$200k Raised by 1st Nonprofit Accelerator Grad

Last summer I ran a pilot Nonprofit Accelerator with one large local nonprofit (name withheld until they give permission to share :)). Their core business is not education. Yet, over the years they developed a powerful curriculum that worked. They came to me wondering "is this a A) nice program we can slowly expand here in the Valley, or B) something with the potential to impact hundreds of thousands of children around the country and bring in millions of dollars of unrestricted revenue for us?" That was a great question!

We spent six months working through the Lean Innovation curriculum. Their team knew a lot of things, but there was a lot they didn't know... like who was going to pay? How Why would they pay? How much would they pay?

I am proud to share that on graduation day they pitched to their board and a group of potential funders. By the end of the night they had commitments for over $200k to fuel a pilot.

I can't wait to see what our next Nonprofit Accelerator cohort will do!

KISS Canvas 8. Value Models

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] What price should you charge for your product? How should people pay you? What value do non-paying customers provide you? All of this is covered in the Value & Revenue model column of the KISS Canvas.


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro
  2. Every customer segment pays
  3. Understand customer expectations
  4. Know your models
  5. Choose your pricing strategy carefully
  6. Discover your price point(s)
  7. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

Best Practices for Customer Discovery

At the heart of lean innovation is "getting out of the building" to test your ideas on real live humans! The fastest, cheapest, and most effective way to experiment is with simple interviews. Getting, and then completing, those interviews can be scary as heck for a lot of first-time entrepreneurs. It need not. Here are some tools I use with all of my students to help them find people to interview, secure those interviews, and walk away with the most accurate data possible.

  1. Short lecture on best practices in customer development interviewing (note this is a playlist, so keep listening after the first one is done :))
  2. Scripts for Finding & Securing Interviews
  3. Script for Discovery Interviews (when you aren't really sure what your customer's pains are and want to cast a wide net)
  4. Script for Pain Interviews (when you are ready to test specific pain hypotheses)
  5. Script for Solution Interviews (when you are ready to put a minimum viable product / prototype in front of a customer for feedback on your value proposition)
  6. Script for Get/Keep/Grow (Marketing, sales, customer service) Interviews

KISS Canvas: 7. Grow (Research & Development)

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] If your flagship product is a success, what next? This section of the canvas helps you think through what new products you might offer and what new customer segments you might approach. This video explains some of the core concepts...


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro
  2. Add “sizes”
  3. Solve your customer’s other problems
  4. Bring your existing product to new customer segments
  5. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 6. Keep (Customer Retention)

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] This section of the canvas helps you think through customer retention. Once you a customer purchases your product, how do you prove to them you have kept your promises?


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro & Keeping your customers is the right and smart thing to do
  2. Make your benefits visible
  3. Scorecards make benefits visible
  4. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

Western Mass Business Show Interview: Innovation in Western Massachusetts

My thanks to Ira Bryck for a wonderful interview on his Western Mass Business Show radio program on WHMP. We chatted about the various ventures I have had the joy of being a part of, especially the River Valley Investors, Valley Venture Mentors, and my new startups Launch413 & the Lean Innovation Institute. You can here the full interview here: Western Mass Business Show 3.31.18 | WHMP-AM – News – Information – The Arts

Proud Prof: Former Student's Company Opens Office in Paris

MassLive and the Springfield Republican kindly did a story on RVI portfolio company and VVM alum Cambridge Blockchain opening a new HQ in Paris. Full article here.

SaaS Best Practices

This article shows what you learn by reviewing the best practices of over 6,000 6,000 Software As A Service (SaaS) businesses. Highlights:

  1. You need to localize your pricing, because we’re in a globalized world
  2. Delinquent churn (AKA credit cards expiring and the like) is a tricky beast that must be slayed early
  3. You need to spend so much more time on your pricing
  4. Annual subscriptions are your friends. Get more friends.
  5. Expansion revenue (AKA more revenue from existing customers) is absolutely key

Want to know more? Read the full article.

Hat tip to my former student Daniel Nelson.

KISS Canvas: 5. Get (Marketing & Sales Channels)

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] This section of the canvas helps you understand the many different ways you can find and cultivate relationships with your customers (AKA marketing & sales). Here is a video explaining the how to use this part of the canvas and tips for understanding and strengthening your hypothesis around customer acquisition.


