Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Customer validation: the four golden questions

Posted in Entrepreneurship by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on October 22, 2009

Steve Blank’s blog is awesome but its latest post is very well timed for me: it talks about customer validation. Customer discovery is understanding who has problems that you can solve. But customer validation confirms that these are problems that people could and would pay to solve them. Blank’s four golden questions are:

  1. Did the customers know they had a problem?
  2. If so, did they want to change the way they were doing things to solve that problem?
  3. If so, how much would they pay to solve the problem?
  4. Would they write us a Purchase Order now before our supercomputer was even complete, to be the first to solve their problems?

These are all questions I asked when considering the lead customers for my start-up, but I did so accidentally. Furthermore, only in retrospect is it clear to me the time I would have saved if I had asked these four questions to all the hospitals we approached. I had also felt irritated when talking to investors who wanted to talk to my early customers. But on reading Blank’s blog post I now understand that they wanted to ask questions like these, and that this was a valuable thing for all of us.

The five ‘Why’s

Posted in Books, Entrepreneurship, Patients Know Best, Society by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on May 25, 2009

Eric Ries’s description of the five ‘why’s has been playing on my mind recently as I figure out how to apply it in my company. Briefly, mistakes happen to everyone all the time, but the difference is how you respond to them. In particular, if you ask Why five times you have a much better chance at understanding the true cause of a problem and thus solving it.

The press do this too little and as citizens we suffer from this lack of questioning. Take the tragic story from May 12th of a roof collapsing on students while they were doing an exam. The link is to Google’s indexing of coverage for the story. Sadly, most of the articles focus on showing the “devastation inside exam horror hall”.

It is only on the excellent Teachers TV that I saw a follow-up to the story. As a side note, this is a wonderful channel that I am becoming hooked on. The technical director for the founding team is Dawson King, who is now our chief technology offier.

The channel gets much further than the newspapers did on the day just by asking Why once. In the seventh minute of this video they mention that an inquiry had found that the heating duct “fell because the wires attaching it to the roof broke”. This is not really informative. Just to translate, something (the duct) fell because what used to stop it from falling (the wires) stopped stopping it. In general, it is reasonable to assume the same to be true for any story of part of a building falling.

Asking Why four more times would get you much further. Why did the wire break? Because it was frayed, the answer might come back – I am guessing here and do not know any more facts than the ones I saw in the news story. Why was it frayed? Because it was old. Why was it old? Because the school’s maintenance budget has been underfunded for the last five years. Why was it underfunded? The answer to this will be an interesting one.

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World Entrepreneurship Summit 2009

Posted in Entrepreneurship, People / organisations by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on March 20, 2009

On Friday I attended a great conference by the World Entrepreneur Society: World Entrepreneurship Summit 2009. I took some videos of the early speeches and they are below but the most interesting session could not be captured with a camera. As these two pictures hint, the staff at Group Partners create a wall of ideas, beautifully coloured and helpfully structured to facilitate useful group work. I would love to be able to use them in the future.


Introductory speech by Dr. Rebecca Harding:

Keynote speech from Microsoft:

Keynote speech about sustanability:

Panel about “What keeps you awake at night”:

How can I change my life with no money?

Posted in Books, Entrepreneurship by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on February 2, 2009

On November 30th, 2008, someone typed “how can i change my life with no money” into Google. The third hit was to my blog post “There is no money in change management”. That person read the article and I doubt that it was useful to their predicament. Whoever that person is, I am sorry I could not help you. But you got me thinking… How could I change my life with no money?


The first thing to say is that no one has no money. At least, no one who has access to a computer with access t0 Google can make that claim. This point is particularly worth making if you are using a computer in a library. Even though you do not own the computer, you have access to someone that can spend money for your benefit, i.e. the library.

OutliersUsing other people’s money is a powerful secret. Henry Ford was a master at it, taking money from the orders of cars, building those cars from suppliers’ raw materials, and only then paying the suppliers. It is well worth reading his autobiography. There is lots of money out there with which to change your life. For example, instead of paying for an expensive course, ask your librarian to buy the books you need for the course and study by yourself. I do this all the time and the librarians are grateful because they have a budget to spend but need help with identifying which books would be the most useful to their community. Around the world, there are grants, scholarships and loans available to help people who are serious about changing their lives.

The next thing to say is that changing your life is hard. Really hard. You have to put in the hours and one book that has had me thinking about this is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I usually gush about his books but a recent review by The Register has me chastened. The main point of the book is worth making though. There is no overnight success, success takes work, and the most successful worked the most.

