Back on January 25th, the students at Sunnyside High School in Fresno, CA were challenged to execute a Rapid Innovation Cycle (RIC) – a process that helps people quickly generate new product or service experiments that allow them to test the “unforgiving market place” and gather insights on the potential success of the concept being tested.
The TV Video Production class led by teacher Ms. Katie McQuone invited Chris McCoy–the co-creator of the Rapid Innovation Cycle–the opportunity to share the RIC process with her students in order to spawn “student-driven” projects. K-12 educators have a responsibility to deliver curriculums that implement “linked learning” to bolster student engagement. Researchers at UC Berkeley and others have experimentally proven that students are much more “engaged” and have much better “knowledge retention” when they own and generate the projects by which they apply skills and concepts learned in the classroom. This leads to higher student success both in school and post graduation. The Connected California website is a good resource for more information on similar initiatives.
The Rapid Innovation Cycle itself is a solution to a common problem. The challenge of any new entrepreneurial endeavor (and / or intrapreneurial endeavor) is figuring out “what” products and services people will pay money for (aka: a customer) without spending massive amounts of money developing those final products / services before it is known whether or not a market exists (aka: a specific and clearly identified group of customers). The output results of a well-executed Rapid Innovation Cycle clarify if a real opportunity exists and does so by simply applying the scientific method to business.
The challenge proposed to the students at Sunnyside High School was to go through the Rapid Innovation Cycle process in teams of three people (a Project Lead, a Video Lead and an Experimental Lead) over a one-month period. Their assignment or “deliverable” was to submit / upload to YouTube a video showing their Rapid Innovation Cycle projects–showing how they brainstormed a host of possible projects, how they chose their solution, how they built their market test, the experimental data they collected and finally, the results of their experiment. With literally zero guidance from Chris, three teams have submitted the following videos and we’re very impressed. The three projects are Shoe Case, The Self Mirror and the yet-to-be-named, “camera shade“.
The following commentary is Chris’s feedback to the students. It is broken into general commentary and then specific project feedback. The various phases of the Rapid Innovation Cycle process is defined in the reviewed project.
General Feedback for Round 1 of Sunnyside High School’s Rapid Innovation Cycle submissions:
- Overall, congrats to these three teams getting your submissions in on time. The real world works on deadlines and while rules can and often are bent (and we actually encourage this), you typically do yourself a big favor by getting things in on time. For those of you who haven’t turned anything in, there is still time before February 25 and we’re firm believers of “better late than never.”
- Video length was perfect and editing quality is very good. We asked students to submit their Rapid Innovation Cycle story in less than 3 minutes and they all were under that limit. Why is this important? Investors and people who can help you kickstart your business are typically VERY VERY busy people with very limited time. If you only have two minutes–in an elevator for example–to sell someone on your business, product or service, you have to be clear, succinct and convey to your audience what it is your offering and why they should care. This is known as the “elevator pitch” or as Chris Saka–billionaire and tech investor–referenced it in the new Podcast called “Startup”, the Uber Pitch (time it takes to catch an Uber cab).
- All projects are off to a great start but we will be looking for even more development in Round 2 of your Rapid Innovation Cycles. The projects reviewed thus far have done a good job at explaining their offering and then collecting feedback from potential customers (their peers), but there is still room for improvement and ways to get better market feedback.
Below we try to ask questions to these student teams that will help them determine how they can and should improve upon their Rapid Innovation Cycles.
Opportunity Recognition – Definition: the part of the process where many ideas are generated–typically from thinking about problems and complaints people have or by spotting opportunities as you go about life. Feedback from Chris:
- I would have liked to have seen how many other ideas you generated before settling on Shoe Case and specifically the reasoning as to why you selected this project over all other ideas you generated (that I’m assuming you had. Maybe you didn’t have any other ideas, if that is the case, how come? How could you generate more ideas easily? Remember what we taught you in the first session?).
- Please elaborate why you chose the Shoe Case project. Was it because that was the biggest market potential? Was it because it was a problem you thought you and your group were uniquely suited to solve? We’d like to see more of that discussion in Round 2 of the RIC (however, not necessarily on the same Shoe Case project–that is up to you).
Solution Selection – Definition: the part of the RIC process where the team picks the solution to their identified opportunity (or problem). Solutions have constraints which are typically: time, money, resources, skills, the team members, etc.
- The solution this team (and seemingly most other teams) was a customer interview after the prospective customer was told what the product or service was. While it is a good idea to get customer feedback, the quality of feedback you get back is highly dependent on what the customer perceives they’re potentially buying from the seller. In this “interview style” market test, the students unfortunately didn’t have a prototype so they were unable to collect money on the spot when their prospective customer claimed to be willing to buy the Shoe Case for between $5 and $10. This gave the team a decent baseline of what people “might” pay for their solution, but it’s not yet confirmed. The true test is to take real money as we did with fellow classmate Lovely and the RaverRing. How could you prototype this? What other experiment could you have run to get better data?
- It seems to me that this could be prototyped pretty easily with a plastic bag possibly, stretch pantyhose from the grocery store, or another stretchy material.
