The Hustle

Many friends have contacted me during the last couple of weeks and asked how I got so many high-level entrepreneurs involved in the upcoming book The Path to Product/Market Fit. In this blog post, I’m going to tell you how I did it.

First of all I have to tell you that it is really hard. I had a hit list of 150 founders. Many of them have built billion dollar businesses. So far, I’ve gotten around 15 people involved. That’s only 10%. The really important point is that it is a numbers game. If you reach out to enough people some of them are going to say yes. However, it is really important to know how to approach these founders. In Silicon Valley, it is all about the network and introductions. Also, it doesn’t hurt that you book flights and commute 20 hours to meet founders in person. I believe that doing so shows a really high level of commitment and is definitely something that many of the founders appreciate. I used a lot of time on LinkedIn checking who might be able to do warm introductions and to whom. Then I approached the people with an email where I asked them to do a couple of introductions. It’s important to note that you should give them an opportunity to say no. If they say no, it is completely alright. The email template I used:

—-

Hi xx

Long time no see. I hope all is well :)

I started a book project & thesis a while ago (http://custdev.io/). I will be interviewing founders in the Bay Area next month. I wonder if you would be able to do a couple of introductions? The intro’s you might be able to help out with: xx and xx. 

I wrote an intro email you can forward to them if you feel comfortable doing so. Feel free to edit.

Thanks in advance :) 

Hi xx,

I hope all is well :) 

Meet Riku (cc’d). He is working on an eBook and MSc (Engineering) thesis about customer development at early stage software startups. Similar to Founders at Work, but focusing on the time before Product/Market Fit. 

Riku will be doing interviews in the Bay Area between 8th and 26th of April. Would you have time for a chat with him during that timeframe or perhaps a short slot when he could call you? 

I’m sure you’d have some excellent pointers that this book should not be published without :) 

—-

Most of the people who I approached were happy to do the introduction and I’m really grateful to all of you who have helped out. Without you this project would not have been possible. Thank you, you know who you are! :)

Secondly, I built a nice-looking website using Squarespace. It took like 4 hours to build a nice site. Also, I used startupstockphotos.com that is a free startup stock photo gallery. The good thing about doing things online is that you can make things look way bigger and legit that they actually are. Fake it till you make it!

Thirdly, it’s all about following up. I have sent up to seven follow-up email to some of the people who I have wanted to interview. Think about it. Most of the people I’m trying to reach out are really busy and their inbox is filled with unread emails. Follow-up until they say no, yes or stop sending me these emails. Also, keep these follow-ups short and sweet. Do not forget to give them an opportunity to say no. The standard follow-up emails have looked like this.

—-

Hi xx, 

Just checking in. Would be fantastic to have you onboard but I also understand that you are really busy building xx :)

—-

Many people say no but it is alright. Again, it is a numbers game! If you get a yes answer it is really important to close an interview as soon as possible. It might be really hard to get these founders to answer again if you lose the momentum.

Finally, when I got some well-known names onboard. I started just cold emailing people with whom I did not have any mutual connections with (tip: firstname@company.com or firstname.lastname@company.com usually works. You can actually bcc both). In these cold emails, I used some of the well-known names as a reference. Most people have not replied to these cold emails but again it is alright. Some founders have replied and I have been able to get them onboard which is fantastic.

Also, along the way I have published some podcasts and blog posts on my site in order to make it look more legit. Furthermore, it is as of extreme importance to give value to the people who might want to pre-order the thing you are working on. Think about it. If you add value to the people who visit your site they are more intrigued to know more and that is where the book comes in.

Lastly, I want to thank all the wonderful people who have given me some valuable insights and tips along the way.

This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for more updates and remember to check out my book project at http://custdev.io/ and share it with your friends.

Ps. If you are a founder, you can get a free copy of the book by filling out this customer development survey by the end of April: http://goo.gl/forms/Q7rwf7BZb1

Boy, that escalated quickly

Early this year I agreed to write my MSc thesis about customer development at early stage software startups. I was working part time at Open Ocean Capital, a top-tier European venture capital firm as well as Mendor, a startup that is disrupting the diabetes care globally. My original plan was to do the thesis as fast as possible. However, I had no idea what was about to happen next…

I chatted with my startup friends about the thesis and what I soon realized was that founders find it really hard to do customer development in practice. I was a bit surprised, because there are many great books on the topic: The Startup Owners Manual and The Four Steps to Epiphany by Steve Blank, Lean Startup by Eric Ries, The Mom Test Book by RobFitzbatrick, Lean B2B by Etienne Garbugli. After having having a couple more chats with founders and checking out what kind of knowledge there is out there, I saw that there is a need for a Founders at Work like book that focuses on the time before Product/Market Fit. Also, I know that founders are not interested in academic mambo jambo. I played around with an idea to write a book about a couple of days and decided it’s worth it! There is always a why and then there is a why not. Personally, I’m more of a “why not type of a guy” who loves to try out new things turn ideas into reality.

