Get Market Fit, my fourth startup, made its debut to the world yesterday. I launched with a 60-second pitch at EIE - Scotland's premier technology investor showcase event. I was very proud to be back at EIE (I launched my last one there too) and to pitch something that I can't wait to spend the next 5+ years of my life on.
Get Market Fit enables enterprises to boost their return on investment from corporate innovation, by outsourcing the execution to entrepreneurs with proven track records in tech startups. We assemble diverse teams of highly experienced entrepreneurs - all keen to work flexibly around their existing family and work commitments - to make corporate innovation ideas a reality, in a commercially robust way. The enterprise retains all IP and control over how the idea is embedded back into the business, and both parties teams are enriched by working together.
EIE is the largest event of its kind in the UK outside London - one of those rare places where the entrepreneurial and tech eco-system for Scotland come together for a day. So 6 months ago, when I was sure my next great idea would come to me at any moment if I just tried even harder and studied even more, it made complete sense to commit to pitching my "nameless, next amazing one" there on 19th April 2018.
Afterall, that was next year, ages away - I'd have no problem coming up with something amazing by then. They had faith that I would deliver because I always do. I would borrow some of that faith for myself. And I was working almost full time on coming up with my next idea and trying very, very hard. So what could possibly go wrong....?
Well despite this being my fourth startup, despite having gone through this exact process before (minus a deadline), it turns out that coming up with that next big idea takes a lot longer and many many more iterations and blind alleys than you ever remember.
I must have seriously considered at least 25 ideas over the last year - and when I say seriously considered, I mean I actually did fairly significant, structured validation work on them. I worked my way through Bill Aulet's 24 Steps of Discipline Entrepreneurship, in some cases up to about step 8. There were dozens more that were crossed off the long list before that because, well, they made absolutely no sense to be done at all, or to be done by me.
I was looking for something specific - I always start with a framework - and this time I wanted something that was:
very viable in terms of unit economics (that ruled out anything to do with plants!)
targeting customers that could and would pay (that ruled out startups)
doable by me and people I know and trust (that ruled out drone insurance and a whole bunch of other stuff)
something I really wanted to do for the next 20,000 hours of my life (that ruled out all the stuff I couldn't force myself to care enough about)
in a field and market segment I know reasonably well and where I had at least a moderately good understanding of the customer pain
with enough competitive breathing space in within its niche so that we wouldn't get crushed too early (that ruled out most HR tech)
offering a very realistic chance of being the best in that niche
Oh, and I didn't want to be fundraising just to get to the start line either. No, I most definitely did not.....
So 6 months turned into 3 months in a flash. 12 weeks out was the first EIE pitching workshops. I didn't even have a business. At 8 weeks I was panicking and considering any idea. At 6 weeks - I ruled out an OK, but hardly world shattering idea I'd been working on mostly out of desperation. My heart wasn't in it and the niche was insufficiently defined. It was a concept, not a business.
As plan B I had a quiet word with a couple of the startups I mentor to ask whether - if required - they would be happy for me to pitch their company instead. That took the pressure off.
5 weeks ago I stopped worrying. I finally moved on from the pain of the last year and cut the last emotional ties to my old company. I did my TEDx talk, told my story - that was hugely liberating. I accepted the next idea might not come and might not be mine when it did. I relaxed and emptied my mind. I started yoga (yes, really - the extra hot sweaty kind).
And wouldn't you damn well freaking well know it??! Pretty much as soon as I stopped trying, there it was! I could actually see in my mind a 3D map of all the relevant but unconnected data points from the last year - and more - hanging like little stars. And there in the space between the stars was a clear, slightly rippling pool of pain that was mine to own. A problem that my team and I were uniquely super-powered to dive in and solve.
At this point, you may be thinking there's some seriously weird stuff in the air at that hot yoga place. That is probably very true. You may also be wondering how I can have pools of water in space alongside the stars, wouldn't lack of gravity and heat make that impossible? It is my mind, my crazy vision, I'm just telling you what I see....
So bam. There it was. But - because I know how easily I fall in love with an idea (and with the clock now standing at 2 days from the EIE stand artwork deadline)- I assembled my team and smartest critics to destroy the idea. Despite it being an intense, extreme form of tough love, they didn't destroy this one! In fact, they applied their sharp minds to busting a few of my assumptions and in doing so made the idea significantly stronger. After that, I called everyone I could think of with relevant expertise and begged them to destroy it too. They didn't - instead, I got a founding team and advisory panel. All the research for the 25 previous ideas was in place, so we were actually way further along than we ever could have hoped. The website and copy mostly wrote itself because we were using the words of people we had already spoken to who had told us over and over again about their challenges.
So just in time I submitted the artwork for my lovely EIE stand. I used a domain and name of a company I already had registered for speed, and because it just all made sense. We've worked hard and like crazy ever since - and of course, this is only the very earliest beginning of the process - but we got here and we'll get there.
So welcome to the world number four - this is going to be a blast. If you're an experienced entrepreneur, put your startup experience and spare capacity to work as part of a flexible working community that delivers results by signing up - work a day a month, or for a 6-week stint - it is completely up to you.
And when I prepare to launch startup number 5 - maybe for EIE 2024 - please remind me to chill out, go to hot yoga and hallucinate stars and space pools a few months earlier than I did this time. My stress levels and those of the people around me will thank you for it!