• Four Steps to Success – Alex Cowan’s practical guide to building a startup

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    Alex Cowan, founder of the enterprise communications software company Leonid Systems and author of the recently published Starting a Tech Business, says his book does not bring any particularly new ideas to the table. Instead, he says, it takes the best thinking from the contemporary tech world and translates it for non-engineers and other mortals.

    Cowan will lead a four-hour, full-immersion workshop called “New Product Development in Four Steps” for TechRaising members and friends on Tuesday, Oct. 9, drawing from ideas in his book. Most of the strategies being explained and workshopped will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time considering the tech business scene: Cowan will cover design thinking, lean business principles, the “customer development” (versus “product development”) model, and the application of “agile” software-development ideas to a startup environment.

    Cowan promises that the workshop will be as valuable to people familiar with these buzzwords as it will to those for whom they are new ideas.

    “Watching ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ isn’t the same as learning how to tango,” he says. And this workshop, which will involve a series of hands-on exercises, will be more like dancing lessons than a speech.

    Cowan learned these cutting-edge best practices in part by building a successful startup. In 2007, Leonid Systems was called Leonid Consulting, and Cowan was the lone employee. Today it employs 35-plus, with offices in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Bucharest, Romania. Along the way, Leonid became a software company, as Cowan decided to turn the practices and utilities he was selling into products.

    Running a self-funded enterprise-level company was challenging, Cowan recalls. “I mean, it was brutal,” he says. While growing Leonid, he read all of the current literature, from Steve Blank’s “Four Steps to the Epiphany” to Eric Reis’s “The Lean Startup,” and he was able to apply best practices to his company while the sales graph turned into a hockey stick. (“Still,” he says, “a little bit of financing would have been nice.”)

    While using the stuff he was learning from the new-tech business gurus, Cowan was somewhat surprised to find that most of the companies he was tracking, and some that he was doing business with, were not heeding this good advice.

    “The big ideas in high-tech, and how they apply beyond high tech, are pretty much universally accepted,” he says. “I mean, nobody says ‘lean’ thinking is bad. But there’s a big gap between the number of people who’ve read these books and the number of companies that apply them. It’s a paradox. Why aren’t these things more widely practiced?”

    Cowan concluded that the problem was that there weren’t enough practical guidelines about how to implement these big ideas. Hence, Starting a Tech Business.

    Simply put, his book bridges the gap between theory and practice, offering exercises that show how design thinking, etc., can be put in play in real-world situations.

    Cowan is not at all ashamed that his book re-frames a variety of ideas that have been around for a while. On the contrary, he proudly points out that one of his favorite ideas in Starting a Tech Business—the “AIDA” marketing framework, is 100 years old.

    “A lot of business books claim to deliver ‘the secret,’ some Rosetta Stone, how to work an hour a week and become a millionaire. This is simply a practical application of the best ideas coming out of product development in high-tech.”

    Alex Cowan will present New Product Development In Four Steps on Tuesday, Oct. 9, from 5:30-9:30. Cruzio Internet, 877 Cedar St., Santa Cruz.

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Discussion One Response

  1. January 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    […] for them with my collaborator Greg Cohen to prepare participants in the hackathon. In the workshop, ‘Four Steps to Success’, we covered concepts, an example, and spent several hours executing against the templates and […]