How to Validate Your Business Idea: The Lean Startup By Eric Ries

Starting a business is a very daunting task. However, with this week’s tips, you can start by validating first your business idea before you even go full blast with your business. Here are some tips from the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries:

Draft the User Experience Vision. It is crucial to develop the journey of the user. If possible, draft it with functional specifications and UI/UX wireframe. It will serve as a high-level plan, so you will be able to consider all aspects that you can offer to your target market. The photo below is the actual brainstorming notes for our Snap Accounting project at Hilsoft.

Identify Critical Assumptions. With Snap Accounting, we assume that small businesses, who want to make their back-end transaction processing efficient, are not tech-savvy enough to setup existing self-service accounting platform. So our critical assumption is that they will need a platform where they can start to record their invoices or checks in a snap.

Build an Early Version to Validate a Critical Assumption (Concierge MVP, Smoke Screen MVP). In 2016, we started by forking the accounting module from our existing ERP suite. We quickly replaced the UI/UX but launched it without the self-service option yet. We offered it to accounting firms but did the customer onboarding manually. That is the concierge Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach. The smokescreen MVP is where you develop marketing campaigns without a finished product yet. It is like a pre-selling or pre-order style of MVP.

Release and Measure. After reaching 100 active users in the Concierge MVP of Snap, that’s the time we developed the self-service option (hilsoftsnap.com). We are now in the process of posting online ads and measuring the feedback of the market. At the moment, we get about 5-7 new registrations per week, with about 1-2 accounts that remain active.

Pivot or Persevere. This stage is where you do iterations in your product and tweaks your marketing efforts. I recommended that you continue to do that cycle until you reach your ultimate goal of either your revenue goals or investment for growth. Perseverance is the key.

My Productivity Apps

Productivity is on the decline when we are disengaged from our work. We tend to procrastinate, at times, or become lazy with a big chunk of tasks on hand. It is the reason why I am obsessing the idea of making my work more anxiety-free and be more productive.

It’s a good thing that there are many productivity mobile apps available to make our work life more comfortable. I’ve tried a lot of tools, and here is what I use for now.

  1. Trello – I fell in love with Trello after trying several project management tools. I tried Assembla, Jira, Asana, Remember The Milk, but Trello somehow fit in with my work and lifestyle because of it’s built-in support for agile. I also have met Michael Pryor, co-founder and CEO of Trello and mentored us in Lisbon Web Summit last 2016.
  2. Alarmed – it is a very flexible reminder app that can nag you, or give you the option to snooze, add more hours or minutes on the fly. We all know that our day doesn’t really happen as planned, and with this app, I can easily adjust accordingly.
  3. Viber, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and Telegram – I use all of these tools because of the different preferences of my contacts. If I have a choice, then I would prefer to have a single app for all. I tried researching for one, but there’s no available in the market yet. Hopefully, someone invents this soon.
  4. Spark – I just tried this email client app to solve my problem in delegating an email to someone without forwarding it to the person. I still use the Gmail app in sorting out my email, but I use Spark when I need to delegate some messages in my inbox.
  5. Forest – I use this app when I want to focus on a particular task, and if I don’t want to be disturbed. It is an app where a user can set some minutes to work on a job (Pomodoro style). Trees grow virtually as a virtual reminder that you are growing and productive until you finish the time set.

These are just tools, but in the end, it is all about how your approach in using them. You can use this and still be stressful. The key is organizing your time properly, time-blocking, and being mindful of urgent-important matters vs. non-urgent-non-important ones.

Maybe you would want to stop and gather your thoughts before engaging. I use Evernote in journaling and mind mapping when things are a little bit all over the place.

Innovation is Infinite

I just turned 39 and my fire to innovate keeps on burning. Creativity never stops, and I feel haven’t even started yet. Here are 39 sample innovations you can do to your life. It is endless.

