Hey Lil’ SaaS Startup! Get out of the Friggin building

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What is the best advice out there for Startups? There is almost certainly no single piece but an entire manual of best practices. In fact, hundreds of manuals. That being said, one of my personal favourite startup lessons is to ‘GET OUT OF THE BUILDING’. It’s in caps because i’m shouting it at you.

The Good Films Animated GIF

 

 

Recently reading Jakob Marovts excellent post 7 Proven Ways to Hack your Customer Development Process this did a couple of things to me.

  1. It made me feel all funny inside because it was awesome (I might be stretching the truth about feeling funny but it is awesome. Indulge me)
  2. It made me think back to when I started SaaScribe, all those months ago, and what I did around customer development process
  3. It gave me an idea for this article – Thanks Jakob
  4. It prompted me to try and carry on reading Steve Blanks Startup Manual. Its been more Start Stop, than Startup since I picked it up. (like I said, indulge me)

 

What do you mean ‘get out of the building’?

Steve says it best:

steve b meme

Got to love those Memes right? Also Doesn’t Steve look happy and relaxed? Probably because he’s outside.

Now Steve Blank’s not the only person who preaches GOOTB (sounds rubbish like that, i’ll revert to Get out of the building hereon in. Note that http://www.getoutofthebuilding.com/  refers to it as GOOTB). However If you want to learn more about what Get out of the building means, to you as a startup. Most likely as a SaaS Startup then you can do the following:

  1. Pretend you’re going back to 1989 (i) by visiting Stevie B’s (ii) website and read this excellent post http://steveblank.com/2009/10/08/get-out-of-my-building/
  2. Pretend you’re in 2007 (iii) Buy his book. I did. According to Kindle i’m about 14% of the way through the manual….
  3. No need to pretend, it’s 2015 everybody (iv) Take this awesome online course on Udacity, How to Build a Startup. I did. I actually thought it was quite good.(v)

i)Steve’s website is functional but design is a little dated hence the reference to 1989
ii)I like to think his friends call him Stevie B. I could be his friend if we ever met.
iii) 2007 was the year the kindle was first released. I own a kindle 1.0. strangely, I don’t own an ipad.
iv)It really is 2015
v) Am I contradicting the article by having taking a MOOC in the comfort of my home office?

“An intelligent opinion is still a guess”

Customer Development Process

customer-development-process

People love diagrams and this one, tells us, not overtly but more so if you’ve read 14% of the Startup Manual, that between the Customer Discovery and Customer Validation phases of Customer Development, this is when you should be getting out of the building and either moving to the next phase, Customer Creation, or potentially pivoting. And….

 

pivot meme

Eric Ries, an Interlude – The lean Startup Methodology – True or False

  • Eric Ries, the man, the myth, the legend, is behind the Lean Startup movement “a new-business strategy which directs startup companies to allocate their resources as efficiently as possible”. True
  • Eric met Steve Blank when Eric was working on his startup IMVU and Steve became an investor. True
  • Steve Blank’s Customer Development theory became the cornerstone of ‘The Lean Startup Methodology’. True
  • Eric and Steve only ever did business outside of the building. False

Read more at: http://theleanstartup.com/principles

Hello Customer! Here’s the SaaS Part 

So going back to Jakob giving me the idea for this article, the idea was that I’d ask 3 SaaS Startups their GET OUT OF THE BUILDING story. So thats what I did and here they are:

3 GET OUT OF THE BUILDING stories as told by Geckoboard, Appointedd and Goodwerp

Paul Joyce – CEO and Founder of Geckoboard

paul joyce

I think getting out the office to visit customers – in particular in the really early days – has helped me to shape Geckoboard‘s product vision and roadmap. Seeing the product being used “in-the-wild” has helped me to identify new use cases and jobs we’re solving. With our dashboards being so visual and central within a customer’s office, getting out and seeing them in action and talking to the customer’s team members who’s company they were transforming was quite eye-opening. It’s really helped me shape the jobs that we exist to solve, and focus our team on solving those even better.

One example in particular sticks out in my memory. I went down to visit an agency client of ours in Brighton. They had the Geckoboard in the office on a TV screen (which isn’t unusual), but all the team members as they arrived were logging something on a computer. However, they weren’t clocking in and out they were voting on what their motivation and mood were that particular day. This was then being displayed on the company dashboard as an indicator to the company of what the motivation levels were like on that particular day, so they could manage the business day accordingly.

I thought this was great in terms of cultural of transparency, and obviously that’s something that sits at the core of our product. It also highlighted to me that businesses were using the dashboards to monitor everything and take corrective action or seize an opportunity as a result. However, we needed to ensure a business had flexibility with the types of data they could integrate into a Geckoboard. We continue to try and remove the friction for businesses to pull some of the most weird and wonderful data up on their dashboard as a result. This is because we realise different metrics really matter to different businesses.

