Six (6) practical tips to help you refine your concept

Concept Refinement.

I often meet entrepreneurs that are super pumped about their concept.  That’s great.  But too often those concepts are very broad and the core attributes and key customer use cases are not well defined.  When I check in with these entrepreneurs months later, they typically have refined their concept further, but it is a slow process and they consume lots of time and energy getting there.  Refine fast.  Save time and effort and have a much better chance of success.  Below are 6 practical tips.

Techniques for refining and communicating your concept:

  1. No bells, no whistles–We can all think of all the bells and whistles we could add to our offering, all the product and service extensions we could provide, and the new business model variants we could execute.  There are two reasons you shouldn’t spend any time on this.  1) Unless you execute the core components really well, none of the other stuff matters and spending a minute thinking about it takes away from your focus time. 2) By the time you have traction with your core concept you will have refined it and pivoted enough that those original extension ideas are likely less relevant.
  2. The elevator pitch–What and why.  As an entrepreneur, you should be ready to describe your idea in a sentence.  This would typically be the “what.”  If you’re lucky and your audience is still listening, you can follow on with a couple of sentences about what customer pain points you are solving.
  3. The tagline—The “tagline” is the sentence fragment that typically appears under a company logo if they have the space.  I find it a useful tool for idea refinement in that if you were trying to communicate the value of your company to your customers in two to five words, what would you say? [Madrona: We fund success stories][JimmyJohn’s: Gourmet Sandwiches] [Amazon: And you’re done]
  4. Analogies—It very tempting to describe one’s idea by referencing concepts that people already know, and this can especially useful in the elevator pitch, but make sure it is self-evident.  An entrepreneur recently described their idea to me as “yCombinator meets Etsie meets LinkedIn.”  Ok, I get it…Not!  On the other hand if you told me you were SocialCam, “Instagram for video,” I totally get it.  Or you’re building “LinkedIn for lawyers”; I can grok what that is and why it might be useful to lawyers. Avoid more than two companies in your analogy, make sure they are companies your audience is likely to know, and when you do the “meets” mashup make sure it is clear which aspect of the company mentioned is being incorporated in your idea.  For example, if you are “X meets Etsie” what aspect of Etsie is relevant—you cater to unique products, you are a seller driven retail environment, you take a small commission, or you focus on art and crafts?
  5. Buzz words—“we’re a demand-driven platform for crowd-sourced user generated content with a viral marketing strategy.”  Cool, I’m in!  WTF?  Buzzwords are sexy and make you sound ‘in the know’ and allow you to hi five each other at SXSW, but when you fall in love with them it’s a trap that allows you to avoid being specific about who your customer is and what value you provide to them.  When entrepreneurs rattle buzzwords at me, I inevitably ask them to describe who their customer is, what problem they are solving for the customer, and the user experience.  “I am your customer, what need do I have, what happens when I hit your homepage?”
  6. Eight slides—I find PowerPoint a great tool for refining ideas.  I typically have a startup concept in my head and do a little internet research to determine if that exact product or service already exists, and then I spend an hour with PowerPoint and create the following slides:
  • Mission
  • Customer Problem
  • Product/Service Solution
  • Key Features
  • Business model
  • Market
  • Competition
  • Go to Market Strategy

This set of slides is different from the funding pitch, because you are not worried about Team or Offer Terms, and you typically don’t have any customer traction or partners yet.  While I put the Mission slide first, I often find that I can fill this one out better at the end of the exercise.


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