Timothy Freriks

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Do what you love and you won’t work a day?

I’m re-posting this because I got a lot of feedback. The majority agreed but some people wanted to modify my premise. One said maybe you should lower your expectations and “do what you like”.  Do a job that’s “sort of satisfying”? I don’t think so–not my style. I believe everybody is good at, and has a passion for, something, and that something is the heart of what you love to do. Therefore, the key to finding something that you love to do is in finding what you really do well and have a passion for. Of course, if nobody will pay you for that endeavor, maybe you’ve just discovered a good hobby.

Anyway, here’s the original post:

“Do what you love and you won’t work a day” is inane bull-crap, IMHO. I love drinking beer, I truly do. But, no one will pay me for that. I love creating graphic art, which I think is pretty good, but it seems as though no one will pay me for that, either!  Could I make a living out of playing with my kids? Doubtful. I’m passionate about writing songs, but since no one has bought anything I wrote,… Continue reading

How do you get “Great Ideas”?

QV-7When aspiring entrepreneurs finally realize they have what it takes—desire, passion, drive, ambition— to be successful, they inevitably ask: “what great idea do I use to start my business?”

Or, it is the other way around: They have great ideas and ask: “now what?” and “do I have what it takes?”

I wrote my book for the last group, but I find there are a lot of people in the first group, too.  One thing is common to both, however: the word “idea”.   The second group already came up with an idea and the first group needs to come up with an idea.  So, what’s the process of coming up with “ideas”?

I don’t necessarily believe in the pure “light bulb going on” explanation.  Great ideas come from somewhere.  Like the first big bubble of a pot of water set to boil for spaghetti, getting a worthy idea doesn’t just happen; there’s a lot of planning (filling the pot, turning on the fire) and time. The water just sits there for a while, the potential for boiling just invisibly building up. There are a bunch of little bubbles, but barely noticeable, especially if… Continue reading

The Seven Steps of Customer Investigation

When aspiring entrepreneurs finally realize they have to spend more time developing the customer than developing the product in the early days, they are faced with a dilemma: “You mean I have to actually TALK to people?”

Steve Blank and Eric Ries would answer the same way: yes.  You can’t build a product around who you think is the customer and what their problem is and how they want to solve it and whether or not your product offers a compelling solution—you are not the customer! Only the customer is the customer.  You have assumptions, but you have to define and verify them before finalizing your product, so you have to get out there and do the process of customer investigation.

So, how? I suggest Seven Steps, which are built around sales process as it applies to qualifying a prospect.

1: Ask for permission – show respect and consideration; ask for permission and help

2: Qualify the prospect – do they fit the customer profile?

3: Problem probe – do they recognize the problem?

4: Solution probe – are they looking for a solution?

5: Urgency probe – how urgent is the need to solve… Continue reading

Does Self Assessment Really Come First?

I spend a lot of ink on self assessment in my book.  I always thought that you have to figure out what you’re capable of and can do and are good at and passionate about before you can make a wise choice to be an entrepreneur.  In my analytical, architectural mind, that makes sense: build a foundation of understanding—of yourself, your customer, your product—before you build the product and the business. However…

I recently saw the results of a poll on an entrepreneur-oriented web site that had 51% saying they think it’s a better idea to learn about starting a business by just starting a business.  Only 22% thought they should get prepared by talking to successful (and unsuccessful) entrepreneurs or read books before they make the plunge.  That just doesn’t seem right to me.

Here’s my dilemma: I started out by just starting out; damn the torpedoes and all of that. I figured it out as I went along and I succeeded with luck and balls.  Now, many years later, I’m telling people what I learned: that you can really screw it up if you don’t learn a few things first. Luck and balls… Continue reading

Testing Assumptions with Customers

When you are testing the assumptions you generate in the Assessment stage of the ACE Methodology, you have to first define and verify them through research in the Confirmation stage.  This means asking a lot of prospective customers the three critical questions: 1) do they really have the problem you think they do?, 2) do they have an urgent need to solve it?, and 3) does your product seem to offer a compelling solution? The customer investigation process is an important part of designing a successful product.

To do this, you have to ask people these questions, either in-person or virtually.  Conducting face-to-face interviews is best because you can judge their reaction and ask probing questions.  In Startup Assembly Manual, we discuss the Seven Steps of customer investigation; it’s a sales process structure.

Virtual interviews need a different strategy.  You have to test your marketing message through a web site or social media to get the answers to the questions. The best method I’ve tried on the web is where your home page has a random redirect function to four different pages.  Each page has a different message, which basically asks… Continue reading

I need to be an entrepreneur. Now what?

