The Greatest Business Strategy Book?


The Playing Field is Not Level

“For more than a decade the people who run professional baseball have argued that the game was ceasing to be an athletic competition and becoming a financial one.  The gap between rich and poor in baseball was far greater than in any other professional sport, and widening rapidly.  At the opening of the 2002 season, the richest team, the New York Yankees, had a payroll of $126 million which the two poorest teams, the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, had payrolls of less than a third of that, about $40 million” (pp. xi, xii).

The Need to Rethink

“At the bottom of the Oakland Experiment was a willingness to rethink baseball: how it is managed, how it is played, who is best suited to play, and why.  Understanding that he would never have a Yankee-sized checkbook, the Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, had set about looking for inefficiencies in the game” (p. xiv).

“Many of the players drafted or acquired by the Oakland A’s had been victims of an unthinkable prejudice rooted in baseball’s traditions.  The research and development department in the Oakland front office liberated them from this prejudice, and allowed them to demonstrate their true worth” (p. xiv).

What is Success?  What are the Indicators of Success?  In Players?  In Coaches?

“The ability to control the strike zone was the greatest indicator of future success.  The number of walks a hitter drew was the best indicator of whether he understood how to control the strike zone” (p. 11).

“For Billy and Paul and, to e slightly lesser extent, Erik and Chris, a young player is not what he looks like, or what he might become, but what he has done” (p. 38).

“‘He was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from every success'” (p. 46).

“[Discipline and composure]” (p 52).

“Scoring runs was, in the new view, less an art or a talent than a process” (p. 59).

“Billy wasn’t one to waste a lot of time worrying about whether he was motivated by a desire to succeed or the pursuit of truth.  To his way of thinking the question was academic, since the pursuit of truth was, suddenly, the key to success” (pp. 62, 63).

“And he was left with his single greatest fear: that one one would ever really know.  That he and Paul might find ever more clever ways to build great ball clubs with no money, but that, unless they brought home a World Series ring or two, no one would know” (p. 280).

On People

“What begins as a failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job” (p. 115).

“Billy Beane was a human arsenal built, inadvertently, by professional baseball to attack its customs and rituals” (p. 117).

On Strategy

“What he believed was what Paul Volcker seemed to suspect, that the market for baseball players was so inefficient, and the general grasp of sound baseball strategy so weak, that superior management could still run circles around taller piles of cash” (p. 122).

“The question was: how did a baseball team find stars in the fist place?” (p. 126).

“He has made it into the big leagues less on the strength of his arm than on the quality of his imagination” (p. 223).

Click here for more good books.


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A Strategy for Hope

CFL SHI dream team


CFL Consulting has been blessed by a strong relationship with Spectrum Health Innovations.  While CFL is helping SHI validate ideas, SHI is helping CFL help students and academic departments.  Through CFL, SHI is providing mid-level and senior-level experiences for students, both within and outside of academic departments.  In so doing, SHI is helping Hope College achieve Goal #1 of its Strategic Plan.


Because we are created to work and do good works, CFL seeks to help students prepare for work by helping them discern, develop, and deploy their gifts and calling, and transition from college.


By partnering with community organizations, such as Spectrum Health Innovations, we are able to innovate our consulting processes and relationships.  See:

We are also able to help academic departments provide relevant project-based learning experiences to their students both within and outside of their curriculum.   At an even higher level, we are helping students begin their transition out of Hope College in their sophomore year.

The CFL-SHI Partnership

SHI is helping CFL help academic departments at Hope achieve Goal #1 of Hope emerging strategic plan:

Hope College will engage every student in a holistically formative education, distinguished by its combination of academic rigor, intimate learning environment, and experiential relevance, developed and delivered by nationally recognized teacher-scholars..

In particular, SHI is helping CFL help academic departments at Hope achieve Objective #1, KPI #1 and KPI #3; and Objective #3, KPI #1:

Objective 1: Every student’s academic program will include rigorous, relevant, customized, faculty-supervised experiences (on or off campus) that link intellectual skills and habits developed through the liberal arts with vocational aspirations.

