Category Archives: Lean Launchpad

I’m alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic!

We’ve spent a lot of time recently discussing the value proposition of our venture ideas. In his UDACITY[1] videos, Steve Blank lists questions we should ask ourselves: “What product or service am I building? For who? What does it solve for these people?” In other words, we need to clarify the product features (the whole package), the gains the customer gets and the pains that we relieve from them.

Well, believe it or not, this is harder than it sounds. We (with the help of Linda “ripping the band-aid off” as expressed by Emily last week) are down to 2 ideas. We spent most of last week’s class figuring out the value proposition of each of these ideas: from the exact features of each to what each customer segment could gain from them. It was a great conversation to have, because it turned out we all had a different idea of what each of these businesses was going to look like.

So, it was time to get out of the building and do some hypothesizing.

As I interview people this week, I’m trying to keep some of Robert Baron’s ideas in my brain. In his article, “Opportunity Recognition as Pattern Recognition:How Entrepreneurs “Connect the Dots” to Identify New Business Opportunities[2],” Baron states that there are three main contributors that help entrepreneurs recognize opportunities.First, we must engage in an active search for opportunities. (Check!) I do think my classmates and I have covered this already in our ideation process, but I also think we have all been keeping our eyes open for other options. Which leads us to number two: be alert to opportunities. This also goes back to Steve Blank, who encourages entrepreneurs to be wiling to pivot. Oh that didn’t work? Try a new direction. Pivot! PIVOT!

And finally, having prior knowledge to the market is important. Why, just this morning Linda forwarded us an email about a business venture that sounds similar to one of our ideas. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening around us.

I remember once, while sitting in the green room between morning shows at a children’s theater in NYC, hearing a staff member sing loudly to the tired high school interns she was training: “I’M ALIVE, ALERT, AWAKE, ENTHUSIASTIC. I’M ALIVE, ALERT, AWAKE, ENTHUSIASTIC. I’M ALIVE ALERT AWAKE, I’M AWAKE ALERT ALIVE, I’M ALIVE, ALERT, AWAKE, ENTHUSIASTIC!” (Maybe you need a tune to truly understand, but I’m trying to say that I, as an entrepreneur, plan on being ALIVE, ALERT, AWAKE and ENTHUSIASTIC.

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[1] http://www.udacity.com

[2] Baron, Robert. ““Opportunity Recognition as Pattern Recognition: How Entrepreneurs “Connect the Dots” to Identify New Business Opportunities,” Academy of Management Perspective, February 2006, p. 104-119.

The Band-Aid Approach

Class began with our pitch. It was an enthusiastic beginning where we pointed out the successes of last week’s ideation process. Behind us as we spoke was a large poster of the Business Model Canvas filled with yellow sticky notes of venture ideas. My contribution to the pitch was pointing out the cohesive strength of the group. Partnerships provide many benefits through networking and goods, but have the potential for disaster if there is dishonesty or lack of commitment. As a collective, we decided on full consensus for our venture as part of our doability criteria. The class mission for the day was to judge our venture ideas against our criteria and get rid of the sticky notes that don’t meet the criteria. Steve Blank teaches a class on Udacity called, “How to Build a Startup.” He says the best way to take the class is to actually be creating a startup while taking the class. This is exactly what we as a class are experiencing, and I came to find out that it hurts! I have been anxiously awaiting our brainstorming and ideation process. As I mentioned above, we all left enthusiastic about the results. The next thing that I know, a fast-paced “call and response” ensues as our potential ventures are judged and ripped from the large canvas. I was so surprised at how quickly I had become attached to the ideas and wanted to pursue them all! Each time a yellow sticky note was taken from the board I second-guessed the decision. Earlier in class, we had discussed something that was coined as “founders disease”, which is when a founder or visionary is inflexible to change or to deviation from the original idea regardless of the customer response or input from partners. After one week, I was already experiencing founders disease for our potential ventures and trying to twist them every which way to fit our criteria. I realized that this process is invaluable because it will keep us focused on the potential customer. This is exactly what we want so that the potential customer becomes a customer. I felt like the process we went through was like ripping off a band-aid. It stung, but keeping things in motion and always being open for change will bring the best results.

Is it Worth Doing?

Where were we?

