Learn to build an airplane in hours because that's the only way you'll be able to build one. When do we ever learn the lesson?

I thought I understood think/make. But I didn’t really understand think/make.

For the last few weeks, we have been working on marketing plan, crunching financial spreadsheets, moving pixels, and entering the matrix doing a lot of git push heroku. You know, the nuts and bolts of starting a business and building a product. The things that will give our potential customers an actual site to use and let investors know how much we have thought through this stuff.

All the right stuff to do. But a conversation with Justin yesterday reminded me of how “we still don’t have anything to show”. After internalizing more, I think the larger point being, if we’re really building on existing behavior, really meeting an actual need, really making our customers’ lives easier – we should be able to show demand with or without technology. If it takes the two of us manually coordinating classes, then that’s what it’ll take. When it becomes too much, we’ll move to a spreadsheet in order to keep track. When that becomes too much, then we’ll figure out something else. But until we get to that point, it feels rather empty that we’re sitting in front of a computer projecting revenue.

Fast Co.Design had an article posted on Monday on “Wanna Solve Impossible Problems? Find Ways to Fail Quicker“:

MacCready’s insight was that everyone who was working on solving human-powered flight would spend upwards of a year building an airplane on conjecture and theory without a base of knowledge based on empirical tests. Triumphantly, they would complete their plane and wheel it out for a test flight. Minutes later, a year’s worth of work would smash into the ground.

Again, nothing we don’t know already, nothing we haven’t been taught. But what stuck out to me in the article was when the author said:

Progress was slow for obvious reasons, but that was to be expected in pursuit of such a difficult vision. That’s just how it was, went the common thinking.

We’re looking to address wicked problems – the large-scale ill-defined complex social problems that have been around for decades and centuries. We expect things to move slowly. We expect not to solve things overnight. But a little re-framing will get the momentum going, like when Paul MacCready built that airplane in half a year after nobody could for 18 years:

He came up with a new problem that he set out to solve: How can you build a plane that could be rebuilt in hours, not months?

So lesson learned (for the nth time):

When you are solving a difficult problem, re-frame the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.

This morning I sent a bunch of emails to people who have previously expressed their interests in holding/taking classes so we can start having real customers. Fundamentally, our idea holds true with or without Facebook Connect on Rails.

I think I understand think/make a little better today than I did yesterday.

Design For Impact Bootcamp

AC4D, along with our generous sponsors frog design and Thinktiv, completed our second annual free Design For Impact Bootcamp. This aggressively-paced boot camp is intended for designers, technologists, marketers, and other professionals who are interested in extending their skill set into the realm of social innovation and design for impact. Participants spent eight hours learning the fundamentals of research, synthesis, and ideation – focused on large-scale social change through new and novel product, system, and service design.

Materials from the bootcamp are available for download below:

Designing for Impact | Jon KolkoIn a group conversation, we will examine the precedents that have been set in the social innovation space, discuss the holistic process of design, and understand why the methods of design are most appropriate for tackling these complex social problems.

A Process for Seeing: Guerilla Ethnography | Lauren SerotaIn the first methods session, we’ll learn how to practice “guerilla ethnography” to engage with and quickly gather meaningful insights from target audiences.

Understanding Insights and Themes | Jon FreachAs we progress through meaning-making, we’ll begin to identify insights and themes through a bottom-up approach. These methods will describe how to capture these high-level takeaways, and how to form actionable design directives out of these conceptual frames.

Rapid Ideation and Forced Provocation | Jon KolkoWe’ll begin to create new ideas, giving form to our insights and finding a way to connect insights to problem solving.

Interface Visualization and Design | Justin PetroThe insights and themes that have been extracted can now be visualized. We’ll use rapid iterative sketching and ideation in order to focus on a breadth of new ideas.

About AC4D | Jon KolkoWe’ll discuss the qualities of the AC4D program, and how they relate to what you learned today.

We look forward to seeing you at our next bootcamp in 2012; if you want to be alerted of events like this, join our mailing list and we’ll be sure to let you know.

