Launching Customer Development Labs

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Thanks to the feedback from our readers that the OnCompare blog was helpful, and expressing interest in a new one focused on companies doing customer development, I’m happy to announce…

Customer Development Labs is live!

Take a look.  If you’re interested in watching companies validate their business models, before they start coding, subscribe to join us in the experimentation.  Also let me know if you’re interested in a guest post.

Thoughts and feedback are always appreciated.

Cheers,
Justin

What Happened and What’s Next?

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It’s been a little over a year since we wrapped on the 3 Weeks to Live experiment.  So what happened?

Shooting OnCompare in the Head

OnCompaaaaaaare!

I’m happy to announce, we shot OnCompare in the head.

Let’s recap.  One month after launching we had:

  1. A working product
  2. Crushed the Launch conference
  3. Made first contact with 20+ angels & VCs
  4. A mailing list 700+ long

But, we were missing three things:

  1. Demonstrable traction
  2. A monetization strategy we were stoked about
  3. A dev team

No Traction
While we had some traction, it quickly became clear that to become a household name amongst SMBs, it was going to be a slog.  This is when we learned one of my favorite takeaways from the OnCompare experience:

SMBs don’t “self-identify”

No real-estate firm, accounting consultancy, or dentist office calls themselves a Small and Medium Sized Business.  They don’t subscribe to “SMB Monthly.”  Instead, they subscribe to “Real-Estate Warriors Weekly”, “CPA Annum” and “Oral Torture Quarterly.”  That means we’d need to make our presence known within each of these itty bitty channels.  Slog.

No Money

The second problem was that even if we got recognition within these SMB niches, the lifetime value of a customer was miniscule.  We were selling leads and analytics, but that customer we fought so hard for, might only come to our site 1 – 3 times/year, and then only be worth pocket change if we successfully converted them.

No Team

Finally, we had no dev team.  You could argue, and I’d agree, if we had traction and monetization, we would have had a dev team.  But we didn’t, so we didn’t.  The incredible guys who built OnCompare weren’t in a position to co-found a venture that didn’t have a business model to stand on – no one should be.

This time last year, we looked at the situation and without hesitation, opted for a “non-IPO, non-acquisition exit.”

"Italian with T, and failing fast, are Good Things" - Martha Stewart

“Italian with T, and failing fast…good things” – Martha Stewart

From inception, to launch, to dead pool in 2 months = failing fast <– A good thing.

To be very clear, despite the fact OnCompare wasn’t a success, 3 Weeks to Live was.  3 Weeks to Live was about answering the questions, “Can we build this in 3 weeks?  And can it be a business?  And can we have a good time doing it?”  That we knew the answers within 2 months, instead of 2 years, means it was.

What’s Next?

For the Team
Everyone is happily engaged on at the moment.

Aaron
Chris Auty
Chris To
Dave
Jacob
Jeremy
Joe
Joey*
Justin
Nathan

*Shout out to Joey who, after traveling the globe facilitating Startup Weekends, recently joined the Startup Weekend org fulltime where his is prepping to do some amazing things.

For the Product
Some folks have asked if OnCompare is for sale.  We’re taking those offers under consideration.

For the Blog
I really enjoyed contributing to this blog.  Most of all, I loved being transparent, and hearing that doing so was helpful to other startups.

With that in mind, I’m exploring ways to apply the same principles to the Customer Development phase of a project.  So, in the spirit of customer development, let me ask you:

If there was a 3 Weeks to Live-style blog documenting the customer development experiences of a couple companies, would you read it?

If we get enough interest, we’ll make it happen!

I’m falling for SF

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Interviewing for a new apartment today, can’t be late. They’ll give it to someone else.

Wait for me!

Wait for me!

Approaching the bus stop, I see it pulling away. I take off, sprint, up an all too common San Francisco hill/mountain to meet it at the next stop. I look into the back of the bus and a woman, understanding my plight, smiles at me. Can’t help but smile back as the incline gets real.

A third of the way up the hill, I’m keeping pace.
In front of me, two strangers. Thread the needle. “Pardon me!”
Neck and neck.
Half way there.
Shit, stumble.
The #30 pulls ahead.
Heart pounding hard, starting to hurt. Shit.
Slow to jog, then a walk.
Not going to happen today. Should have kept playing soccer.

But…the bus stops at the top of the hill. There’s hope?
If enough people get off, maybe I can make it on.
Speed up my walk, but only one person gets off.
But he’s not leaving, he’s half on the bus, half off.  Waving to me.
I jog again.
He’s holding the bus for me?!
Holy shit, some random guy is holding up the entire bus for me. No one is even getting off on this stop.

Running hard again.
Panting, I reach the back door of the bus.
As my foot hits the first step, the bus is full, standing room only.
Everyone simultaneously erupts…
into cheer.
Smiles, giggles, lots of happy people, including me.
More panting.

They were all watching, rooting. When they saw I couldn’t make it. They helped.
Thank you San Francisco.
I think I love you.

