Facilitating AccelVT Energy 2019 Cohort

AccelVT_logo_color

I often talk about how startups are the ones out there saving the world. This summer I have the delight of facilitating the newest cohort of the AccelVT Accelerator. This accelerator focuses on “startup and/or seed stage ventures who offer new technologies, or novel applications of existing technologies, aimed at reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions in the heating and/or transportation sector.

It will be an honor to help these entrepreneurs as they boldly work to solve crazy-hard problems that could literally help save the world.

My thanks to my first mentor, Joseph Steig, for bringing me into this program!

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An Engine to Find Product/Market Fit

Previously I shared Brad Feld & Neeraj Agrawal’s descriptions of how hard it is for a startup to achieve product/market fit… and the ramifications of that failure. Recently Jim Stanczak kindly shared an article identifying the solution: a numbers-based, systematic, empirical process for measuring product/market fit and iterating your product towards it. This article is pure gold. Highlights:

0) Anchor on a leading indicator.

Just ask users “how would you feel if you could no longer use the product?” and measure the percent who answer “very disappointed.”

After benchmarking nearly a hundred startups with his customer development survey, Ellis found that the magic number was 40%.

1) Segment to find your supporters and paint a picture of your high-expectation customers.

As an early-stage team, you could just narrow the market with preconceived notions of who you think the product is for, but that won’t teach you anything new. If you instead use the “very disappointed” group of survey respondents as a lens to narrow the market, the data can speak for itself — and you may even uncover different markets where your product resonates very strongly.

2) Analyze feedback to convert on-the-fence users into fanatics.

This batch of not disappointed users should not impact your product strategy in any way. They’ll request distracting features, present ill-fitting use cases and probably be very vocal, all before they churn out and leave you with a mangled, muddled roadmap. As surprising or painful as it may seem, don’t act on their feedback — it will lead you astray on your quest for product/market fit.

3) Build your roadmap by doubling down on what users love and addressing what holds others back.

To increase your product/market fit score, spend half your time doubling down on what users already love and the other half on addressing what’s holding others back.

4) Repeat the process and make the product/market fit score the most important metric.

The percent of users who answered “very disappointed” quickly became our most important number. It was our most highly visible metric, and we tracked it on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. To make this easier to measure over time, we built some custom tooling to constantly survey new users and update our aggregate numbers for each timeframe. We also refocused the product team, creating an OKR where the only key result was the very disappointed percentage so we could ensure that we continually increased our product/market fit.

Read the whole article and consider it an instruction manual. We certainly are at Launch413. My thanks to Rahul Vohra for taking the time to document this process and share it with the world.

Do You Have Product/Market Fit?

Ran across these great blog posts (The Illusion of Product/Market Fit for SaaS CompaniesThe SaaS Adventure) by Brad Feld & Neeraj Agrawal respectively. Product/Market Fit is now, appropriately, a central concept in startups. But when do you have it?

  1. If you think you have it, odds are darn good you don’t. Is your data really robust enough for you to know you have it?
  2. If you do have it, odds are good you don’t have it good enough to scale!
  3. If you do have it, and you are actually ready to scale… be ready for the world to change and for you to lose Product/Market fit… at scale!

Not trying to be a downer, but getting these questions wrong can kill your company. Luckily, those two posts have some great rules-of-thumb for keeping you honest and on track.

 

Entrepreneurs give me hope when I need it most

When I talk about politics I am filled with sadness and a sense of near powerlessness to make the world a better place.

But when I talk to entrepreneurs, I am filled with hope. Where most of us see problems, they imagine solutions… and solutions that scale.

Here are just some of the companies blowing me away, all local/VVM companies making the world a better place!

  • Immigration
    • www.prosperitycandle.com – Providing fulfilling careers and a first rung on the economic ladder for refugees here and in war torn nations.
  • Health
    • www.newenglandbreath.com – Helping diabetics understand and adapt to their condition through superior, painless blood-glucose testing.
    • ernestpharma.com – Freaking (my words, not theirs) killing tumors with genetically engineered bacteria. No it isn’t science fiction!
    • footcarebynurses.net – These traveling nurses make help the elderly stay on their feet and independent.
    • lumme-labs.com/ – Smoking cessation
  • Education
  • Inclusion
  • Environment
    • genoverde.com – Trees that grow much faster. Good for tree farmers. Great for the environment because trees are really good at sucking carbon dioxide out of the air!