After an exciting brainstorming session, our aspiring team of entrepreneurs was left with a wall of post-it notes and endless possibilities as to what our venture might be. Before we wrapped things up that week, we agreed upon a set of criteria that would be used to help narrow the plethora of ideas down to ‘the one.’

The criteria were all based upon the “Assessing opportunity ‘doability’” figure found on page 13 of Effectual Entrepreneurship. I touched on this in my last blog post, Taking the Plunge. The chart asks four primary questions:

  • Is it doable?
  • Is it worth doing?
  • Can I do it?
  • Do I want to do it?

We adapted these questions to fit the needs of our own team. Is it doable with resources available to the individuals in our class, within our budgetary confines, and on a realistic timeline? Is it something that we all feel equally passionate about? Can we create this venture with a realistic time commitment from each of us, keeping in mind that we are full time graduate students with lives, families, jobs and commitments? Do we want to do it?

The process of narrowing down the ideas was less painful than I thought it would be. We didn’t need to dive into deep discussions about why an idea was taken down. We had agreed that it was important to us that we all felt passionate about the project, so if one of us admitted that they weren’t excited about an idea…it came off the wall. No arguing, no huffiness, no tears. We were women on a mission. This allowed us to pare down the ideas significantly.

Next, Linda asked us each to anonymously write down our top three choices on a notecard. I’m usually quick to make decisions, and this exercise was no exception. I selected my top three immediately. Some struggled to narrow down their favorites. Ultimately, there was a good amount of overlap when it came to the top choices.

We closed out last week’s class session with a new level of excitement. The ideas had been reduced from nearly 40 to about 4. Four ideas that each felt like real business opportunities. Four ideas that came from our team, in classroom, with a pile of post-it notes. Are they worth doing? I’m looking forward to finding out.

Translation part 2 (from the instructor)

As the class worked through the nine “blocks” of Osterwalder and Pignuer’s canvas for business model generation, a new point of translation emerged.  We realized that in the arts, key partners and customer segments are not on opposite ends of a flat map:

biz model canvas flat

The canvas, instead, should be mapped onto a cylinder, so that key partners and customer segments meet:
3d biz model canvas

Cross-post, from the instructor

This post was originally published on Linda Essig’s Creative Infrastructure blog.

With some frequency, I am asked to provide a definition of “arts entrepreneurship.” I have a short working definition (the cocktail party version is “Arts entrepreneurship is entrepreneurial action in the service of art”). I’ve written longer descriptions of arts entrepreneurship practice and defended the concept against assertions that it does not exit. One question I am sometimes asked – the answer to which is embodied in the cocktail party response – is “how is arts entrepreneurship different than any other sectoral form of entrepreneurship?” Are the actions of an artist starting, for example, a new collective gallery any different from someone starting a new dry cleaning company in the shopping plaza down the street?

This is the question that has been occupying my mind as I teach a graduate course in arts entrepreneurship. You can read here about how we are using the Osterwalder Lean Canvas for business model generation and Steve Blank’s video lectures about it to explain entrepreneurship writ large. The translation of this method, tested and proven in the technology sector, for the arts is the challenge I face as the instructor/facilitator. In facing that challenge, I am keeping art at the center (or trying to) and applying a process from one domain to a domain with different (and sometimes unique) economies associated with it.

Big_Day_Out_(8392285402)This week’s class will include an overview of the 9 blocks of the lean canvas as well as an introduction to Blank’s directive to “get out of the room” in a process he calls “customer development.” For my course, we translate “customer” to “audience” or “community.” Thus, when we talk about “getting out of the room,” it is to talk with our audience members or potential audience members and members of the communities our students want to serve.

There are other points of translation, but this seems the most important – and why this lean launchpad technique could be really useful for artists and the arts generally. The customer development process isn’t (only) asking potential customers what they want, what it is really about is testing hypotheses. Think about what this could mean for artists: it could mean bringing audience in early to a development process, it could mean partnering with a community to develop work that might be interesting and useful to that community, it could mean minimizing financial risk while still enabling artistic risk.

I have often heard my friend Aaron Landsman preach a gospel of “do less with more.” This idea of doing smaller bits, developing and testing them — and getting them right — rather than trying to be all things to all people right out of the gate, aligns well with the lean Launchpad method: fail early and often, iterate your concept, and keep getting out of the room to see if anyone else cares.

(Photo “Big Day Out” by Eva Rinaldi, Creative Commons license)