I’ll be submitting my thesis soon, and then entrepreneurship beckons. [Watch out Edinburgh!] In timely fashion, at the beginning of February, along came a startup Bootcamp.
The bootcamp was an offering from ‘Enterprise Campus’, which launched earlier this year, and launch.ed, the University of Edinburgh’s service for student entrepreneurs.
Enterprise Campus is an organisation that promotes entrepreneurship for postgraduates at Scottish universities. So pretty handy for me right now. :-)
You can find out more about Enterprise Campus and what they do here.
The objective of the February workshop was to help participants generate a business idea and turn it into an elevator pitch in two days. Quite a task.
Here’s a quick summary of what we did, and what I found most useful:
Concept – Stick Men and a Tweet
The first part of the workshop was thinking about business idea generation.
Business ideas start as vague concepts, without much form. So rather than just get stuck in and start writing a business plan with financial projections — yikes! — we thought visually about our concept and drew it on the back of a napkin.
Then we ‘tweeted’ our concept, a task based on the principle that a business idea should be understood in 140 characters. Needing more than that suggests that the idea is too complex.
With stickmen on paper and a tweet released into the twittersphere, things got real. It was time to turn nice ideas into commercially viable nice ideas.
Pain – What Is it?:
Pictures and 140 characters are well and good (and fun to produce) but does the idea solve a problem for someone?
Problem solving needs to be at the absolute centre of any business concept. The idea needs to offer a concrete solution to a recognisable pain. Does your idea help someone out of a bind? It needs to.
It’s a problem if you need to explain your customer’s pain to them. They should feel it and, ideally, already be searching for a remedy.
Customer – Who Needs Your Idea?:
From thinking about the pain our concepts solve, we then thought about the actual person feeling that pain. Who are they?
Your idea might appear clever (and look good on a napkin), but is there potential for it to work in the real world? Are there enough people who feel the pain you solve and can also pay you to implement the solution?
What’s your strategy to get in front of that person and talk to them about your cool idea?
Surveying – Beyond the Mum Test:
Next, we thought about testing our assumptions and finding out if our solutions have real world value.
Surveys are useful and a relatively cheap way to avoid the ‘mum test’: Your mum is unlikely to be overly crucial of your idea. Instead, you need to reach people who can tell you if the pain you’ve identified is real, and whether the solution you offer is desirable.
Our homework was to create a survey to test the idea in the real world.
I played around with Google consumer surveys for my testing. I preferred the option to sharing a Survey Monkey form. The idea of getting beyond my own social network appealed to me, and Google distributes your survey to a demographically diverse audience (or can target a specific demographic – handy).
Planning your Solution:
A great planning tool we were introduced to was the Business Model Canvas. The canvas offers a way to visualise your idea. You can stick down some Post-It notes, rip them off, and easily change things around. This is much less intimidating than messing around with a wordy business plan template in MS Office.
You can download the canvas here.
Growth – What is Success?:
Taking on a FTSE 100 company is not a realistic way to start out, yet having a clear sense of your endpoint is important (and motivating).
It’s great to know where you eventually want to be, but it’s even better to know how you can get there.
As a startup you need a way to find your first customer — hard enough — but then what? What does success mean to you, and what stages do you need to go through to get to it?
These are not easy questions, but I found this to be one of the more profound takeaways from the bootcamp: What does success look like for me, and how do I get from A to B to C to success?
Pick me! – Help Customers Find You:
How will you find your customers? A good place to start is helping prospective customers to find you.
Blog, tweet, and share insights about the problem you solve. Inbound marketing allows customers to find you and then to pick you over the competition. It’s a cost-effective way to market your startup.
I love this stuff and will be writing more on inbound marketing in later posts.
Conclusion – Is a Bootcamp worth attending?:
You’ll get plenty of practical business advice and workshop skills are translatable to all early stage businesses.
I went to the workshop with a few business ideas in mind and the processes that we went through are applicable to all of them. If you go to one bootcamp, you’ll learn a lot of useful skills whatever your business idea morphs into.
I’m sure your workshop facilitators will be great too, but the launch.ed team were particularly good. It’s a fine balance to nurture ideas and be supportive but also to push back and test assumptions as we participants worked our way through our ideas.
The next step is to prepare for launch…
If you signup here, you can read more about my transition from grad student to entrepreneur in future posts.