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.

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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 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?