Feedback is Data

Customer discovery paves the path to profitability.

This really is the work for entrepreneurs starting a new business. Customer discovery requires curiosity, patience, humility, hard work, thick skin, an interest in being wrong, discernment, and a willingness to adapt.

For many entrepreneurs, impartial feedback can be scary. Customer discovery puts our ideas on the hook and conversations with strangers may contradict past assumptions, but that’s the point! Interacting with the market you seek to serve allows us to learn from “no” in a way that gets us to “yes.” As you collaborate with those who criticize what you’re building, learn why naysayers disagree with your hypotheses. Be humble and make your concepts more compelling to change their minds.

Collecting such real-world data is human and intellectual capital that will attract more network and financial capital. The more you learn from others, the more you’ll recognize—and be able to meet—true demand. This can be a protracted process, which can make it feel unnecessary, but honest feedback will strengthen your value proposition and allow you to eventually go further in the right direction.

When learning from the perspective of others, remember that feedback is only data. This data should be collected, organized, and examined like a scientist. Inference is more effective with more data, so the more feedback you have, the easier it can be to make decisions.

As you translate feedback into action, you must also find your own way. Even with good intent, people who provide you feedback are doing so based on their own experiences. The experience of others is based on the past and is unlikely to harmonize with your exact situation. There are many ways to build your business, so perpetually gather as much feedback as possible and use diversified data to guide your company toward product-market fit.

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My community visit with 1MC Joplin was sweet, this feature article was a neat chance to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, I’m gathering my own feedback by presenting Pour Over Publishing at 1 Million Cups Des Moines, and the much anticipated YDNTB audiobook is almost done!

Recording an Audiobook

I’m often asked about my journey as a first-time author.

How I Wrote YDNTB is a link I’m quick to share with those curiously navigating the fog of writing their own book. I’ve also began speaking with groups about how Pour Over Publishing was established to support this project.

With the audiobook for You Don’t Need This Book about to hit your ears, a similar rumination on how I planned, recorded, produced, and distributed my own audiobook is in order. Enjoy!

Planning

As Seth Godin mentions in his Advice For Authors, the cadence for an important project starts long before everyone first hears about it. Planning slows down early progress, but vision, preparation, and a willingness to rethink along the way provide value as pieces of a larger puzzle come together over time.

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Audiobooks unlocked my interest reading.

Establishing a strategic cadence for YDNTB was something I’m glad I thought about early on. I wasn’t sure how they were produced, but an audiobook was always going to be part of the YDNTB experience. The sturdy softcover and convenient eBook were launched first, but the time-release effect of a staggered distribution provides a fresh promotional boost, while inviting a wider audience of audiophiles into this exploration of entrepreneurship in the connected era.

Along with a thoughtful timeline, a planned cadence has allowed me to organize each of the individual variables into the overall equation. For example, the ISBN numbers, pricing, and distribution methods are different for each item, but work together at the same time.

Recording

When it was time to hit record, I wish it was as easy as grabbing the book, a cup of coffee, and just reading my heart out. There’s a lot you can do in “post”, which is jargon that describes all the work done to bring original media into a finished state, but quality audio is easier to work with. I thought about renting time in a professional studio. I also considered quiet booths at a local coworking space, but knowing the audiobook recording process was going to take longer than I thought, I decided to craft my own quiet place.

As seen in this YDNTB audiobook preview video, I found solace in the lower layer of my home and with a simple setup, I created a comfortable environment to narrate every word of my book.

Any decent microphone can work, but I used the Zoom H4N Pro Audio Recorder mounted in front of a small isolation shield with sound absorbent foam. A pop filter was then placed in front of the microphone to reduce the peaks as I spoke. To monitor the sound, I used a nice headset from my friends at Astro Gaming. This helped me stay in the zone, but also made sure unwanted noise didn’t sneak into the recording. This attention to detail led to the basement fridge getting unplugged, the HVAC being turned off, clock batteries being removed, and momentary pauses when planes flew overhead. Knowing I wanted to stand to project my voice as I narrated the book, I sat my laptop at eye level and used a silent mouse to scroll through the eBook. The result was a rich sound that listeners will appreciate without distraction.

