Jurgen Appelo’s Newest Venture: Crowdfunding Agility Scales

- Entrepreneurial Skills

by Jennifer Riggins

If you know Jurgen Appelo, you know he is never sitting down. Often quite literally as he runs 30 kilometers a week and travels the world round for work. So for his newest project, we went a different route with an old-fashioned QnA.

Jrgen Appelo

Jurgen, for those who don’t know you, tell us about you in 25 words or less.

I am a public speaker and author who is fascinated by organizations and how to manage work in the twenty-first century.

We know you from Management 3.0 and Happy Melly. How is your new project Agility Scales different? What do they all have in common?

My new project is about technology, while the previous ones were about content. And the new project has a full-time team dedicated to it, while the previous projects are run by a team of enthusiastic part-timers and freelancers. What all projects have in common is that they are about organizational change and better work-lives for everyone.

What is Agility Scales?

We are a startup creating an open innovation platform that is meant to achieve business agility in a crowdsourced manner. We offer a tool in which people will be able to share and follow guides on how to do work, in a peer-to-peer fashion. It is not e-learning or knowledge transfer but actual step-by-step instructions on how to get things done. People use more and more tools on smartphones and tablets — powered by platforms — to distribute information and advice. So why not a platform that distributes concrete guidance for agile practices?

Mind Settlers: Setting an agile mindset, one step at a time.

Mind Settlers Logo

What is Mind Settlers?

It’s the name of the platform.

Is the name ironic? It’s for people who don’t want to settle and can’t stop learning, right?

It’s for people and organizations who appreciate an agile mindset. It’s this mindset that we hope to settle in an organization. 🙂

How will Mind Settlers gamify management?

That is up to the content creators. We don’t make the content. We make the platform and share the content that others make. We are onboarding dozens of brands and content creators and some of them — including Management 3.0 — have some great ideas about gamification.
On the other hand, we will also add more and more gamification techniques to the platform itself so that people will enjoy using, creating, and sharing guides. But most ideas are still on the backlog.

Learn more about Mind Settlers here.

I see your tool as first and foremost appealing to the bottom of the work hierarchy — millennials. And your newest book Managing for Happiness is certainly a colorful and engaging text. Could your app have use in the often outdated MBA and university setting?

We think so, yes. But it’s not a market that is high on our priority list for now.

Do you see other non-business applications of Mind Settlers?

Sure, other forms of education have been discussed by the team.

Which app or tool is closest to Mind Settlers?

There are some tools that offer companies the possibility of creating business processes and checklists. But that still doesn’t come close enough.

They are not open innovation platforms because the tools are themselves empty. Corporations are expected to use them only for themselves and fill them with their own processes. What we want to offer is a global database with guides that people can share across organizational boundaries. A real open innovation platform.

How do you plan to monetize the tool?

Individual subscriptions to the platform and corporate subscriptions for additional features. There will be a free version as well, of course, in 2018. But we feel we’re not ready for that now.

Early adopters are key to building any successful product.

Tell us about your early adopters. What content are they using? What do they have to say?

Our early adopters are primarily agile coaches and agile ‘changemakers’ such as Scrum Masters (the titles vary depending on the organization). We’ve got both seasoned coaches and people relatively new to agile practices. They come from Europe, North America, South America, and Asia/Pacific. We’re using English as our common language.

They are using lots of different types of Guides, some for solo activities, some for teams. I’d say content to help run successful team activities are quite popular. Here are three examples):

One user Heidi Araya says she likes being able to compare alternatives for inspiration.

Here are some other things early adopters have said to us (in email, on Slack or in meetings):

I found it super useful. Mind Settlers saves me time as I don’t have to search for practices in Google. It is a Google of agile guides from people I respect.

Jonathan Rodriguez, Agile Coach, Eventbrite

I really like that teams are able to use a rich platform where they can cherry pick different guides for different situations.

Benjamin Geens, Agile Coach, BNP Paribas Fortis

Keep up the good work! In my opinion, what you’re creating is going to be epic. If you get more guides from more providers, the value of Mind Settlers is undisputable. It seems strange that an app like yours wasn’t developed already.

Laurens Bonnema, Agile Management Consultant, Xebia

Of course, not all of our early adopters have loved the app or stuck around — and we didn’t expect them to — it’s by no means done yet! Some people would rather come on board when it’s closer to done. With these early adopters, we always ask why and get as much feedback as possible to help us prioritize improvements.

We’re getting enough encouragement and measurable progress that we believe we’re going in the right direction.

How do you optimize communication with your early adopters? How did you choose who would be good as early adopters or not?

We started with a sign-up process for early access that asked people their role, mobile platform, and also how excited they were to try it, on a scale of 1 to 10. We started inviting people whose role suggested they were our target persona — agile coach, scrum master, etcetera — the person whose problem we’re trying to solve initially with our content. We of course invited Android users as we don’t have iOS yet! We prioritized this subgroup by the date they registered so those who’d been waiting the longest got it earliest.  

We thought we’d use the ‘eagerness’ measurement to prioritize people who seemed enthusiastic and would be likely to spend time with the app, but no one listed below a 7 🙂 so we didn’t filter on that in the end.

