30 Questions to Validate Your Business Idea & Market

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We all have ideas, that’s the easy part.  Validating, iterating, and executing is the hard part.  Often, we can fall in love with our ideas and lose sight of the customer and market we must ultimately serve.  For your idea to succeed, you need a market and an ideal customer that you can focus your product development on.  As such, in my experience working with thousands of aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs around the world, I have learned that one of the most difficult challenges in taking ideas from concept to creation is taking a few steps back to research and validate the market (problem).

The following 30 questions will help you explore the market, validate your problem/idea, and help you decide whether this is worth pursuing.

  1. What is your idea? State it in 300 characters or less.
  2. Who is the ideal customer for your idea? Be specific.
  3. Be more specific about your ideal customer. What does your ideal customer feel, think, want, and do?
  4. What problem does your idea solve for your ideal customer?
  5. What obstacle are you removing for your ideal customer?
  6. In what way do you make your customer’s life easier?
  7. If you successfully resolve this problem/obstacle, what is the ultimate objective your ideal customer able to accomplish? In other words, what did your ideal customer really want to achieve in the first place?  (hint:  they do not wake up wanting to solve their problem.  They want achieve the goal that the problem is interfering with!)

When I refer to ultimate objective, I am referring to the job that your customer really wants to get done when they run into a problem.  Often, we think our customers only want to solve their problems.  While that is true to an extent, it is important for us to consider that they only want to solve their problems in order to achieve their ultimate objective.  Let’s take AirBnB as an example.  Continue reading

Leadership Lessons from Cristiano Ronaldo’s 4-Goal Performance in Euro 2020 Qualifiers

Earlier this week, in Lithuania, 4 shots were taken that will impact a nation for at least 2 decades.  Cristiano Ronaldo scored 4 goals in Portugal’s Euro Qualifying match against Lithuania, which saw the nation move up in their group standing to 2nd place for the time being.  While the result in the present is very exciting, something else happened during that same game that will impact the team for years to come.

Cristiano Ronaldo is 34 years old and this coming February will be turning 35.  He is beginning his second season at one of Italy’s top clubs, Juventus, after leaving Spain’s La Liga back in the summer of 2018 in order to test himself yet again, looking to prove that his success and skill transcends teams and leagues.

So, on this night where Portugal faced Lithuania, at 34 years old, Cristiano delivered one of the best performances of his national team career.

Most of you might be thinking, “well, isn’t this just another day at the office for one of the greatest football players the world has ever seen?”  Not quite, 4 goals is more than just another day in the office, but what makes these 4 goals special is the impact they will have for decades to come.

Starting and playing alongside Ronaldo was 19 year old Joao Felix, who some consider the potential future of Portuguese football.   Joao Felix was born in 1999, just a 3 years before Ronaldo made his professional senior club team debut.  In his barely 20 years of existence, he has managed to score 15 goals in 26 games for Portuguese club Benfica, represent Portugal at the senior national team level, and secure a contract with Atletico Madrid at a club-record $137 million transfer fee.

On this night in Lithuania, Joao Felix experienced first-hand, within the closest proximity possible, some of the greatest examples and lessons any 19 year old could ever learn. Continue reading

30 Questions to Validate Your Business Idea & Market [Updated]

We all have ideas, that’s the easy part.  Validating, iterating, and executing is the hard part.  Often, we can fall in love with our ideas and lose sight of the customer and market we must ultimately serve.  For your idea to succeed, you need a market and an ideal customer that you can focus your product development on.  As such, in my experience working with thousands of aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs around the world, I have learned that one of the most difficult challenges in taking ideas from concept to creation is taking a few steps back to research and validate the market (problem).

The following 30 questions will help you explore the market, validate your problem/idea, and help you decide whether this is worth pursuing.

  1. What is your idea? State it in 300 characters or less.
  2. Who is the ideal customer for your idea? Be specific.
  3. Be more specific about your ideal customer. What does your ideal customer feel, think, want, and do?
  4. What problem does your idea solve for your ideal customer?
  5. What obstacle are you removing for your ideal customer?
  6. In what way do you make your customer’s life easier?
  7. If you successfully resolve this problem/obstacle, what is the ultimate objective your ideal customer able to accomplish? In other words, what did your ideal customer really want to achieve in the first place?  (hint:  they do not wake up wanting to solve their problem.  They want achieve the goal that the problem is interfering with!)

