Category Archives: Venture Capital

From Bubble Graphs to Mind Maps

Bubble Graphs

I can honestly say there are almost no learning techniques from Jr. High that I have carried forward through my short academic life into business. However, there is one gift that a now nameless, faceless teacher once gave me. That gift was the ability to put my thoughts on paper first, and then dork with them and refine them. She (I think it was a “she”) called them “Bubble Graphs”, but the point was to brainstorm about a topic for a speech, a paper, or an argument and document things. Then go back and do the organization and structuring of those thoughts, with a final output being an outline.

Those of you who have conversed with me for more than a few moments know that my brain multi-threads pretty well when thinking, speaking, and typing. It doesn’t do so well with multi-tasking actual work, but it is highly optimized for thinking. This becomes problematic when my environment puts certain constraints on me, like for instance time, energy, and sleep. So, in time I developed a method of getting my rapid, fluid thoughts out of my brain and onto one of these “Bubble Graphs”.

I started using them in Junior High in Extemporaneous Speaking contests, and then used them at Baylor on almost every paper I wrote and every speech I gave as a Speech Communications major. This approach even helped when I entered the business world as I created Powerpoints, training documentation, technology proposals, project plans, and conducted audits of companies. For me, it was simply the best way to get the unstructured data that flowed rampantly in my brain onto paper, and then decide how the concepts were related, what was worth keeping, and how the final deliverable would be structured. I now know this method to be the same as a concept map.

Mind Maps

About four years ago I stumbled on some software that would allow me to do “mind mapping”. The differences between a mind map and a concept map are subtle. Basically a mind map tends to be more structured in format and there is typically no direct grouping of concepts other than by what the structure and hierarchy of the mind map document provides. That said, the process for creating a mind map and a concept are essentially the same.

Mind mapping software enables a person or persons to quickly document ideas on a screen with almost no technical difficulties that would hamper the creative process. And yet, these ideas can be restructured very speedily by simply dragging and dropping an idea underneath another idea. This creates a very agile approach to document individual or group ideation, whether it be mission statements, business plan outlines, venture capital pitches, or things as abstract as meal recipe organization. It can even help with brainstorming about lengthy blog posts (see my mind map for this post below).

FreeMind Mind Mapping Software

After trying many different mind mapping software products over the last four years, I have finally settled on one that I can’t get enough of. FreeMind is the tool I have recommended recently to a number of other internet professionals. Regardless of the varying ways they think, they almost always come back and say “the more I use this, the more I use this”. Once you really “get” this process and this kind of tool, you begin to find heaps of other ways in which it will help you.

I recently used FreeMind on a consulting engagement where I was asked to make recommendations about how to turn their business around. I took notes of each stakeholder conversation in individual text documents, but then used the mind map to tie all the concepts, problem spaces, and solutions together. This aided me in understanding a large, complex problem at a single glance. It came in handy when it was time to draft the deliverable document of my recommendations.

Also, recently, I used FreeMind on a 150+ page web project to develop the navigation scheme (Information Architecture) that will easily expand in the future to more than 500 pages. The two freelance designers I was working with were able to collaborate on my work by simply opening my file and changing things up. On this same large project, 15 of us used FreeMind during a series of meetings to create a massive mind map that profiles our eight core audience member types. We included each of those profiles characteristics, needs, and the many ways we felt we could meet their needs based on what resources we have available to our organization. This was an invaluable tool in not only understanding our audience, but in helping us as a team to decide which of the 8 types of people coming to our website would be our core focus, which would be of secondary focus, and who we would try to serve as we could.

Why I Love FreeMind

  • Free to use(yep, it’s open source)
  • Cross platform
  • Scalable for very large maps
  • Easily installed and updated
  • Has numerous export options (images, PDFs, outlines in various file types)
  • Built with Java and XML

There seems to exist a little online community around the FreeMind software, which is maybe best illustrated in this online list of mind maps that you can explore for ideas on how to do your own. I am especially fond of this start on Calvinist “Sects”.

Mind Map for This Blog Post

FreeMind Mind Map

Why Netflix Gets It and Blockbuster Does Not

So I attempted to cancel my Blockbuster.com subscription a few moments ago because of a bad experience, and had to fill out a survey to get it done. There was a comment field where they asked “How Can We Improve? Would you mind taking a minute to explain why you’ve decided to cancel your account?” So, I was willing to help out and wrote the following in my very sick state (the flu or a cold maybe). Upon submission of the survey, a form error was returned on the comment field which reads: “Please type in 255 characters or less for your comments.”

