Core values: winning from day one

core values on blackboard

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve tried to build something before. And it’s not unlikely that you’ve tried to build something with someone else.

If you’ve done that, I’m ready to bet money that at some point you’ve had a different point of view from your co-founder’s. Disagreements are normal. For one, there are many ways to build something and it’s not unusual to have fights on the best way to go about it. Sometimes those fights end up with groups being split up.

If you’re building a product there’s a million places where a fight awaits you: who’s the right customer, what features to include, how to price it, how to market it, budgets, equity and money… startups are a minefield, really. And with so many problems a startup has to face in the market, the last distraction you need are fights in your house.

If you want to give yourself the best chance to succeed you need to start winning from day one by finding the right people to work with. So what does that look like? It looks like a group of people that is aligned on a value set that everybody accepts as guiding principles while bringing a good mix of skills to the table.

There is a tendency to think of values or a mission as an accessory or even something people fake to give that appearance of a worthwhile startup. And you may be right, maybe it’s like that for some people, but stop for a moment and think about yourself and your daily life. How many decisions have you taken today alone? What do you base your decision on? If you think hard enough you’ll eventually trace back most decisions to a handful of things and those are your core values.

In an attempt to guide our own decisions and create a stronger group, we had many conversations about who we were and how we wanted to operate. Since then, those conversations have repaid for themselves many times over. We still have plenty challenges in building our products, but those challenges are resolved more quickly and we’ve never had something we couldn’t find a solution to.

This is a great advantage and a clear reason why investors spend a lot of time profiling founders’ chemistry and then, perhaps, the idea itself. I would encourage you, alone or in group, to spend some time thinking about your values are and I guarantee you that it’ll pay for itself many times over.

Here are the values that guide our team. What are some of the values that drive you and your co-founders?

Be kind rather than smart

There is a wonderful story that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, shared during his graduation speech. He tells it better than we could ever do so we won’t try to explain this.

Be humble

It is only through an open mind and the understanding that there is always to learn from others, regardless or their status or achievements, that we can better ourselves. We seek to learn from everybody, especially our customers.

Make people happy

Ultimately each problem we try to solve should improve people’s lives and result in greater happiness for them and the ones around them. The same should be true internally for our own company and the work we do with each other.

Money is never the goal

Decisions should not be driven by the profit they could generate, but rather by the amount of good they could do. Money will come as a byproduct of that and should not be a worry.

Do not create needs

It is common to hear strategies that suggest techniques to create needs as a way to hook customers up. The only reason a customer should be hooked on your product is because it improves their lives. It is however ok to help customers realize about a problem they have, but are not aware of.

Do more with less

Instead of thinking about what you can add think about what you can remove. Simplicity is a key principle in being effective at helping people. Leveraging solutions already present in people’s lives to solve their problems will make our product much more effective.

Be consistent

All the above is useless if we’re not consistent at it. Yes some is better than none, but while one paying customer is better than none it won’t make your business successful. Likewise, holding up these values for one day is better than never, but don’t expect it to make your business successful.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Marketing Research Process: An Overview

Market Research

Today we’ll be offering an overview of the actual marketing research process that we hope you find very useful as it introduces a number of concepts you may or may not be familiar with.

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Posted in AL's Marketing Research Series

Setting the Marketing Record Straight

Liar - Philosoraptor

Welcome to our first installment of our Marketing Research Series! Today we won’t discuss important tips yet, as I’d like to first set the record straight by stating that, in Marketing (as in pretty much every other field out there), there are no “gurus.”

Actually, let me restate that.

There are two types of people in Marketing: Students and so-called gurus. Many people refer to Danny Deutsch and Seth Godin, among other legendary figures in the realm of marketing (including modern and those from past generations), as gurus because they seem to know it all. I mean I personally love those two; I think they could each teach some kick-ass classes on Marketing and Advertising, to be honest!

However, as much as I enjoy watching them talk to audiences (or, in Deutsch’s case, discuss pop culture and Marketing-related events in frequent Today Show segments), I don’t think they’re gurus. To me, a guru represents someone who knows. It. All. Period. (And this is true considering the term’s ancient origins.) But Marketing is constantly evolving and growing; it’s a beautiful living art and science that we can never know everything about. So, in essence, gurus don’t. Know. It. All–even when they say they do.

