Chapter 2: Test Your Idea Quickly -
Tomorrow Toolkit for Entrepreneurs
At the Detroit Tomorrow Tour stop.
Test Your Idea Quickly By Lalita Clozel
Make a clear case for what your product or business is by defining it. You must address your problem and speak to your (potential) customers or clients as soon as you can. Here are the basics for how.

Tom Chi, the cofounder of Google X, didn’t always wear Google Glass, one of the first, best-known experiments with wearable tech. After launching with a smash in 2014, Google closed its Glass Explorer program in early 2015 and will remain an example of a high-profile product test for years to come.

The first prototype for Google Glass, he said, was pieced together in about three hours, from parts that included a coat hanger and the stretchable fabric high school kids use to cover their textbooks.

But that came after way too many hand-wringing sessions over questions like Glass’s display colors, he said.

“The innovation that we have is 100 or 1,000 times too slow,” he said at a conference in 2015.

And that’s because organizations — even the top thinkers at Google — spend too much time planning and not enough fiddling with a real, actionable prototype.

After there’s a prototype, startup entrepreneurs should not be afraid to test their products and fail fast.

Massimo Baldini, cofounder of mobile connectivity company Tome, is building an Internet of Things-focused company in Detroit. He said businesses should dread reaching a “zombie” state, when a project isn’t going anywhere but still costing time and money. Here, startups may have an edge on larger competitors.

“The ability which is embedded in small companies of making it or breaking it within weeks or months as opposed to having an idea that can float in the back of a corporate office for years, that’s priceless,” Baldini said.

With a startup, the need to take action is especially pronounced, when your own savings or a limited amount of funding are at stake. Carlos Currea of community crowdfunding startup Loqalus is one of a growing number of civic-oriented entrepreneurs in Chicago. As he described it, founders are “running against the clock.”

So, what’s a good way for organizations to cut to the chase? Through rapid prototyping: putting the developer and designer in a room, to face a stream of nonnegotiable feedback from users, all the while coding and rebuilding the project. Chi knows best the software and IT hardware world, but the logic follows for any group executing on a mission. Test early and test often.

“It’s better to get out there and find out that you were totally wrong and still have the resources you need to continue on, than to spend months or years building something that really nobody ever wanted,” Currea said.

The flow of reinvention is meant to free the creators from the Scylla and Charybdis of “deck dilution” and excessive attachment to one iteration of the project, allowing them to push forward with interesting new ideas, he said. So get the leanest test, your most minimum viable product done before you move forward.

No matter what your organization type, get the fastest, easiest, simplest test out first. The innovation of today, said Tom Chi, a Google Glass founder, is still 100 or 1,000 times too slow.”

Your Checklist:

  • Start with your goal: Begin with what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want to improve an existing solution? Or solve a new problem? Do you want to help solve a social problem like food insecurity? Do you want to build a process? Or business? A social enterprise? Or product? With that goal in mind, you can know what you should be testing. For Currea, the goal came directly from identifying the problem that he was attempting to solve. Lots of research also helped.
  • Remember science class: Think back to the Scientific Method you learned in school. You may approach testing your initial product a bit more informally but the lessons from the approach on which modern scientific research is based can be helpful. Make a hypothesis and find a way to test it. For Chi and others working on the first prototype that would become Google Glass, their goal was to develop an early piece of wearable tech and their hypothesis was they could do it with existing technology assembled differently. It worked, so they moved forward with development. It took three hours to test. This doesn’t only fit for products. It can also work for processes and services. 
  • What is the central question you’re asking: The key to finding a small, lean and approachable test is making sure to know exactly what you’re asking. Instead of the big goal — “Can we build a break-through, immersive piece of wearable tech?” — get to the first step: “What are the specific obstacles to building a breakthrough immersive piece of wearable tech?” Similarly “Can I reduce food waste at a soup kitchen to increase its efficiency?” is a more approachable test than “Can I create a soup kitchen that will change lives?”
  • Assemble the needs to test immediately: Chi says you need to remove all obstacles and approach the challenge immediately, during the brainstorm. That’s where the coat hangers came into play for that first Google Glass trial. Perhaps your soup kitchen test could start in your home kitchen and then quickly progress to an off-hours test at an existing soup kitchen. As Apu Gupta, cofounder and CEO of visual analytics startup Curalate, said at the Philadelphia Tomorrow Tour stop: “Fire bullets not cannonballs because you never know where the market will go.” 
  • Get it done and record everything: Complete the test and write down everything you’ve learned. Use “pros and grows,” which is a list of things that could be improved and things that worked well. Did you find firm roadblocks or simply things that can be improved upon with time and precision?
  • Right Now: One the most popular handbooks for this mindset is the Lean Startup Methodology, though it’s become so popular it is sometimes used as a symbol of newcomers to entrepreneurship. Still, start there, and you’ll quickly develop a further foundation. Find the core principles here.

Once you’ve immediately tested your idea and found there is something worth pursuing, you’re ready to do just that. The point here is you must test your core idea as quickly as possible in as small a way as possible.

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