KPI 1: Near Term. The shared governance system will develop policies to ensure that every graduate will have had at least one faculty supervised experience that extends and aligns their classroom learning with their postgraduate vocational aspirations.

KPI 3: Longer Term. 95% of graduates will report that at least one faculty member connected one-on-one with them in order to guide and encourage their post-graduate vocational aspirations.

Objective 3: Teaching, learning and scholarship will be characterized by convergent approaches that span multiple perspectives and disciplinary boundaries.

KPI 1: Near Term. The shared governance system will develop policies to ensure that all students experience interdisciplinary teaching in both their majors and in general education. 

How the CFL-SHI Partnership Helps CPSC and ENGR

Spectrum Health Innovations (SHI) is helping CFL.

  • Because CFL sponsors CFL Incubator and works with SHI on validating ideas, we are becoming experts in Customer Discovery and the integration of the customer discovery and product development functions.  We help organizations reduce risk.
  • Because we seek to serve students from all academic disciplines, we are becoming experts at forming and coaching interdisciplinary teams.
  • Because we recruit sophomore-level students, we are becoming experts at providing students with experiences that help them choose majors and careers.  Thus we also help students reduce risk.
  • Because we are becoming experts at project-based learning, we are able to connect academic departments with clients for experiential learning courses, thus helping them achieve Goal #1 of Hope’s Strategic Plan

CFL is helping academic departments.  For example,

  • During the spring and summer of 2015 we employed a senior-level communication and a mid-level computer science student on a software project with SHI.  The students’ role was understanding the dimensions of the problem and the features of the solution and the relevant market segments.  This information and relationship have become the starting point for a group of students in CPSC 481: Senior Project Seminar.
  • During the spring and summer of 2015 we employed mid-level management and a senior-level engineering student on a medical device project with SHI.  The students’ role was understanding the dimensions of the problem and the features of the solution and and the relevant market segments.  We are hopeful this student will continue to work on this medical device project in ENGR 451: Engineering Design.

SS team

This is a model I think we can expand.

Learn more about CFL Consulting and CFL Incubator and meet our student-consultants and student-entrepreneurs, coaches, subject matter experts, and friends at our showcase event on September 22, 6 PM – 8 PM, Martha Miller Center, 1st Floor Rotunda, Hope College.  See you there!

To learn more about CFL, click here.

Meet them — CFL Student Consultants and Entrepreneurs!

When: September 22, 6-8 PM

Where: Martha Miller Center, 1st Floor Rotunda, Hope College

What:  CFL Consulting.  Learn more at:

What: CFL Incubator.  Learn more at:

HEI AcademE aug

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Ryan, Diane, Jonathan at Johnson Portables

Gifts Team

Consulting AcademE #1 Jan 20 2015

Invest-Credit Team2

HLC coaches


HEI AcademE aug

HEI AcademE May 11, 2015

Mission Bands

Fathom 3

Boat Boys


pop up petals

HEI AcademE aug2

Start-Up Road Map

An investor pitch deck and a business plan is “simplicity on the other side of complexity” (Oliver Wendell Holmes).

Before we can co-create an investor pitch deck or business plan, we need to engage in Steve Blank’s framework.

The Four Steps to the Epiphany

Step 1: Customer Discovery

The goal of Customer Discovery is…finding out who the customers for [our] product are and whether the problem [we] believe [we] are solving is important to them.  More formally, this step involves discovering whether the problem, product and customer hypotheses in [our] business [model] are correct” (p. 20).

