Draft essay – on Quality Assurance for the Founder’s journey
Please do not read this article ). This is a draft essay work now available in public format as it seeks input, as it became a more flexible approach, subject to search and subject to an improved lifecycle of collaboration.
Background and motivation to this article
Andy Grove, in High Output Management, at page 28, sets the stage for his reader to look at the founder's journey as a process. Well, not actually. Andy did not really set the stage for founders, for sure; because his book is for managers. In fact, the chapter from Andy’s book is “Managing the Breakfast Factory” and page 28 brings a section entitled “Assuring Quality.” Nevertheless, this is was the triggering condition pushing me to think about “What would mean quality assurance for an entrepreneur?” one specifically that sees himself in the space searching to innovate and that may fall into the steps that may seem like unknown sequence of activities?
Potential answers to such Quality Assurance quest
- Recognition that the company development is a construction process, like a pipeline. And looking as a pipeline, with the proper various stages should, would help the understanding of the whole process, exactly because the skills necessary at the various stages will vary;
- Recognition that you also have parallel processes going on, and that you need to manage them so they compound and yield value. For that, the recognition about the importance of having metrics, for these “units” of parallel processes, therefore establishing a model to compound value from the various parallel efforts;
- Recognition that there are 3 phases: ideation, productization and business (these 3 separation criteria relates to the vision presented by [Michael Dearing]) are distinct things yet they compound - each of them also having a model for evaluation;
This above point 2 may relate to another article that I wrote. Check such prior article on “Signals, units, indicators” [Andy indicators]
In this section, I look at what would be common activities and patterns for evaluating progress, for founders. The general improvement would be:
- Awareness on market, industry, forces and many points that are enumerated within Steve Blank’s book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, specifically within the initial phases, that Steve calls guesses; The planning, such as guessing work, yet even in written format can bring you into the act of discovery, so you starting from there is good anyway, yielding: planning-guessswork, range of guessing, planning on the next steps to be evaluated, and more.
- Awareness about the entrepreneur’s ability to detect the phases, of shifts, or moments of the business. And which challenge criteria can be applied to each phase in order to have a better measurements for each. This would associate with the idea, perhaps a requirement, for having a roadmap for moving to the next step.
- Yet, the recognition that a number of steps, such as activities that entrepreneurs commonly do, may actually lead to circular movements, therefore it’s important to understand, be aware, or to recognize that moving on is not a necessary guaranteed outcome — and it should not be. The magic, that entrepreneurs can do, is in getting better in detecting which model they fit, which condition they are and moving on into another step if confidence level is high (good luck with that!)
The areas aiming outcomes being:
Strong theory development
Reid Hoffman calls [Reid theory of human nature] for the important to have a theory of human nature. For me, depending on the field, this can be raised out of a 10 years research, or it can be a vision for an incoming liberation, a vision on a inevitable disruption, an epiphany that came out as your background thinking was busy for long time, you name it.
Steve Blank also recognizes, at least I have seen in two events, the prior need:
- Steve Blank and his metaphor about the sculptor/visionary;
- Steve Blank on the need to secure a vision/idea before the lean startup process;
In order to assess, or to assure the quality for your theory, you can only check it with the pillars that prove them: other research, interviews with customer groups, information on trending conditions, signals for emerging startups launching new business models, checking the probability that they will influence the economy, and more. I would say that in case you find yourself in a sort of state of knowing a truth that not yet people know, you can assess your theory model first identifying that triggered you into that — expand the condition that allowed you to come into it — because amidst that you may find food indicators that can serve well to validate your idea.
Customer interaction quality control
Here I start with a misunderstanding, or, perhaps, a sort of dilemma: When and what to ask from people?
The two sides of a story are: a) to ask about their pain, such as to check their “job to be done”, versus b) to count on them for the development and realization of the idea.
A slight risk, in formatting a question like that, is that we tend to think we are asking the same person. For example, take person A: What is your pain and what you are doing here? And then, you continue to ask how would you solve that problem?
Doing as the above is a bad place to be at, which you need to avoid and to understand the danger. This dilemma should not exist as you should not put everyone you interview as an entrepreneur.
