Idea generation and commercialization need different skill sets.
Founders and inventors are dreamers. You may not run through the streets naked like Archimedes did in ancient Greece, when he had an idea, but nevertheless, a new idea or spark comes with great elation and euphoria. There are plenty of good ideas but not all ideas succeed as products in the real world because inventors are creative people and have a very optimistic outlook. Commercialization is a complimentary skill necessary to make an idea successful. The idea should be transformed to a product – something that can be exchanged for a payment. Transforming an idea to product requires good execution and leadership among many other things. Several theories have been written about the art of startup. But recently the lean startup movement credited to Steve Blank and popularized by Eric Reis is helping startups navigate through the uncertainty of a fledgling startup in the journey from idea to profits.
Use Lean Startup Methodology to transform your idea to a product that solves an urgent customer problem in a unique way
The Eureka moment of an idea is the spark. To make fire from a spark you need fuel and oxygen. Heat and wind and more dry combustible materials in the vicinity help making the spark a raging fire. Similarly, an idea needs customers with a problem and a product to deliver the solution to the user. The commercialization of an idea is complicated and difficult – it borders on being an art more than a science. Every startup guru stresses the importance of testing the problem-solution fit with actual users. The Lean startup methodology promotes early testing of the product – solution fit and product – market fit through a mix of interviewing and testing with customers and key stakeholders. The learning from this is used to refine the product or business model.
The figure above shows the framework for a lean planning process that can be used by startups. It shows the iterative process of ‘Planning’, ‘Doing’ experiments with real customers, ‘Checking’ or analyzing the feedback and ‘Acting’ on the lessons learnt to fine tune your product or business model.
Market Research the customers, competition and the environment you operate in
Fortify the customer discovery process with market awareness. Market awareness consists of generalizing your ideal customer in personas, analyzing the competition and the environment you operate within. Customer persona is a tool to understand the psyche of the group of people who have the similar problem you are addressing. There are several ways to analyze the competition, but one of my favorite is “Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas”. With a good understanding of the market and careful study of the problem solution fit, you are well positioned to define product requirements.
Define and prioritize the product features
After completing the initial customer and market research, you are well positioned to define your product features. The features are still your best guess but are required to start building the minimum viable product. Some considerations for feature addition are;
- Purpose (Balancing Customers Wants / Needs / Wishes)
- Problem it will solve (Prevalence & Customer willingness to pay.
- What is required to differentiation Vs competition. Make it difficult for others to copy.
- Feasibility & Effort required (Is this requirement feasible? Can it be developed internally?, does it need to be outsourced?)
- Validation (How to validate the requirement completion and customer acceptance)
Not all product features are equal. Features will differ in value and effort required to create them. Some features will be core that differentiate and create value and others will have to be included because they are an expectation and commoditized. You should also know the effort and capability required for each feature. Effort may be high based on skills required, the amount of resources required or availability of the technology required. Ideally you should not have more than two high effort features and they should always be of high value. These are likely to become differentiators. You should test the hypothesis on the effort required and value delivered first. Use the Minimum viable Product (MVP) framework to test your product features. You should frequently monitor the features and infer the required tasks to deliver the value and test the hypothesis regularly. You can use a simple tool to monitor the product features and refine and develop your product as you progress through the development cycle.
Life in a startup is chaotic. Typically, a few people are wearing multiple hats and juggling a plethora of tasks. But it is easy to lose focus on keeping your tasks aligned with your strategic needs. Most founders are very good at steering their startup and keeping it on course. Keeping all your team members focused is essential. Use tools and automation where ever you can to accelerate results and keeping all your team activity focused on the most important strategic needs.