* Update: Read the nice writeup of our Bootcamp on Core77.

Bootstrapped Publishing – DIY FTW

I’ve had a few different publishing experiences. I’ve published a book entirely by myself, I’ve worked with a large-scale publisher (owned by one of the Big Houses – Elsevier), and I’ve worked with a traditional and respected academic press (Oxford University Press). Here’s what you can expect from a DIY approach.

I. The problems with giant publishers

In the glory days, big publishers theoretically played a critical role; they were internally and externally respected, could claim a talented staff, and were companies where young journalists, designers, and novelists could make a living and absorb technique and method from the pros. Unfortunately, if that pictureesque view of the past was ever true, it’s laughable now. My experiences with publishers indicate that the art and science – and craft – of making a book has all but disappeared.

One of my publishers didn’t know what a gutter was, or how to spread content across it.

One of my publishers didn’t know how to calibrate spine depth, and calibrated it incorrectly.

One of my publishers outsourced typesetting to a foreign firm, who neither understood nor cared to learn about the subject matter of the text.

One of my publishers “reorged” their Executive Editor out of the company in the midst of printing my publication.

Death by a thousand paper cuts, all indicating a much larger and institutional problem: publishing as big business has become so reliant on low-cost offshore development that individuals engaged in the process literally don’t know how their business works. They don’t know the end-to-end process; they have no visibility into the larger context of the book, the market, the process, or the literary goal; and they’ve become dependent on the rote execution of a series of activities that have to happen in the same commoditized series in order to achieve some financial success within the confines of razor thin margins.

The lack of a refined process is just one of the few things you can look forward to when working with a major publisher. You’ll also experience:

  • An absurdly slow pace. I signed my contract with Oxford in July of 2009. My book was released in February of 2011. Each step crawls forward. No one can explain the rhyme or reason behind the various process dates assigned; they seem arbitrary, likely picked for convenience of the production machine, not timed with any relationship to the book or content itself.
  • An absurdly small piece of the pie. With Oxford, I receive 15% of Net Receipts, stepped to 17% on sales over 2,000 copies, stepped further to 19% on sales over 4,000 copies. Net Receipts means end profit from the book, not including returns or credits or reprint funds. As a point of reference, my book retails for $49.95 on Amazon. That means Oxford likely sells to Amazon for $25.00/copy. A generous assumption would indicate Oxford making $10 per copy sold – I get 15% of that, or $1.50 per copy sold. The per copy profit with Elsevier is even worse. As a point of reference, I made about $16, profit, per copy, of my first book when I self published it; see below for a more thorough breakdown of the DIY process and financials.
  • Little support on marketing and self promotion – and little visibility into any activities that may be planned on my behalf by the publisher. I do a fair amount of public speaking, and it makes a great deal of sense to offer my books at each event. But the publisher has no time or interest in proactively tracking these events, and so it’s my responsibility to coordinate book sales for my speaking engagements. It’s as if I had published the thing myself – I’m in charge of all of the marketing activities. I asked one of my publishers for a marketing plan; he sent me a one page, 230 word document. Ouch.
  • The ambiguity of dealing with a giant company. I had sixteen different contacts at Oxford during my time working with the company; my editor went through at least four different assistants, we had three different typesetters, and I’m still not entirely sure what a few of the people involved in emails actually do at the company. A cup-half-full perspective would say “so many people, dedicated to making your book a success!” – the reality is cup-half-empty, as with any project with that many people, no one person knows enough to make a decision, and no one person is actually _empowered_ to make that decision.
  • Lack of understanding about new digital formats and platforms. The people I interacted with were all, generally, unaware of the use and potential of the internet as a mechanism for marketing and promoting a book, and unaware of the fundamental necessity for digital delivery of books. I still have no idea if Oxford plans to release a digital version of Exposing the Magic of Design, and Elsevier hasn’t made any traction on the promise of a digital copy of Thoughts. Arguably, the digital copy should be released before the print copy, not after. Or never.

