In 2017, I attended Phase 1 of the New Frontiers Programme which is run by Enterprise Ireland. The programme ran two nights a week over six weeks. There was no fee to attend. I would highly recommend this programme to anyone starting a new enterprise, whether your idea is just an idea or is a semi-developed product. What follows is a post which gives an outline of night 6 of the course. When fully published, there will be 11 posts documenting all nights of Phase 1. To see a list of published posts, click here.
Before I talk about the talk given tonight by Alan Costello, I feel I need to give some background about what happened to me today.
It is funny how this topic was discussed today. It could have been any day in the 6 weeks but it was on the same day as I was having some thoughts around what to prioritise. There are some trial users of BookingHawk.com that have requested more features. All in all small changes, but changes none the less. So a thought hit me, “When will I ever be able to stop developing features and concentrate on selling.” Just as this was happening, an email dropped into my inbox from Hiten Shah. Hiten had surveyed me and other asking what the number 1 problem is that startups face. This email contained the result of Hiten’s survey and the number 1 problem was ‘Prioritisation’ (deciding what defects to fix, what customers to chase, whose feature requests to listen to etc).
With all this in mind, I headed off to The Linc Blanchardstown for the 6th night of The New Frontiers Programme. Back in Week 1, Alan suggested that we read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. At this stage, I have read most of it. Alan’s talk tonight was generally expanding on the methodologies discussed in The Lean Startup and helping relate them back to our system.
Early on in the talk, Alan mentioned how our businesses must be ‘Repeatable and Scalable’, in other words, we cannot be tweaking the product for each prospect…this struck a cord with me on today of all days. Alan then said ‘most startups fail from a lack of customers rather than a lack of development’, again this was very much on the topic from where my head was at.
Alan then opened a dialogue with me, using me and BookingHawk.com as an example. We had a discussion which had much input from the group. I think I brought it on myself by putting my hand up indicating that I believed you must develop the product first before selling it (flying in the face of all The Lean Startup stands for). A couple of years ago when I started out, I deeply thought about contacting businesses asking them if they would be interested in an online booking system. I decided against it as I strongly believed that I would need something to show them that would foster productive feedback and feature ideas. Our facilitator Claire then interjected and stated how I could have achieved the same thing with some dummy HTML pages as opposed to a fully functional system. I disagreed and the discussion carried on.
Essentially, what I concluded half way through the evening was that it is a good idea to release a Minimum Viable Product (in line with Lean Startup methodologies), but my idea of an MVP is the system that I currently have. Ideally, it would have internationalisation and the 90 odd other features that I have in the backlog. However, I have decided that this is the MVP and the past 6 months allowed me to release it, test it and build early adaptor feedback into it.
By the end of the night, through the rest of the group discussions, Alan’s thoughts and presentation, I had been convinced otherwise. So if I was to start all over again, I probably would have a really scaled back MVP. However, I am where I am and I do not think it is a bad place to be.
The rest of the session was devoted to the Lean Canvas, what it is, how useful it is and how to complete one. As homework, we need to complete one for next week.
Some further thoughts that dropped from the ether / were inspired by tonight:
- The target customer for BookingHawk.com right now is ‘any business that has a standard duration service which is currently booked over the phone’.
- As it is not feasible to chase all of the above at once, I need to further break it into segments and chase one at a time until I find the best product market fit. This may require product tweaks but at least they will be requested product tweaks as opposed to building features that I think will be useful to a business.
- I must find out what is important to my customers. Is it making money, building an empire etc? From this broad value, I must find how my product can help contribute towards it. These must be actual business people that answer this question, serving as evidence and product validation as opposed to my personal opinion. The only way to do this is to talk to customers and prospects.
- What does my target market want? What do I have? Is it a match?
- Sometimes, occasionally such surveys are misleading. For example, if Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted before he built the car, they would have said ‘Faster Horses’. However, unless you are inventing a new market, such surveys are very valuable.
- The product should be market lead as opposed to engineer lead. ie, build what is required as opposed to building something just because you can.
- One of the biggest challenges that I currently face is that using BookingHawk.com requires a change of habit from the business owner. I am asking them to abandon their little diary and instead go online. Perhaps the first segment of customers that I should chase are newly opened businesses. ie, businesses that have not formed a strong bond/habit with their pen and diary.
An important point was made at this stage about Phase 2 applications. Numbers should be called out when discussing market research. The more numbers, the better the picture. For example, if you send out 600 surveys and only 100 come back, perhaps it can be concluded that the topic is not very interesting.
In general, researching and surveying people that you know will not paint a true picture as they will probably tell you what you want to hear. However, it does not mean that such contacts are useless. Perhaps they can be asked to forward your survey on to their peers.
Regarding the issue that I am facing on how well the business profile page is performing, it would be a good idea to A/B test any changes that I make.
If you know someone that would benefit from online bookings, please let me know!. I will send you a two paragraph email for you to forward to your friend so it couldn’t be less hassle for you to help a couple of Irish businesses to grow!
Hi, my name is Niall Smith and I am the Founder and CEO of BookingHawk.com. I am an experienced software engineer and have worked with companies like AOL, Guidewire, Deloitte and SAP. I am a graduate of The New Frontiers entrepreneur development programme. I live in Dublin, Ireland with my wife. I love to meet other founders and learn from as many people as possible.