– Justin

[Update 4/5/11] I’ll be moving in on 4/16. 😉

Last Chance for a Miracle

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2 hours to go and we’re down 49% to 51% in Round 2 of Startup Madness. If you haven’t already voted, please do (and spread the word!): http://thisorthat.com/t/oncompare-vs-hollrback

Startup Madness: Pimping our Friends

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TechStars Startup MadnessTo coincide with March Madness, TechStars has put together a Startup Madness tournament where companies vie against one another in series of bracketed popularity contests.

They’ve rounded up some sponsors to donate prizes, but for most part this is a thinly veiled matter of pride for most companies, and an even more thinly veiled advertising campaign for TechStars.

Why We’re Doing This

So why are we participating, much less, writing a blog post about it? Well, our egos are we’re as susceptible to manipulation as anyone else’s but more importantly, it’s a good source of advertising for us.

Since OnCompare’s target audience is currently startups, and members & friends of startups are largely voting in this competition, every round we advance exposes OnCompare to a new swath of targeted users.

For example, we’re going head-to-head against Hollrback in this round, so every person Hollrback gets to view our competition (their friends, their users, their investors, etc.) is another person who knows what OnCompare is all about. If we advance to the next round, the process will repeat itself until we win, or get eliminated – all of which is less expensive and more exciting than an adwords campaign.

What we Need from You

With that in mind, we’re losing our current match-up and could really use your help to proceed to the next round. If you could:

  1. Vote here (takes <30 seconds): http://thisorthat.com/t/oncompare-vs-hollrback
  2. And tweet something like: Vote for @OnCompare at Startup Madness so they can continue their mission to change the web: http://bit.ly/dMS48B

We would not only be extremely grateful, but you’d be helping us get more users.

Thanks so much for your time, we really appreciate it and know we can win this round with a little help!

Justin

PS – Currently accepting nominations for things I should do if we win the tournament (e.g. shave half my head, volunteer somewhere unorthodox, eat sushi with a smile, etc.).

It’s not Networking…it’s Relationship Building

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Hey Everyone!

Joey here. I was doing some reflecting on the LAUNCH conference and wanted to share one of the most valuable things I took away, how to network correctly. One of Justin’s best traits is his amazing ability to network with others. He single handedly has crafted all of the amazing opportunities OnCompare has been given through his understanding of building relationships with others. I saw the impact of this first hand at the LAUNCH conference and decided I needed to learn more about his craft.

Here is a manuscript of our conversation about networking. You definitely will want to read through this one.

Joey: When you go to a networking event, what are the things you must have before stepping into that event?

Justin: fat stack of business cards (preferably w/ a blank matte finish on the back) , a pen or two, some energy, a recognition that everyone at a networking event is there for the same thing you are – to meet other people (that makes it much easier to walk up to strangers and start a conversation)

Joey: You definitely schooled me on not bringing a pen around, but what’s the value of having a pen or two?

Justin: For writing notes. It’s a trick I learned at healthare conferences where 75% of people write notes about who they are meeting on the back of that person’s card. I’ve found, without a pen to take notes on the back of their business cards, I can never remember what people do or how i can help them. Note: this isn’t about collecting cards, this is about paying it forward.

Joey: That is awesome! Most people go into events thinking about themselves, but you seem to always ask how you can help others. Mind going into a little more depth about that?

Justin: For sure. When I started networking, I thought it was all about how many people I could talk to in a room, how many people I could tell about what I was up to, and trying to achieve my own goals. Problem was, that was “networking” not “relationship building.” If you need a hand with something, no one you simply traded business cards with at a networking event is going to be there for you.

On the other hand, someone you’ve built a relationshp with, someone you’ve honestly and sincerely went out of your way to help, is often more than willing to return the favor.

Also, when hinting that you’ll try to help someone out, always under promise and over deliver.“Let me talk to my friend who is an angel and see if he’s interested.” is much better than “I’ll introduce you to my angel friend.”

Joey: Definitely, because I think that is something a lot of people do at networking events, they tend to over promise to make themselves seem like a better person for your network.

Justin: Yeah, the event is just where you flirt.  The emails and conversations afterwards are where you build the actual relationships.

Note: there’s a balance of course. This isn’t quid pro quo. And you should never, ever, ever say that you’ll do something in exchange for another favor. Any relationship you establish like this going forward is always going to be tit for tat and not genuine.

Joey: Now, one of the toughest things is actually making that first effort to meet a complete stranger. Can a shy person, be a good “relationship builder”?

Justin: For sure. remember the pre-req’s for walking into an event, “everyone there wants the same thing you do,” they’re just too afraid to talk to you about it. So, make it easier for them. I’ve never had anyone with an empty hand turn down a handshake (my batting average at clubs is the inverse of what it is at events)

Joey: Haha! There is something there, though. At clubs, most peoples pre-req’s aren’t to meet people.