When I refer to ultimate objective, I am referring to the job that your customer really wants to get done when they run into a problem.  Often, we think our customers only want to solve their problems.  While that is true to an extent, it is important for us to consider that they only want to solve their problems in order to achieve their ultimate objective.  Let’s take AirBnB as an example.  Continue reading

How to Take Ideas from Concept to Creation

Have you ever come across a product or service that you had the idea for months or years ago?  Perhaps that frustrated you since you had the idea first and yet someone else is earning profits on your idea!

This happens often and makes one thing very clear – ideas are cheap.  Anyone can have an idea; what separates us from the person who is now profiting off the idea is execution.  That is, they took that idea from concept to creation.  I have spent the better part of the last 4 years, facilitating and teaching audiences all around the world how to take ideas from concept to creation.  I break the mission down into four steps, which I will describe below.

C2C Process

Identify the Problem – For any idea to become a viable and sustainable solution, it must address a real problem faced by a specific group of people.  The problem is also known as the market.  Without a market, a solution will not succeed, as it will not actually solve anything worthwhile.  In order to prepare your idea for the next step, it is critical that you: determine the problem you are intending to solve, the audience you intend to solve it for, and how/when the problem is currently measured/noticed.  The following are 5 questions to help guide you through your research.  For additional and deeper questions, read my article, 30 Questions to Help You Identify the Problem.

  • What is the problem as you currently know it? Describe a specific situation (include the people and stakeholders involved and their role/experience)
  • What job or task was the person suffering the problem attempting to accomplish, when the problem happened?  Learn more about Jobs to be Done Theory.
  • How did the person know the problem was happening or happened? Or did the person not even know?  (this opens an interesting possibility)
  • How is the success of the attempted job or task measured?
  • What does the problem cost to any or all of the stakeholders involved in the problem?

Validate Your Findings – All of the work you did in the first step helped you establish a collection of hypotheses related to the problem, however, this must be verified through first hand investigation and data collection.  While you may be absolutely certain that your problem statement is correct, it is almost a certainty that you are not 100% accurate.  Validation of your problem, through surveys, observations, experiments, and interviews, will help you refine the problem ahead of beginning the design of a solution.  Your problem may be made up of 10, 15, or 20 hypotheses; set up surveys, observations, experiments, or interviews, accordingly to confirm each one.  Once you have all of the results, update and finalize your problem statement.  Consider the following questions in your effort to validate the problem.

  • Are the problem stakeholders you identified actually connected to the problem? If not, did you have too many or not enough?
  • Would the person suffering from the problem consider the problem “painful” enough to warrant a solution? Is the job or task they are attempting important enough?
  • What evidence do you have to support the estimates for the problem or opportunity cost?
  • If the problem is one that no one is aware of, how can you verify it is worth solving?

Solution (re)Design – Let’s be honest, you already had the solution in your mind before you began investigating the problem thoroughly.  Thus, with a validated problem in hand, you will need to design or re-design the solution to address the specific elements of problem.  For this step, design a solution that does no more and no less than what the problem calls for.  Product-Market fit is critical to resonating with potential customers/users.  Build too much solution and your customer sees it as too complicated.  Build too little solution and your customer is left having to find the remainder of the solution elsewhere.  Consider the following questions in your solution (re)design.

  • How does your solution allow the user to complete the intended job or task?
  • Which features of your solution address which features of the problem? Are there extra features?  Or not enough?
  • How much does the solution cost in relation to the cost of the problem?
  • In what measurable ways does the solution improve/solve the problem? (refer to problem metrics)
  • In what measurable ways does the solution complicate the job or task of the user?
  • Conduct a cost/benefit analysis of the complications versus improvements.

Design a Sustainability Model – Solutions that are meant to solve problems for people other than yourself must have a way of surviving on their own.  That is, they must have a model for sustaining themselves in the market.  This is absolutely critical if you plan to scale your solution to reach ever increasing users.  Consider the following elements when designing your own sustainability model.