That’s a lot of downside on traditional publishing. What’s the upside of going DIY? It’s summarized in a word – control. By pushing forward with a DIY model, you control the cost of the book (believe me, I’m not thrilled that my book retails for $45), the aesthetics of the book, the timeline of the book, the presence of the book in various markets, the availability of the book – you control everything. And through that control comes reach, financial reward, and perhaps the most important part of a book – the structured context in which your message is presented.

II. How to self-publish: the mechanics

While it’s pretty intimidating to go it alone, it’s really not that hard. I’ll try to describe the various parts of the process that confounded me along the way.

As a bit of background, I wrote a book called Thoughts On Interaction Design in 2007. I wrote the majority of it myself, solicited some related essays from friends, and then shopped it around to a few publishers. I received a few leads, and went through the peer review process with a few selected companies. And after I received pretty negative reviews back, the message from the publishers was clear: you’ll need to change a great deal of this if you want to work with us.

I felt the book was pretty strong, so I decided to publish it myself.

I recruited my friends at Thinktiv to do the design work, and we agreed to split any profit that came from the work, 50/50. We did a photoshoot, went through editing and revisions, came up with a visual and semantic approach for design, and published 1000 copies. My wife and I played shipping and receiving – we set up a company in Georgia to manage the financial aspects of the book, and started filling orders placed on our site via paypal and through Amazon’s affiliate program. Ultimately, we sold all 1000 copies, making on average $16/copy, profit.

(As a footnote to this story – Elsevier then signed a reprint contract for this book, and subsequently sold another 4000 copies. We made about $16,000 profit on the first 1000 that we did ourselves; we made about $6000 on the next 4000 with Elsevier. Go, team.)

I’ve considered all the parts of the process where I nearly gave up, and I’ve listed them here.

Writing. Clearly the most mentally challenging part of the process was the writing. You’ll need something to write about, a context of authority that makes it worth reading, and enough content to fill a book. I wrote Thoughts on Interaction Design because I was trying to synthesize other readings, conference discussions, and a changing culture of design into a cohesive whole. My goal was to externalize my thoughts (get out of my head!), not to publish a book. It was only after 2/3 of the thoughts were externalized did I realize I had enough content to fit a book, and maybe someone else would want to read it. As a point of reference, the self-published version of Thoughts on Interaction Design is 60,000 words, and the book runs 162 pages. Call that a short-to-midsize book. The bottom-line advice on writing is to write for yourself, and write about something you know a thing or two about. It has to come from the heart, and it has to come from the head.

Editing. After I wrote the book, I rewrote the book. And then I did it two more times. And then I had an editor look at it, who had me re-write it again. And we still missed a few typos and some grammatical issues, not to mention some pretty awful language usage. The only real highlight of my publishing experience with Oxford was the copy-editor they assigned, who was absolutely amazing; she found ways to cut, and cut, and cut. And that’s the primary thing you’ll find when you work with an editor – they don’t so much edit, as they do censor. We cut over 50% of the book out, and I rewrote that content from scratch. It’s hard to kill your baby, and it’s time consuming, and it’s personal. But it’s worth it. The bottom line on editing is to find an editor, pay them well, and listen to them.

Sources. Since I was as young a writing student as I can remember, I have been taught to cite my sources; I was instructed that you could use any material you wanted to strengthen your argument – in fact, the more material you had to substantiate whatever you were saying, the better – but citations were critical to staying legitimate, and that without citations, you were breaking the rules. The rules eventually became the law, and I was always under the impression that one could face penalties if they didn’t cite their sources in professional work.

Citing your sources is nice. But you can’t use other work in your text – cited or otherwise – without explicit permission from the author or copyright holder. Fair use doesn’t extend to commercial work, and while it is vague enough to seem like it would cover academic-style writing that is written for profit, I’m certainly not going to put my bank account on the line and get sued over a few quotes. So I spent a few days identifying the source of over a hundred quotes in my small book, finding the publisher and respective address for the permissions department, and writing letters to each one asking for permission to use their words. And then I waited, and then I received approval to utilize the quotes I needed. Most of them. And then I changed the rest. It’s tedious.

