Techstars Boston Week 9 - Product

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After dipping briefly following Mentor Madness (at least in feel), the pace here has started to noticeably increase again.  That mostly means founders and teams have less time for distractions, and are putting in even longer hours than usual.  New product is being shipped, and more time is being dedicated to fundraising and sales, in preparation for Demo Day. As such, the focus this week was mostly on product development, and putting more pressure on growth.

The week kicked off with a great Founder Story, and was filled with workshops towards the end.  The internal Founder Stories this week were just as good as always, and had a bit of a European theme.

Workshops - Product

There were two workshops focused on product, and one focused on growth.

From the product workshops:

  • Practice "Design Thinking" - feasibility, viability, desirability; consider these when thinking about the unaddressed needs of the customer.
  • Immerse yourself in the customer experience; try and simulate the exact situation of the customer, and study analogous situations (example is emergency room compared to Nascar pit stop).
  • "Build to think" - build as early as possible to learn quickly.
  • Think about "minimum desirable experiences" (similar to minimum viable product, but user experiences core value proposition).
  • Prototyping is a mindset - everything can be prototyped & tested.
  • The process behind subsequent prototypes is: Question - Prototype - Evidence.
  • Question: the process starts with identifying questions and assumptions (these can be hunches, areas of little data, but things that need to be true for the venture to work).
  • Prototype: format, feedback, resolution.
    • Format: physical vs. digital scenario.
    • Feedback: who, where, how was it presented?
    • Resolution: How long do you have to test?  What would you do if you had just one day to test?
  • Evidence: answers the current question, and fuels the next one.
    • Evidence can be presented in behaviors, feedback, implications; are these qualitative or quantitative?  What are the reactions? What can you do with the information? What new questions do you have?
  • There are many ways to prototype: surface (low resolution), evaluate (med. res.), validate (high res.).
    • Surface: takes minutes, low resolution, tests assumptions; there are lots of options for this test.
    • Evaluate: exploring multiple options, more thought (ex. mall kiosk to test pricing model/options, messaging).
    • Validate: enough to appear real, observing real behavior and customers.
      • ex. full scale retail store mockups.
      • ex. full working website/page.
  • Use InVision for mocking up apps.

External Founder Story

I'm separating external from internal this week, as I think the two often have very different focuses.  Not always, but most of the time, the internal Founder Stories have a much more personal side, while outsiders tend to focus on their business accomplishments (often because they are more impressive than the current founders, as would be expected).

This week was great, from a founder who has seen it all in terms of financing, acquisition (not going public - yet), and building a company for nearly a decade:

  • As an early employee, if you're interested in startups, find a way to get exposed to the life and the people in startups (in this case, it was a headhunter agency).
  • One of my favorite quotes: "I felt trapped in the infrastructure of my life".
  • Another: "even if I'm a failed entrepreneur, at least I'm an entrepreneur".
  • Get journalists to write about you before you even have a product: talk about the problem you're solving, the current solutions, etc. Be creative.
  • As the business gets going, invest in brand building: do speaking events, meet with potential investors and advisers even if you aren't actively looking - these relationships will pay off in the future.
  • Get involved with local universities and classes to get free marketing/sales/strategy work done - make an aspect of your business a part of their class or curriculum.
  • Don't underestimate the value of marketing, and hyping events before they happen; also don't forget to think creatively about cheap campaigns with big potential.  Stunts and other unconventional PR (thanks Traction!) can be huge.
  • When raising, you need to have a big vision, but it needs to be aligned with the company and your passion.  Raising on the wrong vision is tough because you will immediately be misaligned.
  • Form peer groups outside your company; they will be invaluable moving forward, and "you'll realize everyone else is just as clueless".
  • Mind trick: stress=learning.
    • The more turbulence you can withstand, the stronger you will be.
  • Two stress drivers, which also drive the best outcomes:
    • Not failing means freedom - you won't have to go back to whatever shitty job you didn't like.
    • Getting a win under your belt gives you lots of credibility.
  • Successful personal relationships as an entrepreneur rely on your significant other knowing what they are getting into: used to the schedule, the long hours, etc.
  • Fundraising: "the more you're chasing, the less you'll be chased" (and dating?).

Internal Founder Stories

It's becoming tough for me to find unique things to take away from Founder Stories, as lots of different trends are becoming more and more clear through all the stories.

That being said, there were some key points this week:

  • Recognition of problems that could be solved is half the battle when looking for startup ideas.
    • Look at your current workplace - what is difficult?  What do people complain about?  What limits you or others in accomplishing things related to the business?
  • As an alternative, look at what your company does well, and think about where else it can be applied (this company being your employer prior to starting a business):
    • What is the core value your business offers?  What other industries or businesses are analogous?  Where else could this core value be applied?  What other industries have people trying to do similar things that aren't as good as you?
  • There is no single type of founder, who has a certain type of background, who is from a certain area, or any other similarities you think.
  • Nature over nuture.
  • To elaborate on the above: you can be who you want.
  • Doing things outside the norm, or unexpected, or uncomfortable for you, is rarely bad.
  • Support from your relationships (family or otherwise) is very important in building both yourself and your business.  Don't undervalue this.
  • Don't underestimate the value of side projects!

I'm still thinking about how best to structure the post for next week (yeah, I'm a little bit late writing this), but stay tuned for what I found to be the most moving Founder Story yet.