Lots of people have asked what Wahanegi is, meaning “What is the product?” or “What is the business?” or both. And the truthful answer is that no one knows. Not yet, not really.* That’s because Wahanegi is not yet a product or business, it is a lean startup pursuing innovation. The result of the innovation will be a product and a business. But we need to nail down a few other things first.
I thought others might find it helpful to see what process we are following, and perhaps folks who know better will have some feedback as well. It is more of a ‘startup innovation plan’ than a ‘startup business plan.’
Why not a business plan? I’ve created a lot of business plans that have resulted in varying degrees of success, including degrees of success that look like failure . In my experience, the process of creating a business plan is not particularly helpful in the early stages before you have a clue what the business is about. It is too easy to build castles on clouds, set incorrect expectations, and waste people’s valuable time. It is definitely less risky than having no plan at all, but it is a misleading and dangerous weapon when wielded by an optimistic and convincing entrepreneur who gets distracted by the expectations market at the expense of the real market. That is probably even more true when wielded inside a large company…a topic for another day.
So Wahanegi is following a twelve-step innovation process over the next few months – I’m not counting the creative process leading up to the millisecond-long Step Zero of the eureka moment, and I am collapsing years of work into Step 12. I’ll blog about each as they come along, and probably come back to edit this posting as the process unfolds.
Wahanegi’s Twelve Step Program for Lean Startup Success
- Talk to lots of people about a HUGE idea that resonates with a large market, play around with wireframe mockups, meet with some experts and do a lot of general research. This is more of an ongoing effort than a specific step, but I believe the idea has to percolate for a while both after the Step Zero eureka moment, and in public, to give the blemishes time and encouragement to emerge. This could go on for years in the background, though Wahanegi has only been actively percolating for two months. Wahanegi’s general idea is: Use new technology and new scientific insights to make reasonably happy people even happier. Of course, ‘people who want to be happier’ is a big market – the self-help market alone is somewhere between $1 billion and $10 billion a year, not counting all the other ways people find to spend money in search of happiness. Once you percolate for ‘long enough,’ move to Step 2.
- Identify 3-5 specific different customer segments and their corresponding problems, and then create a product concept for each one that is explainable in 5 minutes or less. That’s what the past couple months of intensive work have been about. As of last week, Wahanegi boiled down to four segments with associated product/service concepts: a game for twenty-to-thirty-somethings who like word play, a social app for twenty-to-thirty-something women who like to share their emotions, a mobile app for thirty-to-forty-something women who want to understand their emotions, and a mobile app for thirty-to-forty-something professionals who want to master their emotions. Getting there involved a lot of tacit knowledge, so for now I will leave the ‘how’ as an exercise for the reader.
- PLEASE READ MY RECENT POSTING: Don’t Believe the Like – Avoiding Wasted Time and Money on Facebook Advertising.
Do a series of landing page tests for each concept using segmented Facebook advertising. The goal of this stage is to create a heat map of concepts and early adopters. On the one hand, this is incredibly easy since the personas and concepts are tight and the tools out there are amazing, e.g. Unbounce, Facebook, MailChimp. On the other hand, it is extremely complicated to test creative content and customer segmentation across Facebook ads, landing pages and conversion steps. I think we’ve worked out a plan that is easily replicable. I’ll share more detail in future posts, but if you are curious you can see the current simple first-draft landing pages up on Unbounce: the game for word play, the social app for sharing, the mobile app for understanding and the mobile app for mastering. The germ of the idea for this step came from a post about how Mint.com started on Tim Ferriss’ blog, though unlike his chosen title, I think it’s worth spending more than a weekend on this unless you are either incredibly lucky, or incredibly smart and incredibly lucky.
- Talk to the early adopters about why they clicked and what they expect. Innovation and experimentation are iterative. Plus, if you’re not curious about why people did what they did, then I hope you are extremely lucky. At this point it doesn’t matter what ‘most people’ would do, since we’ve already talked with their representatives in Step 1. Now I want to know what the early adopters are all about…assuming there are enough of them out there.
- Create, test and talk about a new set of landing pages, this time including wireframes and videos of 7-10 very specific ideas that could be built quickly without a large budget. These are not ‘minimally viable products’ for anyone except curious and tolerant early adopters. You should create click-through wireframes and narrated demo videos so people can see, hear and feel what it is – that is fairly easy to do with Balsamiq. Converse with people virtually and in person, see what they say, iterate as needed. Wireframing should also be done during Step 1 since it is such a critical activity…e.g. I created several dozen Wahanegi wireframes and showed them around a little during my percolation phase in Step 1. However, in the early stages demos can also be deceiving, since people may invent an unimportant problem if they see a good demo, or dismiss a solution if they see a bad one. To net it out, the idea of Steps 1-5 is to spend more time honing in on key benefits first, and then make the benefits tangible in various ways to see what people say and do.
- Build a functional prototype, push it live, turn the crank fast. Do worry about speed and user experience, don’t worry about hyper-scalability and future-proofing (though keep the data/content model super-simple to make migration easier). Lots of folks have explained this better than I can, especially since my engineering degree is in rocket science, not code, and I tend towards metaphor. Regardless, all of my negative experiences with scalability and architecture came after the first $20M in revenue or 1M users, and most of those were before the age of virtualization and cloud scalability. Wahanegi will be happy to cross that terrifying bridge when we come to it, gotta get on the road first. Get it? That’s a metaphor.
- Coordinating with the previous steps, create 3-5 business models that map to the product concepts. In our case, this verges on building ‘castles in the clouds’ since we’re gunning for a super-scale customer base in the current concepts, in which case monetization will come later. However, there’s nothing wrong with such entrepreneurial dreaming when done in the service of learning about making money. As of today, the possible business models are: sell an app or subscription to consumers, act as a broker or crowd-sourcer for life coaches, sell advertising or anonymous data to consumer advertisers. That is a huge range of business models, so…
- Do some business model testing using landing pages and Google and Yahoo/Bing keyword advertising. We will use keyword ads to help understand how big and competitive the immediate market is for each business model. How much does it cost to advertise to brand managers seeking consumer insight, how many clicks and signups can you get…and perhaps most important, how much money can you spend on your keywords? That last one gives a sense of the immediate business opportunity without having to bet on some sort of extremely expensive or extremely lucky surge in awareness.
- Put the business model stuff aside, and rebuild the prototype from scratch based on everything you’ve learned. You only get to throw everything out once or twice, and only at the beginning, so take advantage of the opportunity and start from scratch.
- Build a great product. ‘Nuff said. Not all businesses need great products. This one does.
- Bring on co-founder(s) and/or investor(s) sometime during steps 6 thru 10, and definitely before step 11. Or not, or hand it over, or do something else…depending on how things are proceeding. There are lots of philosophies and theories about this topic, I have my own, and for now I’ll keep it at that .
- Figure out a business model, grow like mad, make money, change the world. And don’t forget, that’s all hard, too. Businesses transform as they move from $0M to $1M to $10M to $50M to $350M to $1B. Maybe it will happen, maybe you’ll be the guy or gal, maybe it will happen for Wahanegi.
*I’m not being coy about Wahanegi, so let me quote my net-it-out wife as she put it succinctly to a quizzical business school friend of mine:
“It’s an app designed to improve happiness, based on recent brain science about how pliable our brain is. The app, game and/or features are still in development – there are several ideas in there, which [is still] confusing, but at the end of the day, it’s about fun and engaging ways to increase your awareness of your emotional state and rewire your brain…to drive happiness.”
That works for now!