You, as the entrepreneur, are the responsible for assessing who are they. The agent, to answer that, needs to pass through quality assurance, before. So you have to be good in qualifying them as design thinker/visionary — yes they exist and they can be around (see user innovation) – or as real customers, the ones in need to be in a position that they want to use your solution as a tool and don't feel the necessity to build anything.
The difference between these groups is that one will be involved and in part they feel entropy in collaborating for that realization, while the other main goal is not the product station but their goal. Like the difference between a person that loves time management and wants to build a special clock, versus the one that just wants to be on time for a daily appointment which is very critical - say this person needs to attend a daily session at a hospital where her grandmother will need assistance.
Aside leading to a new article – With that said, of course the world is not black or white. It’s common, and perhaps emerging, to see more people getting use to being customers and modifiers, or the behavior and phenomena that all in the world is subject to a meta change, from a simple discussion to a real modification of it. Actually, this third element, which is pervasive among us, is much of what allows networks to grow value (see and feed this > Growing Through Value and Shaping Product-market fit.)
Above view quality control
Who can watch out the intricacies (intricacies?) between the idea, the product, and the business? (The notion here, again, of the 3 different arts is taken from Michael Dearing)
This is the QA to your advisory role. The first consideration will be how much time you can spend on that. Normally startups spend none, if you compare to the role of a board.
Nevertheless, founders usually maintain, or need to, establish the assurance. So the first quality control action is to establish a toxic monitor: You don't want, for example, the involvement of peers that adds no precision value to your process, specially for the process of looking from the above. And worse, and most critical, beware if money is involved, if you are in a situation which you sold control of your business to, say one role that is not a candidate to a role model — adds no value. You want an advisor to be y recognized as role model in one way or another. The problem, mainly in the area of investors, such as angels or people that have money, is that money is the indicator that can confuse us.
Here are some tips for QAying your advisor: it money is the only visible ingredient, it’s no go. What other s tells about them? This is your x-ray. In an interview with Marc Andreeseen ( check marcio s archives) he gives the tip that: If people talk good about them, they are good. Conversely, if silence appears, it's a red flag — a subtle detail and observation from who is inside the tribe.
QA your cofounders
If you find yourself trying to hire cofounders, it’s a red flag. So now, you have a problem which is to guide you through something that should let you inspire cofounders to join you.
This is for sure one of the most complicated parts exactly because you may need to recognize that you don’t have yet the thing that inspires others. So, first, don’t try to force it, and recognize it — be aware of the chicken and egg situation.
(The Chicken and Egg situation finding cofounders and supporters can be yet another article)
In order to find great collaborators, you will recognize that it’s not region based while at the same time he and she will have to be in your region, or any crazy method for working effectively.
Yet, while your cofounder may not be at your location, yet hub centers are the things that can find them for you. You have to be able to detect hubs as not exactly you will have a chance to serendipitously find a nice cofounders ( probably zero in fact ) walking.
So, recognize, first, that the majority of situations that people found great cofounders in fact were from hubs: universities, working at great companies, contests and championships, and more.
So with that you can break down any hubs based in hub QAing: Is “that hub” spitting good candidates? and secondly, and more important, which criteria you are to really looking at? Some of the important criteria are:
- They believe in the vision
- Share values
- Can work in different activities yet help you with yours, true collaborators
- Can pivot as they enjoy team effectiveness
- so on
And since criteria counts, here is another that should be in your cofounder QAing: Time of relationship. Intense friction, (friction?) or the output that comes out of intense collaboration, is an amazing approach to start to see potential differences amount candidates for cofounders.
One example, that could come to your mind would be 50 hours sprint, say the kind of interaction that happens when people are in a Startup Weekend effort.
No, not actually. Beware the false-positive factor. Or, if you think so, that you found an amazing cofounder out of a 56 hours event, then consider the following:
To not get all excited understand that you will need to do QA on the illusion factor, which is, to detect the false-positive potential, which is, when you have a phenomena biasing illusion. For example, it’s pretty common for people to be very excited when they went through a contest sprint, say the 56 hours, and then months later these cofounders all go back to their realities, the fantasy is over.
Therefore, establishing a metric to check cofounders perseverance for vision-value, likeness to collaborate in different activities that yet compound to the same goals, and other criteria depending on your startup [add more here], is important too.
Other, yet regarding cofounders, has to do with the time compression. This is near to the sprint case but you just need more time. Brian Chesky says that when if you live together people, say for one year, you will find a lot about them, it compresses the relationship. This case is inside the [Blitzscaling 18].