  • Stating Hypotheses
    • Product Hypotheses:
      • Product Features
      • Product Benefits
      • Assumptions and Questions RE: Intellectual Property
      • Dependency Analysis
      • Delivery Schedule
      • Total Cost to Customers
    • Customer Hypotheses
    • Types of Customers
      • Users
      • Those who Influence
      • Buyers
      • Deciders/Decision-makers
      • “Saboteurs” — those comfortable and who benefit from the existing status quo
    • Organization/Influence Map — how all the types of customer interact and the politics of the buying situation; “[Our] goal is to build a tentative organizational map showing all the people who surround the actual user of the product who might influence a purchase” (p. 48).
    • Customer Experience: “A day in the life”
    • Customer Problems to be Solved [and the dimensions of the problem]
    • Customer Wants vs. Needs
    • Minimum Viable Product from Customer’s Perspective
      • “[The] premise is that a very small group of early visionary customers will guide your follow-on features.  So your mantra becomes ‘Less is more, to get an earlier first customer ship'” (o, 50).
      • “[One] approach to defining the minimum features set is to ask ‘What is the smallest or least complicated problem the customer will pay us to solve?” (p. 50).
      • ROI from Customer’s Perspective: “ROI represents customers’ expectations from their initial investment measured against goals such as time, money, or resources as well as status fro consumers” (p. 48).
    • Channel Hypotheses
      • Distribution Channel (physical product flow)
        • Direct
        • Indirect
      • Sales Channel — Path to Customer
      • [Communication Channel]
      • [Payment Channel]
      • [Approval Channel]
    • Pricing Hypotheses
      • If there are products like ours: How much do customers spend for them today?
      • If there are not products like ours: It’s not free; imagine we charged you (a very high price).  “Would you buy it? (p. 52).
    • Demand Creation Hypotheses
      • “How will [we] create demand to drive them into the channel [we] have chosen?” (p. 52).
      • “[We] also need to understand how [our] customers hear about new companies and products.  Do they go to trade shows?…What do their bosses read?  Who are the best salespeople they know?…” (p. 53).
      • How will we influence the Influencers?  “In every market or industry there is a select group of individuals who pioneer the trends, style, and opinions….[We] need to find out who are the influencers who can affect [our] customer’s opinion” (p. 53).
    • Market Type Hypotheses
      • Existing Market: “[There] is an established and well-defined market with large numbers of customers” and our product has something (“performance, features, service”) better than the existing competitors (p. 53).  Questions to ask:
        • Who are the competitors? What is their market share?
        • What will the market share leaders be spending to compete against us?  What is the cost of entry?
        • What attributes have customers told us are important?
        • What percentage of the market do we want to capture?
        • How do competitors define the market?  What are their standards?  Which competitor drives them?  How will we respond?
      • Re-Segmented Market: There is an “established and well-defined market with large numbers of customers” and our product will have a much lower cost than the incumbents OR our product is uniquely differentiated from the incumbents.
        • What markets are our customers coming from?
        • What are the unique characteristics of those customers?
        • Which of their “compelling” needs are unmet?
        • Which of our product features will get them to “abandon their current supplier?” (p. 55).
        • Why can’t existing suppliers offer the same thing?
        • How long will it take us to educate potential customers?
        • How will we educate them?
      • New Market: There is no established or well-defined market and therefore no competitors.  Questions to ask:
        • What are the adjacent markets?
        • What markets will potential customers come from?  What need and what feature will “compel” them? (p. 57).
        • How long will it take to educate potential customers and grow a market?  How will we do that?
        • How much financing will it take?
      • Competitor Hypotheses
        • How do existing competitors compete?  One product attributes?  Benefits?  Service?  Price?  Innovation?  Distribution?  Image?  Why do we believe our company and product are different?
        • What do we like most about competitors’ products?  What do our customers like most?  If we and they could change one thing, what would it be?
    • Testing and Qualifying Hypotheses: “[We] won’t simply be validating [our] hypotheses, [we’ll] be modifying them as a result of what [we] learned from customers” (p. 58). “[Our] first set of customer meetings isn’t to learn whether customers love [our] product.  It’s to learn whether [our] assumptions about the problems customers have are correct” (p. 59).
      • First Customer Contacts
        • “Start by making a list of fifty potential customers [we] can test [our] ideas on” (p. 59).
        • “At the same time [we’re] building a contact list, [we] simultaneously begin to develop an innovators list….the most innovative individuals in [our] field who are smart, well-respected, and usually out in front on a subject” (p. 59).
          • Potential “early adopters”
          • Potential advisory board members
        • “Always keep asking [our] contacts ‘who’s the smartest person you know?’ (p. 59).
