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  • tomhigley 8:39 am on September 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , product market fit, , the key,   

    The Key Re Printed from my Medium… 

    The Key (Re-“Printed” from my Medium post of the same title)

    . . . To Product Market Fit
    Maybe you’ve heard some of this before.

    You’ve started a company. You have an idea. A hypothesis you plan to test using the now classic lean startup methodology.

    You’re sure your idea is the key. It unlocks a door. And behind this door lies unimaginable value. (Think of “value” in whatever terms you like: wealth, fame, glory, the end of poverty and disease, etc.) Value is whatever matters to you and to the market.

    To get to the value, you need only insert your key. And open the door.

    But wait.

    The key doesn’t fit. (Hint: it usually doesn’t.) Now what?

    “No problem,” you say. It’s just the wrong door.


    I’m an entrepreneur. I’m resourceful. I’m persevering. I’ll figure this out. I’ll just flip to page X in Steve Blank’s The Startup Owner’s Manual. My co-founder and I will get “out of the building” and do a little more “customer discovery.”

    In other words, I just need to try this key in a different door.


    Ah, but which one?

    300 Doors later . . .

    . . . you think your key may not fit ANY door. So you decide to get a different key. (We sometimes call this a “pivot.”)

    New key in hand, you go back to those doors. (Maybe you even find some new doors because it looks like these new doors just might be a better fit for your new key.)

    Did the key fit? No? No luck? Out of time? Out of money? That sucks for you? If you already have employees, it sucks for them too. And if you have investors . . . same thing.

    Starting with “an Idea” (aka “a Key”) is Often a Bass Ackwards Approach

    What if you could start, not with an idea or a key, but with the right door? A wicked problem that when solved reveals enormous opportunity. Suppose you could develop the solution or key specifically for this wicked problem, the lock on this particular door.

    Wouldn’t that be more efficient than hoping your key happens to fit some random door?

    Of course, some locks are more difficult than others.

    And some doors are even protected by armed guards.

    But isn’t that what you’d expect if the value on the other side of the door is extraordinary? So maybe you’ll need a purpose built key. Or even dynamite. But that’s a whole lot better than trying to shove a bum key into a bunch of different doors hoping that the key will fit. (And not really even knowing whether there’s anything of value on the other side of the door.)

    What matters to you, to your investors, to your employees is whether the reward is worth the effort. So why not start with the right door?

    Wicked Problems

    Start with a wicked problem – the sort of problem that is both challenging and filled with opportunity. That’s one way to be sure you’re standing in front of the right door. You may have to blast your way through. But that’s half the fun.

    This is what real entrepreneurs do. Create the first commercially viable electric automobile? You bet: Tesla. Create a company to send rockets, satellites and more into space. You bet: Space X. Combat global warming by creating a solar energy company that can scale? Yup: Solar City. Do them all at once? Well, maybe you only do that if you’re Elon Musk.

    You see when you’ve found the right wicked problem, something about which you are passionate in an area where you have the capacity to make a difference, you can begin to think about where to find the right key. You may have to search a bit to find it. Or you may need time to develop it. (You may even need to shoot your way past the armed guards and set off the charges of dynamite.) But when you’ve gotten past this door, all that effort will have been worth your time.

  • tomhigley 12:28 pm on February 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: acquisition, billion, consumer, , free, , whatsapp   

    The Persistent Power of Free 

    FreeFacebook will acquire WhatsApp for $16 billion. Wait. WhatsApp? What’s up with that?

    Despite everything you may have heard from your local angel investors and venture capital firms about how important it is to generate revenue and become profitable, it remains true that the most significant startup successes (for both startups and startup investors) are all about “free” and all about the race to an addictive experience with a large and growing number of consumers.

    Free wins.

    You say “nothing’s free.” Well, sure. You’re right. But if something looks free, feels free and doesn’t generate a number in your monthly credit card statement, I’m going to call it “free.”

    Chris Anderson – then Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine – wrote about this in Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing. He was right then. And he’s still right today.

    This doesn’t mean that “free” will work for every startup. But it does mean that you shouldn’t assume that your best path to success in the consumer arena is a product or service the consumer has to pay for.

    • Stan Price 2:15 pm on March 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Tom,

      I share this philosophy and am developing a music distribution platform around the notion of “free”. I call it the “Free-to-Sell” platform. Right now, every major music distribution service takes anywhere from 15-30% (and beyond) of all music sales. Depending on the amount of sales you have, this can be a large amount cash that you lose. My platform takes 0%, and I have developed a method to make it quite profitable.

      I would love to chat with you about it, and take in any advice or direction you can offer. I would also like to mention that I am seeking angel investors to help get the ball rolling so we can have a smooth launch and have the capital needed to maintain and grow.

