Experiments Lead to Product-Market Fit

The central theme of my Harvard Business School class, Launching Technology Ventures (LTV), is that startups are experimentation machines and the choice and design of experiments during a finite envelope of time and money is the central strategic decision that founders make. In other words, founders should test the experiments that matter most.

If done correctly, these early experiments eventually lead to finding product-market fit. But finding product-market fit in the context of a dynamic system that makes up the startup business model is complex and nuanced. Each component of the business model is linked to the other. Thus, experiments should be run that hold certain elements constant and focus on testing the most important, critical path business model elements first.

To help frame those decisions, I have developed a simple framework that builds off Professor Tom Eisenmann’s work on business model analysis for entrepreneurs to communicate the early strategic choices in experiment design. Founders need to answer two simple questions:

  • Which experiments should I run between testing the Consumer Value Proposition, the Go To Market and the Cash Flow formula (sometimes also referred to as the business model)?
  • What organization should I build to execute each of these experiments in the most efficient fashion?

The following two slides summarize these two questions visually:

Step One in my HBS LTV Course: figure out which are the most critical experiments to run

Step Two: figure out what organization to stand up to run those experiments in the most efficient fashion

The other day, my friend Ed Zimmerman of Lowenstein asked me to “speed present” my entire course in 5 minutes in advance of a panel that he hosted as part of his VentureCrush series. Here is that presentation, where I cover the experiments as well as the metrics that help determine where you are in your quest for product-market fit:

I welcome hearing about feedback from your own experiments!

The Rocket Ship List of Startups – 2019

New graduates should jump on board one of these high flying companies and go along for the ride

Graduating students hungry to dive into the startup community around the world (aka StartUpLand) often struggle to select the right, specific opportunity where they can productively start their career.

Each spring, I provide a comprehensive list of exciting, growing, hiring startups that are worthy of consideration as places to start or continue a career in StartUpLand. The criteria for being on the list is subjective but is a mix of fundraising (typically > $20m in the most recent round), scale (typically > 100 employees), momentum (typically growing users or revenue > 50%) and hiring (typically growing headcount > 20%, including a number of entry-level positions that would be a fit for recent college or business school graduates).

Before we get into the companies themselves, I suggest checking out two of my posts where I give some more detailed advice on how to select the right company for you and position yourself to secure a job:

Once you have reviewed this framework for deciding what you’re looking for, below you will find a list of 500 companies to research and approach.

As usual, the list is compiled and organized based on location. Like David Brooks, I believe in selecting a particular community to invest in and contribute to as a member of the ecosystem.

I received fantastic input from angels, entrepreneurs, lawyers and VCs across the world, helping me pressure test and compile this list (note: Flybridge portfolio companies are in blue). This year, I added companies from India and China with the help of a number of friends from those communities — a nod to the growing global importance of those two startup ecosystems. I’d also point folks to Stanford’s Andy Rachleff’s terrific list, which he publishes each fall with a similar theme.

I’m sure I made many mistakes and omissions, which are all my own. Special thanks to my Flybridge teammate and MIT Sloan intern Caroline Constable, who methodically crushed this year’s list and Harvard computer science intern Raymond Wang, who provided awesome analytical, programmatic firepower.

As always, feedback welcome!

East Coast

BOS 2019 v2

NYC 2019 v2

West Coast

International

Other Startup Hubs

  • ATL: Bitpay, CallRail, FullStory, Kabbage, MailChimp, Pindrop, SalesLoft, Terminus
  • CHI: AvantCredit, bloXroute, Civis Analytics, Fooda, FourKites, Kin Insurance, Project 44, ShopRunner, Sprout Social, Tempus
  • CO: Boom Supersonic, Cloud Elements, CyberGRX, FullContact, GoSpotCheck, Ibotta, JumpCloud, LogRhythm, Quantum Metric, Red Canary, TeamSnap, Welltok
  • DC: MapBox, Optoro, Sonatype, Vox Media, WeddingWire
  • SEA: Apptio, Convoy, DefinedCrowd, ExtraHop, Knock, OfferUp, Outreach, Porch, Rover.com, Textio
  • UT: Avetta, BambooHR, Canopy Tax, Fortem Technologies, Health Catalyst, HireVue, InsideSales.com, Lucid Software, ObservePoint, Podium, Qualtrics, Solutionreach, Via, Workfront

