NEF 2-Day Workshop: Problem Identification


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A couple of weeks back the entire NEF class of 2014 attended a 2-day workshop on Problem Identification, led by Chris Coleridge from UCL, and held at Idea London, a great venue and space co-owned/operated (I think?!) by UCL also.

It was great fun. A lot happened. Let me just spill some of my notes onto the page.

To start us off, we had a quick introduction and two-way discussion with Stuart Hilston. Stuart is heavily involved in the NEF and acts as the manager for the mentoring scheme which is provided to the whole cohort. An established entrepreneur, investor and mentor himself, Stuart has done around 20 startups himself in his career (of which he says roughly a third have failed – sounds alright to me!). Stuart was present to talk us through the mentoring scheme the NEF offer us, the process of matching each of us up with a mentor, and the things we should expect and likewise are expected of us, from our mentors. I’m looking forward to getting involved with a mentor and have been giving some thought to what sort of business area or background I might like my mentor to come from. A key takeaway from Stuart’s discussion was that we should really consider for a minute actually what is the motivation of our mentor(s) in mentoring us? Not something I’d really thought about previously!?  Indeed most of us probably just thought that a mentor is a kind hearted, well-wishing person who just wants to give back and offer us their time, experience and guidance for free. Well a few things to consider then, are that a mentor may well be all of the above, but for them they may also have a personal agenda to become involved in our startups, with a view to maybe investing or taking on a non-executive but paid advisory role further down the line. Nothing wrong with this at all. There’s nothing wrong with a mentor having their own agenda and personal interests in the mentoring relationship – just something I hadn’t quite spotted or appreciated before now – good call-out Stuart!

Why are we here (Problem Identification Workshop)? – To develop ideas – But, more importantly; to develop a toolkit. We need to identify skillsets and tools to be able to take on and make the most of entrepreneurial opportunities.

Value is created by solving a problem for a customer. Or, if a solution already exists – then by solving the problem in a better way than current offerings do.

Disruptive innovation is a brilliant tool and way to market for the young and agile business. It’s often simple, and in many cases involves lowering transaction costs with suppliers/partners, and consequently the cost to the customer.

Being Disruptive?! – Gives your company/product an opportunity to “sneak-up” on the competitors or “get a foot in the door” in your target market place.

Starting up in a space/marketplace which is currently or already too “hot” is too much of an ask for an early entrepreneur. “Hot” – already has competing small businesses or products innovating and fighting hard for market share, traction and disruption.

Industries ripe for disruption: Industries with a “dominant design”, and also “mature, profitable incumbents”.

A few examples I could think of: Telecomms, Banking, Utilities (Water, Gas, and Electricity), Supermarkets, Consulting (City “big-4”), Big Oil, Construction and Engineering.

Terminologies for global markets of interest (I didn’t know these before!): “BRICs” – Brazil, Russia, India, China. “MINTs” – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey.

Risk can be modeled, uncertainty can’t be.

If you can’t choose an idea from your list of options, or you’re struggling to come up with an idea in the first place – choose a “Mega Trend” and look within! (e.g. Global ageing community, Energy etc.).

Q: How much effort are people willing to put in to operate and then gain the benefits from your product or service? – If the convenience isn’t there, or the perceived effort is too high – customers won’t adopt what you’re selling.

“Solve Pains/Problems for people” – Sell them painkillers or remedies to their genuine problems, not just vitamins that skirt around the issue. Or even (my take on this): Sell them a CURE, rather than a painkiller. A cure solves and removes the problem/pain, whereas a painkiller just puts off or alleviates the pain/symptoms temporarily. Or even better – why not sell them something they need on repeat and become almost reliant on?! I.e. not a “one-hit-wonder”, but a “heroin” – like Facebook for example!

Sam