Startups validate their ideas at JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp

My 2nd weekly article for e27.sg published yesterday

After resurfacing from ideation and the first shocks of understanding the expectations of investors, the JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp teams have started focusing on customer* validation and development. The mentor feedback during the first two weeks was inspirational, but also very often led to contradicting ideas about the directions in which the products could be developed. The best way to decide is by testing all of them with potential customers.

The JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp follows the Lean Startup methodology, which emphasizes rapid prototyping and testing with users from early on. The underlying assumption is that there is no point in wasting your time and energy on developing a product only to discover later on that nobody wants it. Failing fast allows the team to ditch an idea and move on to the next one.

Many teams have rolled out their minimum viable products (MVPs)- the bare bones of the main feature of their idea and have started testing it out with their potential users and customers. Most of the teams have also found it useful to put up a website with waiting list or Facebook fan page to start gathering their early adopters around them. Even though quick validation makes sense rationally, it is often not so easy for the teams emotionally.

Daniel from Indonesian startup ‘Kark’ writes on the “How Do You Feel?” board at the JFDI jungle

Startup ideas are born in the minds of the founders. They see the vision of the ‘full experience’ they want to deliver to their customers. The minimum viable products are usually very far away from those ideals. Yet if your user doesn’t validate your idea at the first place, then most likely no Facebook integrations or design improvements will change that later on.

Adrian from Singaporean startup Gradeful tells: “I think it is very easy to delay shipping the MVP. It is just fear. Fear about what if it doesn’t work out. But we were very clear that we should just stick to it and see what the users say. Nothing speaks better than data and maybe from the user feedback we discover something we didn’t expect at all”.

Lizz from HobbyMash explains her vision to the joyful frogs on weekly Friday pitch

The basic principle of customer validation is to see if your assumptions about how the customers will relate to and use your product are true or false. Before every test the startups set very clear goals what they want to learn from this test.

Many teams have done questionnaires to see if their ideas are viable. Yet when drafting such questionnaires startups should be careful when asking people if they like the idea. The truth is that even if a person likes your idea, it doesn’t mean that she is going to use and/or pay for it.

Another option employed by many teams is to go out to the physical or virtual places where their potential users can be found to learn more about how they live, what they worry about and how the particular product could help them. Such interviews and observations usually provide the founders with very rich information and insights, but they also require some interviewing skills and take up quite some time.

Tudor from Flocations team interviewing people at the Beary Good Hostel and asking for their feedback

Presenting people with mockups is another option. Mockups allow startups to observe the reactions of the users and gain insights into the aspects that the users see as important or unclear. Mockups also allow for quick testing of various features or even pricing strategies.

Most of the JFDI-Innov8 mentors agreed that no matter what method you use to reach out to your potential users and/or customers, the sooner you do it the better it is. Mentor quotes about customer validation and development have been summarized here and here you can see what the chief executive frog vlog says about the importance of customer validation.

*I have used terms ‘users’ and ‘customers’ interchangeably, however, in many situations users of a product not necessarily are also the customers who pay for the product.

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JFDI–Innov8 BootCamp – The first two weeks

With a bit of a delay I re-post the article from e27.sg where I briefly explain what happened at the JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp during the first 2 weeks. 

It has been now a bit more than two weeks since the JFDI-Innov8 BootCamp started bringing together 12 teams of aspiring Techpreneurs from all different parts of Asia and beyond. Many quit their jobs, stopped their studies, left their partners and families at home and all that in order to pursue their dream- launch a successful tech company. With stakes high, every day counts in this 100 day accelerator program. At the end of it all the teams will present their work to a room full of investors who will then decide which companies to invest in.

While some teams started with nothing more than an idea and great commitment, others were already further in the process having a working product and a bunch of users. Yet the first weeks have not been easy for any of them. ‘Pitch or die’ could have been the slogan of the first 2 days. The first pitch teams gave shortly after their arrival at Block 71 was to get to their dedicated working space (unofficially called the jungle- for reasons explained here). The next day, after very, very few hours of sleep, teams presented their ideas to real investors, who had decided to visit the BootCamp early. The questions were sharp and straight to the point- what problem are you solving with your product, how are you making it stick, how are you monetizing it, what is your exit strategy, why your team is the best suited to do this, etc. Even if some of it felt like being asked prematurely, participants developed a good feeling of where they have to be at the end of the 100 days in order to receive funding.

Natsakon and Meng on weekly Friday Pitch

After the first crash and burn experience the rest of the week was devoted to ideation. The BootCamp has a fantastic pool of mentors here in Singapore and also flying in from New Zealand, USA, England and elsewhere. Hours and hours were spent helping the teams to stretching their ideas, understanding what they are passionate about, good at and what real world problems they care enough about to dedicate years of their lives to solve. In a morning of one of those days I bumped into another co-worker of Block 71, who inquired how its going at the BootCamp. I cheerfully replied that it is really exciting. He looked at me with a doubtful expression “Do guys get some work done at all? All I see is they are at the meeting rooms a lot.” One has to agree, teams spend a lot of time in the meeting rooms. But that is what you have to do once you are making a company. You have to meet with people, talk with them and take the best of their advice. Programming is only one part of the work you do to launch your company and product.

No time is being wasted- weekly Check-in meeting with Meng and Hugh coincides with lunch time

Some of the teams kept to their initial concepts, however most of them pivoted. Some even reset their idea and started from scratch. Tom and YanYing from Wildby explained, “Brainstorming with the mentors inspired us to extend our idea to an even more ambitious  one. Instead of just bringing toys to the cloud, we now want to turn every object in the world into a toy.”

One of the Resident Mentors Boris discussed ideas with the Rocket Science Concepts team

Part of the companies have already or will launch their alpha versions in the coming days, so Week 3 seems to be all about customer development. Stay tuned and learn about the fears and revelations  founders have when meeting their users and customers face to face.

Indonesian startup ‘Kark’ in their Mentor meeting with Melissa Clark-Reynolds

JFDI-Innov8 2012 Bootcamp is organizing regular public events where the mentors share their knowledge and all of you are warmly welcomed to come along- check jfdi.asia to stay up to date.