All About Applied AI

MITCoC-Panels-01_0

My partner, Chip Hazard, has been on a blogging tear lately on the topic of Applied AI.

We are pretty fired up about this theme here at Flybridge and Chip’s recent posts provide a nice outline as to why. His first post from a few weeks ago, Applied AI: Beyond The Algorithm, provides a description of how we think about next generation AI companies and the opportunities and challenges they face. Today’s post, the AI Paradox, gives a more detailed view on what we are internally referring to as “AAA grade” AI companies:  those that are focused on building Absorable, Applied AI. We are very bullish on this category of startups.

The kickoff last week of MIT’s billion-dollar new AI school, the Schwarzman College of Computing (pictured above), was a punctuation point in an ongoing arc of historical significance. We are entering an era where applied AI is on the cusp of impacting billions of lives and businesses. This wave will be a fun one to watch and participate in.

How To Raise Your First Round of Capital

Every year, I do a talk at Harvard Business School regarding how to raise your first round of capital. In the past, folks have found the slides to be helpful, and so I am sharing them here. The longer version of this material is covered in my book, Mastering the VC Game (first chapter is free) and this teaching note on Raising Startup Capital. I hope they’re helpful!

 

 

Applied AI: Beyond The Algorithms

Great, thoughful post from my partner, Chip, on Applied AI.

Hazard Lights

One of the primary areas of focus for Flybridge over the years has been to be the first institutional investor behind companies looking to transform the enterprise technology landscape with modern software.  Given the explosion in the volume of data being generated globally, this theme has led to investments in companies such as MongoDB (databases) and Nasuni (storage) that operate at the data infrastructure layer of the enterprise tech stack.

More recently, we have been investing in further advances in data management, analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.  While the potential for artificial intelligence has been written about extensively, what is less well understood is that the algorithms and underlying tools are only a fraction of the value and are unlikely to be a source of long-term differentiation.  Fully realizing the power of AI requires a deep understanding of the domain and the specific workflows that AI will seek to…

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Don’t Abandon Lean Experimentation on the Blockchain

Image result for the hidden cost of icos

In my blockchain investment work (we have invested in six early-stage projects, including bloXroute, Enigma, FalconX, NEX and two stealth projects), I have been struck by the fact that decades of progress on applying the scientific method to entrepreneurship (e.g., experimental design, lean startup, design thinking), as well as decades of established governance modeled, are being effectively blown up by Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).

Steve Blank and Eric Ries popularized applying the scientific method to startups in an incisive fashion with the publishing of their books, Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Lean Startup, respectively. These became canons for entrepreneurs around the world as they embarked on the journey for product-market fit.

With blockchain startups raising over $5 billion in 2017 and over $12 billion through the first three quarters of 2018, it appears that this discipline of staged experimentation and fundraising is being discarded.

Harvard Business School professor Ramana Nanda and I spent some time on this issue in an article we published last week in Harvard Business Review called “The Hidden Cost of Initial Coin Offerings”. In it, we outline 3 defenses of large ICOs, some of the downsides they present and how they constrain the team from executing successfully on their mission. We hope it adds to an important debate on startup staging and experimentation in the context of this exciting, emerging funding mechanism.

