The Lean Startup methodology basically says:
- Come up with a hypothesis
- Build the cheapest, smallest thing you can to test the hypothesis
- Measure, and learn as much as you can from that investment
- Understand what additional resources you can invest next time (and zero is an option)
- Go back to step #1
There’s much more to it than that, and I’d strongly encourage any business or community builder to read the whole book, but that’s the core.
I was talking to a friend of mine about successes and failures, and he mentioned that it looked like I’d had a string of hits recently. It only looks that way because I try a lot of small things along the way, and most of them either get abandoned, or pivoted. If something’s not resonating with the audience, it’s outta here.
Examples of some of our failures over the years include:
- Selling VMware or SAN implementation consulting – I can’t keep up with all technologies to a level where I can do a great job of implementing the latest features. I was bummed about that, but there came a point where I realized we had to focus.
- Selling as an Amazon Web Services partner – we thought it might bring in a new source of work, but going through partner-type sales channels comes with a much lower revenue rate than we could get through our own channels.
- Selling Hadoop/NoSQL consulting – turns out most businesses would rather just hire a cheap college grad to throw labor at figuring that stuff out.
- Selling DBA interviews – we’d screen candidates for companies. Turns out the market is too small, and it would cost too much in advertising to reach every company that’s hiring their only DBA. (Companies with teams of DBAs don’t need this service.)
- Selling blocks of hours – oddly, this was a little too successful, and everybody who bought hours wanted to be able to use just one of ’em on a moment’s notice – but we were usually booked 2-3 weeks in advance. Led to some broken hearts.
- Building SQL Server quizzes – I thought these Cosmo-style quizzes would catch on like crazy. Nope. They still get a few hundred hits per month so I leave ’em up though.
- Building an sp_Blitz® Windows app – we figured if we could get this into the Windows app store, we’d get access to a new audience. Was just too much work to get a SQL Server querying application into the store.
- Building auto-scale tools for WordPress in AWS – years ago, we wanted to walk the walk when it came to cloud services, so we paid developers to build this. We should have stuck to our core business.
- Getting public code contributions to our scripts – we promoted this for a while, but the contributions took more work to fix than they would have taken to write from scratch. (People don’t test their work on case-sensitive instances, multiple versions of SQL Server, large databases, etc.)
- Recording our in-person classes ourselves – I tried using GoPros, DVI/VGA screen recorders, and microphone gear to capture the essence of our in-person classes. Out of every ~20 hours of classes, I was lucky to get 1 hour of good quality recording.
- Delivering weekly webcasts with training presentations – our weekly sessions used to be all technical content (not Q&A), but it was a scheduling nightmare. It’s hard to come up with really good new material every single week, plus the rehearsing totally hoses up our schedule on the day of the webcast. Since the attendees were asking questions totally unrelated to the content, we pivoted and focused on the Q&A format instead.
You can’t let failed experiments get you down.
With the Lean Startup methodology, you expect to fail – a lot – but your investments are limited, so who cares? You’re learning and adapting the whole time. You use what you learn, and keep pushing forward to find the things that work well.
To keep myself psyched up – and I know this is gonna sound cheesy – I follow a few motivational Instagram accounts. Most of my Instagram feed is friends and family and SQLfamily, but peppered in there are a few keep-pushing feeds like @6amsuccess, @big.empire, and @words_worth_billions.
WARNING, CHEESINESS FOLLOWS
And finally, and perhaps most importantly:
Having stuff like that in your daily Instagram feed can get you started with a smile and keep you focused on what matters. Sure, a lot of the sayings and images are stupidly cheesy – but at the heart of it, the message is real. Fail small, fail often, and keep pushing. Eventually your successes pile up and become real.
Great post Brent- without doubt you are a successful person, but its very easy for other people to think that success means getting it right first time, every time. its a great help to understand what it takes to be a success. Scott Adams’ book “How to fail at almost everything and still win big” is very similarly themed and definitely made me think about success and failure in a new way.
Very interesting!! What are some of your successful initiatives (outside your core SQL Server consulting and stored procedures)? Sp_Blitz for Windows is a pretty neat idea!
Nick – great question. Definitely building the multi-million-dollar consulting/training company, selling training classes around the world, building a >50k person email list, hiring half a dozen folks, etc. Probably the easiest place to get the rundown is in my life quest: http://ozarme.wpengine.com/quest/
This was fascinating to me! One follow-up Q: this post and some things you’ve written before appear to highlight that BOU has been most successful when focused on doing just a few things really well (e.g. Critical Care, training). I’m sure one big reason for that is your brand power: your name is huge in the “DBA” space. Is it right to infer that the increased frequency of Oracle-related blog postings (esp Jeremiah and now Erik) is because the Execs/Directors purchasing your services tend to view RDBMS expertise as similar enough even across products? Or maybe that is more to expand your readership into new demographics, but with the intent to still sell just MSSQL services?
Aaron – the way we’ve always treated blogs is to write about things we find interesting. We figure the readers are a lot like us, and they’ll find those same things interesting too. Not everybody is going to be wildly interested in every article – for example, not everybody wants to hear about virtualization, or AGs, or caching, or Oracle – but people will be interested in our overall work.
We don’t write every blog post as a sales or marketing tactic – we just write about what we’re interested in.
There’s a neat saying in business: you can grow by selling a new product to existing customers, or by selling an existing product to new customers, but you want to avoid trying to sell a new product to new customers. In theory, we could sell our existing SQL Critical Care product to new customers (Oracle users), and it’s also possible that our current customer base has Oracle servers. It’d take a lot of work though – we’d have to hire Oracle experts, and we’re just SQL Server people who like playing around with different tools to see how they work.
I appreciate the insight, esp. the business maxim. Learning all the dark corners of another platform and then staying up-to-date sounds exhausting, but your staff is very bright and if anyone in the MSSQL world was going to attempt it… Cheers. 🙂
Thanks for sharing. If only people knew that we had to deal with more failures than successes … 🙂