Who is it for

At the beginning of every new venture, there is one question that matters…

Who is it for?

Often, our dream is for the new thing to reach as many people as possible. “Everyone!” we respond, knowing that what we are working on has the potential to change the world.

Experienced founders know this is a trap. You can always increase the scope of what you’re working on later, but growth begins by focusing on specific audiences and communities.

This is why we unconsciously dismiss brands or organizations that churn out huge and life-changing promises, but don’t deliver the specifics. We know, of course, that it is hard to change the world but seek relationships where people deliver on their promises.

At every moment, ask yourself, who is this for? And if you aspire to develop a strong and broad community …the answer isn’t “the ceo” or “the board” or “me.”

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What comes next

Yesterday, the world changed.

In the midst of our continuously chaotic news cycle, word arrived that world wide web inventor and engineer Tim Berners-Lee had officially launched Solid (an open source project) and Inrupt (his new company w/co founder John Bruce).

Part of what makes the announcement significant is how intensely data privacy has been churning the internet and mobile web over the last year.

Google and Apple are reacting to newly enacted GDPR standards, Facebook is radically reshaping their developer ecosystem/platform due to a series of major data breaches, Twitter continues to struggle with bots, trolls, and doxxing, and LinkedIn has quietly been growing and likely hoping no one notices it was built on the same ground as its competitors.

Those changes are happening in a series of interconnected ecosystems collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars…and the how, when, and where of data use underpins all of it.

But to understand why something like Solid is important, you have to first understand a picture that’s much bigger than the walled off gardens of each tech giant.

For over a decade, Berners-Lee has talked about the promise of the early web, and how our current set of technologies failed in executing that vision. Instead of a “one-way pipeline” where people are consumers, the intention is for Solid to foster a “read-write web where users can interact and innovate, collaborate and share.”

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Frameworks for creatives / entrepreneurs / startups

About 5 years ago I started collecting frameworks. 

At the time, I'd just made the jump from a more corporate situation to a venture-backed startup in San Francisco. As an operations manager, I was basically put in charge of structuring and opening new product lines, both from a technical and brand/marketing perspective. 

No matter what I was working on, there was always a jump, a gap to be hopped across that included some risk. Usually, that meant finding a way to test or experiment, and then operationalizing what I learned into product growth.

The end result rarely matched the early expectations. Over time I started absorbing different approaches, including the lean startup, agile, and customer development focused models that entrepreneurs like Steve Blank champion. 

I also noticed that no matter what you were working on - turning a passion into a business, starting a startup, working at being a working musician, artist, designer, writer, or other creative - a 50 page, 5-year plan pretty much becomes obsolete within a year. 

Enter frameworks. I started collecting them in a public google doc and sharing them.

Truth is, most of the time you need a minimum amount of planning, think of it as structuring an experiment, but until you have validation that something works putting a ton of time and/or money into it doesn't make sense. 

Frameworks fill the gap that occurs early on in any idea, project or business, they illustrate the risk you're taking, and in some cases make clear the risks you don't want to take. 

5 years on, that document now includes frameworks for connecting online / finding jobs, spec'ing creative work, pitching a story to media and journalists, marketing from scratch for creatives and startups alike, evaluating data, and testing your own beliefs about your product. 

I also deliberately created frameworks that are gender neutral, and that aimed at increasing access to startups, tech, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

At the most basic level, having a clear framework for each new product, project, idea, etc. gives the creative or entrepreneur a place to start. It makes the unknown knowable, and opens up opportunities.

Last but not least, a good framework also spurs the best kind of questions, the ones that haven't been answered and/or don't already have a financial or business purpose, as Olia Lialina notes in an essay on media, mediums, technology, and art

"...take time to formulate questions that can not be answered by monopolies or by observing the monopolies."  

 

A startup is just a series of prioritizations

In the early going, before there is a product or service, all you are doing is looking at a relationship between people, and maybe the market at large. 

The goal is to answer one question: can we create something that is useful, interesting, meaningful, inspirational, valuable, and/or helpful to a specific person? 

If you can, and they share with you why it has meaning or value, then you can build a community around it. 

This is what every "visionary" pays lip service to, but experienced founders know: an early stage company or project is just an exercise in building community.

If you focus on growth alone, you may occasionally stumble across value, but you're likely to miss many of the non-transactional reasons people relate to a company or organization - why they are loyal and choose to stick with something, or why they choose to try something new. 

Your job is to keep a list of 10, 20, 50, or even hundreds of priorities that reflect the values of your community...and constantly re-prioritize the list based on what is possible, and what can be imagined.

If the list is all imagination, you'll miss the opportunity to deliver meaningful value. If it's all value here and now, you'll miss the chance to build a community with vision.

When to show the OS

The messaging is always the same…

“Anything is possible.”

“It’s as easy as saying, Alexa, find me a job.”

“Connecting your world with the touch of a button.”

While consumer brands have used the “easy as 1, 2, 3” angle for decades, tech platforms in the last 15 years have extended that to nearly every aspect of daily life.

Their work has largely become about hiding the operating system, masking the actual work it takes to create and interact with both the physical and digital world - this is the mantra of tech giants like Apple, Facebook, and Google, and by extension the startups that dream of becoming them.

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