Design. My book is a design book – it’s about design – and the aesthetic and temporal qualities of the thing should match the message, lest Malcolm McLuhan roll over in his grave. My friend Paul Burke is one of the best print designers I’ve ever met, and so I asked him to do the layout for me. He agreed – and we agreed on a 50/50 split of printing costs as well as profit. That is, he paid half of the printing costs, and got half the profit. We worked on a theme through email, outlined a list of photographs that would support the theme, and held a photoshoot (it took about a day). I recently asked Paul what he would have charged for a similar project if it was cash only; he said to expect to pay $15,000 for the cover to cover layout and about $5000/day for a photoshoot. The bottom line is that you get what you pay for; if you want a stunning book, hire a designer and pay them their asking price.

Printing. As a general rule, a black and white offset print run will be affordable and elegant. A one-color-plus-black offset print run will be affordable and elegant. A full color offset print run will be obtusely expensive – and elegant. Thoughts on Interaction Design was one color and black; we contracted through Horizon Printing in Austin, Texas, and the total printing cost was $6754.24. Shipping from Austin to Savannah was $156.50, which yields a total of $6.90/book. Considering we retailed at $30, that’s a great profit margin, an affordable up-front cost, and a pretty inexpensive end product. The bottom line is that offset printing with two colors (a single color and black) is affordable and can produce beautiful results.

ISBN & Bowker. You’ll need an ISBN number for your book. When I printed my first book, I bought a pack of 10 ISBN numbers from Bowker for $269.95. Bowker is basically a monopoly – while they claim to be “the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information management solutions designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries”, they are essentially the only place authorized by the government to distribute ISBN numbers. You can buy a single ISBN for $125, what a steal! You’ll need a company to buy your ISBN through, so I recommend setting up a LLC. Our LLC cost $25 for the name reservation and $100 for the registration. The bottom line is that you need an ISBN number and Bowker is the most immediate way to get one.

Amazon. We made approximately $23 per book for every book we sold through out site, powered by paypal, and approximately $8 per book for every book that we sold through Amazon. The reason is simple – Amazon takes 50% or more of your profit off the top, so we would sell our $30 book to Amazon for $15. Subtract the $7 it costs to print, and you’re down to $8. But what you lose in profit, you gain in time and confidence. Once we joined Amazon’s Advantage program, they ordered two books. And then three. And then eight. And then 50. And while we made about 1/3 off those 50 books as we could have, it feels damn nice to ship 50 books at a time. It’s less trips to the post office, less packing and shipping hassle, and once they buy the books, they own ‘em. The bottom line is that Amazon is a convenience/profit tradeoff; for us, it was a no-brainer. And the first time they order in quantity, it sends chills down your spine.

Shipping & Receiving. When you buy 1000 books, you get… 1000 books. They show up all at once, on a palette, and are loaded into your driveway via forklift. And then you carry boxes of 44 books into your living room, until you have.. 1000 books in your living room. It’s a sight to behold, and it’s not something we were really prepared for. Of course, the fact that your living room is full of boxes is a pretty strong incentive to market all hell out of your work of art. (Our cat loved it.) We purchased boxes from PackagingPrice.com, and ordered a stack of newsprint; we wrapped each book in newsprint, stuck it in a box, and printed mailing labels on the computer, using Word/Excel mail merge. It became fairly automated, and the guy at the post-office soon started remarking on volume (“Things going a little slow at the publisher? Maybe you could do some more advertising?”)

After experiencing different publishing models, including self-publishing, a big academic press, and a big fat company, I’m happy with my decision to go DIY with my last title. I hope this helps you if you plan to go the same route.

Business Model Generation

Meet my first business model canvas. Isn’t she cute?

