We see startups and "stay ups" all the time, reaching a point where their costs are escalating as they work to get their product or service to market. Sometimes the issue is insufficient validation at the early stages. Other times, it can be that new information comes to light that wasn't previously available - and it is a complete game-changer. The trouble arises when there has already been significant investment in taking the current route. Those sunk costs make it incredibly expensive reverse the engines or take a new tack.
At times like that, it's helpful to think of the current way forward as a metaphorical sinking ship. No matter how much you've invested, you're better to get out with your life (and that of your product or service), than to hang on because of your sunk costs.
If you've sunk a lot of time and effort into your business, and evidence is making the way forward less evident, rather than clearer, we're here to help.
When was the last time you sat down and had a long talk with your oatmeal?
To those who’ve been around a while, this might remind them of a John Prine song…
But the point I’m trying to get at is: “What is the job your oatmeal is doing for you?”
If it’s a cold day, your oatmeal is warming you for the long day ahead.
If you had a too fun, late night, your oatmeal is settling your stomach, so you can reset your head.
Maybe oatmeal reminds you of those carefree mornings in the kitchen with your Grandmother.
Or perhaps it’s helping you lower your cholesterol so you can increase the chances that you’ll meet your own grandchildren.
So if a simple product such as oatmeal can do all these jobs, and more…what jobs do people need your product to do? And how can you use that understanding to develop long-term, profitable, customer relationships?
We’d like to help, and maybe even give you a legal smile!
Kudos to Clayton Christensen for introducing me to the concept of jobs your products do in his book: "The Innovator's Dilemma"
Crowdsourcing is a fantastic way to get ideas, feedback, information, and synergistic thinking. As long as you're hanging with the right crowd.
Thinking carefully about who needs to be in the room for your sprint, who should be invited to respond to your survey, or whose opinion will really make a difference when you are interviewing experts for a report, has never been more important.
If you need help deciding who to ask, poll, invite, or share your concept with, just ask. We do that.
Last week was jam-packed with events! We had a great time at one of them, watching startups, students, facilitators and generally-interested folks collaborate to come up with new ideas to help a young business grow and flourish. Everything was going swimmingly, until we heard this:
"The first iteration of our product has had a great response and excellent feedback. With release 2 we hope to find out who our target market is."
SCREEEEEEEEECH! What's wrong with this picture? We love to work with growing companies, helping them develop and build their business model and validate their canvas. Getting them to ship their MVP (minimum viable product) instead of adding every possible feature all at once is exciting! Can you imagine our disappointment when we hear words that mean, "We came up with a solution to a problem, or helped a customer do a job that needs doing...but we don't know who that customer is"?
If you've got a product or a prototype, and you haven't yet validated that there are customers, and who those customers are, you're investing an awful lot of effort in something that may never fly. Wouldn't you rather have a product that really does "sell itself", because it:
There's something we've observed as we work with business owners - whether they're startups or seasoned entrepreneurs, growing and scaling. Especially if the product is technical, or if it is solving something that hasn't really been solved before, the story of what it is, can quickly get derailed.
Entrepreneurship programs have done a great job of explaining and exploring the minimum viable product. But when it comes to talking about that product (or service, for that matter), there's a real tendency to default to describing the features. It's easier to answer "What does it do?" with "Here's how it works", or "Let me describe the features that are different from X", than to talk about the benefits.
Just yesterday we had a chance to sit in with a great startup group in K-W, called Startup Tech Unleashed. There was a seasoned entrepreneur, talking about his business, and giving some really helpful, useful guidance to his peers. But we couldn't help but notice that he started his story with the features. When he got to the benefits, POW! The story came alive. We could really understand why users were interested in the product, and why the founders created it. There was another entrepreneur, who described himself as "not even a startup yet", who described what his product would do, but went into lots of detail about the code, how it would work, essentially, "what would go on inside". Again, benefits were missing from the story, and the story was weaker for it.
