Alex Zapesochny of iCardiac and I had a broad-ranging discussion after last’s years HTRLaunchPad program about what worked, what new things we learned and what we could have improved on. Alex serves on the LaunchPad Advisory Board and as a mentor and I work on the teaching team. As a writer I was interested in doing a concise version of the methodology for those who might not wade through the very long texts written by inventors of the lean concept.
We also had an epiphany of our own and that was that customer discovery is a process that anyone starting anything new should go through, before committing time and resources to their idea. This included community projects, new product development, local ‘mom and pop’ businesses, sales initiatives and more. So we felt our book should cover the application of the methodology in a broader sense.
The result is an ebook, available on Amazon, called The Customer Discovery Matrix: A Concise Guide To Starting Anything by Martin Edic & Alex Zapesochny. It’s our hope that we can encourage adoption of this process across a wide range of innovative efforts taking place in Upstate NY.
The book is currently available as an ebook for Kindle. Amazon offers free reader apps for any device here.
You can see the Table of Contents on the web site we created for the book and our community-building efforts at www.customerdiscoverymatrix.com
We’ll also be posting excerpts here that are relevant to what we’re teaching in this year’s HTRLaunchPad.
While our team sifts through the 33 applications we’ve received for the HTRLaunchPad 2014, I’m going to jumpstart the thought process they’ll need when setting up their Minimum Viable Product (MVP). At this stage, prior to customer discovery, your MVP should be as simple as you can get away with- a sketch, a story, a video, a simple user-interface design. As you learn more about the problem you’re solving you’ll refine your solution as demonstrated by the MVP. And when your solution is out there where users can play with it analytics will be very important to understanding how to improve it.
In this week’s AlertBox, usability guru Jakob Neilsen covers five Essential Analytics Reports for UX (user experience) Strategists. It’s a great intro to setting up and understanding the power of Google Analytics when analyzing web and mobile apps.
- How Fast Is Mobile Access Growing?
- How Much Do Social Networks Impact Our Ability to Meet Goals?
- What Sources Drive the Most Conversions?
- How Many Visits Does It Take for Visitors to Convert?
- What Desirable Actions Do People Take on the Site?
If you don’t understand what these things mean or why you should understand them, the article is required reading. But even if you think you know this stuff, read it- there’s a ton of very useful information that will help you get the metrics part of your lean startup off on the right foot.
Finally, I highly recommend you sign up for his weekly Alertbox newsletter. I learn something every time I read it.
Alex posted a RocNext D&C piece on the LaunchPad with his own take as both an Advisory Board member and a member of the Mentor team. Alex is also President of iCardiac, one of the area’s most successful medical tech companies and a Director at Innovocracy (disclosure: I am also a Director at Innovocracy).
Here’s some of what he had to say:
“I was privileged last year to be an adviser to HTR LaunchPad, a unique accelerator program offered by High Tech Rochester. For those that are unfamiliar with the Lean LaunchPad methodology, it was developed by a successful entrepreneur that teaches at Stanford. In short, the method is based on the idea that too much time, money and effort are spent at the beginning of a startup’s journey focused on developing or perfecting the technology or product that the startup plans to sell. This is because it very often turns out that the products entrepreneurs think people want are different in some substantive way from the products people actually want.
The LaunchPad methodology takes a very different approach. Entrepreneurs are told to spend minimal time working on product development and instead to spend nearly all of their time having numerous relevant conversations with people connected to their target market. Only once the entrepreneurs have truly validated that the problem they are addressing exists and that their proposed solution is one that will meet the needs of – and be bought by – those that have this problem do they turn to the work of perfecting a product based on their extensive field research.”
Read the entire post for more insights into the program.
The HTR LaunchPad, in its second year, is a totally new approach to entrepreneurship– with measurable results. Designed for entrepreneurs developing software-centric solutions for everything from mobile consumer internet applications to cloud-based enterprise IT services, the program will change the way you think about starting a business.
Deadline for applying to the 2014 program is Friday, January 31, 2014.
The HTR LaunchPad provides support for up to 12 start-up companies or teams, starting with an initial 12-week program that builds on the “Lean LaunchPad” developed by Steve Blank at Stanford University and focuses on customer discovery and business model development. The program is capped by Demo Day and Investor Day presentations in Rochester and in New York City.
In addition to the 12-week program, entrepreneurs and teams will benefit from nine additional months of support through HTR’s Entrepreneur Affiliate program, which provides access to serial entrepreneurs, seed-stage venture capitalists, and software engineering and business experts as well as to HTR’s mentors, business advisors, and business support services at the Lennox Technology Enterprise Center in Henrietta.
Free of charge to teams selected to participate, the HTR LaunchPad is supported by a grant from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.
Participating teams will meet one afternoon a week during the 12-week program, beginning on Friday, February 28, 2014.
Demo Day presentations in Rochester and in New York City will take place in early June.
The format of the LaunchPad classroom sessions is simple: Each team has 5-7 minutes to do a brief Powerpoint presentation focused on their progress since the previous week. A discussion follows each with commentary, suggestions and critique from everyone in the room: Teaching team, advisor/mentors and other teams. This is followed by training in specific aspects of the lean methodology. Because we do it weekly for three months everyone is quite familiar with the challenges each team is facing.
At the end of the three months, the teams are pretty good at these presentations. They’ve refined their ability to show progress based on the reality of their customer discovery conversations. And these are documented on the slides in measurable ways- who, when, how many and what they learned or unlearned. The final stage was the public events in Rochester and NYC where the teams gave a summary progress presentation to rooms full of people who were not familiar with their work. It was a powerful experience to be a part of for both the audience and the program participants.
One of the comments I heard more than once was a comparison of this progress-focused presentation style vs. investor presentations. In all instances, the commenter preferred the progress format. I felt the same way, in part because I lump many investor presentations into the same category as business plans. All too often they focus on what the team thinks the investors want to hear.
Interestingly enough Steve Blank (originator of all this lean stuff) recently wrote a post on a new metric, The Investment Readiness Level:
“The collective wisdom of venture investors (including angel investors, and venture capitalists) over the past decades has been mostly subjective. Investment decisions made on the basis of “awesome presentation”, “the demo blew us away”, or “great team” is used to measure startups. These are 20th century relics of the lack of data available from each team and the lack of comparative data across a cohort and portfolio.”
As usual with Mr. Blank he has wrapped this idea into a very complex set of metrics for accelerator managers. But the core concept is simple:
Present investors with data gathered by the founder team that verifies and strengthens their value proposition, market understanding and expertise, rather than creating a set of expectations based on what you think investors want to hear.
And frankly, if you’re in the program, focus on customer discovery, not raising money. If you get your business model right, investment gets a lot easier. Or you may find you don’t need it, an increasingly viable option these days.