The book is called The Path to Product/Market Fit and it is based on tens of interviews with startup founders. I’m interviewing founders like Russel Simmons (Yelp), Mikkel Svane (Zendesk), Tim Trefren (MixPanel) and Tikhon Bernstam (Parse & Scribd), Niklas Adalberth (Klarna), Javier Soltero (Acompli) and Nami Zarringhalam (TrueCaller) among others. For the very first time, you are able to get direct access into practices founders have used in customer development.

At the moment, I’m enjoying the California sun in San Francisco and interviewing many successful startup founders. Something I did not plan three months ago.

Ps. You can pre-order the book at http://custdev.io/. Enjoy! :)

Let the adventure begin

Kuvankaappaus 2013-1-13 kello 11.36.29 PM

Yesterday was the day – the day I left home for a 68-day adventure in Southeast Asia. Last week was extremely busy and I did not have too much time to even think about my getaway.  I mostly pulled off twelve-hour days in order to get everything arranged for the trip, sending applications to few US master programs, applying scholarships and meeting friends I will not see in a while.

I got almost stuck in Stockholm due some Visa related issues in Philippines. Luckily, I figured my way out and got on a plane that head to Doha, Qatar. It seems that people in Qatar are extremely friendly. Furthermore, I was quite surprised of the fact that they offer a free meal for everybody that has over a five-hour layover here. Finally, I arrived to Manila few hours ago and I started my trip of by heading a friend’s place I met in a one-week course in Luzerne, Switzerland, last spring. At the moment, I¨m at his cozy place in downtown Manila. Tomorrow I¨m going to check out the city and the day after tomorrow I¨m heading to Mt. Pinatubo, an active stratovolcano – exiting!

I was in Southeast Asia roughly two years ago with one of my friends and we knew basically nobody who was travelling at the same time. Additionally, we did not have smartphones/computers or even credit cards with us. This time I have some gadgets and a credit card with me and I’m probably going to do most of the bookings in advance online. Now, I know roughly ten people or groups that are traveling in the same area during the two months and.

Let the adventure begin.

Intern at a startup and grow!

I just finished my 4-month internship at a state of the art diabetes technology startup, Mendor, and I can honestly say that it was one most valuable learning experiences in my life so far. Now, I want to share four key lessons I learned during the Summer.

1) Ask feedback

You can learn so much from yourself and the way you operate when you ask feedback constantly. However, I want to point out that you do not probably get the most honest and direct feedback when you ask for it directly. That is why I suggest using a service like SurveyMonkey for asking anonymous feedback.

2) Do not send emails, Call!

I can not emphasise this enough. Email is probably one of the most inefficient ways of communicating in an environment where things need get done fast. If you really want to get things done and you are not able to have meeting with a guy or a gal in person, call them. The busier the person you are trying to reach is, the more important this is.

3) Be proactive, take responsibility

Most startups have do not have enough resources and your co-workers do not have time to look after you. That is why it is as of extreme importance to be proactive and take responsibility. At first, it might be scary to say that I will personally take responsibility on reaching the goal. When you are not working in your own comfort zone that is when you learn the most. Do not be afraid of failing every now and then. Learn from your mistakes!

4) Focus on what is important and say NO more often than YES.

As mentioned earlier, startups have lack of resources. That is why, you, your team and the company as a whole to have an extremely clear picture about the goals. I promise that you will have too many things on your table and it is your responsibility to say no and focus on the things that are really important. Ask yourself, what the most important battles to win are today , this week and during next month. Furthermore,  know the things that you are good at and Delegate things that somebody else can do 20% better or faster than you.

5) Offer solutions instead of problems 

I can not over emphasise the importance of offering solutions over problems. In an startup, everybody is wearing many hats and working a lot, so they do not have time to think solutions to the problems you tell them. Instead, you should offer solutions to the challenges you have faced or noticed. It shows that you have though about the issues and not just wondering round all the time telling what is wrong. Solutions, not the problems, drive the company forward.

