The Fifth Week, and we start to see Pivots looming

A Pivot is a significant change in direction
A Pivot is a significant change in direction

When Mike began to introduce Todd and I to the launchpad methodology, based on his iCorps experience at Stanford, he predicted that around week Four or Five things would start changing. Basically, he said, this is the point where many of the startups began learning how little they knew about their market or found that their initial hypothesis was wrong. Last Friday was week Five and there it was- a lot of teams making major changes or contemplating them. Some learned important things that more clearly defined a better market opportunity, others found themselves in dead-ends. Both are valuable learnings.

The customer discovery process was created to generate exactly these kinds of results, before you commit time and resources to an idea. With ‘normal’ startup methodology, all of our teams would have made extensive progress writing business plans. Several already had done them. And virtually all of them would have been wrong in significant ways.

So, while there was some real pain out there last week, things will look better as a result. We see teams tightening up their focus as their discovery process forces them to accept reality. Some teams are wrestling with being wrong and having to admit it. Others have had their ideas validated but only after they got better at expressing them. And others are still working on it.

So, we expect some pivots before our next class on April 5th. Just a reminder: Pivots are major changes in direction. This should be interesting. This stuff works!

Elevator Speech = Value Proposition

Our Roc Control Innovations team posted a blog post about their search for an elevator speech. I’ve done some coaching in the comments (which were in moderation as I write this, but should be live soon). Here’s why this is important. Getting your value proposition down to one sentence means you are very close to discovering your business model. I took their speech and refined it down to a sentence and then added a few variations for when they are talking to non-railroad people (in the comment chain).

So you get something like this:

“We offer railroad operators reliable, cloud-based switch and crossing gate status reporting at a fraction of the cost of existing systems.”

Now if your audience are not railroad people you might want to add a note about safety issues:

“This is a safety issue. Unknown switch positioning and  stuck crossing gates are a leading cause of railway accidents.”

The audience will get it.

I would like to see every team phrase your value proposition, on your canvas, as an elevator speech. This one defines the audience/market (railroad operators), the problem (switch and crossing gate status), the solution (cloud-based reporting), and the value/return on investment (fraction of the cost of existing systems, implied safety improvements).

Wireframing and Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Prototyping

Your first wireframe might look like this- it probably should!
Your first wireframe might look like this- it probably should!

A wireframe is a simple means of developing a user-interface (UI) without programming or  visual design. It’s used to test usability, to demonstrate functionality and as a rapid prototyping method. It can be as fast and simple as working on a sketch on a whiteboard or the proverbial ‘back of the napkin’. But just because it is simple, don’t assume it is easy or a shortcut. It is actually the most critical stage of developing your idea into a product. A drawing of boxes and buttons with call-outs that tell their functions can give you enough to start testing the usefulness of your concept to a customer. The feedback you get is immediate and should be incorporated into the model in real time, aka ‘rapid interation’. When it finally seems to be working and your customers agree, then, and only then, should you start programming the backend.

Here’s a great page on wireframing for non-programmers.