With the launch of our first internal product, https://www.sundialsurvey.com/ , it seems like a good time to step back and review how this is going.
Originally, I proposed how to build a self starting incubator from a consulting firm some years ago when I wrote this book. Then we tried it out with our startup zCrowd. That didn’t go so hot for several reasons, the obvious take away was it was too complicated. So we reformed as https://www.ministryofproduct.com to try again.
This is what we learned.
There are several stages
Originally I had thought we could just build something every month. Turns out there is more to it than that.
It takes about one month to really think the idea through.
It takes about one month to build an internal prototype.
It takes about two month to build a production ready version.
I think we can get that last step down to one month. This means that we could potentially release 3 - 4 products a year at this cadence.
Just pick a name to start
Naming is hard. Pick something reasonable to name it for your internal team. But before you build the pro-version you will need the real name. You need to at least own a website to cross this threshold. Keep it simple though, just name it something descriptive so that you can get going and then keep a list somewhere of naming ideas while you play with it. Something eventually will bubble out.
One month size is perfect for building something.
Anything less and it feels too pressured, anything more and it felt like there was too much room for scope creep. This lets you focus on just one project for that month. Do note that you can be thinking through about three projects at once but we only build one at a time.
Journaling is important
Keep a document shared that you can add journal entries to. There is a chance you put this project away with nothing done. This at least leaves some account of what happened and what was learned.
Start with no goal but more of a desire
We didn’t know what was going to come out of the month except we were going to hang out. About half way through we had a much better idea of what we could accomplish. In both cases it was much smaller than what we were imagining. Everything always takes longer so as long as you can reduce your expectations you can fit it into a month.
Working alone is hard
If you buddy up then you feel like you have to accomplish some smaller goals between weeks. At least then you feel accountable.
We were not very consistent with meetings
It makes sense to set up the meeting ahead of time. Just so you can set the expectations of your spouse and friends.
The first phase is really the “Play Phase”.
Seems like the goal should be to get enough of the idea in place so you can play with it for the first time operating it. The second phase can then be more for a wider audience. If we keep that in mind then it is a bit easier to focus. We really just need to get far enough to share the idea.
Make user stories
Before you start, make a list of user stories just so you can have some idea of what needs to be accomplished. It is an easy way to get people on the same page and I found I immediately needed them as soon as the build was underway.
It doesn’t take more than an hour and it helps to get your thoughts organized so that everyone can see what we are talking about.
Set measurable goals
Make sure each week you state what you are going to get done by next week. It seemed like there were several weeks when things didn’t get done.
Save a day for your projects
It’s easy to overbook client work but that means you aren’t doing any of your own stuff. It is a constant battle to try and give clients what they want, have a good work life balance and then save some time for yourself. We set aside a day a week for this sort of thing.
Overall this process is working well. We find ourselves talking about the next month projects while also getting excited about this month. My sense is that if we keep making the initial projects some of them will keep us excited enough to merit a next month.
If you find yourself organizing the same thing, please tell me how your incubator is doing. What have you learned or done differently?