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You are really good about asking insightful and probing questions to entrepreneurs. How do you think good questions are asked?
"a question that challenges an entrepreneur to defend, clarify (in very basic terms), or rethink why they do something in their business"
I think that the most productive Start:ME questions fall into one of two basic categories. The first is a question that challenges an entrepreneur to defend, clarify (in very basic terms), or rethink why they do something in their business that has become a passive habit (e.g., why do you attend that same trade show every single year?). The second is a question that challenges the entrepreneur's vision of the future and their concept for how that future can be achieved (e.g., do you want to be selling directly to consumers or via third-party channels? If the former, how will you reach those customers?). Both, in an ideal scenario, lead to either a renewed belief in an existing approach or a revised, clarified view on changes that need to be made.
You advice and invest in high-tech companies. How has your experience as a Start:ME mentor helped you advice those companies?
"A close-proximity, direct feedback loop like that between entrepreneurs and customers is something that's virtually non-existent for tech and software companies"
A really unique element of the Start:ME program is the "Neighborhood Night" where members of the local community and prospective customers of businesses in the cohort attend an event in which entrepreneurs can pitch their products and ask for feedback in a no-risk environment. A close-proximity, direct feedback loop like that between entrepreneurs and customers is something that's virtually non-existent for tech and software companies and certainly something that VCs never see. From sitting in on those sessions, I'm always reminded in my day job and in Board meetings with our portfolio companies to keep the direct voice of the customer, whether that be an enterprise buyer or an individual consumer, at the forefront of the conversation.
You love talking about minimal viable products. What makes a good one and how should an entrepreneur collect feedback on it?
"It's incredibly important from an early stage of your business to get your product in front of customers."
Touching on the answer above, it's incredibly important from an early stage of your business to get your product in front of customers or potential customers for feedback. To that end, a "good" MVP is one that both addresses the core problem that your business is trying to solve (even if it does so poorly) and is usable enough for customers to stress test and provide their thoughts. The first piece is relevant because a company aiming to make transformative HR software that releases a great finance-oriented MVP isn't getting closer to solving an HR problem and isn't attracting feedback from the right pool of users / customers. A lot of different feedback collection approaches can be productive, but I'm a big believer in having an independent third-party do interviews with users, if possible, so as to get unfiltered feedback that captures some of the emotional reactions to the customer journey that are lost in typed responses or 1-10 surveys.
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