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Intro
  2. Decide: direct or indirect
  3. Decide: physical or digital
  4. Discover key channel metrics
  5. Decide how you’ll generate leads
  6. Determine cost to acquire a customer
  7. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 4. Competitive Advantages

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] This section of the canvas helps you find and own your niche! Here is a video explaining the how to use this part of the canvas and tips for understanding and strengthening your competitive advantage.


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Introduction
  2. Know your competitors
  3. Don’t underestimate the status quo
  4. Competitors are free R&D!
  5. Advantages stem from Benefits
  6. Create a Competitive Landscape Map
    1. TOOL: Get a blank Competitive Landscape Map
  7. Seek barriers to entry
  8. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 3. Features & Benefits

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] On to most entrepreneurs' favorite part of the venture, the product! But to do so, we must first understand the difference between features & benefits. Benefits are what the customer wants. Features are how we give them what they want. Confuse these and you'll keep building the wrong product or providing it to the wrong people.

Here is a video explaining the Features & Benefits columns of the KISS Canvas.


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Introduction
  2. Customers buy Benefits, not features
  3. Benefits are the reverse of Pains
  4. Focus on the FIRE!
  5. Features are dictated by Benefits
  6. Know your product status
  7. Good taglines emphasize Benefits
  8. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

Why Innovation Fails

This great article on Forbes details the many ways innovation inside of a mature organization can fail. Some of the key points:

  1. Ideation is easy... and not enough: It is relatively easy to hold events (like hackathons). They are fun, engaging, and generate a lot of ideas. But... it is just step one of the journey. Almost all organizations fails to do steps 2+ right, which leads to employee frustration and failure to develop the ideas. Doh!
  2. The model needs to work: Your idea needs a scalable, economically sustainable business model. With, you know... customer who want to pay you more than it costs to make & deliver it :). People often assume that if they have a great idea, making it into a great business is fairly straightforward. Alas, it is not so!

Mature organizations are usually filled with people who are great at executing a proven model. They usually do not have expertise in how to generate, vet, and validate new business opportunities. These are the very issues we help mature organizations work through at the Lean Innovation Institute.

Hat tip to Ric Pratt.


Your mature small manufacturing business needs to change? Advice from an expert

Michelle van Schouwen kindly interviewed me for the Succeeding in Small Business Blog. The post, called "Your mature small manufacturing business needs to change? Advice from an expert" reviews some of the core tips of the training I provide through the Lean Innovation Institute. Thanks Michelle!

KISS Canvas: 2. Pains

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] Once you have identified who your customers are, your next job is to gain deep insights into their pains. This video walks you through the PAIN box of the KISS Canvas, but more importantly, gives you tools for finding the pains that you must solve first if you want to succeed.


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Introduction
  2. Pains are felt by the customer
  3. Only list pains you can address
  4. Pains must be intense
  5. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

KISS Canvas: 1. Customer Segments

[This is a part of a series on the KISS Canvas] Knowledge of the customer is the foundation of all great organizations. Mess that up and your organization eventually comes toppling down. If you are a startup and you goof it up you never get off the ground in the first place.

This video series explains the KISS Canvas's 1st box, and in so doing gives you a framework to quickly and effectively identify who your customers are and what critical properties they have.


Here is each sub-lesson:

  1. Introduction
  2. Users & payers are not always the same
  3. Single or multi-sided market?
  4. Customers are always people
  5. Know the decision chain
  6. Create a "sample customer"
  7. Customer segment evolve
  8. Size your market
  9. Summary

Check out more KISS Canvas Content.

Webinar: Practical Tools to Evaluate Your Marketing & Sales

I like practical, help-me-make-a-living-now tools as much as the next person :). One of my favorite such tools in the Prospecting Plan. Common Capital kindly invited me to do a webinar on this topic AND they made it free and open to the public. You can watch a recording of the webinar, and find links to the tool referenced in it, below. https://www.facebook.com/commoncapitalinc/videos/752346554974367/?hc_ref=ARQ2_euweZIvPDh99Tbxn_XFy2fqM8pEeDzaIZVYPVclvD3dDDX8w0e3Ed7jyooyiQQ

To get a your own copy of the tool I used...

  1. Go to this GoogleSheet.
  2. Go to FILE > MAKE A COPY, or if you like Excel go to FILE > DOWNLOAD AS > EXCEL.
  3. Start filling in your own data.

