doubt: it’s everywhere
With every new pursuit comes 2 feelings: confidence & doubt. At Terra Media, we have confidence that Gamers Portal will be truly appreciated by the community… but we have our doubts as well. It’s natural. Whether you’re Bill Gates, Larry Page, or Peter Branson, you’re going to have your doubts on whatever you pursue. For us, many questions have yet to be answered.
- Have we drunk too much of our own Kool-Aid?
- Are we able to send the right message to our audience, and educate them effectively if necessary?
- How popular will this become? 5,000? 500,000? 50 million? We just don’t know.
We just keep moving, making corrections as we go, and get as much feedback as early as possible, while trying to minimize costly mistakes. Short of waiting to see how things turn out 3 years from now however, contests offer a great way to see how you stack up in the eyes of experienced professionals and other teams. We recently had the opportunity to participate in such a contest hosted at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo, CA, titled “Innovation Quest” (IQ).
The IQ competition requires applicants to address the following core areas:
- What is your innovation?
- What is its commercial potential?
- What hot market is your innovation addressing?
- What is your innovation’s benefit to mankind?
- What have you achieved thus far in pursuing your innovation?
The first 3 questions are of primary importance, while the last 2 (and a few more) have less emphasis placed on them. Contestants go through 2 rounds, the first being an online form. The application was actually quite difficult for our team, mostly because it really forced us to articulate the need for a social networking site for gamers to people that (mostly) don’t play games. We’ve come to realize that if you’re not a video game player, Gamers Portal will not likely make sense to you. An even bigger challenge arose once we learned that the review process per application was very brief. So essentially, we spent 40+ hours for 120 seconds of someone’s attention and any opportunities that might follow. The Pareto Principle really came into effect during this process, as the majority of time spent on the application was tweaking content and not creating it. We submitted the application and waited to see if we would be one of the 17 finalists selected from the initial 87 applications. We had our answer 4 weeks later. We were a finalist.
The final phase of the contest required all participants to give a 15-minute presentation on their innovation to a panel of 10+ judges followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer session. Penalties were awarded to teams that went over 15-minutes or deviated from the presentation template they provided. Our preparation time was approximately 1-week.
We quickly realized that the presentation portion would present more challenges than the application. The following areas were our largest challenges.
- Level of detail: 15 minutes is a slightly challenging duration for a presenter because it is too long to for a product overview, but too short for any great detail about features within the product.
- Topics: We had to follow a pre-determined 12-slide template, so there was very little control over our content.
- Timing: Delivering over the 15-minute mark would guarantee we wouldn’t place in the top-3, so we had to rehearse slide timings, in order to establish a pace per slide.
Ultimately, we decided to split the presentation between myself (Sami) & Matt. Given the slim margin-for-error, and very little prep time, we determined that we could each be highly successful if we were each responsible for 7.5 minutes, rather than 1 person on the whole 15. I flew out to CA a few days before d-day to get prep-time in with Matt. With Carlos & Miguel (our devs) as our heckling audience, we proceeded to speak/fumble/rework and rehearse up to 5-minutes before our time to present. At this point, things became surreal. We were in the zone, and things just flowed. Our live presentation was our best take, and the panel of judges threw us some minor-curveballs in Q&A, but we were ready. The performance was flawless, and it felt like a 900-lb gorilla had just stepped off our chests.
1st, 2nd and 3rd place were awarded prize money, and 48-hours later we received word we had made it to the top 3. Exact places were to be announced at an awards dinner a few weeks away, but the important thing was: we had made it. We ultimately placed 3rd, having conceded to 2 far superior engineering innovations, one being a robotic hand for amputees that can attach to human tendons. Ok, we don’t mind losing to something that can revolutionize the prosthetics industry.
The awards dinner was nice with all teams invited to the ceremony, and the awarding of places for the top 3 finalists. Although I was unable to attend, it turns out the founder of the program was in attendance, and a fascinating conversationalist. This competition is his vision, and he has inspired hundreds, if not thousands, to challenge themselves to contribute to something bigger & better; a noble cause indeed.
tips we wish we had earlier
For those of you that are starting your own projects, we can tell you first-hand that efficient storytelling is going to be one of the hardest areas you will need to address when pitching your idea. Have a look online for ideas on how to create your 10-12 slide investor deck. (We love those listed on Venture Hacks, although some investors recommend as little as 6 slides) Our requirements for the competition were explicit and you should definitely have them prepped if you plan on entering competitions with your project/startup.
- Product Description – What is the complete product or service?
- Product Application – How will the product be used? Who is the user? What is the benefit received by that user? Describe the product in action, and the necessary price of that product (if applicable)
- Key Innovation – What is it that you ‘invented’? What is your differentiator compared to alternate solutions? What are the unique benefits to the user? (obviously you should be aware of what will appear on the first of )
- Product Validation – How will you validate/prove the product and its innovative uniqueness? What will prove that the product delivers the new or enhanced benefit to the user?
- Project Logistics (Milestone Schedule) – Completion date/duration for: design, prototype, validation testing (functionality; cost), market testing (‘beta test’), start of production. Includes estimated product development costs, cost/price model: such as ‘cost per unit’ & ‘average selling price’
- Resources & Staffing – Who will do what/when? (headcount timeline [rough]). Identify whate else you need (additional team members, expertise, mentoring, help). Identify other resources and money needed to design, prototype, test, advertise, produce the product.
- The Market – Who are the users? (Characterize the product’s users demographically) What is the Total Available Market in 2009/2010? (How much do all users currently spend on the current solutions/alternatives for products in this category) What is the competitive landscape like? (Who is your competition and what are the alternatives? OR What do users currently do to solve this problem?) Advertising/Sales/Distribution concerns also fall into this area. (How do users currently hear about and buy such products?)
- Market Opportunity – What is your competition doing differently than you are? What is your competitive advantage? What is your intended revenue model? (at least have some ideas) If you have any numbers that you can forecast (realistically) what are they?
- Go-To-Market Strategy – What is it? Who are your early customers? Who sells your product? (distribution & channel sales concerns) Who did you test market to and what was the feedback? What business development have you performed or achieved to-date?
- Conclusions & Future plans – If the immediate project is successful what’s next? (Business plan, venture funding, licensing, patent, etc.)
our attitude: not changed
So what have we taken away from this? Simple. We’re on the right track, nothing more.
Validation is all we need to keep moving right now, because it tips the scales away from doubt, in favor of confidence. That’s all that can be drawn, and to be frank, that’s all we should take away from this experience. Humility is a powerful ally when you’re a startup. So for now we’ll do our 30-second victory dance, then it’s on to the next challenge.