Weekly Accelerator Updates

Week 4: Defining and Testing your MVP

Week 3 Recap: Problem-Solution Fit

Last week, we asked the hard questions: “Do we truly understand who is the customer? Does the problem and solution belong together?” We used Design Thinking to help frame the discussion. We used classic experimental design to define and test our Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

One magic tool that can help us test our logic is the Product Positioning Statement, or the “Moore’s Positioning Statement”. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. We challenge you to create a statement in this format:

  • For [target customer]
  • Who wants/needs [a compelling reason to buy]
  • The [solution name] is a [solution category]
  • That provides [these key benefits].
  • Unlike [the main competitor],
  • The [product name] [provides these key differentiation points].

This is the basis of your business’s premise and succinctly explains how your solution meets an unmet need. Start the week by creating (or revamping) your positioning statement, then test it on your peers to see if it makes sense to them. If you can put this on one slide with 24 point font, you have enough clarity to explain your venture to anyone in your stakeholder map.

Week 4 Focus: Defining and Testing Your MVP

This week you will double down on your mission to test your MVP. Before you test it you have to define it. There are many ways to help define your MVP – this knowledgebase article lists some of the common artifacts, including user personas, the product positioning statement and a competitive 2×2.

One interesting topic to discuss is how we think about the competition.

  • In for-profit ventures, competitive advantage means you need to find a way to create a solution that is different and better than the alternative. You are playing what seems like a zero sums game. Success means you have out-competed your competition and put them out of business.
  • In social enterprises, the calculus changes. Once you map the competition, the best thing to do may not be to outcompete them and become the only game in town – but to find ways to create partnerships,  so that together, you can solve a bigger problem in a more complete manner for your beneficiaries.

Once you have some rapid prototypes you are ready to test with humans. Giff Constable, author of the excellent book “Talking to humans” on customer research and development, has a follow-on book called “Testing with humans” that provides an excellent guideline to the discipline of lean experimentation. The book covers the following topics.

  • Why run experiments?
  • When to test the business versus the product?
  • What makes a good experiment?
  • How do you turn experiments into decisions and actions?
  • How can we bring experiments into our business culture?

Bruno Pesec has a really excellent article that provides a step by step guide to designing and running lean experiments. Read the article here.

Skills Deep Dive: Project Management

Project Management is something that all teams need to do – and all teams need to continuously iterate on. There is not one way to do it. Process is good only if it serves your needs. For new venture teams, you will need a little process to stay organized, but not so much process that you get bogged down and stop being agile and nimble.

To get the best of both worlds, our best advice is to right-size processes for the size of your team and the activities you are engaged in. There are some overall principles that don’t change very much based on the size of the team:

  • Setting clear goals and objectives. Set goals and write them down – then check against them every week to see if you are still on target.
  • Define how your team works together. Use the RACI framework to clarify who is Accountable (i.e. the project manager), who is Responsible (i.e. who actively works towards the goals), who should be Consulted (i.e. someone who has input on your task – but does not have direct deliverables), and who should be Informed (just to keep them in the loop.)
  • Plan the work. You can plan towards a milestone and deliverable (e.g. shippable product, which is how hardware teams often plan – Smartsheets is a software platform that enables hardware teams to plan using “Gantt Charts” and more) – or you can plan by periods of time (e.g. 2-week sprints, which is how software teams often plan.  thats good for early stage teams. The best plan is usually a combination between a high level, multi-week plan that is the first part of an even higher level multi-year product roadmap, and a granular, 1-2 week long sprint plan.
  • Break down tasks and put it into a software system. Tasks should be achievable in a matter of hours, not days or weeks. Pivotal Tracker is a lightweight ticket-management system. For late stage software teams, Jira remains the market leader).  There are other software planning solutions – TrelloAsanaWrikeMonday.com are all viable options.
  • Publish the plan and manage to it. Planning is the first step – managing against a plan is the path to success. In new venture creation things change quickly – teams should meet at least weekly if not daily to make sure they stay in sync. Teams should also establish asynchronous channels for instant and transient communications. For example, SlackDiscord, Google Chat are all viable options.
  • Regularly run retrospective and planning sessions. One excellent ritual from the Scrum process is the retrospective. At the end of a 1- or 2-week sprint, the team sits down and reflects on the past sprint and answer 3 questions: What went well? What could have gone better? What might we do differently next time? And then they can plan the work for the next sprint based on the takeaways from the last question. This ensures there is a way to take in information along the way and to achieve some improvement once every week or two.
  • Celebrate Successes. Teams are often better at finding things that could have gone better than things that went really well. One way is to make sure you spend as much time and coverage on “what went well” as you spend on “what could have gone better”. Another way is to develop an end of week ritual where you state and celebrate wins. Either way: successes should be celebrated along the way and not at the very end of a large deliverable.

Feel feel to watch the recording for our project management workshop that covers the above and more.

Get Ready for Week 5 Midpoint Check-In

Hard to believe we are already entering Week 4 – and we will be approaching our Week 5 Midpoint Check-In at the end of the following week!

We recommend you do the following for the Midpoint Check-in.

  • Take stock of everything you have learned since the start of the summer, review where your venture stands, revisit your assumptions, and make any course adjustments as needed.
  • Write a one-page Executive Summary about your venture. This should mimic the flow of your 5-minute presentation.
  • Write a one-paragraph description of the #1 strategic issue you are worried about.
  • Prepare a 5-minute pitch in the style of the Techstars Boston Demo Day. You may also consult example winning pitches from the Tufts $100k competition. More pro-tips may be found on our pitching resources page.

Once you have the following: arrange a time with your coaches and mentors and get feedback on your executive summary and pitch, then spend at least 15 minutes discussing your #1 strategic issue.