Every year, Nissan Europe runs a competition called the Chairman’s Innovation Awards. It is open to all employees who want to propose new ideas for Nissan. A few years back, John Ferguson, a British technical architect, proposed a technology that allows customers to change the colour of their car whenever they want. John won the Chairman Innovation Award. John’s idea was incubated in Nissan Innovation Lab where the Innovation Coach guided John to explore his idea using the Lean Startup approach.
Lean Startup sees an idea as a stack of hypotheses hiding the risks behind the project. The approach requires identifying those hypotheses and confronting them with reality to see if the idea can stand. In John’s project, the two initial biggest risks were posed by the technical feasibility and the customer’s desirability for such a feature. Was there a market for his idea?
With no previous experience of innovation projects, the Lean Startup approach gave John a structured methodology to guide him forward. And it was a huge help he says: “I very quickly saw the benefit of Lean Startup. The coaches explained how this was going to work and gave me deadlines, things to deliver, which I really needed. It would have been quite difficult without it.”
On the technical side
For technical feasibility, John found a company developing an e-ink technology. “I went out to different companies, made contact with them. We settled on one company to provide a prototype.”
On the market side, there were 3 big business risks:
we didn’t really know who the customers are
we didn’t know if they really have a strong need
we didn’t know what the customer would commit to
John had to figure out who was interested in his new feature. Who wants to change the color of their car with a simple mobile app? And more importantly, who will pay for it and how much? John drafted about 10 canvases with possible customer profiles and the pain point that this technology can address. After a quick prioritization exercise, it was time to get out of the building and confront his understanding with the reality. He went down the street to meet car buyers: “The hardest part of the whole activity was when I ended up in the street and talked to people. That will live with me for a long time. I still have nightmares of standing on the street corner of London, trying to stop people to see if they want to buy. But it was the true gold.”
He asked about the challenges of buying a car, trying to grasp the influence the colour has when buying a car. It was not about asking leading questions but rather about giving the person a chance to open up and explain what they found frustrating when buying a car.
“One of the biggest learnings the coach gave me was: you don’t go up to a customer and say “Would you buy this?” because the customer will say “yes” because he wants to please you. So, what you get is a kind of positive distortion of the truth. If you then say to them: “Ok then, give me the money now.”, they would say “Oh no!”.
People were talking to John and saying things like: “I spend 2 hours a day inside my car, I don’t care how it looks like outside”, or: “I just want a black car because I don’t want to have to wash it.”
Those interviews brought new perspectives and a refined understanding of the customer’s needs. John decided to focus on one specific customer segment: the fashionista who would like the color of their car to match their style of the day.
To probe that segment, John got a video produced to show the product in action: a TV advert based on the idea that the customer was able to accessorise the car to their outfit. The actress in the advert is wearing a red dress. She walks outside; her car is blue. She pulls out her cell phone, opens up an app and chooses the colour red. And the car turned to red.
The video was broadcasted on the Nissan Facebook page. John analysed the results: ”There wasn’t any kind of strong indicators that people were clambering for this. The idea itself just wasn’t as strong as we thought it was.”
It requires a lot of courage to be able to say: “Well I had this idea, but in light of certain facts, it’s not a good idea to go for.” There is never any certainty with a new product.
John reflected on his experience: “I found an appreciation for failure, positive failure. I didn’t want to have to spend millions to realise that this thing wasn’t going to sell. You do feel disappointed, but at the same time, it’s a learning experience. There have been times in the last year where I’ve reflected on it and wondered: what if we had tried with a different persona in the video rather than focus on fashionista? Would we had gotten a different answer? And you can play this game forever. There was enough evidence to suggest that there wasn’t a business case. One of the things the coaches told me is: “Even if it fails, you’ve succeeded because what you’ve done was proving (in this case disproving) an assumption. You’ve avoided the company wasting a great deal of money, time and effort.” Which is exactly what Lean Startup is all about.
So, a positive failure. Was the coaching helpful? John told the coaches: “The danger is when the consultant wants to please you because he knows you’re paying him. But you weren’t afraid to say to me: “No John. What are you going to deliver this week? What are your assumptions?” You were really pushing me out of my comfort zone because I did not come from a business background. And I appreciated that. It really helped me. You took me through processing, and I think you judged me right, pretty early on, you knew how far you can push me and when to step back. And I think it worked very well. It was a really positive experience.”
“When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” -Bernard Baruch
Here, the hammer is your solution and the nails are your customers. I am sure you have already found lots of nails for your hammer. But please take a closer look at those nails. They are screws.
Put the hammer down and look at that poor screw. If it’s actually a nail, take the hammer back and take a swing, but if it’s a screw, you will need something else.
Many entrepreneurs start by building the solution they have imagined (a hammer) and then come up with a list of potential customers that could be interested (screws that look like nails) and hit them with their solution.
And the screw says ouch. The entrepreneur don’t hear the screw and hit harder, ouch, and then try to hit another screw. But the end of the day, the entrepreneur is exhausted that the nothing has being build.
