Eventhough I am a big proponent of starting small and experimenting your way forward when building a startup or a new product or service for that matter, there is one thing that always needs to be in place: A vision.
It is so easy to get an idea and just start executing small scale. It is harder to succeed in closing the first sale, but it becomes super tricky if that first sale is not supported by a vision of where it is you want to take your new company long term.
With a vision in place, you will know whether your first sale sets you off in the right direction and gives you something to build on. With a vision in place, your chances of making that first sale happen based on criteria and terms that supports your overall goal increases. Without a vision you risk tumbling in the dark. And – more importantly – without a vision you risk building a business that will never really be able to take off but will just (best case) hum along.
One of the things I spend a significant amount of time on is devising, designing and running experiments on various different ideas for new concepts. It is both fun and challenging.
The challenging part is mostly about not reverting to the same 2-3 types of experiments and use them again and again. But because it is wrong to do so, and you might develop bias. But also because there are actually a lot of different ways, you can design and run experiments based on what kind of hypothesis, you’re trying to (dis)prove.
For that reason I have built yet another Excel-model; a simple database of all the different experiments, we know and can run with titles, applicable stages, ‘how to’-recipies and our know-how and experience in running them with valid results. Using the filter option on that one quickly allows me to narrow down the list of useful experiment-types for any given idea, broaden our horizon – and generate better results.
It is really that straightforward.
Some people might need a guide to sourcing disruptive ideas. For the rest of us, we all – I bet – are painfully aware of where we tend to have our most bright flashes or epiphany moments.
For us it is more a question about being able to capture them than to get to them in the first place. I for one am one of those people that tend to get ideas in the shower, and it is not always that practical, when you know you need to jot something down now, before you forget the train of thought, when you’re all covered by soap, and the water is running.
Where do you get your most inspired moments? And what do you do to safe them for eternity? And when you save them, what usually happens afterwards with them? Do you act on them? Why? Why not? And how do you make the distinction? I am curious to know.
One of the things that continues to amaze me is the power of actually seeking out potential customers for solving a problem and chat to them about their experiences so far in both experiencing the problem and trying to find solutions for it.
It is easy to get an idea all by yourself. But the idea – or better yet; the theme in which your idea resides – gets so much extra power by actually meeting and listening to the real experts: Those experiencing the problem.
The exercise itself is really simple: Figure out who you need to meet, set up some meetings or chats for coffee etc, show up, ask a few questions and LISTEN. I guarantee you will leave much smarter. And you will be able to channel all that insight directly into whatever it is that you’re doing, if you choose to. And yes; you should.
It’s popular to say that it is easy to get ideas. And it is true: It is easy. But more often than not the people saying those exact words are the ones who at the end of the day manages the status quo because they are either empty of ideas, or because they are affraid their ideas will only attract ridicule. Best not get any then.
Wrong! Ideas should always spring to mind, as there are always things that can be improved. The trick is to get relevant ideas. So how do we get there?
First of all, we know our market, our customers and the forces that drive them. A lot of it is culture based on habits, and those things are hard to change. So better know them. Deeply. Second, we always assume an idea is less relevant to begin with and needs to be tested to increase it’s relevance score. We do that through experiments. And thirdly, we borrow from other known structures, incentives and what not from across industries to make sure that through the validation of the idea, it both stays relevant and adds a take to it that differentiates us from our competitors.
That is how an idea becomes relevant, stays relevant and – with a bit of luck – adds a differentiated feel to it that will help fuel its success.
The other day I sat down with one of our investments to discuss their potential future direction. It was an interesting and productive session with some key questions arising during the conversation. One of those discussions was around who the customer actually is?
If you’re developing a B2B solution, is your customer the company, you want to sell to, or the person(s) actually making the buying decision? The answer has huge implications. Because it has a big bearing on how you frame your value proposition, how you go to market and what you need to do to close deals and show value after the purpose.
My general opinion is that the more you can focus on the one customer – the actual person – the better. The more you try to put a value proposition together for companies and teams, the more watered down it risk being because you have to fit too many different needs into just a single box. When you focus on just Customer #1, you can be really razor-sharp. And that is exactly what you need.
Just because ideas can be hard to turn into something concrete, it doesn’t mean you should stop having them. There always should be – and there always is – room for the bright idea.
What you could do however is to stop thinking about the quantity of ideas you could have and focus all your energy of the outcome, you want to achieve.
If you have a great – sorry – idea about the problem you’re trying to solve and where you want to take your company down the line, you need fresh ideas. And chances are the ideas you will get by having a sharp focus on the outcome will be both relevant, valuable – and absolutely worth pursuing.
Uncertainty seems the only constant when you’re working with innovation and trying to build a viable business. And there is good reason to support the argument that the more successful you are, the more you tend to be surrounded by uncertainty.
You can not – and shall not pursue – total certainty at any point in time, because doing so will slow you down and get you bogged down in process.
What you can however do is try to identify the factors most critical to success in your business and work towards getting to more certainty in those particular areas and use the insight to really rocket-fuel your success.