I could go on for hours.

These people give me hope. That’s why I love helping them. They are creating a brighter future.

Sermon over. 🙂

Calling Bold Nonprofit Leaders

If you…

  • Lead a nonprofit and…
  • See the funding landscape shifting under you and…
  • Know that insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results…

Then I’d like to invite you to participate in the next Innovation Accelerator. In partnership with local foundations and donors dedicated to increasing nonprofit sustainability, we train nonprofit leaders to develop sources of unrestricted, recurring, and sustainable revenue. Leaders develop new revenue-generating ideas, build business models, gather evidence proving their assumptions, are guided by funders along the way, and at graduation pitch to a panel of funders who want to fund pilot initiatives.

Join us for part 1 of the Accelerator, the IdeaJam. In just a half-day you develop a catalog of your organization’s super powers (AKA assets, skills, and connections) and their potential for unrestricted revenue. Sign up soon with the discount code “early77” and save 20%.

You can learn more about the Innovation Accelerator here.

What if you don’t have an idea?

All innovation starts with The Idea. But what if you don’t have an idea to start with? Or what if you have only an idea or two and are unsure if you have the right idea?

Let’s help you generate some of the right ideas :).

Step 1: Set the stage

  1. Put your mission on top of a whiteboard or spreadsheet. Please do the one-sentence version :).
  2. List out your assets. Some examples:
    1. Any spaces (classrooms, laboratories, dormitories, etc) that lie unused some of the time.
    2. The time that key employees have on their hands (due to working part-time, summers off, etc).
    3. Know-how your team has developed (excellent systems, processes, curriculum, etc.) to solve your own problems.
    4. Relationships with other people, organizations, government agencies, etc.
  3. List out any loud signals the market has given you lately, for instance:
    1. Long lines of people waiting to purchase/use something you, or someone similar, are currently offering.
    2. People signing up (or asking) for an offering that you haven’t even marketed yet!

It should look something like this…

IdeaJam-Part 1-Set the stage-mission assets market

Step 2: Set the criteria

Identify the top five-ish criteria you want to score your ideas on. Jump to a new whiteboard and make some columns. Column 1 is “the idea”. The other columns are the criteria. The first few criteria should be the three items we’ve already discussed: mission alignment, have-the-assets (AKA assets are ready-to-go), and evidence of market demand. Next, you’ll need a few additional criteria relevant to your specific needs. Some examples being: easy-to-do, short-term-revenue, long-term-revenue, profitability, meets-strategic-priority-X, etc. Last, add a TOTAL column to the right.

Next, decide if any (1-3) of the criteria should be weighted more heavily. Mark them with a star.

It should look something like this…

IdeaJam-Part 2-Criteria

Step 3: Ideate

Gather some smart mentors with a diverse range of experience, both inside and outside your organization. Walk them through your notes on your mission, assets, proof of market demand, and then your criteria.

Next, have a free-ranging discussion walking through your various assets & market demand evidence to come up with new business ideas. Give each idea its own row.

IdeaJam-Part 3-Ideate

Part 4: Score

Give each person 10 sticky dots (votes) and instruct them to distribute the dots along column 2 (Mission Alignment). You’ll notice some ideas score much higher than others.

3.1

Repeat for each of the remaining columns.

When you get to the TOTAL column, add up all the dots for an idea. If a column has a star, count those dots double.

3.3

Step 5:  Review

Look at the scores. If you have it in a spreadsheet, sort it. You’ll most likely find a clear rank-ordering and one or two winners.

And now you have a long list of ideas, a rough sorting, and a clear methodology as to WHY :).

 

If you would like to go through a process like this with fantastic mentors, an experienced facilitator, and have a blast doing it, sign up for one of the Lean Innovation Institute’s upcoming IdeaJams.

Hat tip to the great Stephen Brand, who taught me how to do this much better!