I was spurred on by our IDSE 401 discussions about income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements—and the ‘oh snap!’ realization that we haven’t solidified our revenue streams. I’ve been using Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur’s Business Model Generation book (recommended by Justin Petro during Q1) to walk through key considerations of a business plan:

  • Customer segments
  • Value proposition
  • Channels
  • Customer relationship
  • Revenue streams
  • Key resources
  • Key activities
  • Key partnerships
  • Cost structure

The Business Model Generation book offers common patterns, examples, and good questions to think through each of these sections in their version of a business model canvas. The authors approach business model generation with a design sensibility and encourage ideation and prototyping to arrive at a proper and/or innovative model for your idea.

I’m gonna go off and do 10 more iterations. See you later.

Thanks AC4D and Mr. Miyagi

After 3 months of a dry patch where blogging disappeared into the horizon, I am back with a personal post about my AC4D journey and answers to some personal questions about why I am in this program. My break from blogging was a conscious decision resulting from some chaos and confusion about my expectations from the program, the divergence, the convergence and sense-making. I contemplated for a bit about posting this as this was more personal than being ac4d related. But, maybe, just a small maybe, it will help someone coming into the program when the number of questions prevail the number of answers.

When I started the program, I wanted to change the world. The passion was intense. I could see myself going out and doing several great things. I had figured out the mental visualization part of achievement. Thus, I began my journey with AC4D, hoping to change the world the way I saw it. The journey was sentimental and passionate. There is a great quote by Mary Aster –

“It's not good to make sentimental journeys. You see the differences instead of the sameness.”

I realized this very late. But, with every step I was taking,  I started seeing things were different than my expectations. I wanted to work on “information” because that is where my passion is. I did not get a chance to work on that. I was working on a different problem. The frustration caught me unaware. I questioned my reason for being in the program. I thought whether I was doing the same thing that led me into the program in the first place. Was I working on something that I didn’t want to be working on? Ah, the peril with a sentimental journey! I argued with my professors, my project outputs varied in quality. Not that I was bad or anything. It was just that, the sentimental journey was telling me that my goals were different than what I was being taught at school. It was chaotic. At some point, I started doing the assignments and projects because they were part of the curriculum. It had to be, because the emotion of not being able to work on what I wanted to work on, overpowered me.

Life was turbulent and chaotic. I had quit my full time job and was excited to work on some neat ideas. It just wasn’t to be. The Karate Kid story comes to mind. The Miyagis at AC4D were teaching me to wash dishes and scrub floors. I was not there for that. I wanted to learn Karate. There were moments where mind was messing with me and telling me that this was not what I was here for. Struggle and chaos had become part of my everyday project at AC4D. My biggest strength through this process was that chaos has always been my friend and I was familiar with it. There is another nice quote I read from ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ –

“One must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star”

I never ever realized how true this was. I persisted with chaos, stuck with my schedules and did the best I can. There were multiple epiphanies which gave a great insight into flaws of my own thinking, which could never have come if I had not questioned everything. I never stopped questioning the things I was doing but not for one instance I let the questions completely over power me and take a wrong step. And eventually, things started falling into place over numerous conversations (with Kat, Justin and Jon – thanks guys!). Today was one such moment. After a great guest lecture from Gary of Union Square Ventures (@gcsf), I went into Justin’s office and asked him what I was doing at AC4D. There were things I cared about that I wanted to work on, and I wanted to find out why I was not doing that. Then came the Miyagi moment. For me, Justin will forever remain as  Mr. Miyagi. He showed me how scrubbing floors (not literally) has made me a better person and entrepreneur. He gave me the famous talk about “leap of faith”. It was a great conversation that brings me back to my original quote that I referred to…

“It's not good to make sentimental journeys. You see the differences instead of the sameness.”

At AC4D, one is taught to be a better entrepreneur. The emphasis is on making you a better person. That is all it is. Every student works on this. It is not the project or idea that matters. It is the spirit. The biggest thing I have gained out of this experience is that, there is a great person (teachers or students) sitting at the other end of the table, listening with attention because they want you to succeed in your dreams. I learned more about myself. Like Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford speech, “You can only connect the dots looking backwards”. There might be frustration and chaos but if you change the lens with which you view,  you will see a friendly Miyagi teaching you to become a zen master in Karate.