The entrepreneur should really look at the screw, understand what type of screw it is, how the head is, the thread, the length, the alloy. And then think about the tool he can use for the job.
So put the hammer down and take a close look at that screw and decide what the solution should be. Don’t hit the screw on the head.
That’s called Customer Discovery. Remember, no hammer allowed.
Startup people in Paris had a dilemma this week – choosing between two events on the same night: hear the good words from Ash Maurya author of Running Lean or listen to Heidi Isern and Blaise Bertrand from IDEO.
I ended up going to listen to Ash Maurya.
Here is what he said that I liked:
Most startups fail (still). Startup that succeed change along the way. They never end-up when they wanted to go.
The biggest risk is not finding customers.
If you cant get 10 customer off line. You can’t get 1000 online.
Ash runs a program where in 8 weeks, startups get paying customers and – here is the trick – they can’t write a line of code.
About validating assumptions: getting 2 positives answers out of 10 is not good enough. Change something and try to get 8 out of 10.
While doing customer development, most of the time spent on interviews is actually between interviews.
Referring to his book Running Lean, he said he can’t tell when the launch date was. It was the result of a continuous process. It’s concept ‘no launch date’ that I like, forcing you to be live with your poor product on day one.
Finally, he remained the limits of the methodology: it’s about getting feedback fast and being able to know if you are on the wrong path quicker. It does not guarantee success.
I suspect IDEO might have the rest of secret sauce…
WOW. What an experience. 2.5 days of immersion to develop an idea into a viable and meaningful product, searching potential customers and refining the idea. A lot more excitement than what many of us get in our day job.
This workshop provides an opportunity to work on a real case, in the safety of the sandbox, guided by very helpful and insightful mentors. In teams, we practice the running experiments, building MVP, invalidation assumptions, pivoting, and ultimately doing customer development.
If you have read the Lean Startup book, this workshop is very much in the continuity and applying the theory to a practical business idea. Definitely recommend for anyone who has enjoyed the book.
Time for a quite update on how Confucius140 is growing on twitter. It is a experimental account that tweet twice a day a famous quote.
Growth is steady, about 8 new followers per day. The account is now reaching 4.000 followers.
According the retweet.co.uk it’s getting about 8 retweet for each quote. This is a 0.2% retweet per follower.
The most retweeted tweet resulted of Enrique Bunbury retweet. Thank you Enrique and your 150k followers.
Tweetreach provided nicely presented stats but I struggled to make anything out of it and found the number confusing.
The Confucius experiment is now spreading to Facebook – as the Confucius Wisdom fan page. This simple tweet allowed the page to get started with 7 likes. Let’s wait and observe how virality works on Facebook now.
Confucius is still tweeting – or the bot behind Confucius140 twitter account is. I adapted it recently to support the new twitter API and just fixed the auto-follow of followers. After a year an a half of activity, confucius140 has now 772 followers and is in 51 lists. Follower progression was fast between Oct’09 and July’10 and is now back to a lower more steady rate.
I hope to be able to celebrate the first 1000 soon. But more interesting that the number of followers is the amount of re-tweet. Most of the Confucius tweets seems to be re-tweeted once or twice. A re-tweet means that someone actually read the tweet and decided to share it with the rest of their followers. Quite an endorsement.
I am very pleased to tell you that the news site I have been working on, Newspage.me is finally ready to be taken for a test drive.
Please, have a look at it and tell me what you think – if anything
The main features for this version are:
– Clean design, providing a simple clear relaxed way to look and scan the news, including the videos.
– Compare and switch between the different main news providers, all in one place. In this version: CNN, FoxNews, ABCNews, CBS for the USA, BBC, the guardian, the telegraph, for the UK and Le Monde, Figaro and Liberation for France
Time for a quick update on confucius140, my little Chinese wisdom experiment on twitter. To make Confucius more findable, I added hash tags to each quote when room allowed it. I still didn’t promote the account in anyway.
Follower and re-tweets, the 2 metrics I am looking at, have been progressing slowly.
Confucius Twitter progress, Sept’09
Number of followers is now 45, some of them are marketing spam but some of them are relevant users that re-tweet and engage with the proposition.
Not sure what is the best way to count effectively the number of re-tweet. This is a good indicator to measure the engagement of the followers (a re-tweet/tweet ratio). Another good indicator is the number of followfriday / recommendations is the account getting. A few sites are providing some analysis and ranking:
The definitions of the term, and how they are computed are explained here.
Most of those stats are missing a clear engagement metrics. From my perspective user or follower engagement can be measured with number of re-tweets, mentions and direct replies that the account is getting. Or may be I just haven’t found the service measuring this.
Today there are lots of Internet news sites, reporting, delivering and presenting news, each in different ways, each applying their own touch every step of the process.
I think it will be great to have a single place where you could watch and read all the news from the different providers around the world, with a clear and simple interface, free from intrusive advertising.