      Thanks for your time Tom.


  • tomhigley 10:00 am on January 4, 2014 Permalink
    Tags: , 101010, , , , ,   

    Entrepreneurs: Designing and Building the Future 

    Entrepreneurs recognize and seize opportunities. They do this, first, by noticing problems and solving them. They then deliver their solution to a customer. The customer pays them. If the customer pays the entrepreneur (or the entrepreneur’s business) more than the entrepreneur’s cost of developing and delivering the solution, the entrepreneur has a viable business.

    The Future is Yours to Build

    The Future is Yours to Build

    This is Entrepreneurship 101.

    It is, fundamentally, what every successful entrepreneur does. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. And Mark Zuckerberg.

    Entrepreneurs who have mastered Entrepreneurship 101 move up the food chain. These more advanced and ambitious entrepreneurs look for businesses and business models that are repeatable and scalable. Repeatable is the easy part. Even the butcher has a repeatable business model.

    Scalable is harder, almost magical. A scalable business model is one in which increased future revenues cost less to deliver than current revenues.

    Repeatable and scalable businesses capture the imagination, passion and energy of the world’s best entrepreneurs and the capital of the world’s most successful investors.

    Entrepreneurs get into the graduate-level stuff when they determine they will tackle wicked problems. Wicked problems are almost never solved by a single spark of interest or by an individual working alone. Solutions to wicked problems require the fire of imagination, the fuel of capital and the persistent, disciplined work of a committed and exceptional team.

    A little luck helps, too.

    I’m interested in developing the entrepreneur’s graduate-level course in wicked problems. The course is not intended for the entrepreneur satisfied with Entrepreneurship 101. It is focused on opportunities with business models that are repeatable, scalable and more. The “more” is the “wicked problems” part of the program.

    Many entrepreneurs dreams stop at useful but incremental improvements achieved through hacks to systems, technologies or distribution channels. And some entrepreneurs are content with merely hastening the inevitable. (Seeing just a little bit into the future and playing Wayne Gretzky with the puck of opportunity.) That doesn’t interest me.

    Instead, I’m interested in leaders. Those who would dare conceive of a future they must design and build themselves with the help of purpose-built teams. I’d like to find these leaders and help them discover the necessary tools to create the future. A future that is anything but inevitable. In the end, that’s what 10.10.10 is all about.

  • tomhigley 1:05 pm on October 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , CEO, , , , solutions, , taxonomy, technology   

    10.10.10 Types of Problems 

    Over the past year I have been working with a wonderful team of people to develop the first 10.10.10 program. What is “10.10.10?” It’s a program with three key components:

    1. 10 problems with significant market opportunity
    2. 10 prospective CEOs from all over the country, each looking for their next big thing
    3. 10 days together in a startup community that serves as a hosting environment for developing market solutions and giving birth to new startup companies

    So, 10.10.10 is ten problems, ten CEOs and ten days, and the first 10.10.10 program will be held in 2014 in Denver, Colorado from February 18-28th.

    But this post is about problems. More specifically, it is about the types of problems that entrepreneurs might choose to address – a kind of taxonomy.

    The impetus for this desire to classify problems derives from my thinking about the sorts of problems that are most suitable for 10.10.10. And for me this inquiry begins with three primary stakeholders – the customer, the entrepreneur and the investor.

    Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I’m posting this here to invite you to participate in helping us to come up with clearer, better ways of thinking about the kinds of problems that would become the focus for 10.10.10.

    Categories, Classes or Types of Problems

    Efficiency. Current solutions are costly due to inefficiencies. These inefficiencies may take any of the following forms:

    • Lack of info or data
    • Info or data unavailable in a timely manner
    • High cost or scarse resources currently used to provide solution (product or service) vs low cost or widely available resources

    Invention. The solution to the problem does not yet exist.

    • A working solution to the problem has not been articulated or implemented.
    • The technology does not yet exist. At all.
    • The technology has not sufficiently matured (but it clearly will x years in the future). 

    Distribution. Solutions are available, but existing distribution channels are inadequate or ineffective.


    • The problem affects many people or businesses, but (a) only a few would be willing to pay for a solution or (b) people / businesses would pay an amount that is inadequate to cover the cost plus reasonable margin of profit for delivering the product or service.
    • The problem affects only a small number of people or businesses.


    • The problem occurs irregularly or sporadically.
    • Repeat uses of the solution (product or service) are difficult to predict.


    • Solutions exist or could be imagined and developed, but they require many elements to “go right.”
    • Requirements for a fully working solution have not yet been published and tested.
    • The suppliers of the necessary components have not yet been persuaded to make their components compatible. 
    • No one has yet organized and tested the constituent elements of a solution in a way that delivers a complete, working solution to the marketplace.  