Any future student reading this blog post – Do apply for next year’s program. I guarantee that it will change your life. It has changed mine.



HourSchool is a website that lets you post what you want to learn, and it helps you find someone in your network who can teach it.

Click on the video below to watch us live draw our way through HourSchool!

We’re just starting to get our website up and running… and right now we’d love to hear what you would like to learn.  Please visit www.HourSchool.com and let us know what you’d like to learn.  E-mail us if you’d like to be included in our private Beta.

Thanks!  Ruby and Alex.

Design Synthesis is a process to Be Intentional

I’ve always stated my love of being in design synthesis land. It’s also where some of the most defining moments of HourSchool occurred.

Back in January, we were still thinking that there would be two types of audience using our site: the student and the teacher. We wanted to understand what the student and the teacher would do, respectively, before and after signing up to take/teach a class. As we stepped back from the whiteboard after we were done, we realized we did a temporal zoom. And in that, we found our theory of change. The student and the teacher aren’t two separate personas. They are the same person. Our mission is to transform current students into future teachers – and there is a very specific point in time during the process when that happens.

As we prepared for our final presentation last week, we spent hours trying to find the right balance between talking about problem (our research) vs. solution (our product). After multiple iterations, we ended with a story we were happy with. We stepped back again, and this is what we saw: People’s best part of the day is when they get to teach their peers + old school model does not provide avenue to do that = we will build a platform that allows peer-led social learning.

My original thought was that we used these synthesis methods accidentally. We were simply sketching out what felt right in our heads, and only noticed afterwards that we had used the methods. But as I began blogging and reflecting upon Q3, I concluded that there is nothing accidental about our synthesis.

Insight combination is a method that helps generate design ideas by combining what the designers gathered from research with knowledge from their own past experiences. The method suggests writing down all the data points and design patterns on color post-it notes, move them around, and force relationships between them in order to generate new design ideas.

By constructing stories together, asking hard questions, and walking each other through hypothetical scenarios, we were gradually building our “insight bank”. In particular, I found our impromptu mini-research sessions with others have been the most inspiring, and almost always connected some dots for us. No, they do not replace the rigorous approach of design research. Rather, I think they are one of the most essential parts during design synthesis, as the designer slowly put the various pieces together.

So here’s my new thought: although synthesis may happen unconsciously, it does not happen accidentally. To Alex‘s favorite saying of the year, “Be Intentional”. There’s nothing accidental about our idea, our theory of change, our product, and our business. Our brains constantly drew from the insight bank that we intentionally built.

Design Synthesis, as it turns out, is a process to be intentional.

OneUp and Q3

This quarter was all about synthesizing, making and revising. It is a familiar process to designers, but we were introduced to the concept of business as a layer within the process. We were asked to consider the building blocks of a business as we were iterating our design ideas. This became an integral part of our conversations for research and testing. This led to a more detailed and holistic definition of our design ideas, which came through in the presentations last week and our ability to answer questions from the audience. The audience definitely gave us useful feedback to incorporate as we move forward. Once again this highlights the belief that it is important to go public with design throughout the process.

In the spirit of that idea here is some information about my specific project. The research that we did the second quarter highlighted the invisibility of the fastest growing homeless population, women and children. We learned that there is a connection between homelessness and foster care.

  • Roughly 30-40% of the entire homeless population was in foster care at one point in their life and many young women exiting foster care need government assistance to meet their basic needs.

This was of particular interest to me given my history of working with youth organizations. I wanted to design something that would empower the youth to make choices and recognize their achievements. I believe helping them build confidence will lead to future success. I wanted to build on what we learned has been working—positive feedback and choices that allow the youth to establish their independence.

This led to the development of a new online tool that provides action plans for youth as they exit foster care to learn about financial ­planning. The plans help the youth build their confidence while gaining skills. OneUp offers support by providing options to connect with peers and experts.

This is based on the model pictured above. This model builds on current behavior as this is the generation of digital natives. The youth have grown up using computers—chatting with friends online and playing games. The new model removes some of the challenges that current programs face—fear of not meeting expectations, scheduled meetings and no formal way to involve peers.

Keeping this model in mind I began to design the online tool and share it with some 18-25 year olds for feedback. One of the screens is pictured above and highlights the key pieces of the tool.

  • choice—youth are choosing action plans based on the level they are on and their personal goals
  • easy—steps are kept short to encourage participation
  • support—the youth are empowered to reach out for the type of support they want when they want it including online chats with experts for questions that might be embarrassing to ask in person, the ability to invite friends to cheer them on and tips and warnings for more facts
  • community—share achievements with social networks, invite friends to participate with you, see what your peers are accomplishing in the feeds
  • tracking progress—see progress as steps are completed with the tracking bar at the top
  • achievements—earn badges as steps are completed, gain points as entire plans are completed that can be redeemed for real world rewards (ex. itune gift cards), complete enough action plans and move up a level exposing new opportunities

Continue to follow the blog to see how all of us work this quarter to refine our ideas and develop business plans around them. More making and revising….

Pocket Hotline Pitch – AC4D Q3 Recap

The impetus for Pocket Hotline lies deep within the research Chap and I conducted at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH). After 8+ weeks of observing, interviewing, listening and testing, we learned that there were a few breakdowns in the ARCH client service system. One particular breakdown centered around the front desk. It was always busy, no- swamped. Homeless clients were repeatedly asking the front desk staff the same group of questions over and over. As staff were repeatedly answering these questions and the phone kept interrupting the conversation with similar repeated questions. The staff was spending its time doing the same rote tasks while preventing themselves from accomplishing the tasks in which they were highly trained.
“Getting that information when you are the only one sitting at the desk and there are five people yelling at you is tough.”

Questions to think about when developing your startup pitch


I was at the RISE conference tonight for the Social Entrepreneurship Keynote and Non-Profit Fast Pitch. 15 non-profits from Austin were selected to pitch to a panel of judges for 1.5 minute + Q&A session. Congrats to @LemonadeDayATX for winning, and congrats to everyone else for doing a phenomenon job.

As we’ve experienced at AC4D, pitching about your story and idea in such a short amount of time and capturing the essence of what you’re trying to do is not an easy task. So I particularly appreciated the Q&A sessions after the pitches that allow the entrepreneurs to offer deeper insights. The judges asked no easy questions though. I captured them so as our class starts to build our stories and pitches over the next 2 months, we have a good reference of things we should keep in mind about:

  • What’s the single metric you use to measure success?
  • What’s your funding model?
  • What traction have you gained?
  • How do you find your taget audience?
  • How long is the engagement of your participant during and after?
  • How do you measure overtime?
  • What’s your biggest challenge?
  • Who are you and why do you care about this?
  • How are you leveraging technology?
  • Which cities are you expanding to and why?
  • What are your top priorities for the next 12 months and how are you planning on achieving them?
  • What’s the impact so far and how do you know?
  • Where are you getting your funding?
  • Is there a revenue generating component?
  • How do you showcase your success so people know where their money is going to?
  • How did you get this idea?
  • What guidance do you give to your donors in choosing what to give to?
  • How have you achieved impact already?
  • How are you planning to take this off the ground?
  • How far along are you in development?
  • How are you going to prove your concept and deserve this investment?
  • What is the most innovate way you’ve raised money?
  • What would you change?
  • How far along are you in your campaign?
  • What program do you have in order to support your mission?
  • What are the barriers to your growth?
  • How do you plan on people knowing about your website?
  • How do you maintain a lasting impact?
  • How much capital do you need over the next 3 years, and how are you going to get that money?
  • What have you achieved so far?
  • How are your participants sourced? How do you pick?
  • How long is the mentorship?
  • What is the fundamental innovation?