1. Break your routine, your commute route or your habits.

2. Refrain from eating rice and replace it with sweet potatoes or any good carbs.

3. Download free home bodyweight workouts.

4. Try self-hypnosis.

5. Allot 20% of your income to pay debts.

6. Google passive income opportunities.

7. Try the Pomodoro technique at work.

8. Try Bullet Journaling technique.

9. Learn how to sell. Selling talent = Income Growth.

10. Identify your personal brand and enhance it. Brand is a long term asset.

11. Grow your network online.

12. Google hobby list and try some hobbies at least once a month. It can be your business one day.

13. Focus on one market niche at a time.

14. Be mindful in spending time with your spouse and your kids.

15. Connect with your relatives and friends at least once in a while.

16. Browse through your contact list and randomly send a “How are you?” text.

17. Declutter your desktop at least once a month.

18. Create a YouTube channel and document your business or life adventures.

19. Create an Instagram account and post every food you eat, refer from calorie content apps and put calorie captions in your post

20. Buy a sketch pad and try doodling or sketching. It is therapeutic.

21. Try waking up at 4am and sleeping early. Or vice versa.

22. Listen to podcasts while in traffic.

23. Message influencers or celebrities and offer them your service for free, video editing, copywriting, website development,

24. Connect with at least 10 LinkedIn accounts a day. Message them and offer your service.

25. Organize a small group dinner at least once a month.

26. Not fond of reading? Try audiobooks.

27. Practice labeling every action you do. “brushing teeth”, “sitting down”, “listening”, “washing face”, it improves your concentration skills and makes you be present.

28. Try something new at least once a month. Something you are scared of like public speaking, riding a motorcycle, etc.

29. Sleep naked.

30. No motivation to workout? Start small by walking in a park. Gradually increase your time.

31. Search self-motivation or self-affirmation on YouTube. Listen to it when you’re down.

32. Replace your negative thoughts, worries, fears with positive affirmations. As long as you take actions to overcome those challenges, then you have nothing to worry about.

33. Grow your idea muscle. Force yourself to think of 10 ideas a day.

34. Learn how to code.

35. Learn a new dish at least once a month.

36. For the singles, there’s no harm trying online dating.

37. Spend on travels than hoarding material things.

38. Engage with social media by liking, commenting or giving sensible opinions on their posts.

39. Establish an evening routine by evaluating what has transpired in your day, ask yourself what would somebody you look up to do with your current challenges, congratulate yourself and identify three important tasks to focus on the next day.

Innovation By Outside-In Thinking: 3 Reasons Why You Should Adopt This and 5 Tips To Execute

When we decided to develop our first ever product, an online accounting software, we have no idea of how it works and what is acceptable to the market. We did it by reverse engineering existing accounting software online without careful assessment of the user needs especially Filipino accountants. We picked modules and sub-modules based on naive common sense. We did it inside-out.

Fast forward six months later, we showed what we developed to prospective clients, and it turned out that it was not sellable. We went back to our drawing board, and fortunately, we met an accountant who’s well versed with systems, and we learned that we have to redo 80% of our code. So we did, and our product evolved customer-driven or outside-in from thereon.

Outside-in by definition is an approach guided by customer orientation and customer value creation. It means that real customer problems and challenges drive the product features, operational process efficiency or human resource structure.

Why should we innovate by outside-in thinking? Here are some reasons and benefits:

  1. Customers are becoming more powerful. With the online reviews and social media feedback platform, companies have no choice but to listen to their customers. Spend efforts to maximize customer benefits rather than the shareholder returns.
  2. Market disruptions are popping here and there. People are a lot wiser. We can quickly learn something from the Internet andYouTube with the vast content and information overload; hence people can easily find ways to tap the whitespace of a particular market. There’s no way of knowing that whitespace if companies don’t listen or get feedback from the customers. So if you stop listening, then you’ll become obsolete.
  3. It improves customer delivery. Organizations who adopt the inside-out method define their delivery process based on theories or experience they got from their previous jobs. Every business is unique, so whatever process that is successful from other companies does not necessarily apply to your company. By outside-in thinking, companies should put themselves to the customer’s shoes, simulate the experience and practice empathy. Define the customer’s pain points and change the method based on those data. This method will definitely decrease customer attrition rate and complaints, an increase in repeat business and loyalty.