Gurus promise things they can’t/shouldn’t deliver (ever heard of black-hat SEO?) Don’t trust gurus!

We may never know everything about Marketing…

BUT we sure can keep learning as much as we can about it! That’s why I’m referring to the other anti-guru group as “Students,” because those in the field are always learning and practicing new things. Students aren’t necessarily only those in academia (though I do have a special place in my heart for academia); a student can be anybody–a marketing veteran, a newbie, in short, anyone in the field who admits to not know it all. Students are humble; they’re not cocky, they don’t show off. They know there’s always something they can learn.

So instead of promising a certain outcome, a student would say, “let me find out more” because they want to research more in order to better determine whether they can deliver something you’ll be satisfied with. Do trust Marketing students!

We realize we don’t know it all.

Even though each of our team members have a lot of years of experience in their respective fields, you’ll see we’ll never claim to be the authority on XYZ. We realize we don’t know it all. So you’ll know we’re not overstating any claims–because we’ve carefully done the research we think we’ll need to make a better argument.

But do feel free to let us know (team@theadventurelab.net) if you come across a contradicting finding and we’d be happy to take a look and correct ourselves if necessary.

Next up in our Marketing Research Series: An Overview of the Marketing Research Process.

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Posted in AL's Marketing Research Series

Announcing Our New Marketing Research Series!

Market Research

There are many misconceptions about marketing out there.

One that always gets to me is that “marketers are evil.” [Shudder.] And it sure can be–when executed poorly (like this guy).

But the main goal of 99% of all marketers is to connect with the consumer by giving them something he/she will already consider relevant and will thus be more inclined to, well, consume.

Our team strives to enrich others’ lives one lean app at a time.

But because I’m not directly involved in the building of those apps (my HTML and Java skills leave MUCH to be desired), I had to come up with a way to still bring value somehow. I mean, sure, as someone who graduated college with a degree in Marketing and wrote a thesis, I can help our team with market research and what-not, but wouldn’t it be great if I could “package” what I’ve learned and practice into easy-to-digest tips for everyone to take advantage of?

(That was the main idea behind our Ideption eWorkbook, after all–to show others our method for brainstorming more effectively in order to select that one winning idea.)

Having said that, I wanted to welcome you to our brand new Marketing Research Series (not the most creative name, I know), where we hope to bring you real insights into the world of Marketing Research–all from the experiences and teachings of actual Marketers and Business Marketing graduates.

What to Expect

We look forward to bring you installments on proper interviews, measurement scales, questionnaires, and anything else you can imagine that would be relevant for newbies and veterans alike.

Hope you enjoy it! And as always, feel free to reach out to us if you have questions/comments.

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Posted in AL's Marketing Research Series

Ideption: The Making Of

Adventure Lab's "Edge" Ideas GDoc

It’s not every day that a team of classmates gets together with goal in mind other than finishing an assigned project and getting on with their lives. But that’s how I knew I had much to be proud of when it comes to the team we became a part of. From the beginning, we didn’t want to just work finish a project, review Prof. Eesley’s class videos, and do our assignments. We had established we’d do much more beyond that. In our view, we wanted to contribute something of value to our classmates/non-teammates. Sure, we viewed the class as a competition (after all, we strived to become a Top 30 team), but we mainly wanted our classmates to benefit from something we could bring to the table. We wanted them to remember us in the long haul.

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Posted in AdventureLab, Methodology

6 Tips That Get Better Survey Results

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I see quite a few teams who are validating their market with surveys. Unfortunately, a large majority of them seems to fall for common traps or might not attract the type of answers they expect. So instead of trying to help critique each survey one by one, I’m going to identity six important tips you can apply and pitfalls to avoid that will get better survey results.

Tip #1: People have better things to do

Most people would rather not spend their free time answering your survey questions. Your objective when making a survey above all else should be making it easy for them to give you a response without using too much of their free time. All of the other points support this one, but it should be at the front of your mind as you add questions to your survey.

Questions should be short and survey takers should be done answering within 15-30+ seconds of finishing the question. If they have to really think about the question, find another way to ask.