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Brad Feld read his contribution for the YDNTB audiobook, so you’ll hear his voice within the Entrepreneurial Ecosystems section of the Community chapter!

One big surprise, was how exhausting it was to record an audiobook. I was naive to think I could stand up and read the entire thing in just a few settings. Audiobooks must be read word-for-word for whisper syncing and proper transcription. This meant misread words had to be identified (I clapped to create a spike in the audio waves) and re-read to perfection.

Along with eliminating audio-flavored typos, the inflections from the author are one of the best parts of audiobooks, so I wanted listeners to experience a similar satisfaction with the YDNTB audiobook. This translated the narration into more like an artistic performance! With BENergy poured into every word, a single chapter was usually the longest I’d last before my mind was mushy, my voice became scratchy, and my legs started to tremble. In an effort to make the entire audiobook sound even, I knew I wanted to capture everything within a short window of time, but recording all 37,456 words still took over a month to complete. Even with the extra time this process required, I had a lot of fun narrating my own book.

Production

With hours of recorded audio in place, the real work began.

To provide the most engaging experience for listeners, every sentence received treatment. This was painstaking, but the extra effort allowed me to remove outtakes and the distracting sound of me gasping for air. I also spent time listening to how everything sounded together. This often meant listening to the same sentence many times, which allowed me to optimize the flow felt between each syllable, word, sentence, paragraph, and section.

Attentively starring at audio waves and stitching what felt like endless audio into a polished audiobook was the definition of tedious. I have no idea how many hours were spent and if I have to do it again, I’ll probably hire out this production process. That said, I’m glad I took on the challenge. Like much of the YDNTB story, this was a test of skill, will, and endurance, but resulted in a relic I can be proud of for life.

As each word merged into sentences, paragraphs became sections. Sections connected into chapters and I eventually had the entire audiobook stitched together. I brought every element of the audiobook into a final round of editing to reduce any remaining echoes, peaks, and audible flaws. The complete audiobook clocks in at 5 hours, 30 minutes, and 13 seconds.

Distribution

With a piece of art ready to hear, it was important to make sure my audiobook was easy to find. Along with direct (pre)orders from the YDNTB page, I used the Amazon ACX platform to make sure this audiobook was optimized and available to download on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

I love how the audiobook fits into the YDNTB universe and I’m proud of how it turned out. I’d invite you to listen to the audiobook while holding a signed softcover for the ultimate experience. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Follow Up

As you continue to show up and stand out, it’s important to wrap a bow on your interactions by following up. Why? When creating connections, a single encounter is rarely enough. Whether it’s an email, phone call, social media connection, or handwritten note, follow up.

These tiny touch points can root a relationship. Even if there’s no obvious ways to collaborate right away, take a moment to say you enjoyed meeting that new contact. If possible, include something memorable from your encounter to personalize the message. This is also another chance to ask if there’s anything you can do to help, then close by sharing how you look forward to staying in touch. Whether they respond or not, this follow-up will increase the chance you’ll be remembered.

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The moment you meet is an effective time to connect on social media.

As you meet more people, it can become hard to maintain this habit without support. Don’t be afraid to use relationship management tools to keep conversations organized. Hubspot, Airtable, and other free CRM tools may be a good place to start. These platforms can automate your communication efforts, but play it cool. This is not the time to sell or bombard someone’s inbox. Instead of a pre-determined cadence, make a simple note to follow up. Use this reminder to comment on a social media post, share a quick idea, suggest a meaningful introduction, or invite your new contact to an upcoming event. While these follow ups are unscripted, it doesn’t hurt to internally track how many times you’ve touched base.