  • Target customer segments (distinguish between user and customer, if applicable)
  • Value proposition for each customer/user segment, what are they?
  • Pricing strategies and models, what are they?
  • Fixed and variable cost elements, what are they? (focus on the big ones first)
  • Distribution channels and methods, how will you get this into the hands of the customer?
  • Competition, who are they, how do they compete with your solution?
  • Customer acquisition, how will you find and secure customers?

Take this process and run your idea through it.  Spent most of your time on the problem.  Solutions are easier to design when the problem is understood clearly, comprehensively, and deeply.

30 Questions to Help You Identify and Validate Your Business Problem

Understanding your problem is critical to solving it.  No matter how awesome your idea may seem, if it does not solve a problem, it will struggle to become financially viable.

Problem = Market Opportunity.

To transform any idea from concept to creation, there needs to be a market for that idea.  One of the biggest challenges I have found in working with thousands of aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs has been correctly and clearly stating a problem and making sure it is the correct problem to solve.

Ideas are easy to come by.  If we sat a group of 5 people down and gave them 10 minutes to write ideas down, we would easily have a list of at least 50+ ideas!  Ideas are truly, as the saying goes, a dime a dozen.  Ideas are cheap.  Solving validated problems and executing those solutions is what ultimately matters.

111616-Youth Summit-131_FThe problem and solution dilemma that I often encounter at events like Startup Weekend is that people come in excited about an idea; what is not always so clear is what problem it solves.  The good news is that you already know the problem, the bad news is that you skipped over it so quickly, you didn’t even notice it.

So, which came first?  It was definitely the problem.  Even though ideas (i.e. insights) often seem to spark out of nowhere, they actually come from a complex and seemingly magical interaction and culmination of problem awareness, solutions for other problems, and your personal knowledge bank.  POOF!  All of a sudden, you have an idea.  The underlying processes happen so quickly and subconsciously, that you believe the idea just came to you.

At this point, your mission is to figure out what problem your idea solves.  This poses a challenge to many, but it is critical you understand your problem clearly before you move on, or else you risk possibly solving the wrong problem.  Further more, if your problem is too broadly defined, you may pursue a solution so complex that your customer will struggle to understand it.

Below are 30 questions/challenges to help you step back and identify the problem to your solution/idea.  Completing these questions will help you understand the following:

  • The job to be done that is affected by the problem
  • The person(s) or group(s) affected by the problem, directly or indirectly
  • The problem; when and how it manifests itself to each group
  • What the problem costs the user and/or the customer
  • The scope of the problem (market size)

Complete the 30 questions below in order to clearly understand your problem and market opportunity. Continue reading

What is a Startup?

The term “startup” is sometimes used too loosely and liberally.  Let’s consider the definitions of two respected authorities in the startup world.

startup-owners-manualAccording to Steve Blank, serial-entrepreneur, Stanford University professor, and father of the Customer Development methodology, “a startup is a temporary organization used to search for a repeatable and scalable model.

According to Eric Ries, entrepreneur, blogger, and author of The Lean Startup, “a startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

lean-startupWith respect to the journey any organization takes from founding to going concern, the term startup refers to the beginning of a process or journey.  Steve Blank’s use of the word “temporary” supports the concept of startup as the first step along a journey.  Once an organization concludes the search for a repeatable and scalable model, it can enter subsequent stages of maturity.

In this stage of the company life cycle, an organization is nothing more than an indefinite series of experiments to find and deliver an effective, repeatable, and scalable solution.  Founders are no different than scientists who:

  • start with hypotheses about problem and solution,
  • design experiments to test the various hypotheses,
  • measure results,
  • gather insights and learn from the results,
  • amend the hypotheses to reflect the insights learned,
  • and repeat this process

The more experiments a startup can conclude in a given period of time; the sooner it will arrive at effective solutions that can be scaled to ever growing audiences.  Given that scientists need multiple attempts at getting an experiment right, all of the experiments leading up to the ones that prove to be successful are considered failures.  Thus, we get the phrase, “fail fast, fail often” because if startups do this, they will arrive at success sooner rather than later.  In a world with limited financial runways, it is imperative startups experience a great deal of failure as soon as possible.

According to this definition, is your organization in the startup phase?