    Scope & Scale. Testing a solution is possible only after massive investment with a concomitant unacceptable level of risk.


    That’s what I have come up with so far. What other useful approaches would you suggest? Please keep in mind that we are classifying the types of problems that 10.10.10’s CEOs would be motivated to address by investing the next chapter of their lives in a startup that develops and markets a solution.

    I am eager to see what you come up with!

  • tomhigley 10:43 am on July 18, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: android, apps, ios, iphone, value   

    I Don’t Need Another App 


    William Hook via Flickr

    I know I’m atypical. In oh so many ways. I read vastly more than most people do. I am often late. I often don’t respond as quickly or consistently as I should.

    But I think I share a common perspective with nearly every iPhone or Android user. I don’t need another app. True, I have 294 of them installed on my iPhone and 297 on my iPad, and those numbers may be a bit high when compared with the average user.  Still, I’d be willing to bet that most iPhone and Android users share my feelings about apps: many of them are very cool and even useful, but none of us really needs another app.

    What we do need is value, and if I believe an app can really provide value (and most don’t), I’ll install it. I’ll give it a try. But it better do or be one of these things, immediately: 

    • Fun
    • Entertaining
    • Informative
    • Helpful
    • Save me money
    • Save me time
    • Help me feel loved or capable or connected

    What makes you decide to install and try a new app?

    What was the last thing you decided to try?

    Will you keep using it?

    And here’s the big question: what’s the most valuable app on your iPhone or Android? 

    • arc Silverman 2:14 pm on August 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Tom,
      Hope you are doing well. I stumbled upon your recent rant about not needing another iPhone app.
      Well, here’s an interesting one that I wrote. I’ve been working on lots of iOS stuff relating to other companies I work with, but this is the first one on my own.

      It’s an iPhone application to help responsible medical and recreational pot users (or users of any medication) quickly and privately determine their impairment level prior to driving. The test takes about two minutes to complete and it provides an accurate snapshot of memory, balance, time perception and reaction time.

      Individuals can create their own personal baseline when they feel ‘okay’ and then measure themselves against that baseline whenever they desire. It takes about five minutes to establish a personal baseline and the baseline can be reset at any time. People can also test themselves against a ‘standard’ if they do not want to establish a personal baseline. Individual performance data is maintained on the individual’s device and is never uploaded. Privacy is an essential component of this product. The app is currently available for free to anyone who wants it, in support of a broader public safety effort.

      Here’s the link on the store:
      There’s more info on the website at:

      Best regards,

  • tomhigley 1:54 pm on July 17, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Beginning to look for a new CTO or tech lead for Vokl. Friday is the last day of full time work for Vasily Vasinov, Vokl’s CTO. We will miss him terribly.

    Vokl Business Coming to App Store

    Vokl Business Coming to App Store

  • tomhigley 2:01 pm on May 12, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Game Horizon’s Q&A with Will Wright on the future of games 

    Will Wright on the future if games Pt. 1.

  • tomhigley 1:58 pm on May 12, 2013 Permalink | Reply  

    Game Horizon’s Will Wright Q&A on the future of games (part two) 

    Will is always incredible.

  • tomhigley 9:02 pm on March 10, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: chris ganson, , dylan richard, engineering, engineers, harper reed, jason kunesh, jb holston, obama, ofaco   

    Obama For America Engineering Dream Team 

    Last week J.B. Holston hosted the Obama for America Engineering Dream Team in Denver, and it was one of the more inspiring experiences I have had in some time. Who ARE these guys? Well, the Atlantic did a piece back in November, “When the Nerds Go Marching In,” that answers the question. Sort of.


    The guys who came to Colorado from Chicago – Harper Reed, Dylan Richard, Jason Kunesh and Chris Ganson – were like troops returning from Afganistan to a hero’s welcome. Which is fitting. After all, these guys are war heroes, albeit in a war of a very different kind. They’re the guys who put in 14 hour days 6-7 days a week in a battle to reelect a President. And they won.

    They were smart, focused and determined. But they weren’t cocky. Far far from it. Given several opportunities to glory in their success (vs. the misfortunes of their counterparts working for Romney), they flat out refused to be critical. “Technology is hard.” That’s what they said. They knew they could have had things happen to the Obama effort that they  didn’t expect and couldn’t control. As Harper says in the Atlantic article:

    “I know we had the best technology team I’ve ever worked with, but we didn’t know if it would work. I was incredibly confident it would work. I was betting a lot on it. We had time. We had resources. We had done what we thought would work, and it still could have broken. Something could have happened.”