Hat tip to my friend Jim Mumm, who taught me how to a prospecting plan in the first place :).

Investor Pitch Template & Tips

After seeing hundreds of formal presentation decks and hearing thousands of elevator pitches, some patterns emerge. Here is my recommended formula for how to put together an 8-10 minute pitch deck & speech for investors. Full template here, summary below:

  1. Company – Describe your venture in a tweet/sentence | describe what kind of skill set you bring to a job in a tweet/sentence. Some tips on condensing your value proposition into a tweet.
  2. Credibility – Talk is cheap, SHOW us you are someone with more than just an idea / someone we should continue listening to. If you have no credibility yet (very common!), skip this section. Remember to show, don’t tell.
  3. Customer Segment(s) – Give us a quick feeling for who your target market is and that they have enough money to make your venture worthwhile. Better yet, tell use about a sample customer.
  4. Pains – What is the pain (for your target market) you are solving? How to articulate your pains. Some tips on making sure your pains & gains match.
  5. Benefits – What benefits can you deliver to the target market that alleviates their pain? Note: features are not benefits :).
  6. Competitive Advantages – How are you positioned better than the competition? Remember the positioning triangle.
  7. Channel/Promotion – How are you going to find and get your customers cost effectively?
  8. Market size – How many dollars have your problem (video tips on market section)?
  9. Rev. Model / Key financial drivers – How do you make money? Can you make enough? Don’t show a spreadsheet!  Video w/ tips on financials & exit
  10. Exit – How do investors get their money back out plus a lot of profit for them? For instance: can you show us a screen full of logos representing companies like you that have been purchased for a lot of money? video w/ tips on financials & exit
  11. Team – If possible, intersperse this content throughout the rest of presentation. If that is tricky, make a dedicated team section. Remember to show, don’t tell how your team has the skills needed to help your kind of company succeed. What skills / people are you missing?
  12. Next Steps / Ask – ALWAYS end a pitch with some kind of ask. It can be explicit or implicit, but it must always be there. A great way to do it implicitly is to show the audience what your next step is. Get more detailed help on how to make a great Ask here. If you are asking for money, remember “Don’t tell us how much money you’ll burn.”

Some other great tips:

  1. When you make your slides you want a “dead seagull” on every slide!
  2. Don’t put more than one number to a slide, it confuses people.
  3. Use relative values instead of absolute, industry-specific ones.
    1. Turn “We added 1,000 customers over the past year” into… “Our customer base has doubled in the past year”
    2. Turn “20 customers in the 1st month” into… “We acquired as many customers in our first month as our competitors had after two years.”
    3. Turn “We spend $1.24 on materials” into… “Our gross margins are 75%.”
  4. Anticipate the questions your audience will ask and have extra slides at the end of your presentation that you can pull up during Q&A if the question comes up.

Hat Tip: This content expands on the work I did while working at the awesome www.valleyventurementors.org.

How to Craft an "Ask"

Every pitch should have an "ask," a polite request that lets the audience know how they can help you next. A great “Ask” portion of a pitch should be:
  • Actionable for the mentor/audience
  • Ask for advice, not leads/money
  • Helps you towards one of your goals for the program
  • Be specific enough for a large fraction of your audience to feel like they have the knowledge to help you in a limited time frame.
Example 1:
  • BAD: “Introduce me to senior level executives of company X”
  • GOOD: “I want to understand what matters to senior level executives at companies like X”
  • WHY: One is about extraction, the better one is about learning & building a relationship.
Example 2:
  • BAD: “Purchase my discounted product today!”
  • GOOD: “Help me understand who would want my product, why, and how to reach them.”
  • WHY: Same as above!

Example 3:

  • BAD: “I need help with my business model.”
  • GOOD: “I am debating between 3 models: subscription service, a direct sale, or selling through retailers. I’d love to hear your feedback on how to make this decision, especially if you have deep experience in any of these models.”
  • WHY: The first was so generic that people don’t realize they can help, or won’t feel special in helping.  The second one lets people with the right knowledge know they can make an impact on you.  It also shows that you have done work to figure out your options and are ready for guidance vs mentors do your homework for you.

Hat Tip: This content expands on the work I did while at the amazing www.valleyventurementors.org.