Last weekend I spent 54 hours with total strangers, voluntarily working into the wee hours of the morning, all in the hope of creating a market-beating product consumers had never seen before.
The reason behind this madness? Start Up Weekend: an event powered by Google for Entrepreneurs and facilitated by Techstars, which supports wannabe entrepreneurs in realising their business starting potential.
Over the course of the weekend, myself and my colleague Mathilde Leblond developed Smart Kitty, a fair and transparent way to household harmony, which was ultimately crowned the winning concept of the weekend.
But along the way, there were many, many hard lessons. Here are four that were invaluable:
Believing in your product is essential, but keep in mind you won’t be the only person buying it. Customer validation needs to be at the heart of everything you do, whether it’s adding a feature to an app or rebranding your logo.
If you don’t validate with customers your team runs the risk of contracting Groupthink, a contagious style of thinking which is rooted in self-congratulation rather than reality.
The prognosis is usually fatal: a product that your market doesn’t want.
2. Pivot, pivot, pivot
If you listen closely enough, your customer validation will tell you what you need to change in order to meet the needs of your market. Now you just need the humility to actually do it.
The best products at Start Up Weekend were not born great, rather they slowly evolved over time. They were tweaked and tinkered with after many rounds of customer feedback until they became progressively more attractive.
The teams responsible for these products had set aside their collective ego and accepted that their initial ideas had to change if they wanted a hope of winning.
3. Always be executing
What word do rappers and start up junkies have in common? Hustle.
Top notch ideas supported by the best customer validation means nothing if the team doesn’t have the will and drive to act.
Small teams need a clear plan of attack, task owners and a direction everyone is pulling in. It’s all so tempting to fantasize about your product roadmap and app integrations in Year 3, but first you need to solve the problems in front of you.
Strategy may be glamorous but don’t neglect the tactics – it’s how things get done.
4. Life’s a pitch
On the final day of the event, your team pitches to a panel of judges who have the difficult task of picking a winner from a bunch of brilliant and bonkers ideas.
The team pitching owns a ‘pitch deck’ which persuasively sums up how they are going to take over the world. Here’s the amazing thing, despite how different all the ideas were, every pitch addressed the same core questions:
- Where is the pain in the market?
- What is the solution (i.e. your product)?
- How does it solve the pain?
- How big is the potential market?
- Who is the target customer?
- Who is your competition…
- …and why are you better than them?
- How will you become rich?
Take a few seconds to think about innovative companies that are booming in our modern economy. Uber. AirBnB. I bet you could easily articulate how these businesses answer these questions.
When you next strike innovation gold, stop and think about the above before deciding whether it’s genuinely: different, doable or demanded.
Or better yet, get yourself down to Start Up Weekend and change your views on innovation, tech and business forever.
Thanks to my awesome colleagues @DecidedlyHQ for a brilliant weekend!