Minimum Viable Blog: What Blogging Taught Me About Startups

This blog was started in late 2009 after several attempts at blogging. Every time I'd configure the LAMP stack, source a the perfect Wordpress theme, and then, fine tune its look-and-feel. Being completely locked-in on the technicalities, however, I never got to write any actual content. Consequently, there was no room for feedback and my motivation stalled. It was a vicious cycle.

So in 2010 I figured it was time to go quick-and-dirty. I had to break with the cycle; forget about that stunning domain name, forget about database design, forget about adding yet another feature. Instead, I'd just publish that first post, watch what happens, and start collecting that feedback.

Without going into that content is king thing, it has been more of a learning path and understanding the real value of interacting with real audiences. Nonetheless, one year later I'm still using standard WordPress.com hosting and theme, and subscriptions are growing.

Now, if you swap the word blog for product in the short story above, you will notice that the pattern has a thing or two in common with startup methodologies – the very thing I have been ranting about the past year.

Launching a "Minimum Viable Blog" did not only enable me to measure visitors, clicks or subscription metrics. It enabled me to test and validate value propositions with real people.

Initially, I had this plan on writing about digital strategies - an idea grounded in a recurring problem I had experienced through consulting: existing strategy frameworks were not adapted to the web. First, however, I couldn’t resist scratching my own itch as an aspiring entrepreneur. So I decided to write a short piece on trade-offs between deliberation and creativity. Fortunate enough, I was soon having Skype calls with inspired voices of the tech scene. I had discovered early adopters who encouraged me to continue down that road.

This motivated me to revisit shelved ideas about early-stage business models and methodologies of integrating marketing and software development. Since, I have learned about customer development, lean startups, minimum viable products, pivots, product/market fit, among others, which I brought into teaching at Centre for entrepreneurship at the University of Oslo. From theory to practice and back, I expect to give such topics a real try this year.

So far I have studied, taught, worked for and ranted about tech startups, but have yet to go all in. Going forward I will share here my pursuits in search of product/market fit for my new Internet software startup (more to come).

A special thanks to all subscribers for following me in 2010.

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What is Open Source Entrepreneurship?

Recently, I commented to Dogpatch's blog which coined the idea of Open Source Entrepreneurship for their philosophy; "the community benefits from a very high level of interactivity and sharing between the members". With the growing role of open source as an enabler of entrepreneurship, I believe that coining the idea carries responsibility and deserves further elaboration.

With EasyPeasy, a community providing an open source operating system for netbooks, I observe that some competitors makes use of open source software alike. They don't, however, share their source code or new builds back with the community  - which in the first place provided them with the opportunity. Open source software may be an impetus to entrepreneurship, but is it mutual? Should open source enabled entrepreneurs contribute back, or does the argument “we give back when we grow big” holds?

With the dissemination of open source software, technology becomes commodity and allows entrepreneurs to shorten development and time-to-market cycles. Since open source software is available to almost anybody, it's not the technology itself, but the application and capacity to meet with customers’ needs that makes it a competitive edge. Consequently, the basis of value creation migrates from "back-end" product development towards "front-end" customer development. For an example, the threshold for putting up a LAMP architecture and yet another Digg-clone script is minimal.

I believe that entrepreneurs that are using open source should share their modifications and extensions from the start. Even in spite of competitive risk. And it is more to it than ethics. The nature of open source methods allows startups to leverage the true value of building user and customer relationships, learn from and test their hypothesis with early adopters. This is essential to user-lead product development which turns out to be a promise of value creation. As with social media, community management becomes a necessity and startups will be able to get a head start when it comes to tapping into their users' needs. When done right the startup will be able to recruit from the open source community, and create market evangelists as they get increased ownership to the product.

There is probably more to it, but I hope that open source entrepreneurship adapts open source software thinking but exploiting it. See also Matt Mullenweg, WordPress founder: Why it pays to stay faithful to open source. In the long run "giving back" will help the open source paradigm to evolve, and in turn spur entrepreneurship.

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Disciplined Creativity: how to balance between creativity and focus?

Innovation and entrepreneurship is subject to a fundamental paradox - the trade-off between creativity and focus. Many entrepreneurs are by nature creative individuals that must balance between glazing new ideas, products or features at the one hand, and execution and determinism at the other.

DisciplinedCreativity-methodologist

The Disciplined Creativity idea is derived from the Flow concept by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi to help innovators reconcile creativity and discipline in parallel.

Update: In light of Lean Startup and Customer development methods this brings about a discussion on how entrepreneurs can stay true to their vision while still maintaining the flexibility to pivot.