True University

This week I was lucky enough to join around 200 other employees and founders of companies that are in the True Ventures portfolio at True University.

How's your Latin?

It’s fairly common for venture firms to take their founders and CEOs on trips that involve a mix of inspiration, education and fun. But I think that this was a first for a venture firm to get their companies’ employees together to meet, socialize and hear from genuine experts in the startup field.

I majored in Early, the track devoted to discussion of business models and customer development. We were so privileged to have Wednesday’s classes taught by the two redoubtable experts in the field: Alex Osterwalder and Professor Steve Blank.

Alex walked us through his Business Model Canvas in the morning. Then Steve spent the afternoon showing us how to use the Canvas to iterate on a business model using quantitative and qualitative data gathered in the customer development process. The afternoon finished with presentations and Steve Blank reminding me that we should be thinking about pricing on value… if only he knew!

Thursday morning’s keynotes featured Dan Ariely. I’ve enjoyed Dan’s books and his occasional appearances on APM’s Marketplace, seeing him in real life was great, too. Even though I suspect he’s given exactly the same talk likely hundreds of times, it felt fresh and engaging.

We also heard from Jeff Veen, CEO and Founder of Typekit. He told us about the weekend just before Christmas last year when his team had to build the software for a new CDN origin server to cope with a sudden increase in demand — a project that had been scoped to take 6 weeks was completed in two days. There were some great lessons around how a startup’s emergency response procedures should be setup, and also the huge value in effective, informative dashboards.

I switched tracks for most of Thursday afternoon and spent most of it in the company of Kenny Van Zant. Kenny came to talk with a few of us at Automattic a few months ago, and it was great to see him lay out some of his thoughts on sales, pricing and packaging again.

Kenny has a theory that runs something along the lines of “if you charge for your software or service, you’re always at risk of another company coming along and disrupting the market from below”. Much as any value pricer wants to hope otherwise, there’s an evident reality to this. Apple aside, can anybody name a truly disruptive product or company that was priced above the rest of the market?

My name badge collection from startup events is pretty big (I’ve been to quite a few). But I honestly can’t remember a more fulfilling and (entirely unrelated) well organized couple of days. I owe a big thank you to the True team, and all the guests that came to speak to us.

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