Saturday, March 31, 2012

Forming teams, brainstorming ideas

By now, you've received your initial teams of 8-10. These are not your final teams. You'll have a chance to adjust and form those in the 2nd round of open teambuilding after the first task/assignment is done.

For the first assignment, we'd like you to work with your initial team to brainstorm your 5 worst startup ideas and 5 best startup ideas (teams may be fewer or more than 10 member, so just keep these balanced between worst and best). This is meant to be just a warm-up, brainstorming exercise and so you do not need to use the idea you're thinking about for your startup project for the rest of the class. 

Specifically, we'd like you to generate the following:

1) As a team, generate your 5 "worst" startup ideas and then your 5 "best" startup ideas. Sometimes it is easier and more fun to begin brainstorming by coming up with ideas that could never work or are just silly. For example, selling ice to people in a very cold climate, such as Alaska. Or selling tourism space flights to Mars.

For your best ideas, if you are having trouble, it is often easier to start with problems or needs that you personally have experienced and know well. You might also talk to people you know well about their needs/problems that you could try to solve. For each of these ideas (worst and best) we want you to practice summarizing the idea briefly in two sentences and to practice thinking about the aspects of the business model. For each idea you should fill in the blanks in the following two sentences.

Sentence #1

For (target customer)

who (statement of the need or opportunity),
the (product/service name) is a (product/service category)

that (statement of benefit).

Sentence #2

Unlike (primary competitive alternative),

our product (statement of primary differentiation).

The target customer is your initial guess at which type of person might want to buy. The statement of need is what need or problem this customer has that the product or service addresses. The primarily competitive alternative is what product or company currently competes with you to fulfill this need or solve this problem. The primary differentiation is how your product or service is different from that main competitor.

So for the selling ice in Alaska example above, we would have something like this:
Sentence #1

For people in Alaska between the ages of 18 and 100,
who need colder beverages and drinks but do not like large ice cubes,
the pre-packaged, small ice cube product is a consumer product

that provides a way to create cold drinks.

Sentence #2

Unlike bags of ice currently sold in stores,
our product offers smaller ice cubes so you can fit more in a drink.

Obviously this is a silly and very simple example, but it helps us to summarize the idea and begin working with business models.

2) Once you've created these two sentences for each idea, you can use them to fill in an initial guess for each aspect of the business model for each idea.

It may help to watch the following video on business models and to use the business model canvas to think about each aspect.

If you use a supported browser, you can view Youtube videos via the YouTube HTML5 Video Player, which may be more accessible for keyboard and assistive technology users.

By Sat. April 14th 12pm noon PST, you should log into (or if your team formed outside of venture-lab you can use the forum) and fill in your responses for the 5 best and 5 worst ideas, including one (or maybe 2) sentences for each part of the business model as follows:

(If an area does not apply to your idea, just leave it blank.)

Customer segment:
Who are our most important customers? Are the paying customers the same as the users of the product? (in the example this is Alaskans age 18-100)

Value Proposition:
What value do we deliver for the customer? (In other words, what customer problem are we trying to solve?) (in the example this is cold drinks and smaller ice cubes)

Key Partners:
Who are our key partners, if any? This could include suppliers or distributors. (in the example this might be ice manufacturers or delivery companies and retailers)

Key Activities:
What key activities does our business require that we do?

Key Resources:
What key resources do we need? (in the example this might be initial funding to pay the ice manufacturers)

Customer Relationships and Marketing:
How do we reach our customers to make them aware of our product and how do we maintain a relationship with them if necessary?

How do we deliver our product or service to the customers (via the web, via retail stores, by mail?)

Revenue streams:
How do our customers pay us and how much? (By subscription, a one-time fee, on a per use basis?) (in this example it might be a payment for each bag of ice, or it could be a subscription to get ice every week.)

Cost structure:
What are our most important costs? Materials, personnel?

We will provide further details on each of these aspects of the business model, so do not worry if any of them are unclear. The point is to get you to begin thinking about each of these aspects of startup ideas and to get you to have some fun with your team creating initial guesses for each aspect. Later in the course, when you are working on your startup projects you will be thinking and testing in detail these business models so we just want you to start working with this framework for now, so don't worry if it's not perfect or you aren't sure what to put, or if a category doesn't apply to your idea. This is a fun warm-up and teambuilding exercise so have some fun with it! Think about a ranking of which one of your "worst" startup ideas is the "worst" one and which of your "best" is the best one and discuss it with your group.

We are eager to get our videos out to you and launch that piece of this, but have some final meetings with the legal team and edits for IP/accessibility issues to work on first. But in the meantime, we're excited for you all to start forming teams and practicing brainstorming ideas. If there are questions on this, please ask them below and vote up the more common questions so that we (or fellow students) can answer them. Also, you can check out the recommended readings for help as well.