This balanced, friendly, and ongoing effort to stay connected will separate you from the pack and keep you on that person’s radar. Business may not spawn from these touch points, but there will be fresh context the next time you see each other. If opportunities to collaborate emerge, you’ll have a channel of communication already in place. Either way, showing up, standing out, and following up makes it easier to explore engaging ideas with your evolving network.

How I Wrote YDNTB

You Don’t Need This Book officially went on sale April 1st!

To commemorate this milestone, here’s the story of how I rolled everything I know about entrepreneurship into 37,456 words that spans just 200 pages.

Inspiration

Over the past 15 years, my own entrepreneurial, intrapreneurial and community building experiences created a baseline of understanding. Along with my own journey, I’ve extracted insight from thousands of students, entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, mentors, investors and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders.

With all that bottled up brain power, I started to feel as if I may regret not passing my experiential wisdom on.

Catalyzed

This book started as an outline on my phone. Each of the chapters represented a pillar of entrepreneurship. It lingered there for around six months. As you’ll read in the Foreword of my book, Victor Hwang and I were talking about this literary project back in 2019. He shared a poem with me that really resonated. My interpretation was that everyone has a story to tell. When it starts to keep you up at night, it may be time to put pen to paper. I had reached this tipping point so on January 1st, 2020, I opened a blank Word document, dropped in my outline and began to write.

Composition

For the next few months, I focused on finding 1-3 hour blocks to write. Some authors jump around and write into areas they feel most confident about before stitching things together. I chose to write from start to finish in what felt like the most common path for an entrepreneurial experience. The ease at which this story started coming together energized the work and made me even more determined. Along with writing, I learned as much as I could about book publishing. Seth Godin’s advice for authors guided me, but a growing collection of bookmarks kept the research going. The COVID-19 pandemic hit so I leaned on more wisdom from Seth Godin to find my inspiration at home. EDM kept flowing in my ears and my written words continued to construct the story. After around six months I had reached my goal of 25K words, but then the hard work began.

Refinement

With my first draft written, I brought everything into software to simplify, clarify and embolden the manuscript. I also focused on removing duplicative thoughts and optimizing the overall flow. This process took way longer than I expected, but the result was a dashing manuscript ready for review. My brilliant wife read it first. I knew that if the most intelligent/thoughtful person I knew approved, I could move forward. She loved it and helped me improve the readability even more. I then sent the manuscript and a book summary to family, mentors and other early readers. I implemented their feedback and kept building into this document that really started to feel like a book.

Polish

With a solid manuscript in place, I reached out to Victor Hwang and asked if he would do me the honor of writing the Foreword. When he said yes, I asked Brad Feld if he would like to contribute into the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem section of the Community chapter. As you’ll read in the Acknowledgements, jamming with these rockstars was a special treat. Having two thought leaders complimenting the manuscript provided me confidence and their contributions added some remarkable credibility to the book.

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The manuscript was written without the Oxford Comma. Based on Brad Feld’s comments, a quick Twitter poll and both of the editor’s suggestions, the serial comma got woven in right before publishing.

As these contributions came together, Brad Feld introduced me to the developmental editor who worked on Techstars books in the Startup Revolution library. Collaborating with Pete Birkeland resulted in the addition of my Introduction section and the 20+ personal sidebars you’ll see throughout the book. I then asked Michael McConnell to be my final copy editor. He had worked with authors like Seth Godin and Todd Henry, so it was neat working with an expert to a polish every single word to make the manuscript ready to publish.

Publishing

It took an entire year for the manuscript to emerge. I had been talking with different publishers and researching the publishing process as the manuscript came together. With a project that became so personal, I often felt paralyzed by this foreign process. This paralysis was not from a lack of options, but instead, so many options that it made me question so many decisions that had to be made. To navigate through the fog, I kept asking questions, digging deeper and decided to create my own publishing company to wrap around this project.