Hopefully you found these tips useful. Now, it is your turn make things happen!

Make a difference, work for a startup!

It was about time to get hands dirty! This spring, I got a great chance to work for Mendor, a second generation diabetes technology company from Finland. Mendor’s vision is to make the every day lives of people touched by diabetes significantly easier and more enjoyable by providing discreet, easy to use and all-in-one blood glucose meters and smart analysis software for blood glucose monitoring.

At the moment, Mendor is offering two products: Mendor Discreet blood glucose meter and Balance glucose analysis software. So, if you have friends who are living with diabetes you should encourage them to check them out! (For now, the products are available in Scandinavia, Baltic Region, United Kingdom and Qatar)

I have been working at Mendor since late April and based on that experience I want to list four reasons, why YOU should work for a startup over a big corporation.

1) Responsibility

At a startup you get to do a great variety of things and people will give you responsibility. By myself, I have worked on our presence in social media, production, sales forecasts etc. Be proactive!

2) Make a difference

There is a famous saying: “Life is too short to work at a boring company”. I totally agree. Why would you do something boring while you can work on really big ideas that can change the way people operate?

3) Learn by doing

Do not be afraid of mistakes! At a startup environment people understand the value of failed experiments. However, you must be able to learn from them!

4) People care about what you have done, not what you have studied

At startups the most important thing is execution. That is why, startups want to hire people who get stuff done, not people who know schoolbooks by heart. DO IT!

Are you ready for the ride of your life?

Follow me on Twitter @RikuLindholm

What I wish I knew when I was 15

Seven years ago I was just finishing of my studies at upper secondary school. Even though the school system in Finland is among the best ones in the whole world, I feel there is a lot of room for improvements. In Finland, you can do extremely well in school, if you just stay quiet, listen to the teacher and do everything by the book. You are programmed to solve predefined problems and there is not too much room for creativity. In addition, I think that we should encourage the most talented students a lot more. I figured this all out just a few years ago and I hope somebody had told me the following lessons when I was 15.

1. Fail and learn. It is really important to understand failing is fine. You can learn a lot more from your failures than from things that work out. If you are trying to hide your failures, it is likely that you are not able to learn from your mistakes. Furthermore, no one else can learn from your mistakes. Check out The National Day of Failure (In Finnish), I co-organized with other Entrepreneurship Society actives last fall. 

2. Hang out with people who are smarter than you. When you are in a situation where people around you are better, faster and smarter than you must push yourself a lot more. And when you are pushing yourself you learn the most.

3. Do not listen what people around you say listen to yourself! I have been in a situation where my parent/relatives/friends have said to me that I should not do anything risky or things that differ from the status quo. If you do things the same everyone else does, you will never end up doing anything spectacular.

4. Get really good at something. It might be coding, ice hockey, poker, maths or something else, but pick up only one thing you want to get really good at. It is hard to figure out the one thing you want to nail, but you should try to find out as early as possible. When you are young, you do not have much to loose. If you fail, you can go back to school.

5. Try out many things. You do not probably know what you want. When I was 18 years old, I though I knew what I wanted to study. Few years later I figured out that my assumptions were wrong.

6. Do not focus on school, if you have found something you like and you have proven yourself that you are really good at it.  It is a lot harder to try out new things, if you have a family and car & house loans already.

If you are in your twenties already, you should check out Tina Seelig’s book: What I wish I knew when I was 20

Start it up!

I have planned to start a blog for some time. Finally, I took the time to set one up and here we go!

There are few things I will emphasize on this blog:

– I want to share my insights about the emerging startup scene in Northern Europe.

-I want to help out ambitious university and high school students to think outside the box. The reason behing this is that I have always been really ambitious and I have tried out few things that have been different from status quo. From my own experience I can say that, if  you are not following the “normal” path people around you try to guide you back to it. However, I believe you have to diverge from the normal path in order to do something extraordinary.

In addition, there are also few personal reason I wanted to start blogging. Firstly, I want to enhance my writing skills andI want to learn by doing. So, if you have any comments or feedback do not hesitate to share them with me. Secondly, I want to write down my goals. I have figured out it is a lot easier to achieve goals, when you write them down.

So, get ready and Stay Tuned!