Justin: That’s right! For dudes it’s to bang people.  For chicks it to tease people. At networking events, what you’re looking for matches, so it’s not really as scary as it might seem.

Joey: Going a little bit off the club thing, what’s one time where you tried to “help someone” at a networking event, and it went horribly wrong? Got any funny stories?

Justin: I was having dinner with some new healthcare friends, all ladies in their 40’s – 50’s and I’m in my late 20’s. They had asked me to be on the board of their special interest group and wanted to head out to dinner to celebrate (which I was stoked about!) Couple of glasses of wine in, and at some point the topic of names comes up. Despite having spent maybe a collective 4 hours with these ladies of the course of two years, I decided it would be a good idea to share my alternate name with them “Justin Cider.” Not only did they not get it immediately (say it out loud slowly) but when they did get it, they were less than impressed. Lesson learned: don’t make sexual jokes with older women you’ve just met who aren’t from Craigslist

Joey: haha thats classic! Last question, what’s one sentence to think about when you’re going into a networking event?

Justin: Who can I help tonight?

Joey: Thanks Justin, awesome session.


LAUNCH Conference by the Numbers

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We had a terrific time at the LAUNCH Conference last week. Many thanks to Jason Calacanis (chief LAUNCHer), Larry Chiang (guerrilla advisor), Danielle Morrill & Gene Miguel (killer after party planners) and David Wu (an Angel Investor who really lives up to the name); couldn’t have done it without them.

Here’s a summary of the conference, by the numbers:

OnCompare LAUNCH Conference booth

The gods wanted us to have two tables

1 = The number of tables at LAUNCH OnCompare started with.

2 = The number of tables at LAUNCH OnCompare ended with. No one showed up to occupy the table next to us, so after the first day, we claimed it as our own. Call it manifest destiny.

3 = Number of OnCompare team members present.

4 = Number of LAUNCH passes Calacanis gave us.  Our fourth went to Danielle of Twilio, as a thanks for helping put together the LAUNCH after party.

Danielle of Twilio fame

We ❤ Danielle, Gene & Twilio!

195 = Business cards collected during the conference

> 195 = Number of OnCompare demos given.  We would follow up just about every demo by asking about the person’s business, how we might be able to help him/her and collecting a business card.

> 194 = Number of people who reacted positively to OnCompare. I’ve never seen a product so universally accepted as a good idea, which means one of two things: sliced bread can eat shit or, more likely, we got tossed a bunch of softballs.  While we’ve built a great product that solves a real problem in a way that can generate revenue, we got asked virtually none of the “rude questions” we practiced the night before at In-N-Out (which we were not adequately prepared for, btw).  Feels like this “seed bubble” we’re in is incredibly (too?) friendly to entrepreneurs.

> 700 = Number of people who RSVP’d for the OnCompare & Twilio after party. If you couldn’t tell, that is an absolutely ridiculous number for a party announced < a week previously, and co-sponsored by a company with no PR, marketing, or “party planning committee” to speak of.

300? = Number of people who actually showed up. Hard to tell, but the place was packed and we rocked a line for at least the first two hours.

84 = Number of click-throughs to oncompare.com from our after party eventbrite site. Not an awful conversion rate, but clearly, this was a much better brand awareness campaign, than it was a user-generating one. In fact, we had several people come to our booth after the party and say things like, “I see your brand everywhere, but don’t know what you do.”

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Lots more great photos of the after party here: https://picasaweb.google.com/PMDayao/022311TwilioBloodhound#

Now, for more numbers…

$3,012 = Amount of cash, goods and services put up by our incredibly generous friends at LAUNCH, Twilio and David Wu.

$28 = Amount OnCompare spent out of pocket ($12 for parking and $16 for a couple puppy toys for Calacanis). For details on how we got $3k worth of goodies for our $28, see this post.

$.14 = $28/195 = DCIAC (Demo and Contact Info Acquisition Cost). Estimate of what we paid, out of pocket, per “demo”/business card basis.

17 = Number of different Angels and VCs we met. All very cursory at this point, we just snared them as they walked by our table, but having warm contact info for 17 different orgs w/ money that like what we’re up to will definitely come in handy.

Of particular note, one of those Angels was Naval Ravikant, the man behind Angel List who was very receptive. Memorable quotes from our conversation with him:

  • “You’ll make money.”
  • “You could probably get $100k – $200k now, but with another 30 days [worth of data points] you could go to VCs.”
  • “Let me know when you’re ready to raise. I’ve got a couple people on the Angel side who might be interested, and possibly on the VC side as well.”

This was by far, the highlight of the conference for us. A hyper-connected Angel like Naval digging what we’re up to, and being willing to spread the word when we’re ready…definitely worth the $28. Maybe even $30.

The one disappointment from the conference was that we weren’t one of the companies selected to present on stage. We hustled hard to make it happen, but it wasn’t meant to be this time. In some sense it’s good though…keeps us hungry, and at least a little humble.

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