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#JeSuisCharlie – Really?

charlie-hebdoAre you “really” Charlie?

When was the last time you spoke your truth, even though the people around you might not agree?

When was the last time you wrote your truth, even though others might push back or ridicule you?

When was the last time you acted on what you believed was right and in the highest and best interest of all concerned, even though others would want to sanction you or stop you for doing so?

It is easy to join the crowd and exclaim #JeSuisCharlie. However I see too many people doing so, while staying safe… saying, writing or doing things just to curry the favor of the boss, the client, the peers, the crowd… even though deep down they believe something different.

Heck, I’m more than guilty of that. On more than one occasion, my gut told me that something is wrong or is not in the highest and best interests of the stakeholders. I needed to speak up, but I didn’t, because I was afraid that others might not agree with me, or I could lose face, or I could be sanctioned.

Too often, when this happens and I don’t speak up, I end up in regret. Regrets about the outcome of the project, regrets about how it affects the people, regrets about how it affects me.

If you really want to honor the twelve victims whose speech was stolen, you must be willing to speak, write and act on your truth, no matter what the consequences. That takes courage. To quote Bill Maher: “It takes balls the size of the Eiffel Tower”.

To proclaim #JeSuisCharlie is a bold personal commitment: to live your mission, your vision, your values, your principles, your truth. About things little or big. No matter what anyone else may try to do to stop you. No compromises. No surrender.

To me, that’s the real meaning of #JeSuisCharlie.

For more information

Originally published on my LinkedIn profile:


Uber is an interesting story of how the startup world is evolving. Beyond the controversy it is creating with its aggressiveness (which I want to examine in another piece), the real lesson here is that what creates the disrupt is not the tech, it’s the business model.

When Uber started gaining visibility in the press, I thought the innovation was the creation of a virtual personal transport dispatch service. The tech behind being able to hail a driver and pay for your ride via smartphone, while impressive, is not revolutionary – it is merely evolutionary. It takes money and effort to build out their system, but not billions of dollars of VC money. So why is it attracting so much investor attention?

Disruptive as it is to the taxi industry, Uber’s real valuation engine is its “surge pricing” business model.

Adapting prices to changes in supply is something that some industries are good at. Take gasoline distribution. The price of gas goes up and down mainly based on the fluctuation of the cost of its inputs. When a barrel of sweet crude goes up, the price of gasoline goes up within hours.

Uber has been able to deploy a pricing model which responds almost instantaneously to demand, instead of supply. And, more importantly, they succeeded in gaining consumer acceptance (okay, grudgingly) of this pricing method.

Business model innovation is the key behind many of the tech moneymakers. Look at Apple and its App Store, which takes 30% of the top of a very fat distribution channel. The App Store revolutionized the utility of the smartphone and especially its economics, relegating the wireless carriers, who were previously the big winners in that market, to a distant second place. And the way Apple integrated its business model, and the success it has had with it, has not been equalled by any other company in that industry.

All too often, the startup entrepreneurs I meet, think that working on a business model means generating spreadsheets full of financial projections, a task they relish as much as a root canal. It’s a chore they will put up with in order to land a seed investment and go back to working on their tech.

I love Steve Blank’s definition of a business model: how you create value, deliver value and harvest value (he says “capture value”). You are not just building a gadget or an app, you are building a business. Innovative technology without a correspondingly innovative and disruptive business model, means your great idea is just going to gather dust on your shelf.

Your “hockey stick” projections need to be backed by bold thinking about your business model and your pricing strategy. If you dream about launching “the next big thing”, spend at least as much creativity exploring how you will deliver and harvest value as you do in creating it.

For more information

The article which inspired this post:
“In Praise Of Efficient Price Gouging” by James Surowiecki in MIT Technology Review

Image Credit: Adam Fagen via Flickr
Used under Creative Commons licence



Lean Is Not Cheap

It is really unfortunate that Eric Ries used the title “Lean Startup” for his influential book. I get what he meant: looking for the most efficient fit between market need and business offer.

Except when the concept gets distorted to mean “building your startup on the cheap”. Which is not at all what Lean is about.

The Lean approach is all about understanding your target market before you start building your product, to ensure it is something your customers not only need, but what they want right now. The way I coach Lean with my startups focuses on answering three questions about your target customer:

  • What urgent problem or deep desire keeps your target customer awake at night?
  • How do they imagine their life changing if this urgent problem were solved or this deep desire were satisfied?
  • What is their readiness to take action to solve this problem or to satisfy this desire?

These three questions should be answered before you write your first line of code or draw your first concept. This is where Lean is not cheap, because it can take a long time and a lot of effort to fully explore the “buy trigger” which provokes your target customer to take action and buy what you offer.

Notice that there is nothing here which refers to whether or not your target customer wants your product. That’s because people do not want your products or services, they want the benefits, the results and the impact of using your product or service.

It is very tempting to go the “fat” approach, building your product and then convincing people to buy it. Tempting because you feel you are doing something productive. The trap of the “fat startup” is overbuilding your offer by designing features or functionalities you think people will want, based only on your assumptions. More is not better. You need to understand what your customer is looking for and what feature will trigger the buying response. If that trigger functionality is buried among too much noise from your other features, your customer will not respond.

