“The M&Ms are the reasons that nobody gets any work done at work.” - Jason Fried, Co-founder & CEO of Basecamp
He’s right; managers and meetings are often the culprits of draining available time. The common denominator between the two? Talking - too much talking and not enough working. However, there are times when talking through things at length is not only beneficial, but also necessary for the success of a business.
Idea stage entrepreneurs - often first-time founders - generally work alone or with a small group of two or three people. When they first start out and are bootstrapping their business, they can get into a Castaway situation, where they are so focused on accomplishing their mission and their resources are so constrained that they wind up disconnected from the rest of the world.
While tunnel vision can be good for focus and for powering through initial development phases, outside perspective is also critical when launching a startup, especially when that perspective comes from an expert on a key component to the business.
There are a number of fairly inexpensive or free online resources that can help entrepreneurs formulate a business model. BM Fiddle’s Business Model Canvas and Guy Kawasaki’s plethora of publications and videos, like the Art of the Executive Summary, are both great starting points. Taylor Davidson’s templates through Foresight, can aid even the most Excel-averse person in the creation of financial models. And, Balsamiq has helped loads of entrepreneurs flesh out their vision for designing an app. All of these resources are amazing, but sometimes entrepreneurs want or need guidance from a human.
Enter the Discovery Workshop
Here come the long meetings! Each Discovery Workshop involves four hours of brainstorming and whiteboarding about an idea with a dedicated team of experts at LookFar. Building software is the core focus of the workshop, but this doesn’t mean that you need to be a purely tech business; because, let’s be honest, tech is a part of every business today. As long as the startup is tech-enabled, then it's a candidate.
Workshops begin with a 10-minute-or-less pitch from the founder or founding team, complete with a pitch deck, and then business model analysis ensues. Developers and designers following Lean Methodologies need to have intimate knowledge of how a business operates and who its end users will be before they ever begin to build an actual product. The next segment of the workshop, user persona creation, helps startups identify target markets, and - more specifically - users. We describe two early adopters in terms of demographics, interests, motivations, etc., and we even give them names. Defining users or customers is critical to product development.
The second half of the workshop is mainly dedicated to discussing the technical implementation of the idea. Tech talk is extremely beneficial for many of our virgin software-creating-entrepreneurs, as they get professional developers and designers to actually walk them through the process of building their prototype, alpha, and beta. This introduces them to the basic software development terms and helps them not only visualize each feature, but also understand what it will take to create it. In short, for those four hours, we act as a fledgeling company's CTO. At this stage, the ability to ask questions and receive answers in person (even if it's via video conference) is invaluable for most first-timers.
I know, I know - four hours sounds unbearably long for a meeting, but when startups are planning out the best approach to build their technology, it goes by in a flash. Ostensibly, our Discovery Workshop is an audition to be their tech partner as well, and this is a relationship that entrepreneurs don't want to commit to without substantial interaction. There’s nothing like spending four solid hours working on an idea with a team to decide whether or not they're a good fit. One of our partners, Earth Prime, specifically requested their Discovery Workshop team to build their mobile app because they felt a synergy with them. Being familiar with each other's communication styles and having a shared vision about the product makes a huge difference when you are starting to build your baby.
The Product Plan, the document that we deliver to the startup after the Discovery Workshop, summarizes the Workshop and also includes cost estimates for the prototype, alpha, and beta versions of their product. For startups that have funding, this is instrumental in creating an overall budget for the company as it enters development. For startups that don’t have funding, this document helps them determine what their ask should be from potential investors.
As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This age-old adage still holds true. We are a social species, and we are meant to converse and share ideas with one another. “Innovation comes from teams more than lightbulb moments of lone geniuses,” says Walter Isaacson in his book, The Innovators. We want to help entrepreneurs feel less scared, less alone, and less overwhelmed; this is what we hope to achieve through our Discovery Workshops.