With all of the incredible technological innovations we’re seeing nowadays (UBER, honestbee, RedMart, Carousell…), have you ever asked yourself: hey, I had that idea too! How come I never make that idea into reality?
In this post, we talk to two friends of ALPHA Camp about this very issue: Kai Huang, who previously worked for JFDI, Asia’s #1 business accelerator, and Chee Kok Ban, a former student of ours who actually developed an app while attending our bootcamp program.
The Mentor – Kai Huang
Formerly an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at JFDI, the #1 business accelerator in Asia, Kai specialises in working with early stage startups and corporate innovation teams – especially in the area of lean startup methodology and platform strategies.
Originally hailing from Taiwan, Kai graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering.
Over the past 10 years, he’s built a multidisciplinary skillset through various roles in engineering, supply chain management, venture capital and innovation management.
Kai also recently completed our part-time product design accelerated programme in Dec 2016.
Do you have a particular formula you use when you’re mentoring startups? Are there some key steps everyone should take?
I actually have a set formula which I typically use with all those businesses that I’m mentoring.
Of course, this is not to say that this is the only way to do it, however, I’ve had a lot of success using this formula, and it could serve to help shape the way that others think about their own planning procedures.
- Firstly, I use the lean canvas tool to lay out all the key hypotheses of the business. This is essentially a one-page business plan which allows you to quickly lay out opportunities, challenges, etc., and rapidly assess your business’s viability.
2. Share the lean canvas with an experienced friend/mentor to seek critical feedback. You should actively seek someone who will be critical; it’s better to have someone who is more on the harsh side than someone who may not be as direct as you need them to be.
3. Conduct user interviews and experiments to validate/invalidate the hypothesis on the lean canvas.
Note that the lean canvas as set out in step 1 is a living document, so step 2 and 3 are ongoing processes. As you discover new things about your customers, the canvas will change, which will in turn shift what you’re testing.
In your experience, when someone comes up with a great idea, what are some of the biggest mistakes that they can make in trying to bring their product to market?
– The idea is not backed by a strong market or technology insight.
– According to human-centred design, there are 3 major components to innovation: Desirability, Feasibility and Viability. A big mistake is not to start addressing the desirability first, and spend too many resources on addressing the feasibility and viability of the idea.
– Confusion between customer and user. Customers are people who pay you, and users don’t. This confusion can lead to a product with no revenue model.
Can you share any good examples of people you’ve worked with who’ve successfully taken a concept to market? What were some of the key learnings from their journeys?
One good example would be a company called Fynd, which provides phone repair services at your doorstep. They have spent enough time and effort to understand their target customers and partners – phone technicians. Thus they were able to develop a few strong market insights that supported the business idea: consumers are increasingly searching for services online via Google but most technicians don’t know how to be found online. Through digital marketing (SEM, SEO), they can potentially double the income of the technicians, and the technicians no longer have to pay rent to operate a brick and mortar shop.
And finally, if there was one piece of advice you could give to people who simply have an idea, but nothing else, what would that be?
Start doing research by talking to real potential users – anyone can do this! If you are exploring a B2C idea, aim to speak with 5 to 10 potential customers per week. As for a B2B idea, aim for 1 to 3 potential customers per week. This is how you develop a strong market insight and address the desirability of the idea. Here are some of my favourite resources on how to do this: the book “Running Lean”, by Ash Maurya, and the Customer Development Labs blog.
This exercise is also a great way to get a sense how easy/difficult it will be to sell to your target audience; the way that you find people to speak to for this exercise will be very similar to the way you sell in the future. If you can’t find anyone to speak to, it probably means that the market doesn’t exist or there is no clear distribution channel to reach the target audience.
The Aspiring Entrepreneur – Chee Kok Ban
Chee Kok Ban is a former ALPHA Camp bootcamp student who was enrolled in our iOS development course.
Prior to joining our course, Ban had never worked in the tech industry; his background is in graphic design, and more particularly, in advertising and marketing.
During the course of the bootcamp, Ban, along with other students studying iOS, put together Recibee – a recipe-sharing platform that connects with grocery-delivery service Honestbee, allowing users to select recipes and have the ingredients delivered directly to their door.
What was it that led to the idea for Recibee? Was it a lightbulb moment, or was it something that took research, brainstorming, and so on?
Recibee was inspired by my wife’s new found passion – cooking! I was thinking of an idea to pitch for our bootcamp final project and my wife was sharing with me her collection of recipes neatly documented in Google Pages. I took the idea of a recipe app and combined it with Honestbee’s (our bootcamp’s corporate sponsor) grocery delivery services.
Did you set out a particular process in order to turn the idea into something usable? How did this process look?
Recibee is basically a recipe sharing platform that allows users to order the necessary ingredients and have them delivered directly through Recibee. The idea was really simple and straightforward. However, we did go through a rigorous user research process by talking to cooking enthusiasts, housewives, and more to gather as much data as possible. We narrowed down the key features and decided on the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) before developing it.
What kinds of challenges did you encounter in bringing this idea to life? Were there any things you wish you’d known before you’d started this process? Any mistakes that could have been avoided?
There were 3 key challenges:
- Time: Recibee is nowhere near a complete product due to the short 3 months of the bootcamp. We are hoping to continue working on it with Honestbee and maybe one day, the app will be in the App Store!
- Focus: I felt that I lost focus at some point because we tried to do too many things, so instead we decided to focus on a few key components of the app for ALPHA Camp’s Demo Day (note: this is an event held by ALPHA Camp where our bootcamp students demonstrate their projects).
- Communication: All of our team members have full-time jobs and we are all constantly busy with work and trying to contribute as much as we can for the project. Because of this, at times we neglected proper communication which would have allowed us to avoid some mistakes.
What are some tips you have for other people who maybe have an idea, but don’t necessarily know how to make it a reality?
If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to share it with people. Maybe they will help by introducing you to some freelancers, some might suggest you join ALPHA Camp to learn how to build it yourself, and then there are those who will just seek to be negative.
As tempting as it may be, I wouldn’t ignore them, because some of their criticisms may be fair, and may be things you haven’t considered before. Often, these people could be the ones that help you to build an even better product. Yes, there is a possibility someone will steal your idea but if you act fast enough, no one could stop you from making it a reality.