So if you want to change careers it will take some time. That time includes working for free, or for low wages, to build skills in a new career. This is another example of using other people’s money because the alternative is for you to pay to gain those skills at an expensive course. The education from a job is much more practical and likely to increase your earning power than a university course, providing you are focused on learning from your job.

Finally, the best time to start is now. One of the most interesting things I learned in the USA is what happens when people change jobs. If I sound naive, it is because I had led a sheltered life while working as a doctor. Everyone I had previously worked with or for had a clinical career path mapped out. Job security was high and career progression mostly a matter of time.

But in the USA I saw my worst nightmare on a regular basis: parents fired from their jobs. I also saw something I had not dreamed of: people leaving their current jobs without a plan for what to do next. I do not recommend either scenario, but I will say that a few months afterwards each person was happier than they were in their old job. Often, they had higher salaries, and always they were in situations that they wanted to be in rather than ones they felt compelled to stay in.

So, to answer the question of the anyonymous searcher on my site: use the money of others to train yourself for a new life, and start doing so right now.

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HealthCamp UK 2008

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Medicine, Patients Know Best by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on October 14, 2008

OK folks, applications for attending HealthCamp UK 2008 are now open.

HealthCamp UK is the place for creative medics, innovative business-minded people and inventive developers. Taking place for the first time in the UK, this is a conference where you set the agenda – i.e. an unconference.

The theme of HealthCamp UK this year will be The Future of Technology and Medicine. How best can technology be exploited in medicine? Where and how can tele-medicine be used? Will we be growing our own organs? What will we do with the results of gene tests that tell us our susceptibility to diseases? And what excites you about the possibilities of technology in medicine?

Entrance is free but we only have room for 60 people at this year’s venue, so space is tight. Please apply for your place now. The aim is to arrange a meeting of eclectic and talented minds.

I attended HealthCamp Maryland back in June, had a great time and learned a huge amount. Judging by the early applications there is a fascinating group clustering in London this November 10th.

It remains for me to thank our sponsors for making this happen.

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Women need to be more arrogant

Posted in Books, Entrepreneurship, Society by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on October 9, 2008

I often think about what I would like to teach my children. Aside from the lessons I hope to pass on to them that I learned from my parents – a love of learning, a respect for others, and a commitment to doing the right thing – I hope to teach my daughter (or, hopefully, daughters!) to be arrogant.

For the rest of this post you should know that I do know that everyone is different and that generalizations should not be used against individuals. But there are some worrying generalizations about women that I would hope to teach any daughter of mine to avoid.

First, Women Don’t Ask. That is the title of a book by two women who were furious when their research uncovered how rarely women ask for raises. Because they do not ask for raises as often as men do, they do not get raises as often as men do. And then it becomes a vicious cycle as these women’s contributions are automatically discounted when applying for jobs because employers measure the quality of the applicant by their previous salary, and base their salary offers on salary history.

Fortunately, this problem can be cured by education. When the authors share the data with other women about how often their male colleagues ask for raises while doing the same quality work that the women do, these women start asking for raises. And part of the wage gap begins to disappear.

The arrogance that allows men to ask for raises is more difficult for teach for entrepreneurship.

But I think it is responsible for an important phenomenon I saw at all the start-up events I attend. There are almost no women.

Over the last few months I have gone to several of these events in San Francisco, DC, Cambridge and London. Even in San Francisco, where I expected everyone to have a business plan just like every waiter in L.A. has a script, there were very few women attending Startup School. At TechCrunch UK‘s event in London Alicia Navarro was the only woman panelist and one of the very few women at the event. Later on in I heard her bemoan the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurship.

I think this is because entrepreneurs require an inappropriately high confidence in their chances of success. The data shows that they are wrong, on average, at estimating their chances. And I think that men tend to have that inappropriate self-confidence more often than women do.

Now, this is not to say that every habit from men ought to be copied (for example, their response to urinals). But this one is important.

One of Grameen Bank‘s noble aims and notable achievements is their focus on lending to women. It is a real pleasure to hear Muhammad Yunus describe the outcomes in this interview with Ashoka. This is targeting women for entrepreneurship for poverty-reduction.

But the people who to come these events are mostly in wealthy families in wealthy countries and their entrepreneurship is for wealth-generation, not poverty-reduction. Perhaps the ratios are different for social entrepreneurship where more women might participate in the generation of social capital, and I am interested to learn how many women will attend Social Innovation Camp in London. But I want my daughters to have just as good a shot at wealth-generation as my sons would.

I do not know what the approach is, but it is important to get right. So for my daughters, it begins with teaching them to be as arrogant as men tend to be about their chances of success.