Notes from the Studio

At Fluent, we work directly with founders, program leaders, and startup ecosystem builders across the United States. We’re developing and testing entrepreneurial training and support tools and methodologies to help founders everywhere beat the odds in their venture-building journey. We share what we’re working on and learning here.

The Machine: Making Customers

One of my founders at Velocity Accelerator joked this week that we need t-shirts for our cohort that say “Build the Machine.” I say it so often, in my workshops and coaching sessions, that it has become the mantra of this cohort. I say it so often, because it’s the most important part of the business for founders to focus on, once they’ve proven they are solving a problem people care about. Too...

What does success look like before we can measure jobs & fundraising?

But if your ecosystem is less than 10 years old, your startup landscape probably consists of a lot of very, very, very early stage companies. These companies are too early to have employees. They’re legitimately too early for funding. So how do we define and measure their progress?

Startups aren’t businesses. They’re speculations.

Once a founder is out on the road pitching their business to investors, they often face the harsh reality that the investors are “grading” them based on a set of metrics, milestones, and indicators that help the investor determine if the startup is investable, if it’s a good bet. Meanwhile, the founder has already gone all in — investing all of their time, energy, creativity, and money into their dream.

Learn more about the Fluent methodology

At Fluent, we are obsessed with pushing the state of the industry forward, specifically for community-based entrepreneurial support organizations.

In Ten out of Ten, Fluent CEO Beth McKeon outlines her vision for how startup community leaders can move beyond optimizing for luck in our ecosystems to a model designed to produce predictable, repeatable startup success.

 

Available for purchase: Spring 2019

Learn more about the Fluent methodology

At Fluent, we are obsessed with pushing the state of the industry forward, specifically for community-based entrepreneurial support organizations.

In Ten out of Ten, Fluent CEO Beth McKeon outlines her vision for how startup community leaders can move beyond optimizing for luck in our ecosystems to a model designed to produce predictable, repeatable startup success.

 

Available for purchase: Spring 2019

For Founders

You can stop pitching now

What would it feel like if you could be completely honest about your business? What would it feel like if you didn't have to constantly live in pitch mode? Personally, I think our startup communities would be stronger and we, as founders, would be healthier. Because entrepreneurship isn't showmanship. We shouldn't be prancing around the arena trying to look our best. Entrepreneurship is messy, confusing, discouraging, full of dead ends and lost time. It's also full of a-ha moments, discovery,...

What about the other half?

Last week, I read a quote from an investor, sharing how he makes investment decisions. "50% of what I'm looking for in an investment is me being able to answer, 'Do I like this person?'" Yikes. I find this incredibly problematic. Of course investors should put money into companies with founders they like. The founder/investor relationship is for the long-term. I certainly wouldn't invest in someone I didn't want a long-term relationship with. Here's the problem though: We humans tend to "like"...

Two years of growth in 90 days

The best accelerators operate on two levels - business development and founder development. The person you were the day before starting an accelerator isn't the same person you will be called toward during the three months of intense work, experimentation, feedback, success, and failure. If you are the same person at the end of the three months, you didn't do it right. If you come into an accelerator very product-focused, you'll probably be challenged to get out and talk to customers, sell...

Irrational, but predictable

In a recent post, I wrote that humans are irrational, but predictable. This is one of my favorite sayings. Because it's true! This is the basic reason we need to talk to customers before, during, and throughout the process of creating solutions and products. We can assume all day long that we know exactly why a customer would need our product, but people are irrational. Sometimes, they buy one solution over another because of the color or shape of the product. Sometimes, a fractional...

Grow smart

I’m at the Launch Scale conference hosted by Jason Calacanis in San Francisco this week.  And the overwhelming advice in the talks and panels with investors is Grow Smart.   There is a growing appetite for real businesses, not just hyped up vanity metrics.  This is good news for the startups I coach. Whether a founder wants to build a company that requires outside funding or wants to bootstrap, the right answer is to focus on the fundamentals of a solid business model validated with customers....

My opinion doesn’t matter

I met with a founder this week for coffee to learn more about her business. She did a good job pitching the problem she wants to solve and her approach to solving it. And then she asked, "So what do you think?" This is a common question with a lot of new founders. They attend pitch events, mentor networking events, and ask for coffee meetings with folks they think might be able to help them. They ask for feedback and advice pretty widely within the startup community. I certainly did this when...

I hate pitch competitions

They glorify being certain in an industry that is all about creating value out of thin air, where nothing is certain. They don't differentiate stages, so startups that are very early are pitted against companies that have customers and a product. Often, judges don't even have or use a rubric for scoring. They pick winners based on their "gut", which we know is actually code for bias. They distract founders away from the work they should be doing - talking and selling to customers. It is...

Magical thinking math is dangerous

Have you ever pulled out a scrap of paper and did little calculations and daydreamed about how big your sales could be if only X, Y, or Z are true? Like, "we only need 200 customers to pay us $1000/month..." Listen, I've done this kind of magical thinking math. It's fun and feels good. It feels like a successful business is just a few sales away. But it's dangerous. Especially if you don't have any sales yet. If you are doing magical thinking math while daydreaming about your first customer,...

Tiny, fast experiments

I was watching Shark Tank this weekend and one of the entrepreneurs who pitched in that episode did not get funding for one reason only. He had a good product. He had a little bit of traction. There were promising signs this business could be successful. But when the sharks asked him what he would do with the money, he said he would put it toward marketing. And that was the full extent of his plan. From that response, the investors started to lose faith in this founder's ability to grow. He'd...

One key metric

If I build it, they will come. If I get 300 people to pay $1000, I'll have $300k. That's enough to grow/raise capital/take a breath. If I just try things, something will work. These are all daydreams. Magical thinking. Your creative, disruptive, innovative business is a business. In business, you're looking for a repeatable, predictable machine. When you do X, Y should happen - every time. So... when you do X, what will Y reliably be? What does X need to be? This is your key metric. Each day,...

You can stop pitching now

What would it feel like if you could be completely honest about your business? What would it feel like if you didn't have to constantly live in pitch mode? Personally, I think our startup communities would be stronger and we, as founders, would be healthier. Because...

What can you not do?

It's Monday. What can you not do today? What can you not do this week? Not everything on our To Do list is created equal. Today's a good day to step back from the scrum board and ask the most important question - what can we NOT do. Maybe it's a task that's been...

Work is play

I used to host a big community event for families with lots of hands-on activities. And after each event, I'd look through the photos we'd taken to find the gems we could use to market the next year's event. I was looking for pictures of kids with wide, bright smiles,...

Real simple leadership tips

The October issue of Real Simple magazine has an article titled, "How to Raise a Problem-Solver." They give four tips: Make room for play - provide unstructured time for invention and "reasonable" risk-taking Support purpose - assign real work that matters and...

It all adds up

Years ago with my last business, I noticed how big video ads were going to become and started offering to make short videos for my advertisers as a bonus when they signed up for an annual package. Then, I had to teach myself how to shoot and edit videos in iMovie. I...

All good advice

Recently, I've started drinking a full Nalgene of water first thing when I wake up. And for the first time in a long time, I'm hitting my water consumption goals nearly every day. Thing is, I've heard this advice many times before, but never tried it for myself. But...

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