Set the survey taker’s expectations so they know approximately how much time they will invest to respond to your survey or how many questions they can expect. If they are unprepared for a 15 minute session, they might leave the session early without submitting or lose interest as they don’t see a conclusion on the horizon.

Tip #2: Always ask important questions

Before you begin your survey, you should have a clear idea of what knowledge you hope to gain from its responses. Many of us will be trying to validate our value proposition. For this objective, each question should be chosen to validate as much of your value proposition as possible without being too broad. After you write your question, ask yourself the following: Has this question moved me toward validating my idea? Can I rewrite it so that it’s simpler and gets me closer to idea validation?

For example, when asking someone “How important is XXX to your business?” you could give them the standard “Very Important -> Not Important” scale, or you can find a more clever way to ask that removes subjectivity from the question. “If you had to remove XXX from your business, what percentage of revenue would you lose?” and provide them with a “0% -> 100%” scale. In this example, we assume that revenue is an important metric for the survey taker. With the new question, you now have an objective and (more importantly) quantifiable answer.

Tip #3: The order of your questions matter

There are two scales which will help you determine the order of your questions.

Most Insightful <—–> Least Insightful

Easiest to Respond <—–> Most Difficult to Respond

With these scales in mind, I would prioritize them like so: Easiest to Respond first, Most Insightful, Least Insightful, and Most Difficult to Respond at the end. Anyone who comes to your survey will undoubtedly give a worthwhile shot at answering a few questions. Giving them easy questions at first builds up their momentum into the survey and provides a sense of accomplishment (that we all love).

You’ll have to carefully balance how soon you ask questions that are difficult to respond as each one will discourage the survey taker from continuing. Sometimes you have to ask difficult questions up front. In these cases, offer something simple they can answer just before a difficult question. Even something innocuous and irrelevant like “Did you have a great day today?” with a Yes/No would likely get more responses for your difficult question than otherwise.

Tip #4: Avoid open-ended questions at all costs

When faced with the option of how to present your question to the survey taker, there are three primary question types: Multiple Choice (choose one), Checkboxes (choose as many as needed), and Free-form (blank text box). Each has an influence in the type of answer you will receive and how you will process that data later.

Multiple Choice is almost always the ideal format as it gives the viewer the benefit of fitting their answer into a predefined choice. They typically require little thought and the fastest time to complete. However, offering the correct choices that remove bias, self-selection, and covers enough range in potential answers without adding unnecessary noise to your results is very difficult. For the majority of the questions, worrying about bias is not an issue. (I’ll touch on bias in a bit.)

Checkboxes are a great way to ask “coverage” questions. Coverage means broad questions that (usually) have a fixed answer set and removes the burden from the user to think of every possible answer. Questions like “What social network do you use?” or “How many of these competitors have you tried?” are perfect for this. You may have to do a little extra work to make sure that you have a good sample of your answer set available for selection. If you believe your sample answers are not representative of the total set of possible answers, you can usually get away with throwing an “Other…” option in the mix to cover your bases (but only do this if it’s necessary).

And then there’s the dreaded free-form answer. These questions literally suck the life out of your survey taker. Not everyone wants to formalize their answer into words, the answers will probably have a lot of unnecessary information which you’ll need to scrub through later, and you force the user to think a lot more. But there are some scenarios where they are unavoidable.

I usually try to form the question in one of the above formats first, but if the answers are too restrictive for multiple-choice or checkboxes, free-form text is typically what you’re left with. ALWAYS ask a direct and simple question. The survey taker should not have to think more than a few seconds and their answer should fit into a sentence or two. If your answer needs to be more elaborate, consider breaking the question down into parts.

Tip #5: Pagination can be your friend

Facing the user with many questions will likely turn them away before they ever start. Some survey tools will allow you to break up questions among a series of pages. When used sparingly, they can be a great tool for getting your survey taker to complete their response. Putting 3-5 questions per page gives the survey taker that sense of accomplishment they secretly love without the discouragement of a visibly long survey.

As an added bonus, some survey tools will “record” the progress as they move from page to page. If they abort half-way through, you still have partial data. (A half-win is better than no-win.) Avoid too many pages and give the survey taker an idea of how much further they have to go before they finish. You can also consider putting individual free-form questions on their own page so the survey taker isn’t distracted or overwhelmed.

