March 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
An old Puerto Rican legend tells the tale of the loyal dog of a Spanish soldier. The soldier and his pet patrolled the grounds of a small fort that protects the entrance to the Condado lagoon. The fortified walls, watch towers and cannons kept San Juan safe from pirates and the British fleet.
One day, after years patrolling the fort together, the soldier was recruited as reinforcement for the Spanish Military in Cuba. Soon he was shipped away, leaving behind his loyal pet. The dog watched his master’s ship disappear into the horizon, standing on a group of rocks with the waves of the Atlantic crashing at his feet.
According to the legend, the dog went out to that same point day after day, waiting for the return of his master, his eyes forever fixed on the horizon. Years of longing, petrified him into the rocks, and today, if you visit Condado, you can still see the dog, now a loyal stone, staring out at the ocean.
I’ve always loved this story, but recently I fear that I myself may be waiting hopelessly for something that might never come.
I always pass the legendary dog when I go out for a walk. As an entrepreneur it pains me to feel so identified with his plight. I am constantly refreshing my inbox and verifying that my phone’s ringer isn’t on mute. I am always waiting for a sign of progress: a returned call, a spike in downloads or a reply to an email. I can almost hear a mocking version of the old-school AOL voice saying “You don’t got mail.”
There’s a limit to the amount of proposals you can send and cold calls you can make. Each action you take, sets off a new timer, a new response to wait for.
I guess this is true of any sales job, you’re lucky to get a response for 10% of your calls. But as an entrepreneur, you are the product, unanswered calls become even more hurtful. Sometimes there are streaks of success, days in which you are on fire. But in between, long stretches of silence make it hard to feel productive and stay focused.
I try to escape these silent stretches with long walks. My route forces me to face the legendary dog in Condado.
I admire his persistence but despise the loyalty that blinded him to reality.
This is the great risk of being so personally vested in something. It is easy to become blinded by your incredible loyalty to an idea. It’s hard to discern if you’re waiting for something real, or just becoming a human version of the legendary tale.
I am a very good networker, I take pride in in the response rate of my emails and I have become a good salesman. Are the replies and returned calls validation of these skills or a sign of the value of my product? It’s easy to confuse small short-term achievements, like the booking a meeting, for long-term success. The tide continues to rise and ebb, but will it ever bring the master?
The legendary tale that I loved so much as a child, has become a cautionary one now that I am an entrepreneur. The lonely dog has reinforced the value of the Lean Startup approach to building a company. Lean methodologies help take the stupid loyal dog out of the equation and makes sure that the human behind the project can truly discern when to pivot or simply pull the plug.
I can’t say I have been the best lean practitioner. The loyal dog in me is a strong and hardheaded beast. At times I have held on to an idea for too long, avoiding clear signs of a dead end. I have gotten restless and tried mini-projects, ways to feel productive during the long waiting periods. These detours have only delayed finding out whether my original venture was viable or not.
You can’t just set out to make it happen. You can’t just sit on the rock and do what you know what how to do. You have to set milestones, run tests, and give yourself a deadline. Running lean can help you operate with discipline and keep you from standing there, blinded by loyalty, wishfully confusing the mist of a couple of random waves as a sign that the tide is changing and that your master will come after all.
As I get ready for another pilgrammage to SXSWi this week I look forward to learning from other entrepreneurs who face the same challenges.
I would love to hear of any examples of how lean methodologies have helped any of my readers pivot or simply put your startup to sleep.
If you’d like to contemplate these issues while taking in the view of waves crashing into a Spanish Fort, visit Puerto Rico. Here’s a link to a couple of hotels with a great view of our legendary dog.
January 2, 2013 § 2 Comments
A year ago I was a creative director. In advertising, to gauge my productivity at year’s end, I would take inventory of the crop of work I had produced that was worthy of a spot in my portfolio. I created dozens of ads a year, but just 3 or 4 portfolio pieces, was enough for a stellar year.
I have been an entrepreneur for a year now. I am trying to gauge my productivity:
I have developed four products.
I launched two iPhone apps, one Android App and a text messaging platform.
I signed a contract that entitles me to compensation every time a user clicks a button within one of those apps.
I recruited a base of paid-users for each product developed in just eight months.
