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incubation

How to improve your product pitch.

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If you are going to turn an idea into a product, one of the first tests is to figure out how to talk about it. This can be especially hard when you have an idea that is just forming or if the idea is so big that you don’t even know where to start. Ultimately, you don’t want to embarrass yourself if you are not ready. The general wisdom is to pitch all the time and to everybody you know, but maybe you want to sound more prepared and confident. How can you practice without making a bad impression? I use the the following techniques to hone a pitch in a week.

Step 1: Start by writing to a friend

I start by writing emails that I never send. It helps me focus when I think a real person is going to read this, and I need to clearly articulate my thoughts. Sometimes I choose different people because I know they represent a different type of audience. The pressure and expectations really help to force your idea into a form that is better explained.

So, who would be interested in your idea? Put their name on the email and start writing. You will need to think from their perspective and that helps me try to explain the idea in a way that makes it relevant to them.

Save that email as a file somewhere so that you can use it as a script.

Step 2: Fill out a lean canvas

The lean canvas is a one page concise business plan. I like to joke that it is a business plan in a placemat form. In the end, it is just a simple set of boxes that force you to think about the problem, solution, key metrics, and more. What I love about this concept is how it rounds out your thinking so you don’t forget any aspects that will make it a business.

This is the next step because you want to make sure your idea doesn’t have any holes in it.

Here is my lean canvas template as a Google doc. Feel free to make a copy for yourself.

Step 3: Make a pitch deck

Now that you have a way of talking about the idea and you have thought it through a bit more, it is time to turn it into a presentation. The Alliance of Angels has a standard pitch deck which is actually a great place to start. It looks like this.

PURPOSE : Declare what your company does in a single sentence.

PROBLEM : Describe your customer’s burning pain point.

SOLUTION : Describe your product and explain why it makes the customer’s pain go away. Use examples.

MARKET SIZE : Use both tops-down and bottoms-up. Segment and identify your sweet spot.

BUSINESS MODEL : Explain how you make money. State your customer acquisition cost and lifetime value.

GO TO MARKET : Describe your sales distribution model.

TRACTION : List current customers, partners, and users, as well as your pipeline.

COMPETITION : List your competitors and describe your economic moat.

TEAM : List your founders, key management, and advisors.

Your task is take all of your thoughts and ideas and put them into a pitch deck. Add some pictures, add some text, but get all of it in one place.

This step helps to turn your idea into a format that is easier to communicate to another person at a high level. Some of this won’t be relevant to you at this moment, but you should at least think about how you must answer the question.

This is a link to a Google Presentation that you can make a copy of to get started.

Step 4: Pitch to yourself

If you have a Mac, you have Quicktime. It’s a great little program that has one feature I find super helpful. Go to File -> New Screen Recording. Right there you can draw a box around your screen and record your voice as you explain your slides.

The trick is that recording yourself simulates the anxiety you can experience when you talk to people. Use this to your advantage to force yourself to string together words in a way that other people will understand.

On day one it will be rough. I budget about 2 hours to get through all of this and make a terrible movie. I usually keep one copy around and delete the rest.

Step 5: Listen to your video and make a script

Give yourself some time to recover from making the video and everything else. Once you are ready to start again, watch your video and transcribe what you just said into a script.

The real trick now is simply to do this over and over, repeating Steps 4 and 5. Find a quiet place and a time when you won’t be interrupted, and then simply pitch. Listen to yourself, update your deck, and pitch again.

The next day do it again for 30 minutes. Then do it every day in the morning for a week. Try to get the amount of time down; remove slides, add slides, and work on getting your voice to change tone.

It is a little like practicing an instrument, you simply have to take a little time every day and after a while you realize you don’t even need the deck anymore. Now you are ready.

Step 6: Turn the final results into assets

Before you call this done, you need to make sure you have a couple of assets pulled out of this.

  1. Post your best video somewhere and save the link.

  2. Put the script and the slide deck somewhere safe.

  3. Make an elevator pitch version of the script and a 10 minute format.

Conclusion

Pitching to yourself it a great way to get your pitch dialed in. It takes about one week to take an idea from an abstract notion and refine it into something you can explain confidently.

The best part is that you can always watch your video right before you are supposed to stand in front of investors so that you can reload it. If you need to add new information to the deck, then make more versions.

In the end, this technique is a great way to train yourself to explain something clearly when you don’t have a lot of practice talking in front of people.

Incubator Retrospective

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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.

The backstory

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.

Since January we have been working on building out one month size product. We have organized the ownership using the BS3 rules.

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.

  1. It takes about one month to really think the idea through.

  2. It takes about one month to build an internal prototype.

  3. 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.

 

 

Make wireframes

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.

Conclusion

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?