        • “[The] ultimate goal in this Customer Discovery step is to make sure [we] understand the customers’ problem(s) and to ensure [our] product as spec’d solves that problem” (p. 59).
        • To do this we need:
          • Referrals
          • A reference story
      • Customer Problem Presentation:
        • “The presentation summarizes your hypotheses about customer problems, along with some potential solutions, so you can test whether your assumptions are correct” (p. 61).
        • [See Ash Maurya’s Running Lean for examples of Problem Interviews!]
        • “My favorite summary…is to ask two questions…
          • What is the biggest pain in [this situation]?
          • If you could wave a magic wand and change anything…what would it be?” (p. 62).
    • In-depth Customer Understanding:
      • “In addition to checking [our] assumptions about customer problems and your solution, [we] need to validate [our] hypotheses concerning how customers actually spend their day, spend their money, and get their job done” (p. 63).
      • “[We] will also want to check [our] assumptions about whether people will pay for [our] solution.  What would make customers change the way they do things?  Price?  Features?  A new standard?” (p. 63).
      • [See Ash Maurya’s Running Lean for examples of Solution Interviews!]
    • Market Knowledge
      • “Now that [we] have a good understanding of the customer and their problem, [we] want to round out [our] understanding of the overall marketplace.  [We] need to meet with companies in adjacent markets, industry analysts, people in the press, and other key influencers.  Going to industry trade shows and conferences is key to help [us] understand the shape and direction of the market [we] are in or about to create” (p. 64).
      • “Next, start gathering quantitative data about your market” (p. 65).
    • First [Product Concept and Product Development Team] Reality Check
      • “Before the meeting, the Customer Development team gathers all the customer data and builds a workflow map of the prototypical customer [User Profiles/Use Cases]” (p. 66).
      • “Once the customer workflow and interactions are fully described, [we] can get into the real news.
        • What problems did customers say they have?  How painful were these problems?
        • Where on the ‘problem scale’ were the customers [we] interviewed?
        • How are they solving these problems today?
        • Draw the customer workflow with  and without [our] product.  Was the difference dramatic?  Did customers say they would pay for difference?…
        • What were the biggest surprises?  What were the biggest disappointments?” (p. 66).
      • “[We] can now ask the most difficult question: Given all [we] have learned talking to customers, how well do [our] preliminary product specs solve their problem? (p. 66).
      • “Next, review [with Product Development team] and get agreement on the delivery schedule, again revising [our assumptions] as necessary.
    • [MVP1 – Minimum Viable Product 1 — Concept] Presentations
      • “Once [our] Product and Customer Development teams agree on [our] revised assumptions, the next step is to assemble [our] first product presentation…The goal of this presentation is to test [our] revised assumptions about the product itself.  This goal has two parts:
        • To reconfirm [our] product will solve a serious customer problem
        • To validate [our] product and its features” (p. 67).
        • “Check [our] other hypotheses:  What do [our] customers think about pricing?  What do they think are comparable prices for this kind of product?” (p. 68).
        • “Next, probe the customer’s acquisition process” (p. 68).
      • “On your way out of the door, take another look at the customers [Early Adopters] [we] just met with. Are they candidates for a customer advisory board?  Could [we] learn much more from them?  Do they have great industry connections and insight?” (pp. 69, 70).
      • “If [we] believe [we] will be using [an] indirect sales channel, there is one more group [we] need to present the product to before [we] get to go home: [our] channel partners…
        • What do [our] channel partners need to hear or see from early customers?
        • What do they have to have before they will give [us] access to their channel, and customers?…volume orders?” (p. 70).
    • Second [Product Concept and Product Development Team] Reality Check — “to balance customer reactions with development time” (p. 71).  Possible customer reactions:,
      • Customers “unequivocally love” our product as is
      • Customers like our product but want a feature changed or added
      • Customers are ambivalent towards our product
      • Customers don’t need or want our product.
    • [If we don’t exit,] Select Customer Advisory Board Members
    • [If we don’t exit,], Business Advisory Board Members
    • [If we don’t exit,] Investor Advisory Board Members
    • [If we don’t exit,] Select a Business Model
      • [A high level understanding of how the business idea will make money; for example,
        • “Hub-and-spoke” or “point-to-point” (Southwest Airlines)
        • “Unbundled,” “long-tail,” “multi-sided,” “free,” “open” (from Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas]
      • An updated sales and revenue, and business and product plans; questions:
        • Projected selling price?  Lifetime value to customer?  Units each customer will purchase over three years?
        • Sales channel?  Distribution channel?  [Communication channel?  Approval channel?]  Cost of channels?  Sales cycle?
        • Customer acquisition model?  Customer acquisition cost?
        • Size of market?
        • Product development costs?
        • Manufacturing costs?
        • Profit projections?
  • [MVP2 — Minimum Viable Product 2 — Working Prototype]