Here are some tips in executing business in an outside-in manner:

  1. In product development, obtain an understanding of what products or service that is available in your target market. Research why a particular group of customers are not buying them and not solving their problems. Develop a feature to solve that problem.
  2. In sales, understand their challenges and the reason why they made time for you before you make your pitch.
  3. In delivery, understand the customer journey. Please take note of all the touchpoints and check to see how you can improve them.
  4. In execution, improve your response time, close all issues and feedback and do not tolerate problems.
  5. In HR, train employees to ensure the organization is all on the same page in doing the above.

Can You Systematize Innovation?

When it comes to systematizing innovation, I always remember “Try a lot of stuff and keep what works”, a chapter in Jim Collins book Built to Last. It tells about how 3M and the others systemize their process by having a 15% rule. It encourages their employees to use 15% of their time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.

I tried that a couple of times with Hilsoft, but we always fail. We were always bombarded with operational issues, and it is difficult to spare time to execute innovative ideas.

I came across with a podcast of Tim Ferris the other day, and I got a little excited when the guest was Eric Schmidt, the former CEO & chairman of Google.

The first idea I learned was to run your company at a consistent spin rate with the formula:

70% of your efforts in your core product
20% of your efforts in new products
10% of your efforts in new ideas

Unlike the 15% rule where it is employee driven, this is management driven. To simplify the idea, you can depict the formula above as: 70% of your team shall focus on your core products, 20% dedicated team in new products and 10% dedicated team in new ideas. It resolves the issue of cutting the momentum of the core products team as the new products & new ideas are dedicated.

At Hilsoft, in a way, this is unconsciously executed. Majority of our team focuses on our core which is ERP and HR/Payroll. A smaller percentage of our team is dedicated to new products such as Hotel Management, Real-Estate & CRM and a tiny portion on new ideas such as Snap Accounting & Snap Payroll. With this new learning, I am motivated to mindfully steer our team to more or less hit the percentages above. This move should result in more focus, clear direction, and staff satisfaction. We can always shuffle people now and then, to excite them.

The second idea that I learned, that as a leader, you may also want to systematize your meetings. I first discovered this from Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter where he runs the company in themed days.

“The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”

Instead of squeezing your time each day in solving issues on all departments, having themed days is focus-driven hence more productive results.

I just recently implemented Mondays in operations, Tuesdays in sales and Fridays in team coaching and culture. The rest would be client meetings as we don’t have the luxury yet of me being full time in the back office. I still need to support our sales and delivery team in the field.

So to answer the question in the title, yes innovation can be systematized. It’s a matter of building & setting the right parameters (time & resource) to keep your clock ticking.

9 Tech Trend Assumptions That We Make That Is Probably Wrong

In light of my fascination with technology and innovation, I’ve been thinking about some assumptions that many of us make that may be wrong or we don’t realize what is really happening in the technology space.

This post is to encourage all of us to innovate and stimulate our thinking about the latest technology trends.

