Lean Coffee, HSS Style — 31 Aug 16

Tales from Auckland Lean Coffee, inspired and guided by The Happy Startup School.

To give you a bit of context, Lean Coffee is an event where the group collectively suggest and decide on startup and entrepreneurial related topics to discuss. Here are the questions and responses from the session. The bullet points represent different suggestions from the group members.

NB, the Q&A’s are all based on peoples individual opinions and experiences, so use your own judgement on which pieces of advice you want to take.

  1. How to pick the right first SIMPLE thing to start with.

You have a grand idea, or vision, how do you take the first steps? There are so many things to do and so different possibilities, what is the best way to make inroads. From a creator who is building a marketplace for other creatives.


  • Start small — find one customer who you can serve and do this well. Then find another. Start by focusing on making a few customers love you, then build on that. Once you’ve found the consistent thing that people get value from, then you can think about scaling, but until then just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. “[to begin with]do things that don’t scale” -Paul Graham. Check out his article here.
  • Narrow down a target niche — a specific group of people you are targeting. Then you have less variables to worry about, as you’re just focusing on finding, understanding and serving that particular group of people. This is particularly relevant for a platform based business. When you are having to match people, the fewer variables or differences between the two groups the better. Start with the harder side of the platform (the customers that will be harder to get — e.g. businesses) identify which type of customer has the biggest problem that you have the ability to solve. Then, on the other side, find the specific type of customer (e.g. creatives) can solve that particular problem. Check out this Quora post for more info.
  • Understand your unique value proposition. Find the value people will pay for and focus on revenue generating activities. You need to make money to exist, so make sure you are focusing on creating a viable business model.

2. Finding a co-founder/How to build the right team (skills vs. values).

Finding a co-founder:

  • You need to be clear on what role you want to play in the company and what you need a co-founder for. Bring them into a defined position and clearly set out your expectations. You need to understand what you want and be certain of it. If you want to be CEO and you’re looking for a CTO make that clear upfront — this may require a bit of self reflection on your part, especially if you’re a jack of all trades.
  • Become great at selling your vision, as that’s how you’re going to attract a co-founder. You have to talk about what you’re doing in a confident and certain way to convince people that they should join you’re company over any other option available — this is about leadership.
  • When you know who you want, think about where they would most likely hang out and go there. Think about the Meetups that they’re likely to attend and the facebook groups they might be a part of.
  • You don’t necessarily need a co-founder. There are benefits of maintaining control of your company and employing people instead. Don’t get a co-founder just because you think you need one. If you feel like you need someone to bounce ideas off and get advice, then you probably need an advisory board or a mentor, rather than a co-founder.
  • If you’re relatively inexperienced (new to the entrepreneurship game) having a co-founder is helpful for making decisions and creating momentum. When there are two of you agreeing on decisions, there is less self doubt and you’re less inclined to procrastinate on decisions. It’s easier to make something a reality, in the from of an agreement (rather than it just being a decision in your own head). This is valuable.


How to build the right team? Skills vs. Values

  • Values are deeply engrained, based on personal experiences, beliefs etc. They are a lot harder to change. Skills can be taught. So if it’s a choice between the two, values trumps skills. This is especially the case if you’re a small team, when one person has a big impact on the culture of your company going forward, and you’re likely to all be covering a number of business functions (rather than being specific specialists). In this case, values alignment is paramount.
  • It depends on what you need to accomplish in your business (and the size of your company). If you need a particular job done fast, then you may need a particular skills set now, which makes required skills more of a priority. This is more of a short term solution though.Otherwise, choose values over skills for a long term approach, when you can afford the time to teach the skills.
  • Be aware that it is hard to really understand someones values as people are great at making themselves a good fit for a short term. Knowing if someone truly has the values you are looking for takes times, so you should make arrangements on that basis (e.g. a trial period).
  • Diversity — it’s hard to find the balance between having a range of view points (which stems from different values) and ensuring that you have enough values alignment so that you’ve got a unified approach. You want to have people in your organisations that will challenge each others thinking, but are still aligned in their overall vision/mission.
  • Both are important— values are the glue that hold the company (body) together. The skills or strengths set the context for the roles that someone plays in the business (the organs). I.e. You need to have segmentation of roles based on strengths/skills, and you also need values alignment to ensure that you’ve got a unified approach.

3) Productivity tips and work life balance.

How to get the most out of your time? How many hours are ideal for work?

  • Manage energy rather than time — do activities that boost your energy levels, so that you can get more out of each hour, rather than focusing on the number of hours your working [I’ve done a couple of posts on this topic, which you can check out here and here]
  • The best way to improve your productivity is to not think about productivity. Instead, each day schedule 2–3 external deliveries that you are going to accomplish — e.g. having three sales calls. These core delivery tasks will drive the tasks for your day and force you into action.
  • Each morning right a list of the things you want to accomplish for the day. Break the tasks down into detailed steps, so you can cross things off faster. You’ll quickly become addicted to the satisfaction of crossing off tasks which will help to keep momentum throughout the day.
  • The Pareto principle or 80/20 rule. Do the 20% of tasks that have the 80% impact.

4) What is the best way to create loyal customers

  • A good inbound marketing strategy — read more here.
  • Making the relationship more personal and human-centred, so your customers become more connected to you and what you’re business is about, rather than just the features of the service.
  • When you have the first contact with customers (in this instance in was a tennis lesson), understand what their goals or desired reality is. Create some sort of accountability (by setting goals with them, or have them enter in a upcoming competition) so they have something to work towards and you have an explicit reason to follow up with them. You also want to understand their emotional drivers which will help you to drive them to action going forward.
  • Become a community, as well as a a service, so they feel like they are part of something.

4) Big pivot decisions in your life (personal, professional etc) that brought you to this point)

Such a great question! The stories were personal, so I won’t share them here, but the general consensus was that we should all be reading personal development books. Two good ones that I recommend to everyone are The Winners Bible, Dr Kerry Spackman, and Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz.

Thanks to the brilliant people who came along to the event and contributed to such a good discussion. Looking forward to the next one on 28th September! You can book your spot here (it’s an open event).

Join the Meetup community here.