and professional manner that I see in the best teams. To do that you need ongoing refinement and support. You need some way of making it interesting. Most importantly, you need to reinforce in your team these key ideas:

  1. Stay calm. It’s not about you. This person’s behavior is completely out of proportion to the situation. There is something else going on, which you have no control over. Stay calm.
  2. If they are abusive, ask them to stop, so that you can both focus on fixing the problem.
  3. Whatever it is that you did do to contribute to the problem, fix it. Make sure they understand that you are working to make it right.
  4. Get someone else involved. This may mean getting your supervisor on the call, or even handing the customer off to the boss, or it may be just a debrief with a senior teammate after you get off the line with the customer.
  5. Follow up with the customer. This is something every company needs to do better. make sure the customer knows that it matters that they were angry and that you want to be sure you have done everything you can to make them ok with the outcome. We’re all human, and this is a human process.

This is the same stuff you would teach in one of those role playing classes. But the key is to continue to build a more sophisticated response to difficult behavior into everyone in your team. You need to keep the momentum; keep your team talking about difficult situations and how they have handled it. This process has these aims:

  1. Keep the learning positive
  2. Reinforce the basics (the ideas listed above)
  3. Ensure the team fixes anything that’s broken and is contributing to these conflicts

Whether you do this sharing as part of regular team meetings, or posting a “Story of the Week” on an in-house blog (comments enabled!) the secret is to make this an ongoing learning experience that is fun and positive. You want this to be part of your team culture.

Arrington is taking a break, which is for him probably a good idea, so he can relax and get his head straight after such a personal attack. I wish him well.

Danah Boyd on socialization in the digital world

In this video interview, Danah Boyd makes some great points about lack of socialization of kids. Lack of space for them to gather and be social even in with their own friends and some of the factors making this happen. Then she talks about how they DO socialize, online… OK, there’s a few asides regarding Scoble being different from normal users, but the rest is fascinating stuff.

Danah Boyd interview by Robert Scoble, at Davos:

[From QIK | Streaming video right from your phone]

Danah Boyd is a researcher who studies teens ad their online interactions. See more on Danah at her website.

You can also read about her on Wikipedia