I did not develop a product that did not have a paying client waiting for it.
Since August, my startup has had the luxury of observing end users, providing real data to measure profitability of each product.
I spent more time in front of customers than building web sites and landing pages.
My products only have about 300 users. But I have emailed with, talked to or met about 65% of them in person.
I have users to learn from, but learning from them is not bogging me down.
They have taught me that certain upgrades that are still in the development pipeline add no value and can be scratched, while others that I invested to deploy were completely unnecessary.
I became a business development lead, one-man customer development lab, project manager, tech support specialist, mailman, beta tester, voice over talent, social media community manager, web master and consultant.
I have felt fearless, I have felt scared shitless; sometimes within the span of the same day.
I have met with more lawyers than I’d like to admit and confirmed my hatred of spreadsheets.
I have tried to bite off more than I can chew. I could’ve been leaner. I could have been faster.
There are plenty of things I did wrong, but plenty I did right.
I have swung for the fences.
After a year as an entrepreneur, I have a portfolio, similar to the crop I added to my web site each year as a Creative Director. But the bar is higher now. I am not looking for case studies or campaigns to add to the CV, I’m searching for a business model to add to the income statement.
This is my foundation. A year of interviews, proposals and spreadsheets has given me a clearer picture of the odds each product has of making it. I will invest my time in 2013 accordingly.
November 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Now my App lays asleep
I pray for Apple it’s soul to keep
If approved before I wake
Perhaps some money, it can make.
August 7, 2012 § 1 Comment
“Your product is very interesting.”
That was my potential customers reaction to my pitch last night.
Interesting is for a startup, what cute is for a 14 year old boy who has been trying to get the girl of his dreams attention for 3 years.
If you’re inexperienced, if you’re fragile, like I was in 8th grade. You might mistake “cute” for the best thing you’ve ever heard.
You might replay “cute” in your head. Tell your friends that the hot girl thinks you’re cute. High five your brother and add a little bounce to your step.
But you are only fooling yourself, cute, like interesting, won’t get you any closer to your goal.
You don’t want customers to find your product interesting. You don’t want the hot girl to think your cute.
You want them to want your product. You want her to want you.
Back to the drawing board.
July 31, 2012 § 2 Comments
New York-San Juan-Cannes
In May of 2007 I left New York City, where I had been an Associate Creative Director in advertising for several years, to come to join JWT in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
A colleague, who continues to be an invaluable advisor to me, warned me about the move: “Miguel, I believe in what you’re trying to do. I just think you’re trying to do it in the wrong market.”
He had every reason to doubt of Puerto Rico as the launching pad for the rest of my career. Why would anyone trade Manhattan for San Juan? At the time, Puerto Rico was in the 1st year of a recession; an economic crisis that many believe has yet to bottom out. Smaller budgets, smaller clients, smaller agencies all seemed to translate to less opportunities for growth. Puerto Rico was no man’s land. Thousands flocked to the states to escape the island; I was heading into the storm.
Even though the cards were stacked against my success in Puerto Rico, JWT San Juan was exactly what my career needed. For five years, I worked as a creative director here in my hometown. I did what I loved, in a country I loved. The crisis, reminded me on a daily basis of how fortunate I was, leaving little room for the sense of entitlement that can be a by-product of the luxuries of big agency life.
Gone were the two-week film productions in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and Vancouver. Gone where million dollar budgets. Gone where the big name directors. In their place, JWT San Juan offered a simple challenge: “do great work or you will not survive.”
Now I realize that all the rest was what people in the startup world call vanity metrics; perks that are easily mistaken for results. Perks that make you lose sight of the ultimate goal. In Puerto Rico, I was forced be scrappy. The only reward was the work.
Almost five years to the date of my departure, JWT San Juan received the Gran Prix Lion in the Public Relations category at the Cannes Advertising Festival, along with other Lions in the Radio, Media and Branded Entertainment categories for a campaign that I am proud to have been a part of. Winning at Cannes was a dream come true, it is the ultimate goal for any advertising creative.
Throughout Puerto Rico’s history, my people have migrated to New York to follow their dreams.
For the past five years JWT, San Juan has been living proof that it is possible to reverse the trend.
