Friday, January 7, 2011

Launching Tech Ventures: Part III, Tools & Techniques


This is the third of four posts about Launching Technology Ventures (LTV), a new MBA elective course I'm developing at Harvard Business School to explore lean startup management practices. Part I provides an overview of concepts covered in the course. Part II describes LTV's class sessions. Part IV lists recommended readings for the course.

[Addendum, Apr. 10, 2011: if you are interested in lean startup concepts, you should also check out the LTV course blog. Students write blog posts instead of taking an exam. They've done terrific work.]

Here’s a preliminary list of tools and techniques that I think MBAs should master if they are working in product management, marketing, or business development functions in tech startups or in new ventures in established tech companies. In LTV, students will work on a team-based field project that applies one of these tools/techniques in a new venture.


  1. IDEO-style Idea Generation. IDEO has a structured approach for  applying ‘design thinking’ to new product development.
  2. Business Model Generation. Ash Maurya has adapted Osterwalder’s business model generation framework for use in info tech startups.
  3. Customer Discovery Interviews. In Four Steps to the Epiphany, Steve Blank describes interview processes for assessing demand for a product idea.
  4. Focus Group Research.
  5. Survey Research.
  6. Persona Development. A persona is a fictional character with demographic, psychographic, and behavior attributes of a representative product user. Many tech companies assess new features in terms of their fit with personas’ needs.
  7. Competitor Site Benchmarking.
  8. Wireframing. A wireframe is a skeletal depiction of a website showing key navigational concepts and page content. Many wireframing software tools are available, e.g., Balsamiq.
  9. Prototype Development.
  10. Usability Tests. For $39, UserTesting.com will videotape a representative consumer trying a product or feature.
  11. A/B Test of New Feature.
  12. Conversion Funnel Analysis/Optimization.
  13. Landing Page Optimization. Performable specializes in landing page optimization.
  14. Search Engine Marketing Campaign Design/Optimization.
  15. Inbound Marketing Campaign Design/Delivery/Analysis. This book by Hubspot’s founders explains the logic for relying on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to drive traffic to a site.
  16. Public Relations Strategy. Startup CEOs disagree on whether a DIY approach to PR makes sense, and how long startups should wait before they invest money/time in PR.
  17. Site Redesign Based on User Experience Analysis.
  18. Analysis of User Requests for Product Support.
  19. Analysis of User Suggestions for New Features. Dropbox has implemented a site feature for soliciting feature suggestions, called “Votebox."
  20. Product Roadmap/Feature Prioritization Process Design. Startups who rely on agile development methods use project management tools such as Pivotal Tracker.
  21. Design/Delivery of Sales Pitch for Early Adopters.
  22. Sales Lead Prioritization Process.
  23. Design/Delivery of Charter User Program. Silicon Valley Product Group, a consulting firm that helps tech companies improve their product management capabilities, makes the case for a structured approach to working with beta customers.
  24. Net Promoter Score Analysis. NPS, a measure of product loyalty used by many tech companies,  is obtained by asking customers: "How likely is it on a 0-10 scale that you’d recommend our product to a friend/colleague?" Respondents are categorized as Promoters (9-10 rating), Passives (7-8), or Detractors (0-6). NPS = Promoter % - Detractor %.  
  25. Lifetime Value of a Customer Analysis.
The links in the list above are added to help with definitions rather than to serve as a comprehensive guide for someone who wants to learn about these techniques. See Part IV of this series for more books and blog posts that discuss the techniques and their application.

Over time, I’d like to build a knowledge base — perhaps through a wiki — that captures what MBAs and others working in tech ventures need to know about these tools and techniques. In particular, when/where/how/why is the technique best used? Are there conditions where the technique is not appropriate? What mistakes do people make with the technique? How can MBAs acquire the skills needed to apply the technique?

I'd value your feedback. What tools/techniques are missing from list? Do you have thoughts about the questions I pose above?

8 comments:

  1. As a recently launched tech venture I read the list with interest. I think developing the "elevator pitch" is one of the hardest tasks, then motivating yourself to keep picking up the telephone and talking about the solution! Anyway, regarding point 24, Net Promoter Score measurement, perhaps I could recommend our free tool, Recommendi.com, which can help startups get feedback in NPS format. Regards Adam

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  2. Hi Tom,

    Great list of tools! May I suggest my own startup: Visual Website Optimizer for A/B testing. It makes A/B testing of different hypothesis a really simple job. Case in point: a startup tested various positioning statements to see which one clicks the most with their target audience. Here is the case study: http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/split-testing-blog/using-ab-split-testing-to-refine-your-startups-positioning-90-increase-in-conversion-rate/

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  3. Thanks, Adam: elevator pitch is a crucial tool and it should be on the list!

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  4. The challenge with Personas is that as most people practice them, they are untestable. You can´t test fiction. Therefore do they really fit into a Lean Startup, where the central concept is that everything should be tested?

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  5. Tom, great list! I would add target market segments, user personas, buyer personas, target influencers, target marketing channels, and target sales channels as topics. Also, agile development (scrum in particular) and direct sales methodology are really important for many emerging companies. You might find some useful information on our content site aimed at emerging technology companies, www.openviewlabs.com

    Let me know if you want to talk any of this through or need example resources...

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  6. WRT the elevator pitch. Here's a useful madlibs approach presented by Adeo Ressi, the Founder Institute.

    http://techcrunch.com/2010/11/03/madlibs-pitch-adeo-ressi-founder-institute/

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  7. WRT the elevator pitch, I really like the following game-concept inspired approach that also provides a kind of "template" for the formulation:
    http://www.gogamestorm.com/?p=125

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  8. This list was a reminder for me that 'the older I get the less I seem to know'. I need to take that class!

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