Friday, November 1, 2013

unCon 2013 Session: Getting Out of the Building: Tips for the Fast Cycle in the Startup World

Moderator: Jim Verquist, founder, ezPreorder

Jim Verquist, founder of ezProducer, became an entrepreneur during the age in Silicon Valley, where the process for starting a company was a linear, step-by-step process. “Back that we iterated like crazy,” he said, “even faster than our burn rate.” However, as the pathway to consumers and investors becomes a chicken-and-egg situation, developing and sustaining your idea at the same time is increasingly difficult. “Getting out of the building,” a popular lean start up term, no longer holds a standard definition. What building? And where do you go once you get outside?

Verquist framed the conversation with the story about his experience as producer on a film that his twelve-year-old daughter recently directed. Just like most startup ideas, they began with a script, which was later turned on its head, cut into pieces, and boiled down to a quarter of its original form. Armed with a passion for the project and the commitment to see the grueling process through kept the pair going throughout the months of production. After writing, casting and filming they cut the four minute clip down to 90 seconds, and plan to submit the piece to film festivals upon its completion.  Verquist carries the aura that can be seen in the eyes of many of the unConference attendees: a since of pride in what he’s created and an unconditional belief in its potential to change the world.

However, the challenge of getting out of the building when there are so many things holding us back isn’t easy. The group boiled down a few concepts to keep leaders grounded and persistent while moving the needle.

Gather diverse feedback. Soliciting the “gut feelings” from a wide set of consumers is key during initial testing phase. Asking thoughtful questions about the product will help surface unforeseen opportunities and challenges. The more varied your feedback pool is—in experience and background—the less likely you are to “caught up in your own bullshit.”

Identify and understand all variables. Businesses fail to get traction for a multitude of reasons: from product malfunctions, message disconnects to misaligned customer expectations. Identifying and testing each variable during every stage of the growth process will allow you to make decisions that will make your product and team stronger, smarter and more in tune with the customer.

Create a highly flexible process. Just like Verquist and his daughter eventually gave up their script, most business plans require a high amount of adjusting down the line. Entrepreneurs need to find the balance of execution and curiosity, and actively listen to the feedback from each step.

Stay grounded in the needs of the end user. At the end of the day, the customer needs to benefit from what the product has to offer. Keep this group at the center of every cycle of development. You can gain customer feedback in a variety of ways: from pitching your idea at a network event watching for the eye glaze or excitement, to testing the user’s experience in a closed setting, to monitoring downloads and usage in a more quantitative fashion. The validation of this group is crucial, and oftentimes shows through in their actions rather than their words.

The new world is entrepreneurial in every aspect--forcing us to decide to get out of the building on a daily basis. To change the world not only must we stay rooted in our passions, we must remain strong and open during each iteration.

Lizzie McQuillan

Scratch Marketing + Media

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