Lean is all about eliminating waste. For a startup, “waste” is anything which does not get used by an end client. You want your product to have just the right amount of functionality, going to the heart of solving their urgent problem or satisfying their deepest desire. This is what will trigger the buy response.

Think “lean” is out of style? Go ahead and build and launch your product without doing this vital homework. But if no one buys your offer, all you have done is wasted your time and your investor’s money. The cost today to build a tech product from idea to prototype is but a fraction of what it was five years ago. Today, the biggest hurdle is validating and quantifying the market to find that buying trigger. When you invest up front the time, money, energy and effort to find the buy trigger, you will have a better product that will be used by people who recognize the value of your offer and who are ready to commit.

Exploring the needs and validating the wants of your market is not cheap, but it is cheaper than building something that you think everybody needs but in reality nobody wants.

For more information

Lean Startup by Eric Ries:

Image: Ted Abbott via Flickr
Direct link: https://flic.kr/p/LGic7
Used under Creative Commons licence


When does an entrepreneur become an entrepreneur?

I recently tweeted this “thot”, which generated some debate on Facebook and Twitter. Some people agreed, others chastised me: “I thought you were above this snobbery, Davender”

Why the pushback? I believe this issue goes to the core of self-identity.

Let’s face it, entrepreneurship is the new black. It’s hot, it’s trendy, it’s what people want to be and who politicians want to be seen with. We want to be the winner, the brilliant innovator who strikes it rich while changing the world. We worship Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, the Sharks of Shark Tank and the Dragons of Dragons’ Den.

Why has entrepreneurship become the new religion? Maybe because it speaks to the libertarian/capitalist mindset promoted by the stunning financial successes of Silicon Valley. It’s about freedom and wealth with a touch of rebel.

Which is why a lot of people want to be seen by their peers as being entrepreneurs.

But when do you deserve to be called an entrepreneur?

  • Is it when you sign up for a MLM and buy your distributor pack?
  • Is it when you open a file on your computer and call it “Business Plan” (even though all you have written is the title?)
  • Is it when you buy the domain name, or print the business cards?
  • Is it when you attend your first Chamber of Commerce meeting or networking mixer?

Are you an entrepreneur if you’re self-employed? An artist? A consultant? An independent sub-contractor? Are you an entrepreneur if you’re still developing your product or still training to deliver your service? Are you an entrepreneur if you’re serving “practice client” pro-bono?

Pinpointing the moment when entrepreneurship starts is like trying to determine the moment a fetus becomes a human. You can point to any stage of the process and argue you’re right.

I posit that the pivot moment is when you make your first sale. And specifically, when you get paid for your first sale. Because the act of billing and being paid is what separates the entrepreneur from the salaried, who are just paid. The experience of receiving payment for an invoice which represents your hard work, and especially your ability to create a bridge of trust strong enough to make the sale, is a context shift which changes oneself profoundly.

I remember when I issued my first invoice. I spent at least a day on tweaking the Excel spreadsheet to make sure it was just right. Do I put my logo in the top left, or the top right? How many digits should the invoice number have? I can’t really start at 0001, it will make me seem like a newbie.

Then when I got paid, by check (because it was 1994), seeing my company name written in the “Pay to the order of” field gave me an additional boost of pride. I was real, I had arrived. (I think I made a photocopy of that first check, but I don’t know where I put it.)

All the work I had done before that day was important. But not the same. Because I was doing it for myself. When the contract was signed and I was building something for someone else who valued what I made, I felt different, more confident, more empowered. Instead of getting ready to do something for a generic “client”, I was now delivering to a person with a name and a face and a need they wanted fulfilled.

I struggled a lot in my first business because I sucked at sales. It wasn’t until I broke through that barrier by plunging head-first into Multi-Level-Marketing (with a certain level of success, may I add), that I understood the power of sales. Selling is indeed the highest level of leadership.

I stand by my declaration: the first sale is when you become an entrepreneur. Anything before that, you’re a “wantrepreneur”. Which is an important step, because the pivot from employee to entrepreneur rarely happens in one smooth transition.


Hacking Productivity (Startup Canada Webinar)

I recently enjoyed participating in a webinar hosted by Intuit Canada and Startup Canada, on the topic of Hacking Productivity.

The main points I wanted to get across were:

1. Don’t keep it all in your head.

My life planning is built around two main apps:

– Evernote, where I dump all my thoughts, ideas and notes, and

Omnifocus, where I keep track of all my to-dos and the things I want to get done.

I also use IFTTT rules to connect my e-mail to Evernote and Omnifocus. The act of “starring” a message in GMail triggers notes in both tools, to ensure that I respond appropriately.

All smartphone and laptop platforms have effective apps (Microsoft One Note, iCloud Reminders, etc) that can help you capture your thoughts as they come to you.

2. It doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to get done.

Don’t get caught up in a perfectionist loop. People will appreciate you more when you produce.

That doesn’t mean don’t do your best. It means do your best within the time and resource budget you give yourself, then move onto the next.

Here is the recording of the webinar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDY0wP7sn-8)


For more information:

Article on the Intuit Canada blog:

Original event description (September 29, 2014)