TechWomen is an annual event where emerging leaders from the Middle East and Africa spend time in Silicon Valley developing their skills and great ideas. This was my second year to be inspired and share some tips from the Innovation Workshop to help these entrepreneurs. Arielle Kitio summarized it as "sell your idea before you build it."
— arielleKitio (@arielleKitio) September 16, 2016
Our main discussion was about taking a grass roots, low-risk approach to data gathering and idea validation so that entrepreneurs can:
I like to use a simple template to test any idea, often referred to as an elevator pitch or idea statement:
“<project name> is a <product/service description> for <target customer> that <key value or solution> enabling <primary benefits> unlike <existing alternatives>.”
There are a variety of these types of templates around and I first became away of this one through the Adobe Kickbox. What I like most about this is that it is shorter than many of the other templates so it is quicker to share and easier to remember.
With this template, one fills in the blank for their idea. If you have trouble expressing a portion it's a good indicator that you need to do more work on your idea.
Two important parts came up in our discussion on the customer:
With many of our customers at Autodesk, we have to think about the person who will use our software and the person that will pay for the software - they often have different concerns that need to be considered. With some of the social impact problems the TechWomen are looking to solve it's a similar situation, perhaps even more complex, for example:
With the examples above, you could see there being many customers. Can you make your life easier by selecting a subset of people to focus on for the first round, for example:
The most important thing to remember here is that you don't need much more than your idea statement from above to start answering this. Humans have a tendency towards building things. Many people would build a working prototype to test this when really some short conversations with the people you've identified would be fine. Give them your pitch and ask them a couple simple questions to help answer your own questions from above:
These short conversations will give you rich data and help you build a powerful network to help bring your great idea to life.
One thing you can do while having these conversations is to listen like a thief - take notes exactly as your customer told you - do not paraphrase. This is one a lot of people have learned the hard way. Compare these two note styles:
If you have to report back to a team or investors which will be more powerful in helping them understand why the customer can't accept your solution? Customer quotes by their nature have detail. This detail is very powerful for designing your solution as well as seeking support and developing sales and marketing tools in the future, for example:
This approach can seem counter-intuitive and often leads to questions of risks of ideas being stolen. I have two main points for people to consider when weighing the risk of sharing:
This is not to say you should share your idea widely and without discretion but the risk is relatively small at the beginning of your project when you haven't invested too much time. The data that you will get back far outweighs the risk of sharing.
Stay tuned for more tips from the Innovation Workshop and happy innovating!