Investor Pitch Deck Outline from LDRS 231 and the CFL Incubator Investor Pitch and Learn: The Simplicity on the Other Side of the Complexity of Customer Discovery

  • Opening: Greeting
    • My name and the name of my business idea is
    • What it is like and how it is better than what it is like (“It is like ___________ except _____________”)
  • Problem: a description or story of representatives of the customer segment — could be autobiographical — and the pain they are experiencing
  • Solution: a description or story of the proposed solution and how it alleviates the customer’s pain or solves the customer’s problem
    • Value Proposition: A description of how the proposed solution/product is different from and better than the status quo
    • Demo: A demonstration the MVP and how it works
  • Business Model —  A high level understanding of how the business idea will make money; for example,
    • “Hub-and-spoke” or “point-to-point” (Southwest Airlines)
    • “Unbundled,” “long-tail,” “multi-sided,” “free,” “open” (from Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas]
  • Go to Market Plan
    • Distribution Channel: How the product gets from manufacturer to market
    • Sales Channel: How the product is sold and who helps us sell it
    • Communication Channel: How customers are encouraged to engage the Sales Channel
  • Management Team or Advisory Boards
    • Customer Advisory Board
    • Business Advisory Board
  • Financial Assumptions and Projections
    • Bottom up: How much we can sell our product for, what we think it costs us to buy or produce and sell each product, and how much we made/lost on our first sale and why and what we expect to make in next 6 months
    • Top down: The size of the market and expected market share, etc.
    • Financing needed and how it will be used
  • Closing:
    • Asking the audience to invest
    • Telling them why they should invest
      • Solution needed
      • Financial return


Step 2: Customer Validation

The goal of this step is to build a repeatable sales road map for [the sales and marketing teams to follow later….”In essence, Customer Discovery and Customer Validation corroborate [our] business model.  Completing these first two steps verifies [our] market, locates [our] customers, tests the perceived value of [our] product, identifies the economic buyer, establishes [our] pricing and channel strategy, and checks out [our] sales cycle and process.  If, and only if [we] find a group of repeatable customers with a predictable sales process, and then find those customers yield a profitable business model, do [we] move to the next step (scaling up and crossing the Chasm)” (p. 21).

“Customer Validation has four phases…

  • “Phase 1 consists of a series of ‘getting ready to sell’ activities: articulating a value proposition, preparing sales materials and a preliminary collateral plan, developing a distribution channel plan and a sales road map, hiring a sales closer, ensuring [our] Product and Customer Development teams agree about product features and dates, and formalizing [our] advisory board” (p. 85).
  • “Next, in Phase 2, [we] leave the building and put [our] now well-honed product idea to the test: will customers validate [our] concept by purchasing [our] product?  [We] will actually sell customers an unfinished and unproven product, without a professional sales organization” (p. 85).
  • “With a couple of orders under [our] belt, [we] have enough customer information to move to Phase 3, in which [we] take [our] first cut at an initial positioning of the product and its place in the market” (p. 85).
  • “Finally, in Phase 4, [we] verify whether the company is finished with Customer Validation.  Do [we] have enough orders proving [our] product solves customer needs?  Do [we] have a profitable sales and channel model?  Do [we] have a profitable business model?  Have [we] learned enough to scale the business?  Only if [we] can say yes to all those questions do [we] proceed to Customer Creation” (p. 85).

Step 3: Customer Creation

“Customer creation builds on the success the company has had in it initial sales.  Its goal is to create end-user demand and drive that demand into a company’s sales channel.  This step is placed after Customer Validation to move heavy marketing spending after the point where a startup acquires its first customers, thus allowing the company to control its cash burn rate and protect its most precious asset” (p. 22).