Leah Hutcheon – CEO and Founder Appointedd

leah hutcheon clock in the eye small

The importance of getting out of the building when developing the proposition for Appointedd cannot be understated. Appointedd enables independent businesses to take booking online and then manage their whole business on our platform, so my time spent with the small business owners who would go on to become our early customers was invaluable.

As a non-technical founder, my focus was solely on designing a product that solved our potential customers’ pain. While my lack of coding skills undoubtedly slowed our early development, it meant that our product really focused on the practicalities of what customers needed. I had a very clear picture of what our potential customers wanted from software that was going to manage their day-to-day business.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Every time I went in to speak to busy small businesses about their online booking and business management needs, I knew I was taking some of their extremely valuable time. And without a working product to solve their problems yet, I was relying on their goodwill and generosity of support. But this meant I got very honest and unfiltered feedback, and, by spending time with potential customers actually in their business, I got to really understand the rigours of their job.

Without fully understanding our customers’ businesses, I wouldn’t have recognised the opportunity to add some of the features that now make us stand out from our competitors.

While getting out of the building is super important, there are ways to scale this as you grow. We have always made sure to stay open-minded to opportunities and saying ‘yes’ to lots of things has taken Appointedd on the most fantastic journey.

We were featured on a BBC documentary, after which lots of people got in touch to see if our software – originally focused on the health and beauty sector – could be used for their business. So we scoped this and ended up increasing our market opportunity by tenfold.

We were contacted by a company in New York who wanted to streamline the way they booked calls and meetings across timezones. This led us to developing the world’s first completely customisable cross-timezone booking system – a USP that promises to deliver lots more opportunity to get out of the building as it attracts interest worldwide.

A recent trip to CollisionConf in Las Vegas gave us the opportunity to scope collaboration. It was amazing to see what companies from all over the world are up to and we are excited to see what comes from the discussions we’ve been having around powering bookings for some of the startups we met.

Building technology is so exciting and gives us tons of opportunity to innovate. But I truly believe that, without getting out and discovering what our customers (of all shapes and sizes) want, then the most exciting opportunities would have remained outside of our grasp.

 

Val Sopi – CEO and Founder of Goodwerp

val2

With Goodwerp, we had initially tried speaking to our clients directly and visit them as they used our product, however the feedback we got, looking at it now on the hindsight, was mixed at best.

For me “Getting out of the building” always seemed like an overrated exercise. Something that fooled us into looking busy, when in reality what we actually did was go through the motions and gather thoughts and ideas with the risk of implementing them in our app.

I have found, albeit the hard way, that what the client “thinks” may work for them does not usually end up in something that they will end up using.

In Saas, words do not translate into actions.

A perfect example is this: When we asked our clients if they’d be Ok to receive daily Emails to keep them posted about what’s happening in their account, 9 out of 10 times we got a negative response. We implemented the feature anyway, and now, hourly and daily Email updates are what keep our users engaged and informed with a 94% subscription rate.

I’m not suggesting speaking to clients is a bad idea. Though there seem more efficient ways in developing a better product and increasing the user-base/retention.

The way we increase our customer base and retention, is by building a specific feature we think it would be useful to our clients, quietly release it, and evaluate the cold-hard data about how that new feature is being used, what we can possibly change, and if it’s viable to pursue it further.

It’s a magical dance this Saas world we’re in. We have to be able to read between the lines and offer our customers something they need (without them knowing they do) based on our incoming data, historical lessons about our app, and a sprinkle of an intuition.

 

“The dumbest person with a fact trumps anyone with an opinion”

 

Elvis has left the building – conclusion

So what lessons have been learned from this article? from Steve Blank and our three SaaS Founders? Whilst I started off the article shouting ‘GET OUT OF THE BUILDING’ at you, perhaps I could be swayed to drop the caps and just suggest in normal tones, that getting out of the building is simply fantastic advice but as we hear from Val Sopi, it’s not a one size fits all and it may not work for every SaaS Company. This short article from Google Ventures, says that ‘Getting out of the Building isn’t enough’ and that whilst the author is thrilled that entrepreneurs are going to talk to customers, there needs to be focus, there needs to be a plan.

I wholeheartedly recommend getting out of the building, but do more than talk. Listen, take action. If you feel like the time is being misspent, then literally pivot (you, not your idea) and get back inside.

Would Steve Blank agree with me? Well, i’ll leave you with one final Steve quote:

“There are no facts inside the building so get the heck outside”

*sorry for the bad language. guess Steve’s had enough of you sitting at home.

by Alex Theuma @alextheuma

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