A Founder's "Daily Flash" for Executing in the First 6 Months

Before he became a founder, Ian Shea spent eight years at DVR maker (and TiVo predecessor) ReplayTV. During that time, the company went through — among other things — a massive restructuring, layoffs, bankruptcy and a turnaround before finally being bought by DirectTV for an undisclosed amount in December 2007. “We went through it all,” Shea told me recently.

And as soon as the DirectTV deal closed, Shea sought out an operating challenge he hadn’t yet faced: a startup.

Since January, Shea has been working alone out of his house on Project Maestro, an online marketplace for connecting experts from any number of fields to individuals that want top-dollar tutoring. So a retired minor league pitcher, for example, might be matched to a high schooler aspiring to earn a college scholarship on his fast ball, or a gerontology nurse might be matched to an investing club for Baby Boomers. Maestro will also handle the scheduling and billing, much like a virtual talent agency might.

But starting an online marketplace is different from running a consumer electronics outfit. I asked Shea what lessons from ReplayTV he can apply to Maestro. What he shared was a simple recipe for incremental execution that will benefit any founder — one that doesn’t include a draft business plan until month six.

“The main lesson I got at Replay was the importance of metrics and milestones,” he said. Prior to its acquisition by DirectTV, he explained, Replay was owned by a Japanese company. “They stressed the importance of metrics. It was their culture, so it became our culture.” Replay subsequently starting published what it called the “Daily Flash,” a simple one-pager that showed daily service activations, the top three customer calls, DVR box returns and its total user base, “so we could see our churn.”

The measurable results proved to be especially valuable when DirectTV came calling — after all, investors need data to build their financial models. Venture capitalists do, too. So Shea recreated “Daily Flash” for Maestro, which he has graciously shared with us:

1. January: Create Vision
Daily task: Talk to 3-5 people about my idea to socialize thoughts. Did they get it? Transcribe notes.
Weekly task: Discuss idea with one potential adviser.
End of Month: Find 5 competitors that lack right product offering; use as anchor for counterstrategy.

2. February: Discuss Vision
Daily: Talk to 3-5 people about market problem. Transcribe notes.
Weekly: Begin discussing potential customers and product features. Transcribe notes.
Month end: Find 4 advisers on whom I can lean each day to discuss process, who will take me through the development of vision.

3. March: Prepare Written “Vision Brief”
Daily: Edit vision brief; consult advisers; edit again.
Weekly: Create contact list of people to receive brief; list specific feedback needed from each.
Month end: Complete 2-page vision brief; begin developing metrics for ‘Go/No Go’ on business, such as: Is potential consumer base big enough?

4. April: Test Vision
Daily: Send vision brief to 10 people. Personalize each email.
Weekly: At week two, begin scheduling daily meetings for face-to-face feedback from respondents.
Month end: Will have sent business brief to 300+ people.

5. May: Vet Feedback, Validate Vision
Daily: Take 3-5 live meetings with vision brief reviewers. Take notes, transcribe daily.
Weekly: Compare respondents’ feedback for common denominators in perceived market problem, and desired solutions.
Month end: Validate Maestro’s solution against commonalities. Decide whether to launch company.

6. June: Draft Business Plan
Daily: Chart growth phases and performance metrics; edit plan
Weekly: Source a law firm. Begin product specifications; begin talking to developers and consultants.
Month end: Complete draft business plan.

“How you filter information in the first six months is really critical to your learning,” Shea said. Setting up these “deliverables to himself” made it easier. “I could see clearly that if executed properly, this could be big. I should launch Maestro.” Shea is now in phase seven of his startup’s Daily Flash: “The Customer Development Brief.”