Tip #6: How to avoid bias and self-selection

Some questions will lead the survey taker to the answer you want instead of getting an answer that’s honest. Here are a few examples:

Ex 1: Do you think the King Penguin is harmful strangling the Antarctic’s natural resources?

  • Yes
  • Neutral
  • No

Ex 2: The King Penguin is…

  • beneficial to Antarctic’s natural resources
  • neutral to Antarctic’s natural resources
  • harmful to Antarctic’s natural resources

In the first version, bias is introduced by offering a starting position for the survey taker to agree or disagree with. In the second version, the survey taker can assert their own opinion without being “primed” or influenced. When asking a question that is subjective, leave the subjectivity completely out of the question part and put it in the answer. Some more advanced survey tools will randomize the order of the answers on each load to further reduce perceived bias by the survey taker.

Another one:

Ex 1: Were you satisfied with product XXX?

  • OH YES! A LOT!
  • Oh, it’s okay.
  • Uh, I loathe it.

Ex 2: Rate your satisfaction of product XXX?

  • 1 – Very Unsatisfied.
  • …to…
  • 5 – Very Satisfied.

In the first version, you have a few problems. You automatically remove the “loathe” option for anyone who doesn’t understand the word. Focus on words that you’re certain the population taking the survey will understand. This also includes avoiding slang and  informal answers (which a user might have a negative reaction to for a completely unrelated reason). In the second version, numbers typically won’t carry any extra baggage in their meaning but still convey an appropriate amount of information to all parties.

What are some other tips for writing effective surveys?

Making a good survey is tricky, but applying some or all of these tips will give you a survey that’s easy to finish and leaves the survey taker feeling happy they could help. The Adventure Lab applied these ideas to its own market validation survey and will be testing them with individuals who have very little spare time and little opportunity to try again. I’m sure there are many other tips and suggestions that could improve a survey’s effectiveness and I’m curious if you have any that you’ve personally had success with. What are some of the ones you’ve tried?

Image courtesy of 89studio.

Posted in Methodology

Ideption: A Blueprint for Idea Inception

ideption_cover_400x565

Adventure Lab is a team of young entrepreneurs that set out to find ways to enrich people’s everyday lives through innovative and intuitive apps. We met as students in Stanford Universityʼs massive online course, Technology Entrepreneurship (commonly known as Venture Lab), taught by Professor Chuck Eesley.

As our team began its journey through the course, like many others, it needed to come up with an idea to work on.

At Adventure Lab we are big fans of the Lean methodology to build businesses, so when we approached the idea generation phase we decided to treat it as an experiment; we set aside pre-existing ideas and began exploring and testing avenues to discover hidden treasures.

What we found was something much more powerful than the ideas we originally brought to the table.

When we first met, we had four ideas that a few of us had come up with either through the previous assignment or before the course started. Practicing our Ideption methodology, we zoomed in on a set of core values, skills and markets, generated roughly 300 ideas, narrowed it down to a pool of 60 with a potentially viable market and needs associated with each idea, pitched them to each other, ranked them, and made time and financial commitments to them–all over the course of two days. On the third day we had five great ideas that aligned with our vision and projected on markets that we knew were going to be around for a long time.

So we decided to compile our approach into this ebook and share it with the world in the hope that it might help other people to generate their own great ideas.

Without further ado, we invite you to check out our workbook:

We’d also love to know what you think! Feel free to contact us at team@theadventurelab.net or leave a comment below if you have anything to share. We look forward to hearing from you.

Posted in AdventureLab, Methodology

How It All Began

Team

Back in the fall of 2011, Stanford University announced it would, for the first time in its history, make available several online courses to the public free of charge. (Find more free courses by other top universities here.) This met with so much interest from all over the world, that about 78,000 global students signed up for Prof. Chuck Eesley’s “Technology Entrepreneurship” class alone.

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Posted in AdventureLab
Ideption: A Blueprint for Idea Inception

Have you seen our 24-page workbook for idea brainstorming?

Thanks for this great resource!
- Steven Mackenzie, Software Engineer,
@busywait
Very useful document. I am inspired by what you guys are doing, jumping into the class and sharing this info.
- Josh Fishman, Developer, @joshfishman

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