I then began collaborating with Nathan T. Wright on cover art. This was a magical experience that became icing on the cake. With so much influence from Seth Godin, I also decided to reach out to my hero for the very first time. This interaction with my favorite thinker is something I’ll always remember and the epic result was the only blurb you’ll see on the back of my book! With caffeinated cover art in place, I learned how to design every interior page to give readers a exceptional experience. Pour Over Publishing unlocked preorders four weeks before the official launch, as I worked with Amazon and IngramSpark to finalize the softcover and eBook that are now about to ship worldwide.

Results

Whether this becomes a bestseller or not, You Don’t Need This Book: Entrepreneurship in the Connected Era is now something I can be proud of for the rest of my life. It was an unbelievable amount of work, but I’m thankful for the support of so many people which allowed me to persevere. I enjoyed sharing this first look video and have activated community-driven marketing as we prepare for launch day.

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Wanna help spread the word? Here’s a media library to make your posts pop. To say thanks, feel free to use the friendly coupon codes as well!

Publishing my first book and watching sales roll in provides a sense of accomplishment, but I’m most excited to hear how YDNTB makes an impact with people like you. I simply cannot wait to hear how this synthesized narrative helps you build that new business, improve an existing company, fire up a side hustle or evolve your own entrepreneurial ecosystem!

In addition to more caffeinated conversations, now that I’ve navigated the fog, there may be more ways to accelerate others by helping hidden leaders write their own book. I’ll leave you with an open invitation. If the story in your mind starts to keep you up at night, let’s chat about evolving your ideas into reality.

Personal Bandwidth

New projects make work invigorating and it’s fun building things we care about. When we’re all able to do so much more with less in our connected era, the danger becomes how easy it is to spread yourself too thin. If you seek to unlock the boundless energy from a balanced career portfolio, it’s critical to keep an eye on your personal bandwidth.

To make it easy, visualize all the work you do as a dynamic pie chart. Each project you’re involved with represents one slice. It’s not an exact science, but the more time, money and energy you spend on something, the larger that slice becomes. Let’s call this your career portfolio.

Most of us can manage multiple slices of activity within our career portfolio. For example, a traditional, salaried position may be the lion share, but there’s still room for that innovative idea at your company, a little side hustle, the volunteer role and mentoring a few other entrepreneurs. No matter what makes up the complete pie chart, stay mindful of the coevolving sizes of each slice and how everything interacts within the overall system.

Saying yes or no to new projects should obviously be carefully considered. As you make these decisions, be honest with the resources required to continue building on each front. The time you spend on one thing can’t be spent on others, but positive force in one area often fuels fresh energy (and clarity if it’s time to quit) for other areas of your career portfolio. When different projects are in the same realm, synergies may be easier to compound, but sometimes having projects in completely different industries provides stabilizing diversification.

Beyond the obvious impact of adding or removing elements within your career portfolio, how resources are spent on existing areas of your career portfolio should feel strategic. Think about how much time is being spent compared to the income that’s being produced. There are other factors to consider too, as we know it’s not all about the money. Reflect on the type of energy each project generates. Who do you get to work with and how does the work make you feel overall? Hobbies that pay just enough to break even, leading a group of people you care about or volunteering to become a mentor are all wonderful examples of satisfying additions that don’t pay the bills.

Have something that’s dragging you in the wrong direction? It’s hard to revive old projects, but don’t be afraid to put things on the back burner. That said, if it is time to quit, read The Dip by Seth Godin, then decide if and when to make your move. Winners quit all the time, they just quit the right things at the right time.

That last sentence reveals one more important variable: good timing. When you activate new projects, adjust resources or quit something to make space for what’s next, good timing will provide a noticeable blend of confidence and tranquility. This state of mind will allow your work to make a bigger impact. To give yourself room to find good timing, remember entrepreneurship is not a race. Urgency is helpful because it creates valuable momentum, but stay patient knowing that persistence is the ultimate wild card.

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I once had a boss tell me I could never catch two rabbits. That’s outdated. With a balanced career portfolio and the support of those around you, we’re all able to catch more proverbial rabbits without diluting ourselves to mediocrity. Learn to efficiently activate different energies, on different projects, with different people, at different times, that all connect through you.