Sunday, 1 December 2013

Idea to Innovation: The Smarter way to get From Idea to Launch

Why I2I program Rocks.
If you’re reading this you’ve probably thought of an idea [small or big] that could solve a certain problem for a specific group of people at a profit.
Well sadly in most cases not all ideas transform to concepts then products in markets to profitable businesses with happy and loyal customers or users.

When I heard about the Idea to Innovation opportunity in July just like that hungry restless guy out there armed with his revolutionary idea to change the world around him and make some money while at it I definitely applied and was accepted. 

Today I would like to share my experience in the program, the benefits and 6 valuable lessons I learnt in the 8 weeks.

1.        Start working on it
In the past I have founded a Social media agency  and launched Social Media Clubs in universities dubbed SocialPRO clubs.  Got a business idea? Yes maybe…… but hey it’s just what it is        an idea    everyone else probably has one      maybe similar to yours and most of them are really stupid at first     Sorry. Some of us do some research on our ideas, then talk to people, get a team on it and end up with sketches, PowerPoint slides or maybe mockups and a product that could lead to a profitable company. It’s a journey, there’s no shortcut.
My point here is to stress the importance of committing some time, skills, the little money you have to your big idea      TODAY.  Some quit jobs like I did but others start off while at their day job.  Whatever it is think bigger, start small but start now. Just in-case you aren't sure which of your many ideas to pursue then there's nothing wrong with being unsure but if you're hesitating before taking this leap, you're part of a great tradition. Dive in when you’re ready 

2.      Clarity of Purpose
With the help of amazing people like Patricia and Johnie I was able to list the needs that were of burning importance to our target users, validate some of them and develop a compelling solution.
Thanks to the cohort I could define the problem we were trying to solve concisely and learnt the importance of pitching Shakili in a singular value proposition from the mentors.
This may sound easy but at first most founders cannot explain their ideas using simple terms [I also couldn’t], how the product works and where/on what and how it solves a certain problem.
As a customer you probably do not buy or use a product which does a lot of different things, Investors won’t probably trust a team that tries to pursue different markets [lack focus] and definitely your users won’t adopt a product that fixes all their problems. Be great at something! 

3.      Fixing it Together
Honestly startups are hard, they only seem sexy on blogs but you need a lot of determination to succeed as a startup founder. However the beauty of the in-house I2I program is that it brings together struggling promising founding teams at the same stage facing almost similar challenges for 16 weeks. In as much as technology allows you to connect with me and access knowledge, data, facts and content online there’s nothing that can beat the experience of people meeting physically. The group projects, lively roundtable discussions, the snack breaks and presentations by mentors and other teams were a critical part of the I2I program.
Moreover the interactions were valuable, so was the honest feedback from cohort and in the process I made new genuine friends, learnt a lot about other sectors and gained new knowledge. If you’re working from home or school then kindly consider the benefits of actively being part of a local startup community. 

4.      Create a novel solution
Anyone can ignorantly or foolishly get really passionate about ideas of a product/ something that people does not want, like or ever need.
The I2I program played a major role in helping me to clearly figure out what to test to concretely prove the Shakili idea itself.
If you consider yourself skilled in some field---a passionate guy with some accomplishments then at some point you can get fixated on a strange idea because you constantly try to challenge conventional wisdom. There’s nothing wrong with thinking different but there’s this thin line      between Innovation and Stupidity. The guys I met in this program had inbuilt bull shit detectors and wisdom to help me figure that out.  

5.      Focus on what really matters
I will forever remain grateful to Patricia for helping me truly focus on the simple things that matter in the early days of a startup. This program also gave me an important personal & professional support network and discipline to get it all done. Hard work is a given however struggle doesn’t have to be. I’ve learnt that there is always work that will need to be done, the task list is never complete but I had to do my best and acknowledge that I can’t do it all alone. Unlike employment or school being a founder is so real. If you procrastinate today, you still have to fix that line of buggy code, handle sales to unfriendly customers and remain sane. You can’t bullshit your way through an important issue in your startup because you’ll still have to figure it out someday, fix it all or ensure it is done and done well      most important on time. Above all don’t worry much about the problems your product or business might face in future early on before you even launch a minimal viable product.

6.      Prepare for the Unexpected.
Finally after 8 weeks Shakili was not selected to receive the $ 5,000 investment. But that’s just how life is, not everything works as per the plan. Startups are just like everything else; the biggest mistake you can make is not to try hard enough.   
So my advice to you is;
If you can tolerate the worst possible outcome then be open to it
The earlier you can do start a startup the better but don’t drop out of school or resign hurriedly or ignore family. Try out and make your big mistakes early while the risk involved is less.  Be open to feedback and trust the marketplace to honestly tell you what it needs you to deliver.
So if you’re already thinking doing a startup soon then begin with finding something that's missing in your life, and simply think of how to fix that issue. 

Side notes:
The startups founded by ladies performed better than their male counterparts because girl led teams had simple yet really huge ideas promising great impact.
We live in a hyper competitive world, constantly fighting to stand out but the one thing that makes you stand out from the crowd is your Personal Brand.

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