 

Blockchains and Communities

We are big believers in community-building. We have invested heavily in it as a firm, contributing to the ecosystem in various ways that are consistent with our values (e.g., fostering diversity in tech, supporting women entrepreneurs and immigrant entrepreneurs). And we have invested heavily in it across our portfolio companies. Our insight a decade ago that developers were becoming the kings of IT led to a fruitful investment thesis, led by my partner Chip, around developer driven adoption and community building (as exemplified by our investments in MongoDB, Codecademy, Crashlytics and Firebase).

For the last few years, we have been applying this thesis to our investments in blockchain and crypto. Blockchain-based startups share many of the same characteristics as developer-driven startups. With these companies, sustainable competitive advantage is built through a loyal community of supporters who contribute to the project and feel ownership over its success. Because of token network effects, a Blockchain startup has the opportunity to create ardent supporters that literally have a stake in the project in ways that MongoDB and other open source projects could never do.

On the eve of our second portfolio company completing an Initial Coin Offering, we gathered the community managers of our five Blockchain startups and – together with our advisors, MongoDB’s Meghan Gill (first nontechnical hire and head of community and demand generation) and OpenX’s Scott Switzer (founding CTO of the largest open source advertising exchange network) – to share best practices in community-building in the context of crypto. Here’s what we learned.

Provide An Amazing First-Time Experience

MongoDB is a complex, scalable database for sophisticated customers. But their design goal was to provide an amazing out of the box experience – holding themselves to the standard of being able to download, install and make use of the product in under five minutes. Crashlytics founder, Wayne Chang, likes to refer to the initial product you release to your community as the Minimum Lovable Product (MLP): a product that is “so intuitive, so satisfying to use, that your customer base can’t help but tell someone about their experience.” Focus on triggering an emotional response, Chang advises, with a narrative and small surprises that compel the user to appreciate that you are thinking of them and their needs.

Jump On An Existing Wave

One of the most important pieces of advice we heard from our community-building experts was the value of latching on to existing communities that already have momentum behind them. NEX, a decentralized crypto exchange, has latched on to the City of Zion community (a non-profit the founders started to support the NEO ecosystem). MongoDB latched on to the NoSQL movement. OpenX latched on to the rise in programmatic advertising. If you can frame your work in the context of an existing trend or platform and then establish your presence in the communities and academic environments where that trend is flourishing, you can put yourself in a strong position to ride someone else’s wave and not be forced to generate all the kinetic energy to support your platform by yourself.

There’s No Substitution For Presence, Especially The Founder

Megan advises, “There’s no magic bullet when it comes to community building. You have to be consistent and always available on line – wherever your community wants to interact with you.” This presence has been challenging for blockchain startups as there is already tremendous fragmentation in communications channels. Discord, Telegram, Slack, Twitter, Reddit, Stack Overflow and many others are all very active forums for different segments of your community. And, if you want to jump on an existing wave, you need to be active through all those channels in the communities of others as well. The team from Enigma (a scalable privacy protocol that enables “secret contracts”) talked about their heightened sense of urgency in being organized to answer questions that come up online immediately. As OpenX’s Switzer put it, “Being available to communicate with and respond to the community is one of the biggest jobs I have as a founder”. Enigma recently created an Ambassador Program in order to help scale the presence of their small team. Ambassadors have their own channel and private calls with the founders to get briefed on the product roadmap and upcoming releases. Enigma built their own scraper / web crawler to track all the questions that come from the different forums and loads them automatically into their issue tracking platform, Jira. BloXroute (a network-based scalability solution for blockchains) is focused on attracting a deeply technical community at this stage in their roadmap and so have put out more technical content to match what their community might be looking for.

In watching our blockchain-based startups evolve, we have come to appreciate more and more the importance of a subtle skill on the part of founding teams in crypto. They not only need to have the usual compelling vision, unique market insight, and execution ability. They also need to be intentional, strategic, capable community builders.

Thanks to Samir Ghosh, Meghan Gill and Scott Switzer for their contributions – as well as Tor Bair (Enigma), Kevin Flynn, Carla Paiva, Giuseppe Stuto and Nissa Szabo.