For the past six weeks, the team at Safecility have been taking part in the annual Business Plan Competition run by the NDRC and The Ireland Funds. Last night the final was held at the University of Limerick and the team were delighted to be awarded a third place finish. As you can see, the trophy has taken up pride of place on our sill this morning!
The programme is an intense pre-accelerator to rapidly take a team’s idea and churn it through a rigorous validation process with nine other teams. While we began with a focus on device, we were forced by the process to ‘get out of the building’ and engage customers in a validation process that was scientifically rigorous.
What we learned: Good Validation Processes are HARD!
Here was the greatest benefit for the past six weeks for us, a process and toolkit for effective discovery and validation.
Most startups know the jargon “get out of the building”, “validate every hypothesis” and PIVOT. What is often lacking is a foundation for developing a good process to achieve these. We learned tackling validation requires more than conversations.
First, it requires an attitude shift.
You may be in possession of one ugly baby. And rather than try to run from that fact, you need to run headlong into it. Drop any sense of ownership over your idea and any sense of certainty it is incredible. Then go ahead and prepare to talk to potential customers.
Second, it requires a plan.
Scattergun conversations are the enemy of effective validation. Having chats, soft soaping your interviewees and not recording all the details are a recipe for winding up with useless data. A plan, which keeps your biases to one side and targets open, flowing conversation from your customers, is vital to maintaining focus for 20, 30, or even 100 conversations.
The plan has to address three strategic questions:
1. Who are our notional customers?
2. Are there unifying characteristics we can use to create personas?
3. What five questions could we ask them to get the most valuable insight on our offer WITHOUT ASKING THEM WHAT THEY THINK OF OUR OFFER?
Third, it requires tools.
On our second week, Russell Banks gave us an incredible demo of how to carry out discovery to validate your ideas. Not only did he get under the bonnet, he described how to ideally conduct the process, getting potential segments identified, questions lined up, collection organised centrally and what to do with your findings.
There are three tools; your personas, your questions, your collection process (e.g. google forms) and one rule: get out of the way of customers telling you their problems.
Not polluting the process with leading questions, or biases, was one of the hardest skills to learn. I don’t think any of us would honestly way we mastered it in the 3–4 weeks we were doing it but we became much better at letting customers tell us what they wanted to buy.
In the end, we ended up with Safecility. A pivot from where we started to a platform to track, collate and automate testing of Life Safety Systems in buildings.
We are excited about the plan we pitched in Limerick and have to go about validating demand for our work but without the last six weeks, we would probably be building something few people wanted and setting ourselves up for a world of pain.