Next week I’m teaching a two hour workshop on validating your startup (before you startup). Credit for that clever turn of phrase goes to Elaine Hamm, Resident Director of Awesome at i2e in OKC. Borrowing from the i2e website, i2e “focuses on growing innovative small businesses in Oklahoma and making a positive impact on the state’s economy.”
I believe in the theory that most new net jobs come from new businesses. So helping new businesses get off the ground is pretty important for generating new jobs. I also believe the number one killer of new businesses is that they build products and services no one wants to buy (credit to the Lean Startup). Where that leaves my train of reasoning is organizations like i2e should focus on helping new companies and startups make things people actually want.
And that in a word is validation! Up till now, I don’t think I would find anyone in serious opposition to this. So then starts the tricky part of entrepreneurship – figuring out what people actually want. And in my world, as a teacher of entrepreneurship, I need to figure out the doubly tricky problem of figuring out how to teach people to go out into the world and figure out what people want. And i2e asked if I could do that in two hours.
Here’s how I’m going to do it. First, I teach all my workshops with the assistance of a worksheet. (All my materials are open source and freely usable with attribution, so if this is helpful to you, go for it!) Second, all my workshops are built around small-group exercises. Because, third, I think class time is best used practicing the skills I want the the participants in the workshop to be able to do after the workshop is over.
For the i2e innovation workshop, the main takeaways are A) Start with customer problems, not your big ideas. B) Understand how your business will make money. C) Test your assumptions methodically. We’re going to practice an initial customer interviews (to get your bearings, pre-prototype), drawing business models to identify key assumptions, translating the business model onto the business model canvas to methodically attack those assumptions, and practice creating one experiential prototype in order to test one assumption.
Going through this process in a rigorous, rapid and iterative way will align what a business makes with what the customer wants. Which will mean more business success, more jobs and more innovation! A win all the way around.