Yesterday was the first morning, I woke up and I actually saw daylight. As we were now back to day 1 mode with a blank sheet of paper, there was nothing to plague my mind through the night.
To be frank, we were still not clear about where to start with nugget of information that had been gifted to us by one of our fellow cohorts beyond exploratory conversations and should all those conversations be with. Then one of the mentors came over wanting to know what our plan was. We did the usual merry dance but in the most tactile fashion she got us to focus on the task at hand whilst encouraging us to think more broadly. We had a research plan to put together and she gave us pointers on things we needed to understand, organisations we could learn from and opened our minds to alternative routes to our big vision that we hadn’t considered. It was almost like the parting of the sea for Moses as we could see what we needed to do in our research plan – quantifiable achievements with to do’s to get us there. That box ticked, it was time to do the feedback survey.
The rule was that we had to jointly answer it which sounds easier said than done as we all had slightly different views on our experience for different reasons. Been a team of four didn’t make things any easier. For the scale questions, Eleanor suggested we write the number that applied to us personally on a post it note to prevent us influencing each other’s decision through discussion. This systematic approach of write and show simultaneously worked perfectly. Coming to a consensus on the written answers was not so straight forward however but we got there in the end. One particular point stood out for me – the approach. There was a discussion on the structure of the first two days, why make us go through the process of looking at our ideas as though it was a solid concept, looking at the value proposition, stakeholders, customers, users, revenue models, costing things out and so on. Surely, we could have found out that it was an invalid idea earlier. I beg to differ on this. It was critical that we go through the process for us to come to our own conclusion that our assumptions were built on false positives. Looking at the cost vs revenue alone, on the first afternoon, led to the first set of doubts about who was going to pay for it, the revenue model and if we could achieve the numbers needed for the first year.
The not so frightening dragon slayer aka ball breaker aka dream crusher aka Emil had come over earlier asking if we wanted to speak to a mentor who though not in the Education sector was in the Social Enterprise space and may be able to shed some light on some of the things we still had no answers to. I’m still trying to decide which was the most valuable, the first or second mentor. Turns out that this mentor not only understood our vision but there were an opportunity for us to partner with his company if we could figure out how to resolve the problem we’d identified. He also introduced us to the potential of a different delivery mechanism that we had not considered previously. Elena asked if he’d consider coming on board as an Executive Director or Advisor before he left. Never let an opportunity pass.
Actually both mentors were invaluable in different ways so they were equally as good as each other.
You definitely knew it was the last day as voices got louder, people who’d barely spoken before suddenly found their vocal cords and there was an air of joviality in the room. Or perhaps that was a mixture of relief and exhaustion.
It was time to wrap up, looking back at what each team had pitched to get in and discussing whether this still rung true. Most of us just cringed at our grand pre-launchpad assumptions. The consistency of invalidated ideas was astonishing. People had sunk money into what they believed to be a business. Everyone had pivoted in one shape or form, only two had validated the product and even one of those had to pivot customer and the other needed to refine the product concept. This intensive five day process had churned out numbers that were reflective of the survival rates of startups in the real world. Actually the ratio was better here but the point is, it only took between 4 hours and 3 days to do that not two years. The short term goal of this programme is to validate or invalidate startup ideas (none of us were businesses and I mean NONE!). This was a 90% success rate as one of the teams is yet to accept their current invalidated status.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a painful process in a way that I cannot put into words yet it is a process that I will personally continue to practice and teach others to practice from here on in. In my first post I said we were the luckiest team in the cohort because we had only been working on our solution for two weeks. We are now a team starting with a blank sheet of paper after two and half weeks of invested time and energy, it’s the best place we could possibly be.