Maybe this is much related as a hidden secret factor that helps founders when they are incubated within startup ecosystems, such as accelerators. They just have a way to find, and validate, through the struggle, people that can work everyday together in harmony and seeking performance.
And finally, on cofounders, there is the 10 years rule. If you are working with someone for the past 10 years, just ask if that person wants to join you, and make sure all of you know that the path may involve pivots, so this situation involves QAing, nevertheless, for
- vision - making sure everyone is okay with the long run;
- values - values is important QA metric to all the ones involved. You can think of values as the things you won't sell anyway, the things you want to carry in your pocket that if people take of you, you are out. Like corruption or anti-ethical behavior or making money at any cost, sort of things. You just don't want to move on in the process and face later a situation which you are suddenly amazed and scared how your cofounders wants to do that and you did not know. So solve that, just lift the barriers well and talk with them a lot about it. If you put the situations cases ahead of time, defining your level of strictness to these things, the things that you will never negotiate, it will be a nice conversation exactly because your cofounders will know that such aspect will much involve the subject of flexibility. This is specially interesting because there is the implicit thinking that entrepreneurship demands a higher flexible mind. This can be true, in terms of the founder ability to fight for a cause, a vision, and to elaborate potential technical solution. But it also true that most successful founders have value strictness: they are either in the do all, in the do as long as people don't get me, or doing always what is right in certain categories. You have no choice here but to make sure you find matches in terms of the strictness and flexibleness.
- Of course, a very nuance is about the knowledge about what is right, and the potential things they fail without knowing; therefore another QA element is in checking if they are “know it alls”, if they are constant learners and if values and fundamental values they value. So this final QA point, for founders, the constant learner element, may yield you a person that won't give up easily and also will seek the best, not only at the personal level but involving the interpersonal at the same time seeking a sustained model for the business future, so also caring about protecting customers.
Normal phases distribution theories and curation
Not all can be QAed, indeed. If you knew how to QA behavior, we would know how to build a robot to do the founder’s job. And besides the problem of doing too much is exactly in not knowing the quality metric - what if the advisor I consider great turns out to be pushing my company and vision down the toilet.
So, as only the founder can be the founder’s curator, and will be the responsible in charge, you may at least create your 1/5 (or other metric?) of time curation task-force.
Here are some tips (check if there are multiple things in the following):
- Do sampled analysis — when you want to check control of your criteria, pick one or another of your activity events. I assume you have a lot of events that will be like processes dispatched in parallel. Take some of them to be passed or scrutiny (??) control, such as to put through the more visible auditing.
These elements of auditing can be a call, where you are asking for help, can be a contest or something that you are submitting your material into, can be other efforts that will measure input against an output metric. As you do that, you are not exactly deviating your whole effort but balancing it with a evaluation model that should give you new input for validation.
And, exactly because you are doing it as a sample, you are not going down a blind alley of compromise — it's not a marriage, it’s quick dating. Make sure you don’t start just losing focus when you interact with these external validation systems — you want validation and learning, so you can move to the next step — not to become a member of a club or fall for the prize you may achieve as part of that effort. The idea is not to acquire status out of an experiment of validation, and therefore entirely drive your company towards that fork, such as to respond to new demands after participating in a sprint, for example.
You need to run efforts as experiments and establish the view from the above, at the same time. Notice that the sample is not exactly meant to measure your actions thought lenses of truth, but is double sided. You should get used to evaluating your activities and also to check the value of the sample itself, therefore evaluating the sampling methodology, therefore you are curating your network
At page 33, High Output Management, Andy Grove shows an example of the IRS case, making a point that if IRS had to check everyone it would be a nightmare. And that the way they move on is to check samples.
Grove, Andy S. (2015). High Output Management (3rd ed.). Vintage Books.
Move to the above as needed
[Andy intuition and analysis] Essay snippet of research, Andy Grove on intuition and analysis
- [3 ideas dearing] check background on these as distinct elements
- [Andy indicators] Signals, units, indicators
- [Reid theory of human nature] The startup and theory for human nature
- [Blitzscaling 18] Brian Chesky on living together experience.
- [Michael Dearing] Capitalism, Creativity, and Creative Destruction