We love to coach businesses to do a better job of understanding their customers, their products, their services, and their story. If your team is struggling with the difference between features and benefits, we can help. Get in touch, and let's build a customized workshop that fits your question, and your budget.
By the way, the startup that did get to the benefit story was Coosha - a cool calendar solution - why don't you check them out and see if they can keep YOU from double buying the refrigerator staples that your partner already picked up this afternoon. (That sounds like a benefit to us!)
Worse yet, what if we can?
It's a funny thing, idea generation. Once the first idea comes, it can sometimes feel like a floodgate has been opened - and it leads to another, and another. Before you know it, you've generated more ideas than you know what to do with. How will you ever rein them all in?
Next time, you might want to start by putting some constraints on your ideation process. Take time to frame the session with any limits that are non-negotiable:
1. We only have a thousand dollars to spend
2. There is a one-week timeline to complete the prototype
3. We have to be sure that students can complete the projects without parents' help
Each constraint allows for a bit of sorting along the way and, surprisingly, often result in even more imaginative solutions.
That's not the problem at hand, though, so how can you prioritize? This is where frameworks come in handy. Using something like Conteneo's Product Tree will let you use metaphors to narrow down that overwhelming pile of ideas. As an example, the trunk of the tree can represent the job to be done. Branches can stand for approaches, and leaves for ways of implementing that approach. Where the tree really becomes useful, is when you start looking at the roots - they're the resources, effort, or infrastructure required to actually bring the ideas to fruition. We've found that getting people back down to ground level, looking at the roots, is one of the most effective ways we can think of to eliminate ideas that are not possible (or not possible for now).
Every great idea has limits - so the next time you're planning for creativity, you may want to make life a little easier, by using a framework to establish some constraints.
We had a strategy, we assembled a great team of folks who had been successful in their prior jobs, we met on a regular basis, we used a bunch of co-working tools to foster collaboration...but we still couldn't seem to make great, impactful decisions! Sound familiar?
We've been conditioned to think that make decisions is easy; after all, we make hundreds of decisions each day. But what we forget is that most of those are subconscious, requiring little or no functional brain power.
Making a real decision, one which affect money, people and other large-scale problems, is hard.
So, what can you do to make it easier? The first thing we recommend is to use a framework. Frameworks are simply a standardized method to guide you through the process of making the decision. There are numerous advantages that flow from frameworks, but the best, we think, is that it eliminates the bickering about how you and the group are going to go about the task of decision making. Everyone will assume that you have put hours of research into designing the process. Well done, you!
We've developed a simple framework, in the form of a checklist, to help you. Essentially you need to address five areas to make great decisions:
Please contact us for a free introductory conversation. It may be the best decision you'll make all day.
Change is hard, especially in organizations, and many people don't want it, or at least they don't want the discomfort that often seems to accompany it. If you're brought in to be an agent for change, there are typically two paths that will get you there - evolution (which feels cumbersome and slow) or revolution (which is frequently accompanied by destruction, creative or otherwise, pain, and even some suffering).
If you are in a hurry to make things happen, one cause of pain is having the right intention, but taking action in a way that makes that action seem more sinister than necessary. How do you remove a Band-Aid? Ripping it off can be hurtful and unsettling, but taking time to prepare the team ("this might sting a little, but it's going to heal better once we put a fresh dressing on there") lets them in on your thinking a little, and allows them to focus on the outcome, not just the action. On the other hand, telling them everything will be painless and then making the change with a "rrrrrip!" creates distrust, confusion, and fear. Fear and confusion breed questions like:
As a changemaker, your instincts may tell you to get things done quickly so your initiatives don't stall; that's valid. Taking a little extra time to set the stage and "p-reinforce" the benefits, though, will help you fix the situation without leaving any scars.
Have you ever been in a meeting, where one person takes over the agenda, commandeers the conversation, and virtually sucks the energy and oxygen out of the room? Sometimes you can be so taken aback, that you don't even know how to fight. Here are some tips that may come in handy:
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