    That generosity of spirit was evident throughout the conversations I witnessed – during their lunchtime panel hosted at Newsgator, during the dinner at Cholon Bistro and afterward when we were just hanging out together at The Kitchen.

    And here’s the real thing: they cared about making a difference, about making the world a better place. And because they really really do want to make they world a better place, they were clear that they weren’t willing to sacrifice what is most important – integrity and honor – to ensure a victory that could only have been hollow if it had to be achieved by compromising their values. Call me crazy, but I like that. No, I love that. Maybe I feel that way because I identify with a certain midwestern purity of heart that I thought I saw in them. Or maybe I just like connecting with folks that I think are the real deal, folks who really are making a difference in the world and who choose to use the talent, experience and drive they have to “be the difference.”

    Any way, you can learn a bit more about the team’s visit here:

    And you should check out J.B.’s blog post, “Stuff – an extensive and heartfelt “thank you” to all the people who helped make the visit so compelling – and there were many people involved to be sure. I’m just grateful I got the chance to connect for a few moments. A huge thank you to the dream team, J.B Holston and everyone else who made this happen.

    I’m hoping we can get them back again soon. Maybe in the fall for Denver Startup Week or 10.10.10.

  • tomhigley 12:21 pm on January 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: brad feld, built in Denver, , denver startup week, , startup communities,   

    Built in Denver 

    Erik Mitisek, Chairman Built in Denver

    If you haven’t seen it yet, please check Built in Denver, the new website that focuses on the staartup and entrepreneurial activities happing in and around Denver, Colorado. Members, events, companies, blogs, jobs and more come together on the site as a go-to resource for those living in or near Denver and those outside Denver who want to know more about the City of Denver, Denver entrepreneurship, Denver startups and more.

    A great thank you to Erik Mitisek, Built in Denver’s Chairman, for the legwork that went in to pulling this together.

    Why “Built in Denver?” Why not “Built in Colorado?” Or “Built in America?”

    For me the answer to this question goes to two key issues. First, focus. We want Denver to have a resource that allows the entire community to pull together and amplify the voices, opportunities, entrepreneurs, startups and supporting resources that make Denver one of the best places on the planet to live and work. A different, “Built in Colorado,” theme could accomplish only a part of that and “Built in America” rather misses the point – of focus – entirely.

    The second issue is promotion. In Brad Feld’s recent book, Startup Communities, Brad describes his Boulder Thesis. (It’s a great book and a great read, by the way.) Brad didn’t choose “‘Boulder’ Thesis” to diss Denver (or Palo Alto). But he acknowledged that by using this term, he was promoting Boulder and the great entrepreneurs and startups in Boulder.

    Think Like an Agilist

    Teaching Lean – Thinking Like and Agilist

    “Built in Denver” operates in that same spirit. We want to promote Denver – not at the expense of other great cities in Colorado – but in a way that proves beneficial to the entire state and this regional ecosystem.

    What’s happening in Denver that warrants this focus? Many, many things. Denver Startup Week, from October 22nd – 27th, has to have been one of the biggest most compelling events for startups in the Denver’s history. More than 70 events. Incredible events that were so well attended they often required larger venues to accommodate all the people who signed up.

    And during Denver Startup Week, Galvanize had its coming out party. With capital, a curriculum, community leaders, a beautiful, well designed space, and a great team to support it, Galvanize captured even more attention that it had during the i4C campaign.

    Before Denver Startup Week, I was fortunate to serve as a judge as ten teams delivered their Denver Startup Weekend pitches. Jon Rossi did an incredible job pulling this together and is to be commended along with each of the organizers, teams and judges who devoted their time and energy.

    Jon Rossi

    But the real story of what’s happening right now in Denver is about the entrepreneurs and startups that have embraced the City of Denver as never before. Lodo is crawling with them! Built in Denver is a great way to call attention to this and give credit where credit is due: to the founders and entrepreneurs who are building new companies and the supporting institutions – including the academic institutions (MetroState, CU Denver, and DU); Michael B. Hancock, Mayor of Denver; Paul Washington, Executive Director, Office of Economic Development, City and County of Denver; and Tami Door, President & CEO, Downtown Denver Partnership.

    It bears mentioning that we still have a lot of work to do. Startups – like infants – are dependent and in need of care and feeding. Without this, they don’t survive and certainly don’t realize their full potential. I’ll leave to another post a discussion of the list of things that startups require, but among them are entrepreneurial leadership, mentors, sources of capital, an affordable pool of talent, and a supportive community that includes academic institutions and state and local government.

    It is my sincere belief that the future of Denver and of Colorado is being shaped right now. Think of it as the new frontier, perilous and not for the faint of heart, but offering the promise of an amazing future.

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