How do I…? As entrepreneurs we ask this question daily, but we often don’t think through the question systematically. The monthly MentorNight Roundtable group does, and you can use the format as an effective guide to your business development challenges. MentorNight, run by Tony Karrer and John Diep, and regular group leader John M. Morris (who also runs Startup Founders Group), takes on startups core business challenges in the most useful way I’ve seen. Here’s an example of the process in action:
Two guys were starting an online marketplace that allowed buyers and sellers to negotiate ticket prices for live events. The company is simply the platform and the medium for the transaction. The founders’ concern was scaling: particularly, dealing with dissatisfied ticket holders who were at events and being denied entry. But, the first question was something to the effect of: “How do we decide if we hire internal customer service or if we outsource customer service?”
You can’t do it all alone.
Based on the founders’ answers to the groups clarifying questions it became clear that the fundamental question was along the lines of, “How do I offer customer service to angry ticket holders as the number of tickets sold grows?” You may think it’s the same question, but the suggestions for a solution indicate otherwise.
The suggestion that won: gamify your customer service. Put the responsibility for resolving customer issues on the sellers. Adding a rating element—like Yelp, Ebay or Amazon—will incentivize sellers to make sure customers are satisfied with their experience, less they face poor ratings and a loss in sales. This approach returns the company to the role of facilitating transactions, and doesn’t require them to take on responsibility for anything other than the technical functioning of the platform.
The founders left the meeting committed to investigating gamified customer service and how they could develop it into their existing platform, and a commitment to report back to the group. The MentorNight process ultimately saved these founders hours of headaches and, potentially, tens of thousands of dollars.
Here’s the step-by-step process for the MentorNight format:
First you pose your question: “How do I…?” The most common questions entrepreneurs face, center on scaling, funding, staffing, go-to-market strategy and branding. Yet, when forced to simplify the question as, “how do I…?” many entrepreneurs aren’t hitting the heart of the problem. MentorNight’s Startup Roundtable format helps drill down to make sure that the question asked is the fundamental issue.
Next, the entrepreneur makes two more statements about their concern. The first articulates why the question is important to their business; the second is what the entrepreneur has already done to deal with the issue. Then, the person states the help needed from the group.
Clarifying questions come next. These questions are not veiled suggestions or solutions. The questions help the group better understand the entrepreneur’s business and what they’re trying to do by answering the “how do I” question. Based on the clarifying questions the group offers suggestions for restating the entrepreneur’s original question. The entrepreneur must remain silent here and resist the urge to defend herself. Based on the restatements the entrepreneur is allowed to restate the “how do I question.” More often than not the second “how do I,” is different from the question the person set forth at the start.
Now comes the call for suggested solutions based on the last “how do I…?” From the solutions the entrepreneur then commits to take specific action—not think about—and commits to returning to the group by a certain date to report the results.