Apparently, Blockbuster doesn’t want all of my comments or a true discussion with their would-be customers. So, I am posting this to my blog for the world to see and adding the link to the comment field in the Blockbuster.com subscription cancellation field (I doubt they will read it). The first amendment has never been so sweet, has it?

Basically, you guys don’t understand the value of a life-time customer. I went into the store as a Netflix customer who was having a lonely weekend, with not enough movies to entertain me. The wife and I had decided to rent three movies. I saw your TV ad earlier in the day, which communicated to me that I could sign-up for your service and pick up/drop off movies either in the store or online. So, I went to the store to sign up and get three movies.

The high-school aged kid that was there communicated that I would even get a third-movie free tonight with a special coupon they had there. So, I signed up while in the store with him by my side. Filled out the preferences, all my account info (which you already had because I have been a customer for over 10 years), and entered my credit card detals.

I then took my three movies to the counter, where the kid gave me a total of $9.94. I said, “What are you talking about…. I just put in my credit card information in for the monthly service, now I am ready for my movies”. He informed me that the service was only for movies that come through the mail… and that when I return movies at the store that I receive through the mail, then I can get coupons for movies through the store while I wait for more movies to arrive through the mail. I was shocked and confused. I simply said, “But *I am* waiting for my movies to come through the mail”. All he was empowered to do was blink I think, cause he didn’t even call over the manager.

Not being one to quit easily, I communicated that part of the reason I had signed up in store and was willing to move away from Netflix was because it seemed like I could get get the benefit today of Netflix plus in-store pickup. He could not clearly communicate to me the reason why picking up a movie in-store is different than getting it through the mail. From my perspective, I signed up for a Blockbuster service that allowed me to have X number of movies out at any given time, and return in store or via the mail. All I wanted was three movies so I could snuggle up with my wife.

So, Blockbuster, If you really want me as a life-time customer, give me the benefit of what I have paid for NOW. Keep the details of your inventory system, your cost centers, your work-flow, your finances, etc. out of my way and out of sight. Customers don’t care about your pain and are apt to forget you if your pain in getting products to market gets in our way… which is why I am sitting home with the flu today, unwilling to drive down the street and rent from blockbuster.

Thankfully my single Netflix movie came last night… and guess what, they sent it to me when my list was empty, anticipating the type of movie I would enjoy. And it looks like they got it right. They understand that to keep a customer you have to lower the barriers that get in the way of the customer relationship. Blockbuster, you could learn a lesson there.

Now, to all you other companies out there, if you care for me as the customer and want me to evangelize your products, you will empower me to do so as early as you can… with no hassle or waiting, or uninformed high-school kids.

Netflix Gift Certificate I Can Send to Friends

Missing the point

I received an email yesterday today from Truewell which had my name and 536 others in the “To:” field, effectively exposing all their wouldbe leads to one another. I post it here as an example of the kind of simple mistake companies make before ever even getting the relationship off the ground. Also note the spelling and grammar mistakes throughout.

On Jan 30, 2006, at 3:57 PM, Robert Satrom wrote:
Hi my name is Rob Satrom and I am with TrueWell, Inc. we help ministries with websites and online communities. You had requested some information from us and I am writing you a personal email to see if you had received our automated email with that information (it sometimes goes to your junk email box)? TrueWell is a website builder and service that is really easy to use, it takes the need for technologists out and allows communicators to do what they do best.
Send me an email and tell me a little bit about you and your Ministry, I would like to hear your ministries mission and dream. Our tool has enabled thousands of communicators get there youth and congregation on the Internet with a dynamic site that allows them to not only increase communication but to delegate parts of their website to save them time.

I love technology but I hate trying to use it! This will make it very easy and quick to set up a comprehensive and public / private web community for your ministries, The way you get started to building a site and trying it out is go to Http://www.truewell.com and click on the button that says 30 day trial.

This trial is the easiest trial I have ever used, it wont require a credit card, it wont bill you when you are done, it will simply allow you to see if you like it. Most of our thousands of clients have used the free trial to totally mold, forge and polish a site customized for them. Then after the 30 days is up they are ready for their LAUNCH PARTY!!!!! Once again, please send me an email or call me about getting you started, or just about our company.

I know you all are busy and thanks for a little part of your day!

Thanks,

Rob Satrom

952-767-0253

1-800-919-8783

Rsatrom@truewell.com

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What I thought was especially funny was that one of the 537 persons did actually respond:

Not sure I would trust a company that freely gives my email address out to a few hundred people.

Use BCC next time. =)

Thanks, but please remove me from your list.

George