- I’d also question the solution as compared to its current market competition known as a “pre-existing system of use” known as….taking off your shoes before you walk in the door. Maybe the group could have created an experiment where they put mud in front of a classroom door and a sign that says, “Don’t track mud into class…either take off your shoes or pay $X dollars to by Shoe Cases”. Ask yourselves the question, “what will the data look like from our experiment and will we be able to make a meaningful decision based on that data?” Looking forward to see more in-depth experiments like this in Round 2.
Market Experimentation – Definition: this is the actual execution of the market experiment. It often involves collecting both quantitative (numerical data) and qualitative (descriptive data) based on a prospective customer’s reaction or engagement with the selected solution / market experiment.
- Again, the market experiment here was the interview of several fellow students. There is good information which came out of these interviews–such as “my mom’s boyfriend is a farmer” who might be a better customer than their high-school peers.
- Also it appeared that they got some information on pricing. However I have to question the validity because people can and do say many things that they don’t actually do. Humans are hard wired to tell each other what we “want to hear” vs. “the actual truth.”
Experimental Results – Definition: this part of the process reflects on the experiment, what information can be extracted from the data and what the team’s next step(s). Is the data promising? Should you continue with that project or move onto something else that is more promising or may have better market feedback. If you believe the data is good and suggests a promising business venture, maybe you continue the venture and executing more RICs. If the data is good but the market feedback is less than exciting, maybe it makes sense to put this project on hold and test another opportunity.
- In this Shoe Case example, the students only highlight the price range, $5-10 for each Shoe Case (or maybe as a set). So my follow up questions would be, “how much do you think it would cost to actually produce your solution?”
- Considering the cost of manufacturing and the price people said they were willing to pay, can you make a worthwhile profit (approximately the difference between cost to produce and the sale price). In general, I recommend that you try to get a cost of production at least 10x–ideally 20x–lower than your sale price, thus, you should be able to produce your Shoe Case for $0.50/ea or even better, $0.25/ea.
- Considering this could be prototyped rather easily, I believe you could get much more reliable data by generating a prototype or two and actually selling them to potential customers. We’ll expect to see more hardware and software prototypes in Round 2 of the RICs at Sunnyside.
The Self Mirror
- Cool concept. I could see this working in dance clubs with friends. There are many situations during parties and events the event organizer hires a camera crew to take pictures of the guests. This could replace that person taking photos.
- What were the other concepts you discarded? Why did you choose the Self Mirror over every other opportunity you recognized?
- The team selected an interview to market test their solution. Read above comments from the first project. Same concerns apply here. People “claim” they would buy for some price but you can’t confirm without actually collecting money from your prospective customer.
- How could you construct this prototype? What do you believe the cost would be? Are there any other experiments you could do to validate your hypothesis?
- Interviews without prototypes don’t always yield the best data. See if you can’t prototype this solution or find another way to solve the identified problem that is testable. Maybe it’s a video of a “fake Self Mirror” which “looks” as if it works as claimed.
- Do you truly believe you can produce this product and be profitable by selling for $29.99? Seems like you found the right price for your potential market but I’d be curious to know how much you believe it would cost to fabricate this prototype and final product. Not sure how to make this? Who in your network do you know who you could ask? Hint hint, I know you know someone who can help you here.
“Camera Shade” (let us know what we should call your product)
- Definitely seems like a legitimate problem.
- Did you check Amazon.com to see if this product exists already? If so, how could you improve it? What does it cost? Can you produce something that could be better or made more cheaply?
- What other opportunities did you recognize during your first RIC?
- I liked the the concept of drawing out and speeding up the video to illustrate the solution. Unfortunately, I still struggled to figure out exactly what you were building / proposing as the solution. Also consider using a timelapse video to illustrate the drawing at a faster pace–consider a voice over to explain what you’re drawing. Your concept should be easily understood by your grandmother. It takes time to polish this story–keep working on it and put yourself in their shoes. That always helps.
- Similar to the comments above, Interviews without prototypes don’t always yield the best data. I know that in old historical movies, I remember seeing people using draped cloths to block light over the camera viewer lens. Is your solution a universal shade for both professional cameras and tablets?? Is this something that would fold up and always be with you? Not sure, please elaborate in your next RIC.
- Sounds like you could get pricing between $10-20 for the product. It is my belief that this product could be prototyped pretty easily. Any reason why you didn’t do that? If not, you’ll have an opportunity when we all see each other again next week.
Conclusions from Round 1 of the Rapid Innovation Cycle at Sunnyside High School
Overall, it seems like the students are grasping the overall concept and utility of the Rapid Innovation Cycle which is AWESOME. The video submissions are the first of its kind for the Rapid Innovation Cycle. Based on these initial submissions, I’m very optimistic to see what the students will be producing over the next few months both in terms of the Rapid Innovation Cycle market tests and the videos themselves. Next time we meet with the students at Sunnyside, we’ll focus on how to rapidly prototype and get them from simple ideas and customer interviews to sellable alpha products and prototypes.
Now for the rest of you who haven’t submitted yet, it’s called Rapid Innovation!! Time to get to work, you have t-minus 4 days to get them submitted before Chris arrives.