Startup Weekend Delivered a Magical Weekend in the Magic City

Florida International University was the site of some incredible magic as Startup Weekend EDU saw one of its most diverse group of people come together to learn and practice critical entrepreneurship skills in order to take ideas from concept to creation in less than 54 hours!  It could not be more fitting that Miami, Florida also known as the Magic City was home to a magical experience for a diverse group of aspiring entrepreneurs that included: students from elementary, middle, and high school; university students; university professors; K-12 teachers; parents; ex-convicts; developers; entrepreneurs; and local professionals.  The youngest participants at this event were 8 years old and they both presented with their respective teams!  

SWmiami2Startup Weekend EDU is a 2.5 day event whereby educators, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs come together to pitch ideas to solve problems in education and form teams around the selected ideas.  Teams then spend the weekend taking these ideas from concept to creation, culminating into a final presentation to a panel of all-star judges from the community.  Judges assess pitches based on clearly defined problem statement, prototype design, validation of problem and prototype, and finally, the business model. This theme was critical for a region that is home to some of the largest school districts going through difficult challenges.  

Having facilitated over 16 events around the country, I thought I had seen it all.  However, nothing could have prepared me for this incredibly diverse group of people and all of the challenges and possibilities that would manifest over the weekend.  To be honest, I was concerned about whether the event could be a success and if everyone would figure out how to work well together quickly enough to deliver a final presentation by Sunday evening to a panel of all-star judges from the Miami community. Continue reading

What is the Greatest Barrier to Learning Math?

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me to explain the biggest challenge in teaching math to students of any age.  He mentioned he is not a math person and as a result always struggled with it, as did many of his friends.

The toughest cases that I’ve worked taught me that all people are pre-wired for math because they reason and use logic every single day of their lives.  We are constantly running complex algorithms to make decisions and conclusions in situations that deal with friends, family, sports, and other challenging and high pressure situations.  Essentially, people are practicing and getting tested in math every day, several times a day, without knowing it.

So if lack of wiring for math isn’t the problem, then what is? 

What if the problem has nothing to do with the teaching and learning of math?  What if the problem is unrelated to math?

For the last 10 years, I have been working with math students from 10 to 50 years old.  I have worked with students in a variety of circumstances, including:  private coaching, classroom, workshops, and small group.  The stakes were varied and included: scholarships, graduation requirements, grades, and jobs.  Often times, these situations were of critical urgency with little time to achieve the goal – one time I only had 2 weeks to help a student double their score on an entrance exam in order to start that fall.

A few years into200438089-001 teaching math, I pursued a masters degree in psychology focused on executive coaching because I felt it would be the most helpful on my journey to helping people grow their abilities in math, business, or life.  When I needed to practice executive coaching for my course work, I turned to my students.  They were my young “executive” clients who facing challenges in math.  It was the practice of executive coaching that lead me to discover the biggest barrier to learning to learning math.

The single most important factor to learning math was something that holds us back in so many other areas of life – confidence.

When I work privately with students, I always spend the first several sessions addressing confidence and the limiting beliefs that erode it.  In those first few sessions, I draw out their most powerful negative thoughts and limiting beliefs so that I can challenge them directly.  I start by breaking up their limiting beliefs into smaller thoughts that I can disprove one at a time.  But that’s not enough because as we know, seeing is believing.

Next I show them that they can do math by identifying their skill level, giving them a relevant problem to solve, and increasing the challenge one degree at a time until they achieve their first breakthrough.  This is where their confidence starts to build.  It is only after I have put a dent in their limiting beliefs and caused them to start doubting some of their negative thoughts that we can really begin to work on math.  Any efforts to help my students learn math before that is a waste of everyone’s time.  In all of my experience working with math students, I have learned that if I address confidence first, I position my students for significant growth and development in math.

Looking ahead and more broadly I believe we can thoughtfully design math curriculum and pedagogy to incorporate confidence-building language, growth mindset, and comfort with failure.

I envision a classroom culture where we celebrate and learn from failure, we encourage and reward improvement, and finally, where students look forward to increasing challenges.