Returning home, was the shortest route to Cannes.
I have since moved on and for the past six months have been working to launch a tech startup in Puerto Rico. There is no doubt in my mind that my island is the wrong market for this kind of pursuit, yet somehow this doubt equips me with great confidence. There is only one option. No time for vanity metrics.
“Do great work or you will not survive.”
Here is the case study for “The Most Popular Song” the campaign awarded in Cannes. The most impressive part of the campaign is the fact that the agency that created the work, practices what it preaches.
March 27, 2012 § 1 Comment
One day, while thumbing through headshots of rejected Baywatch models, David Hasselhoff heard an assistant announce God’s greatest gift to comedy:
“Mr. Hasselhoff, that single you recorded a year ago is now #1 in Germany.”
I’m sure Hasselhoff set out to conquer “Casey’s Kasem’s American Top 40” and hear his masterpiece from convertibles on the PCH, but somehow it ended up on the Autobahn instead.
In the short time I’ve been a part of the startup community, every one speaks of founders with the vision to “change the world.” Luckily, the same people usually speak of the perseverance it takes to see your product, your target, your price and everything in between change a thousand times before achieving the “change” that drives you.
I had been warned. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
The past three months have taught me that I won’t be playing at the Superbowl or collecting the Grammy’s I had visualized when I started this journey, but not all is lost. I’m confident that I can find the equivalent of David Hasselhoff’s infamous concert at the Berlin Wall.
After a customer interview on Friday, I stepped into my car and uttered what sounded like God’s greatest gift to a startup: “I think I’ve found the right way to distribute our product.”
Who knows where my new “Significant Path to Customers” will take me. That uncertainty comes with the territory.
Life as an entrepreneur has already made it common for me to utter perfect quotes for blog posts to myself while I step into my car. I can live with this, but drunk dialing my 3-month old daughter with a mouthful of Carl’s Jr, is where I draw the line.
P.S. Love the term “Significant Path to Customers” heard it on a talk from Ash Maurya, check him and his new book out on twitter @ashmaurya.
Here’s a List of Albums and Songs from Hasselhoff’s Discography Includes Classics like:
“David Hasselhoff Sings America”
“David Hasselhoff Sings America Gold Edition”
“Flying on the Wings of Tenderness”
“Do the Limbo Dance”
“Hands up for Rock ‘n’ Roll”
And my personal favorite:
“Wir Zwi Allein”
March 6, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Have you ever fed a toddler? If you haven’t you’re more than welcome to come over to my house and fill-in for me during dinner time. My son, Miguel Angel, has developed an endless reportoire of tactics to dodge spoonfulls of rice and beans:
The King Kong: meatball airplanes are swatted down from the sky.
The Winky Wright: fists are parked in front of the mouth like a boxer, deflecting dozens of rice jabs.
The Intermission #1: he forces you to rush him over to the bathroom as if a fire hydrant where about to burst, and then proceeds to urinate .00003 ounces with a smile on his face.
The Intermission #2: a slight variation on Intermission #1.
These nightly sessions of frustration by his booster seat have prepared me for life as an entrepreneur. When it comes to saying no or stalling, my potential clients are just as creative as my son. The hardest part about it is that you have to remain cool through the whole thing, imitate the chipper voice of customer service agents and say stuff like: “No problem I’ll check back in a week” “Sure I’ll send you a brochure” “You lost the brochure? No problem I will send one, I mean I will have my “”assistant” send one right away.
Luckily, there’s a learning curve, and my pitch, like my food airplanes, has become a fine-tuned machine. At first, it didn’t seem like this was going to be the case, but right when the rejection was making me feel like I was hitting on the only woman at the only bar left on planet earth, I got a prospect to bite.
The key has been professional persistence combined with researching your prospects. Combining both makes it hard for people to say no, it almost forces them to listen to you. When you do your research, follow up, and really give a great pitch people almost begin rooting for you. They find your delusional journey endearing, which is the perfect setup for a Yes.
I am thrilled by this challenge and learning from every NO. I have a whole airforce of B52′s, F-16′s and Apache Helicopters at my disposal to search for customers who will consistently bite at my offer. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll design the racecars, trains, jet ski’s or whatever it takes to have them open wide and say YUM.