I cross paths with a lot of people, especially older job seekers, who say “I need to start my own business, but I don’t know what it will be”.  Wanting to be an entrepreneur and independent is the first step along a path of millions of steps, each one carrying the virus of failure.  If you don’t choose a target really well in this first step, you probably will catch the failure flu. So, how do you choose?

I think the basic foundation of any successful business person is a really strong self-assessment.  That’s the first step in the ACE Methodology. I’ve found that successful entrepreneurs fully understand their strengths, weaknesses, passions, experience and values then put them to work in a focused direction. Honest self-assessment is really hard (you think it would be easy, but it isn’t) because you can be too close to yourself. Friends and family (even strangers) often have a better perspective on what you’re good at and passionate about.

“Passions” will help you get up in the morning to accomplish something. “Strengths” will help you do it well.  “Experience” will help you avoid a long education and rookie mistakes.… Continue reading

Pitching to Investors is a Sales Process

When entrepreneurs try to raise money at any level, it involves a “pitch”. Pitching to investors can be defined within the context of a sales process where you and your idea is the product and the investor is the customer. There are some rules, but first, don’t pitch until you are ready.

Before the pitch, entrepreneurs have to understand the investor’s mindset, what they are looking for. They want a place to put money that has the potential for maximum return with as minimum of risk as possible. They don’t normally want to “take a flyer” on an unproven concept.  Therefore, you have to prepared with as strong a “proof of concept” as you can. There are three flavors of proof of concept: technical (does it work; does it give the customer the value proposition it promises); economic (is the price customers will pay be more than a summation of the costs involved in producing and selling and distributing it).

The third is “social” proof of concept where you have proven that there a lots of people with a) a real problem (the one you think they have), b) an urgent need to… Continue reading

Sculpting an Entrepreneurial Elephant

In a college art class (a long time ago) we were told to sculpt a “successful elephant” with a lump of clay.  The puzzled guy next to me asked how to start making a successful elephant.  Consistent with my smart-ass nature, I said, “remove everything that doesn’t look like an elephant”.

I meet a young entrepreneur last week and he asked ”how do I make a successful business”.  After a quick flashback, I answered: “remove whatever will make it fail.”

But, after thinking through why I was getting a blank expression, I realized the problem was he didn’t yet know what will cause failure.  Of course, he didn’t know how to succeed, either.  I quickly revised my answer to “try everything that sounds smart, be willing to fail, remove that and then leave everything that works; whatever is left over will look like success.” Failure is a part of the entrepreneurial process – just don’t make it a permanent part.

I don’t know if that’s wise or not, but I thought it is pretty cool.

The Customer as a Development Partner

Develop Your Product/Service Around What The Customer Wants To Pay For
I have been mentoring and coaching aspiring entrepreneurs for a few years and there are often two big problems with their perspective:

  1. They assume their idea is really valid and don’t bother to verify the existence of the problem or the need for a solution with other people.
  2. They develop the features of the product or service based only on their opinion of the problem and solution required.

Both problems are related, of course. The fact is many starter-uppers get an idea and build their product full-blown because they are so excited. One of my pet peeves is when developers spend 90% of the time developing the product when they should spend it developing the customer.

You are NOT your customer; only the customer is the customer. It does’t matter how passionately you believe in your product or service, only how other people feel about it. If you are the only person who:

  1. Has the problem
  2. Urgently needs a solution
  3. Sees your product/service as a compelling solution

…you have a problem.

Unless a LOT of people agree with the three critical statements above, you really don’t have a product… Continue reading

Three Critical Questions for Entrepreneurs

Whether you’re a consultant, an app creator, or creating a product for sale, you are providing a solution to a problem.  On one hand, if there is no problem, then nobody needs a solution and you don’t have a product. On the other, if everyone has the problem, you have a great position to start from.

Entrepreneurs have to ask themselves these three simple questions:

1. Is there real problem shared by a lot of people?

2. Is there an urgent need to find a solution?

3. Does your product offer a compelling solution to the problem?

On question one: you are not your customer; only your customer is your customer.  If no one else but you has the problem you’re trying to solve, you don’t have a product.

On question two: If there’s no urgency (degree of both frequency and intensity together), then a customer’s motivation to buy is low and sales will be tough, even if they know they have a problem. Making something that’s hard to sell isn’t smart.

On question three: You may find a known problem and discovered there’s a sense of urgency to find a solution, but your product might suck.  … Continue reading

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