When I conduct interviews with potential customers I like to do it in two rounds.
The first round is an online questionaire that establishes the base and provides context for the interview. Customers agree to filling it out and are usually very good at it. What it does is that it helps me understand them and where they are coming from a little bit more before the actual interview, so we can make the most of our time together.
When I then sit with them for the interview itself, we don’t have to waste time establishing the baseline. We can go directly into talking about the stuff that matters to the customer, and I can use the info from the questionaire as background and context and thus get the best possible outcome of the interview.
It always give the best results.
When you start something out it is super easy to get caught in absolute numbers. How many visitors do you have to your website? How many downloads does your app get? 1, 100, 10.000?
But absolute numbers are not that important. More often than not they are a function of the effort and investment to drive awareness and traffic, anyway. No, what matters are the relative numbers.
What big a percentage of those that went to your new website signed up for the offering? How many of those that downloaded the app created a profile? How big a percentage of them actually activated it? And so on. Those are the kind of numbers that matter – the relative numbers. And in combination with some clearly preset success criteria for what they should look like, those are the numbers that will determine whether you are onto something or not.
You can have the best idea or the best product out there but still get a resounding ‘No’ from your stakeholders. When that happens it is always hugely frustrating, and it is only naturel to ponder what the heck went wrong.
But instead of guessing try to understand by getting into the decision makers head. Because often, the way that they respond has little to do with your actual idea and the context at hand but a lot to do with the mental model(s) they are operating from.
Sit down, have a good conversation and seek to understand what’s driving their decision. There are even guides for how you can do that. Doing that will give you an edge as preciously few other people bother to try to understand. But if you’re able to, chances are that the next time you will be able to navigate to a ‘Yes’.
It is fairly easy to meet founders who think they know it all. Founders who are so sure of their own success and the trajectory that they are on that they almost excude overconfidence.
But are they overconfident, or are they just pretending out of fear of losing face, credibility, mojo or something else? Probably. Because just under the surface of any founder is the fear of failure. Of making the wrong decision. Of missing the boat completely.
It is natural. And actually fear can be transformed into a strenght, if you use it as an opportunity to have a learning mindset. Studys show that one of the traits of successful founders is the ability to learn. And in order to learn, you need to start by acknowledging that you don’t know it all. So get comfortable with that – and embark on your ongoing learning process.
Whenever you take on an opportunity, make sure you have understood the mandate and you have it in a way that you can follow through on the ambition, you are trying to bring to life.
Why? Because it is dead easy to be flattered, take in all the kind words and accept a role, where everybody but yourself is in control. And when that happens, you will not be leading anything. You will be a spectator. A spectator running the risk of getting blamed, when the decisions of others come back to bite the project.
Be especially aware of this is you are considering an opportunity in a corporate environment. Corporate cultures are – for better and for worse – most often well established, and the chances of it changing for the sake of your opportunity is zero. Non-existing. Unless, that is, you make sure to get a very strong and powerful mandate from the ‘go’.
Yesterday at inQvation we were honoured to get a visit from the brand new Incubation Studio team from LEGO Ventures. They are just setting out with some really cool people onboard, and they had asked if they could come and learn from our experiences, and of course they could. We are always willing to share and have a very transparent approach to the things we do, and the things we learn.
One of the things that came up during our discussion is how much work-in-progress it is to build a Studio-setup that works. Now, this doesn’t mean that we are doing random stuff every single day – we are most definitely not. But what it does mean is that nobody – not even the ones who claim they do – has a proven, repetitive model for how they make it work in all its fine print.
In fact, I don’t think you can create a model that works the same way every single time down to the tiniest detail. What you can do, however, is to create and fine tune an approach ‘above the water line’ so to speak, where you can communicate and replicate in broad terms, how your funnel for projects look. To that end to the naked eye it will look like a standardized approach, yet ‘below the water line’ it will be different tools, methods and learnings from time to time. I don’t think it can be in any other way.
One of the easiest things is to get carried away by your great idea. For many aspiring entrepreneurs it just happens straight out of the gate. But even for those who have learned and accepted that getting to product/market-fit is an experimental process, it can be tricky to stay the course and be true to your process.
Staying nimble when you need to is a virtue. With an emphasis on ‘when you need to’. Because of course there comes a time – hopefully – where it makes a ton of sense to just do whatever it takes to hit it out of the park. Chances are though that that won’t be the first thing you need to do. And that doing it anyway may send you seriously off course – sometimes without the ability to recover.
A good way of staying the course could be to have a simple process drawn down. David J. Bland has an excellent one in a video here, where he connects Pirate Metrics for growth with experimentation and how to allocate time and budget. That is exactly what you need to make sure that you stay focused on the right things at the right points of time and that you stay the course and stay nimble, when you need to.
This week I joined the Y Combinator Startup School programme. The first lessons have been completed, and yesterday evening we had our first group session with other early stage startup-projects. And what fun it was.
It is a truly great programme that the Startup School has created. The curriculum is pretty ambitious and advanced, and the speakers give you confidence that they know what this is about, and that if you follow their lead and let yourself inspire, you will move towards a really good place (if you put in the necessary work yourself, of course).
The group session is also great. Because it gives you two things that you shouldn’t underestimate: It gives you somebody to be accountable too; i.e. what have you done the last week, what are you doing the next, how are your metrics etc. And it gives you the opportunity to practice pitching your story and see if people get it and choose your product to want to join, if they had to pick just one.
From that angle, first session went really well; all the others chose the project, I am participating with. So naturally, I am quite pumped.
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.
Even the best and brightest ideas should start small on the implementation side. Just out of respect for the fact that you could have it terribly wrong. Especially if your opportunity is huge, you need to be mindful that you don’t run the risk of creating a big mess by overreaching from the ‘go’.
Naturally, if you are developing a brand new and hugely innovative service or product, the world has never seen before and thus not know it needs, you will think differently about it. My point is just that those invention cases are the outliers. Most of the time you will be trying to improve on something already out there.
Moving in smaller steps doesn’t kill your opportunity. Because of course you have a flexible roadmap that will adapt as you move along and learn more. And because you learn and show respect you will gain trust of those you are trying to serve. And that trust will serve you well when getting to the point where you start reaping all the good stuff you have sowed.