I wouldn’t claim that we’ve optimized communication — there’s so much more we could do/should do! — with our early adopters, but here are some of things we do:

  1. We invite them to private Slack Channels where they can ask questions, give feedback and we can post information to this group without annoying everyone else in Slack (who don’t have the app yet).
  2. We have a daily open call for early adopters through Zoom.
  3. Harald reaches out personally by email to every new member with instructions and also a ‘feedback’ ask once they have installed.
  4. We email at least once a week about new installs, recommended guides, etc.
  5. Initially we reached out individually to every early adopter and booked remote Zoom sessions to get personal feedback, but we can’t do it with everyone any more — it would be a full time job in itself. Now we do about two one-on-one feedback sessions per week.
  6. Initially we also guided early adopters through install during a Zoom, gave them no instructions on how to use the app, and recorded what actions they took so we could improve the initial experience and understand what was confusing. Now we get this kind of feedback through our Slack channel.
  7. We also have Trello Boards — one for Guide Requests/Suggestions — what’s missing, what do you need — and one for Impact/Feedback — we list their suggestions and app features/progress so it’s clear we’re responding.
  8. We want to get better at reaching our early adopters who do not use our Slack Community…

Ever-changing guidance vs. stagnant traditional frameworks

Agility Scales is step-by-step guidance to help teams or individuals create change at work. What differentiates that from other frameworks?

Frameworks are static collections of pre-defined practices. New versions of the frameworks — such as SAFe, Scrum, and Holacracy — are released on average about once every two years. I call that not Agile! Our product is not a framework. It’s a platform. The content evolves every day! Every time you open the app, there are new practices to try and collect. And the suggestions for new practices to try actually adapt to your feedback and behaviors. That’s a lot more agile, in my opinion.

Jurgen, you have said that the business world is moving from frameworks to platforms. What do you mean?

Spotify, Waze, Facebook, Netflix, Wikipedia, Medium, StackOverflow, Slack… Need I say more? They are all digital platforms. People prefer digital platforms accessible via apps on their smart devices. In my experience, no worker anywhere in the world has ever been motivated by boring diagrams and abstract models in PowerPoint presentations. That’s so last century.

How can you make something less human — an app — have the same flexibility and customization of a coach?

That’s not what we want. We want an app to augment the capabilities of the coach and consultant. It’s similar to fitness trackers and sports devices augmenting the services of personal trainers. No personal trainer has gone out of business since people started using apps to increase their fitness. On the contrary, I think the demand for the personal touch has only increased since then.

Will crowdsourcing replace coaching?
No. But it will change it for sure. Like modern apps for crowdsourced cooking recipes have had an impact on recipe books. But there are still recipe books.

Does the fact that you are crowdsourcing mean that it will be more egalitarian instead of top-down traditional change management?
Yes, that’s the point. If by egalitarian you mean that people get their advice and instructions from peers across organizational boundaries rather than top-down from their managers.

Steps to a (hopefully) successful crowdfunding campaign.

Some of our most popular blogs of all time on Happy Melly are about crowdfunding.  Why crowd fund? Do you have any experience with it before? Why not go for an angel investor?

We do both. The angel investors will participate among the crowd. I believe in crowdfunding because a crowd of supporters can be beneficial for the success of a company. 300 investors have a bigger global network than three investors.

How did you decide on Seedrs as your crowdfunding platform?

I compared all crowdfunding platforms. Seedrs is the biggest one that covers all of Europe. Sadly, there are no platforms doing the same things at a global level. Most are focused only on the U.S. or on other specific countries.

What would you do if you hit your minimum of €300,000? If you don’t hit €300,000 will you get anything or is it hit or miss?

As soon as we hit the minimum, we may hire some additional team members for 2018. If we don’t hit 300K, the crowdfunding is cancelled and we’ll have to consider alternatives.

What are your perks? How did you decide which perks for your crowdfunding campaign?

There are no perks. It’s equity crowdfunding, not product crowdfunding. People get shares for the money they invest. They are not buying a product. However, we reserve the right to have a surprise or two for some of our crowd investors. 🙂

Products in beta can never be finished. How did you decide you had an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that was crowdfunding ready?

As soon as the first users were willing to pay, we decided that we had validated our MVP. Because apparently, as a minimal product, it was viable enough for some people.

Your crowdfunding campaign runs until the end of the year. Why should someone invest in your crowdfunding campaign over others? What makes yours more worthy of people’s hard-earned cash?

We’re not building a drone that takes selfies with your smartphone. 🙂 We’re building a platform that should help organizations achieve business agility in a bottom-up, peer-to-peer manner. Better workplaces for everyone, and less bad management with dysfunctional top-down frameworks. I believe our purpose as a company sets us apart from most other startups. We are actually trying to achieve something meaningful.

And the most important part of any successful venture…

Tell us about your team.

We’ve got a great team! It’s hard to know what to tell you about everyone — we have an awareness of each others’ workstyles, strengths, and foibles now, but we don’t want to put anyone in a box through a description. Having said that….

Mathias has delighted us all with his ‘virtual’ Birthday cakes.

Thomas is inspiring us all as he and his family become digital nomads.

You can find out a little bit more about us all here.

So, are you persuaded by Jurgen? Want to invest in him, his team, and his tool? What are you waiting for? 

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