  1. The future of technology is coming. What we don’t realize is that it is here already. We have the AI, VR, AR, DLT, name it. We are already on it, and we just need to think of ways on how to apply it.
  2. Social media makes us happy. Yes if you’re using it properly. Some people are just not mindful that they only use it as a platform to let other people perceive them as happy.
  3. Internet or Cybersecurity is not a big deal. Hackers stole $172B from people in 2017.
  4. If we create an app and place an ad, it will get traction by itself. Before even creating the app, introduce first the change that you want to contribute to your chosen market. Build your MVP and minimum viable audience (MVA), a small tribe of loyal customers first and then do the ads.
  5. Your business does not need an AI strategy. If this is your assumption, then expect that you will go out of business in 10-20 years.
  6. Innovation is always just about the latest technologies. When Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone, the touch screen technology has been existing for quite a while already. He was able to disrupt the market by using an existing technology.
  7. Innovation is only for geniuses. Anybody can innovate. If you’re an employee, you can always find ways to improve your productivity by using new tools and technologies. There’s a lot of productivity tools out there such as Asana, Trello or JIRA. If you’re a developer, research and introduce coding practices like automated-tests, continuous integration and new ways to build and debug, if successful, then you can always share with your colleagues or even the management.
  8. That Blockchain and distributed ledgers (DLT) are the same things. If bitcoin or cryptocurrencies are the by-products of the blockchain, DLT is the mother concept of the blockchain. There several other implementations of DLT such as blockDAG and TDAG. Each has distinct characteristics that affect security and performance. If you choose to innovate on this space, then carefully study each option.
  9. That Blockchain is unhackable. Yes, it is, specially colluded attacks. Again, find the right balance in your implementation.

If you’re an entrepreneur and you want to build something, define your mission first more than profits. Choose your target audience. Analyze their challenges and white space. Then solve them through the latest technology that is applicable to solve the problem. You don’t need to study deeply on a particular subject if you don’t need it.

In any case, the awareness of the above can help you apply the technology rightly and may give you a proper perspective of the future.

The Innovative Employee

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Being an innovative employee is a little tricky. It depends on your overall career objective. Are you working for your employer because you love what you do? Or are you working because you want to help your family, help customers, save for the future or gain experience?

When I was working for a Japanese company back in the day, I used to play around with tools to make our product, a banking application, useable. My motivation was the self-gratification of solving real-life programming challenges. I was competitive and enjoy the experience of finishing early on my commitment. Until I left the company and worked for my own.

So the innovation that I had done was to find ways to estimate tasks creatively, execute coding with finesse and release early. I break tasks into 2-hour chunks, use a notepad to log them thru our intranet time accounting app.

As the youngest member of the 12-man team, I love the attention I get when I solve challenging problems by myself.

Here’s my take on how to be an innovative employee and routines that will get you on your way to peak performance:

Proper Mindset

Having a positive mindset and attitude is the top most important thing that you should do. Stay away from work gossip and toxic people who feed you nothing but negativity & complaints.  Establish a productive routine from making your bed by the time you wake up, visualization, exercise, and focus.

Implement the latest technology and methodology.

Look up the technique called “Pomodoro”. It’s about breaking your tasks into 25-minute chunks and 5-minute break. It’s one of the trending methodologies these days. With this, plus an app such as TickTick can be an innovative tool for productivity.

Balance stress and rest.

Did you know that the most important part of toning your body is rest? After breaking your muscles during a workout, rest is the part where it builds back the muscles that you teared up. It’s no different with work, rest is where you sometimes achieve the eureka moment and get solutions to your problems. It allows your brain to step out of the linear thought process. It is where your subconscious mind kicks-in.

Do not multi-task.

Compartmentalize your tasks into categories and block your time for each category. Turn off your phone during time-blocking.

Concretize your purpose.

Is it really about just gaining experience or just getting your salary every 15th and 30th? Align your purpose with the company’s purpose to get motivated and contribute to society.

Set your own scorecard and engage for impact.

Try to gamify your scores. When I heard the term “gamify” for the first time, I couldn’t help but be curious and be excited about it. Being creative on your targets and your KPIs make it more exciting and fun to work with.

Engaging for impact means, just adequate follow through and you’re working harmoniously with your team especially when your tasks are inter-linked with each other.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing progress, whether it is about your own growth, the company’s, your team or your customer’s.  And being an innovative member of your team gives you true pleasure at work and in life.