I’ll leave you with this.  If you are looking to make breakthroughs and drive massive growth in your classroom, here are a few strategies I applied in my classrooms to build confidence and drive a growth mindset:

  • Fist bumps and high fives if you raised your hand and got the answer wrong – ALL THE TIME.  Consistency is key!  If you celebrate failure, eventually students will learn to not fear it so much.  This opens the door to learning from failure.
  • When students did work on the board, I showed no interest in the final answer.  I asked them present their thought process and work before they even mentioned their answer.  If their process and approach was sound, they got a high five or fist bump, whether the final answer was right or wrong.  If the answer was wrong, I asked them to find and fix the error while another student started presenting their work.
  • Students received a grade bonus if they averaged a growth rate of 5% from quiz to quiz; the class received a grade bonus if the average class grade grew at an average rate of 5% from quiz to quiz, test to test.  These bonuses were implemented to encourage individual performance and supporting your classmates to achieve a class goal that benefits all.

Thoughts, comments, questions?  Share them below!

 

What if IBM’s Watson Was Your Co-Teacher?

Picture the following scenario…

Students walk in for 8th grade math class on Monday morning at 10am.  They are scheduled to have a test on linear functions that day.  There’s a camera in the front of the classroom that scans the room and notices Linda and Emma are not in class at the start time.  It scans again 5 and 10 minutes later and still no sign of Linda and Emma.

This camera isn’t just any camera, it is powered by IBM’s Watson or another artificial intelligence system and it is connected to the teacher’s calendar, the grade-level calendar, and the school calendar.  It immediately knows by cross-referencing all calendars that there was a test scheduled for that day and that Linda and Emma will need to schedule a make-up test.  Since the AI is also connected to Linda and Emma’s class and extra-curricular activity calendars and cross references their availability with the teacher’s availability, it knows that Tuesday between 2-3pm and Wednesday between 3-4pm are the optimal times for a make up test.  Taking it another step further, it also looks into the room schedules and knows which rooms are available during those two time slots.  Next, the AI sends out emails to the teacher, Emma, and Linda to offer the two optimal make-up test time slots in a format where all the students have to do is click on a link or button to select one of the two time slots.  This action automatically creates calendar entries in all parties involved, books the room, and sends out a reminder 1 day, 12 hours, 1 hour, and 15 minutes before the scheduled make-up test. Continue reading

What if IBM’s Watson Was Your Co-Founder?

What if artificial intelligence partnered with entrepreneurs, to validate ideas, hypotheses, and assumptions by conducting a study of all of the information in the world on those topics? That is, crawl the Internet and all relevant databases for every related attempt, study, write-up, article, interview, company, etc. and draw insights and conclusions to a high level of statistical significance.

Artificial IntelligenceConsider that IBM’s Watson Discovery Advisor “builds on Watson’s turbocharged text-mining and identification technology…In its current version, Discovery Advisor is tuned for science, specifically the life sciences and medicine. Beyond mining text, the discovery tool not only finds connections among words but also links related concepts together to generate hypotheses. What might be the right place to look? What path of scientific inquiry is most likely to yield new knowledge?”

What if the Watson Discovery Advisor, or a similar solution, could help entrepreneurs significantly narrow down, to a high level of confidence, the hypotheses, ideas, and assumptions that should be validated further. Essentially, AI would conduct the type of research a human could not by finding every known piece of information on it and indicating which ones deserve further human-led pursuit. This is one example of how humans and AI can work together, as partners, to produce value that could not have existed before. According to a New York Times blog article, John Gordon, VP for strategy and commercialization of Watson, “is confident that Watson can scale up in “co-creation projects with clients that can transform an industry.”

The human must play a critical role in this endeavor by providing the initial hypotheses, that is, knowing what he or she wants, and stating it in a clear manner so that AI can perform the research on already existing content. AI would then return, ranked by measures of confidence, the ideas worth pursuing further thus saving the entrepreneur significant time and money. Furthermore, perhaps AI can even propose follow-up hypotheses and assumptions for additional testing based on what it learned in its initial research.

According to the “Our Cognitive Future” report by IBM, Baylor University leveraged IBM’s Watson to build a system that is “trained to ‘think’ like a human research expert by unlocking insights, visualizing possibilities, and validating theories at much greater speeds…The solution analyzed 70,000 scientific articles on p53 [cancer-related protein] to predict proteins that turn on or off p53’s activity – a feat that would have taken researches years to accomplish without cognitive capabilities.”

What if we designed a similar cognitive “co-founder” for entrepreneurs?