Step 4: Company Building

“Company building is where the company transitions from its informal, learning and discovering-oriented Customer Development team into formal departments with VPs of Sales, Marketing and Business Development.  [Founders] now focus on building mission-oriented departments exploiting the company’s early market success” (p. 22).


Introducing CFL Incubator Coaches

Entrepreneurial Coach-in-Residence: Seth Getz

Seth Getz

Alum Start-Up Team-in-Residence: Ring Cam Team; on CNN —

Scott Brandonisio

Sam Tzou

Russell Fyfe at StartGarden

ring cam logo

Student Entrepreneur-in-Residence: Matt Gira (Fathom Drone, Lio Products); on BBC Technology News —

Matt Gira

Fathom 3

Fathom Underwater Drone

jam jar

Jam Jars

About CFL

We are a co-curricular resource for Hope students.

Our WHY is to prepare students for work by helping them discern, develop, and deploy their gifts and calling, and transition from college.

Our HOW is to hire students and put them on interdisciplinary teams to develop and validate ideas for themselves and for others and to engage experienced practitioners with proven track records to coach and mentor them over a period of months and years.

Our WHAT is CFL Consulting and CFL Incubator.

Co-Creating Faithful Leaders

It is difficult to define “faithful leader,” but hear are some thoughts.

  • Faithful:
    • Being “Light” (Matthew 5:14-16) and “Salt” (Matthew 5:13) and having a “Mustard Seed Kingdom” (Matthew 13:31-32).
    • Bearing the “Fruits of the Spirit
      • Love
      • Joy
      • Peace
      • Forbearance
      • Kindness
      • Goodness
      • Faithfulness
      • Gentleness
      • Self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Leader
    • Being a “Fundamental Leader:”
      • “We become less comfort-centered and more purpose-centered.  We stop asking, What do I want?…Instead we ask, What result do I want to create?…[That] may attract us outside our comfort zone and into the uncertain journey that is the creative state.  As we begin to pursue purpose in the face of uncertainty, we gain hope and energy” (Robert Quinn, Building the Bridge As We Walk Across It, p. 22).
      • “[We] also become less externally-directed and more internally-directed….We begin to transcend our own hypocrisy, closing the gap between who we think we are and who we think we should be” (p. 22).
      • “[We] also become less self-focused and more other-focused.  As our sense of achievement and integrity increases, we feel more secure, less selfish, and more willing to put the common good ahead of the preservation of self” (p. 22).
      • “[We] become less internally-closed and more externally-open.  When we meet our needs for increased achievement, integrity, and affiliation, we increase our confidence that we can learn our way forward in an uncertain and changing world” (p. 23).
    • Practicing Fundamental State of Leadership behaviors:
      • Adaptive Confidence — “adaptable and flexible while being confident and secure,”  willing to enter uncertain situations with confidence because of a higher purpose  Note: confidence is based on self-esteem, which comes from self-management, achievement, and growth
      • Appreciative Inquiry — “optimistic and constructive while also being realistic and questioning,” seeing the good and the possible in others and leading with questions
      • Authentic Engagement — “principled and ethical while involved and engaged,” being in the world — devoted — but with a sense of calling and purpose
      • Detached Interdependence — combining independence and strength with humility and openness,” becoming both effective team members and change agents
      • Grounded Vision — “grounded and factual while also hopeful and visionary,” having a kingdom vision grounded in pragmatism
      • Reflective Action — being “deeply engaged in the world” and learning from it
      • Tough Love — holding themselves and others accountable while also showing empathetic support (Robert Quinn, Building the Bridge As You Walk Across It, Chs. 8-15).

Some may argue that such behaviors will never lead to success.  Others will argue with that.  But from a Christian perspective one must ask “To what end?”  The purpose of life is not to be successful or happy but to be holy.

Being holy maybe the shortest answer to “What is a faithful leader?”  But if that is the answer, it is humanly unattainable.  Thus faithful leaders are “co-created” by God who chooses to work through others.

See also: