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?

Second peer-led class, plus some think/make

Sunday. We had our rescheduled boxing conditioning class by the Auditorium Shores. Beautiful weather, fun company, awesome tacos for lunch = great time. Until we all woke up sore this morning. Thank Phill for a great class – we shall do it again!

Thinking and Making

In last week’s studio class, we were pushed to think about ingredients and friction – essentially what makes something work and what stops it from working. Our learnings were captured here.

In this week’s studio class, we were pushed to have a Point of View (POV) – essentially our opinion on how to solve a problem. Or in other words, things to do that will fulfill our Design Criteria. Here are some POVs 1.0:

People are more likely to teach something when someone is interested and asked them to teach it.Our POV: Make your interest known publicly. Poke the person who you think can teach it.

People are more likely to make time to do something if it’s with people they like hanging out with.Our POV: The person initiating the class must bring a friend. Class must start or end with some sort of social activity (lunch, bike ride, BBQ, etc)

People are generally interested in doing stuff. But finding a time that works for everyone is hard.Our POV: Every person must pick 3 times that work. Teacher has the final vote of when class will be.

It’s awkward to pay or rate the teacher when it’s your friend.Our POV: Students have to check-in to classes and pay for a cover charge (think when you go to a bar to watch your friend’s band play). Rating will come in the form of how often the class is being requested again.

Our customer journey map:

Our initial wireflow sketch:

2 weeks ago, we said, “We believe people learn by teaching, so our mission is to provide people with a platform to teach.”

Last week, we said, “We envision a world where everyone recognizes they have knowledge to share.”

This week, we said, “We are building a website where it lets you post what you want to learn, and it figures out who in your network can teach it.”

We’re all at the IxDA Conference in Boulder this week. We will be sharing our idea with people, getting feedback, and testing our POVs.

So what are the things you’ve always wanted to learn? Post a tweet with “#Iwanttolearn”!

AC4D Presenting at ARCH: When It's About Them

On Feb 1, AC4D was invited to present our research findings at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless’s All Staff Meeting. We truly appreciated the opportunity to be the catalyst for a rich discussion. For those who couldn’t be there, here’s what I found to be the most memorable:

  1. From what we heard, it sounded like their board sees the importance of staff members needing to be more like architects and less like firefighters. ARCH will likely be dedicating more planning time for their team in the future.
  2. The staff members agreed that the intake process has room for improvement. While they understand it may not be possible to revert all old habits, they also recognize that there are plenty of opportunities to improve for the future.
  3. Lots of staff members volunteered to form a committee in order to rethink strategies on how to engage clients in a meaningful way that allows them to feel a sense of purpose. We are all in agreement that the clients have a lot to offer, and now we need to create an environment to allow those interactions to happen.
  4. Staff members realized that as they better understand their needs and can articulate specifically the resources they require, they can begin engaging their individual donors and truly treating them as advocates rather than ATM machines.
  5. ARCH invited us back to present to their board, as well as keep working with them to bring these ideas into implementation.

As I reflected upon this extremely rewarding experience, I found the following to be true:

First, it did not feel like a presentation. It felt like I was telling stories that needed to be told, to the people that needed to hear them. I didn’t feel the nervousness I normally feel during a presentation because, as it turns out – this is not about me, it’s about them. I cared less about how well I was doing, but more about how well the stories resonated with them. We were there to work with them to find better ways to achieve their vision, rather than to judge our presentation skills. It was different, because it mattered.

On a personal level, I am proud to have been able to step up when Alex couldn’t be there. Obviously I was not Alex and we all missed his presence and energy. But the fact that we were able to back each other up, tell the same story, with the same emotional attachment – solidified the idea of what it means to be a team.

ARCH, thank you for having us. AC4D, thank you for being supportive. I am honored to have been a part of this.

The one thing I took away

Last week was full of inspirations and reflections. We’ve heard and spoken with individuals that continue to shape our thinking around our approach, attitude, and actions. If there was one thing I took away from each person, here they are:

“You gotta get good at the banal so you know what to do when something meaningful comes along. Good opportunities don’t come into the room and announce themselves.” Mark Rolston

“If you expect business people to care about impact, you should learn to care about the bottom line too. And not many people care if you’re giving appropriately and effectively, but do it anyway.” – Jessica Shortall

“Humor is important if you’re doing the kind of work like fighting for human rights.” – Esra’a Al Shafei

“The term non-profit is a tax code – it should not define what you do nor who you are.” – Doug Ulman

“All my best conversations were when I made what I was doing very public. Instead of sitting there where you’re the only one drawing – go outside, make what you’re doing public, and let people participate. Design publicly.” – Alex Gilliam

“Humans will do a lot for stickers. You need to create a sense of accomplishment that’s not monetary.” – Suzi Sosa

“Scale and impact can only be achieved if you can make it repeatable. Knowing that it works is not enough, you need to know the ingredients that made it work.” – Justin Petro

An update after some shifting and zooming from biased perspectives: our process, our finding, and our plan

Photo credit: by Alex Pappas, at Art From the Streets, on Jan 25 2011

When we were two weeks into our research on homelessness last quarter, it began to occur to us that the Maslow hierarchy might be in the wrong shape. Our hypothesis was that people need their emotional needs fulfilled at the same time as their physical needs, rather than after. That led to one of our major themes in the final research presentation: people don’t just need help, they need to help.

We hung onto that idea and kept exploring. Three months after our project kick-off, here’s where we are at:

We believe that when people are given an opportunity to share their knowledge and teach other people, they are actually helping themselves by gaining a stronger sense of self and increasing self-esteem. We don’t have data that is of statistical significance to support this view. However, it is a view that is built directly upon our personal stories, experiences, and world-views. We know to be conscious about the biased perspective and continue to seek feedback from various individuals in the design, business, and technology space. So far, everyone seems to share the same sentiment.

Our 5-hour working sessions typically involve constantly asking ourselves “what if” and “what would make it really fun“. For example, we talked about what ARCH would look like as a co-working space, where clients are encouraged to host sessions like at an unconference. We also think our belief holds true whether it’s for the homeless, retired professors, vulnerable teens, or stay-at-home moms. The continuous lens shifting has become our most powerful tool to cross chasms and connect ideas that are seemingly unrelated in order to formulate new design ideas.

We’ve also committed ourselves to making a physical artifact after every working session: “If it isn’t modeled, written, drawn, and otherwise solidified in an artifact, it never happened.” Concept mapping out our envisioned ecosystem and customer journey map helped us in clarifying what we want to do. More importantly though, it helped us in identifying what our Theory of Change is: When a person begins to see him/herself as a teacher rather than a student, we believe that’s when change happens.

We start building and testing this week. So one good thing to keep remembering: Trust the Process.

What happens when lens shift

On Aug 27, 2009, CNN wrote this article about Zipcar:
Just a few years ago the notion that you could persuade upwardly mobile professionals to share cars would have seemed as far-fetched as being able to unlock a car with a telephone. But what started as a counterculture movement in places like Cambridge and Portland, Ore., has gone mainstream.

On July 1, 2010, Fast Company wrote this article about the Mango bank:
“There just wasn’t a better option,” so he made one from scratch. The Mango Store, which opened in Austin in April, reimagines the entire banking experience for this market. Tescher likens the store to “a cross between an Apple Store and a high-end yogurt shop,” which could confuse patrons. Yet once customers are inside, Sosa says, the warm, spacious interior is designed “to educate customers and encourage them to stay awhile.”

On Sept 20, 2007, New York Times wrote this article about

Couch surfing takes an ancient notion of hospitality and tucks it into a thoroughly modern paradigm, the social networking Web site. But, as its members say sternly, it is not a site for dating, or for freeloaders. “This is a generation that’s all about talking to strangers. And why stop there? Why not crash at their place?” For constant surfers, the couch becomes a new sort of home, redefining, in many ways, their own ideas about what a home really is.

Do you see what these three organizations have in common? Sure, they fill a market need, or a gap that is not currently being served. More importantly though, Alex and I think it’s their success in reframing, creating lens shift of what each of these experiences could mean. In each instance, people were not afraid to ask questions such as:
  • What if I own a car only on the weekends?
  • What if going to the bank is like going to the cafe?
  • What if I could hang out like a local in a foreign city?
Relating that back to our topic with the ARCH project on self-identity and empowerment:
  • What if the bulletin board is not just a source of information, but a source of inspiration?
  • What if the homeless are not being seen as helpless?
  • What if they can be teachers?
Far-fetched? Would never happen? We don’t know. What we do know is that something amazing always happen when you get those lens shifted.

2 weeks into research on homelessness, have some thoughts, no answers yet, and lots of questions still

On “people are people”

Alex and I spent a Sunday morning filming at Church under the Bridge. Inspired by Fifty People One Question, we thought it’d be an interesting way to learn more about the people that are experiencing homelessness. So we put up a sign and asked, “What would you like to have happened by the end of the day?” As it turned out, what they want aren’t all that different from what everybody else wants: health, $100 bill, my dog to stop barking, a back massage, good Mexican food, etc. At the end of the day, people are people, which is what we have been hearing from staff at ARCH, as well as designer researcher like Jan Chipchase who presented at his TED talk on how people across the world all carry 3 of the same things.

On play + service

I thought in order to not disrespect or offend anyone, humor and play should be out of the question when working with problems as heavy as homelessness. But I think I have completely underestimated the power of having fun. For the longest time, we have wanted to but struggled with just sitting down and talking to people that are homeless and ask them about their stories. Until one day when we decided to just lay down some stickers in the middle of ARCH and see what would happen. As it turns out, everyone wanted to play with the stickers and tell us about their days. It was fun and people were excited, which got me thinking about Jon Kolko’s TED talk on products having their own personalities and characters. Can we design something (product, service, or a program) that showcase each of their unique personality, and also make it fun for them to want to keep doing it? If people are people, at the end of the day, despite their economic circumstances, would still love to entertain and be entertained. Thanks to Alex for reminding me that there isn’t such thing as “what does fun mean for people that are homeless”. Because, if people are people, fun is fun. How do we design something that combine play + service?

On support network

We also attended the Annual Homeless Memorial Service at Townlake the other day. Then I heard someone said, “A lot of us are 4 paycheques away from being homeless. We work twice as hard but get half as much.” That comment stuck with me as I recall the many conversations Alex and I had around we are where we are today because of our support network. I thought back to when I first moved to Austin – and how if I didn’t find a job in a few months, I could be homeless. I never thought of it that way, and of course I haven’t, because at the end of the day I know I always have a support network to rely on. And if I didn’t, the decision to take the risk and quit my old job wouldn’t even have occurred to me. There is such a stigma around people that are homeless, where they are often perceived as having mental disabilities, some sort of addictions, or criminal background. A percentage of the homeless population certainly fall in those categories, but what people don’t realize is that many of them are just like us, working as hard as they can, living within their means, then something happened and suddenly they had no choice. If my support network doesn’t exist, I could be in the same situation. And I’m still chewing on that thought.

On cultural shock“Why can’t they just stay at their jobs?”, “Why aren’t they showing up for their appointments?”, “Why aren’t they helping themselves? Don’t they want to get out of this situation?” I hear many ask those questions about people that are homeless. I am pretty sure I once asked those same questions. But Kat has rightly pointed out that perhaps there’s simply a cultural shock that needs adjusting to. Dawn from ARCH has mentioned that one of the biggest causes of homelessness is growing up in poverty, with single or no parent around. Now, if you were never taught about being punctual, following up on tasks, goal settings, etc, over and over again when you were a kid, perhaps you wouldn’t be taking all those “common sense” for granted also. We all seem to understand the concept of cultural differences amongst different countries, why aren’t we more accepting about the cultural differences amongst different demographics, and more importantly, upbringing? As a start, I recommend the Women’s Bean Project video.

On self-worth Every single person we talked to mentioned something along the line of helping another person. The need to bond and craving to be of use to others are definitely universal. I have been extremely blown away by this insight as I can relate to it with another personal anecdote of mine, where I’ve seen first hand of how empowering it can be for someone to be able to offer advice, share resource, or even just make another individual smile. It’s so powerful that I think it fundamentally changes the way people see themselves and their reasons of being. I heard Jon Kolko and Suzi Sosa were having a discussion around whether the Maslow hierarchy is true in the sense that basic needs like shelter is more important and must be achieved before self-actualization can happen. I used to think yes, but now I’m not sure anymore. I want to hear more of what other people think.

How to finish baking ideas

Above is my video recap of our Interaction Design Prototyping studio class. The goal of the studio is to introduce us to methods and processes of rapid prototyping in order to effectively communicate ideas – a critical step toward successful implementation.

Haven’t had much background in a lot of what we did in the studio, my sketch, pitch, wireframes, and screencast aren’t always fully baked. But along the way, I’ve picked up a lot of methods to finish baking them. For anyone else who’s also starting out, I’ve also found the following resources particularly helpful:

Visual thinking: models: media strategy: brand:

My favorite blog of all-time for anything from visual thinking to social media to prototype to public speaking to being productivity to…etc:

Really excited to apply these newly developed skills to quarter 2 with our Arch project.

Where do all the leftovers go?!

Below is a glimpse of what Julia and I researched on for Lauren’s design research & synthesis class. The central topic we were given was recycling. But as you see from my classmates’ blog posts, we all went on different route for our research topics, ranging from farmers’ market, to community bike shops, to water reuse at restaurants.

How it all started: Julia, new to Austin from Paris, experienced culture shock when she saw the massive amount of food available at these gigantic supermarkets that we have here in the US. Julia asked Ruby: “where does all the food go at the end of the day if they’re not sold?!” Ruby responded: “No idea. But hey, let’s do our research on that and find out!”

Our challenges: Scheduling for our contextual inquiries and participatory interviews was a bit of a nightmare. Also given the fact that our research touches on business practices only made it that much harder. We had to change our plans a few times but in the end it all came together. Our research participants also seemed to have enjoy the [prime, dream, create] exercises.

Our epiphany moment: Based on our previous conversations with some individuals, we were led down the path of thinking that good food management system is for a supermarket to reuse their food as much as possible. We also simplistically viewed the world as a matter of right vs. wrong: compost program = good practice, no compost program = bad practice. But as we spoke with more people who work at the front of house, dealing with the food and interacting with customers, we slowly reframed our questions. Instead of thinking about reuse and recycle, the bigger opportunity actually lies in reducing the amount of food unsold.

Synthesis and design criteria: Synthesizing the enormous amount of data we gathered was not an easy task. Tagging the quotes, grouping our notes, drawing them out in work models, recombining insights in concept models = many hours of work. After all the synthesis, it became apparent that the two key strategies that could lead to less leftover is being able to forecast demand better and improve internal communication workflow.

To protect individual’s confidentiality, here’s a slightly modified version of our final presentation:

[slideshare id=5573760&doc=idseresearchfinalforweb-101026222952-phpapp01]

Month #1 recap; blog posts roundup

We are officially half way through our first quarter. It’s been a busy month. Here’s a recap:

In our Interaction Design, Society and the Public Sector class, we talked about “the consumptive culture that has caused our self-identities to retreat to a disposable nature that is easily bought and sold.” But in the end, “will consumption make us happy“? If we were to rethink design and design education in the context of society, can it be classified by intent? Moreover, should design be universalWhat about moody? For all the paper that we read, each of these prominent design figures has a personal style of conveying their ideas. So is it actually possible for designers to lead a life in which they can truly alter their their own perspectives, in a world for which we design, and with which we should design?

Actually being there might help develop empathy, but is the data from ethnographic techniques pure? Maybe the data needs not to be “pure”, because value from synthesis and interpretation is inherently biased. At the same time though, would we risk running into the danger of creating a false sense of “now we know more about this [group of people]“? Leveraging co-designing techniques such as participatory interviews will certainly allow us to explore “designing opportunities for individuals and based on that they have an individual experience“. In our Interaction Design Research & Synthesis class, we learned by doing and certainly came out with our own conclusion on what data means. Not everything went perfectly, but our lessons learned were captured carefully.

Meanwhile, we are practicing how to tell stories. Stick figures were created in our Interaction Design Prototyping class to tell stories of how our classmate proposed, burritos in a series a tubes, or the pixar story. Then we got more sophisticated to tell stories that solve problems, like NetLib, voice of a restaurant, and the ideal thrift store experience. We pool together resources and continue to learn how to engage our audience. Each of us essentially is a story too. With an attitude of think/make, social media makes a good platform to have a living portfolio to tell that story. When we’ve figured out where our info should live, good practices to formulate blog posts, and how to engage on twitter, we will start developing them into process manifestos.

Life at AC4D is challenging yet rewarding. We share dreams, and in the process, will be creating our own definition of success.

Sometime this week, we are going to start discussing design for the “developing world”. Stay tuned for next month’s blog posts roundup – which will include the final verdict of which client we will be working with for the next 28 weeks.