Q&A with Luis Martinez, Director of Entrepreneurship at Trinity University
Dr. Luis Martinez, Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Trinity University, visited the Codeup classroom to talk to our students about entrepreneurship. Below is a Q&A from the end of his presentation.
How do you differentiate between proof of concept, prototype, minimum viable product, and customer validation when coaching students?
The first thing to ask is, “what’s the true value proposition?”. So, “what’s the ‘it’ that’s really going to be valuable?”. The second questions is, “who is the customer?”. You really need to understand your customer better than they understand him or herself. That means talking to customers, that means working with customers, that means actually going to people and saying, “look I have this idea what do you think?”. So define the true value proposition you’re trying to provide, and then match that with real customers and real customer needs.
Then the second step, once you make that connection and validate that value proposition with a customer match, is actually getting the “it” in front of somebody, or a version of the “it” in front of somebody to be able to sense whether or not it’s really going to be viable.
Investors love you, but they love paying customers best. So between you and the investor, there’s the prototype, there’s the app that helps convince them there really is a path forward and not just some guys who’s nice to talk to but has nothing to offer.
Have you begun to see more entrepreneurial models and educational approaches in high schools or middle schools across the United States?
There’s a lot of stuff going on right now in high schools and middle schools, who are just beginning [entrepreneurship]. Venture Labs, which is just down the street [from Codeup], is doing some really great work in trying to put that into the curriculum. I don’t know if it’s a fad or if it will be here permanently, but we are seeing a lot more of it. We’re also seeing a lot more young college students getting involved in entrepreneurship.
What do you think about crowdsourcing platforms as a means of defining value proposition and finding customers and funding?
I love crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, I think it’s a great way of determining whether your thing is the upcoming thing that people wanna buy. The problem with crowdsourcing is that there’s just a lot of crap out there and there’s a lot of people who are not only selling you something, but a whole bunch of stuff that you’re not gonna get. So it’s great if you’re doing it for real and using it for the right reasons.
From the inventor/startup side, it’s a phenomenal way of being able to say, “we have 5,000 people who want to buy our special sauce and so now we’ve taken that money we’re gonna go bottle that sauce.” But I urge you all to think about what the next thing is going to be. What’s after crowdsourcing? We’re already seeing a variety of that with equity crowdfunding, but is there something else that can be the next thing? When we think about the principles of crowdfunding, is there an opportunity to leapfrog and go just above that curve of innovation to be the first entrant, or occupy that first niche that does something differently?
If your startup idea is an adaptation or modernization (a faster wheel, so to speak) of an earlier product, does the process of developing that idea change?
It’s still the same, but it makes selling it easier. It’s like, “Facebook for cats,” like, “Sea World without large mammals,” like, “Uber, but for boats.” It’s easier to sell; there’s a higher likelihood that you know who your customer are, because there are people using it already.
The challenge is that some of the big companies are already thinking about those things and they have chosen not to pursue them for various reasons. The good news for startups is that maybe the reasons corporate companies chose not to pursue are the exact reasons why you should choose to pursue them as a startup: because they’re too big, too bureaucratic to understand the real opportunity, or they chose to pass on it.
Be careful with an idea that’s similar to what other people are doing. Do your due diligence. Sometimes the patent literature is in the library and you can thumb through and see there was this old company that had that same idea 20 years ago, who then got bought out, and got bought, and got bought out, and no one ever did anything with it. Now if you just tweak that idea–by taking what they did and marrying it with the cloud, marrying it with crowdsourcing, marrying it with an app platform, social media–you will then be able to see the right opportunity. If those guys are still around, it might be worth finding them and asking, “whatever happened to that?”.
Elevator pitch versus Ted Talk?
You will need different pitches for different audiences at different times, so have them all ready. You should have your 10 second elevator pitch, your 2 sentence explanation of what you do, your 3 minute pitch, your Ted Talk; you should have a deck for an investors with appendices, a deck for sales to sell your thing. There are different kinds of ways of presenting for different kinds of audiences; have all of those presentations relatively polished so when that opportunity presents itself, you can pitch it right then. Be ready.
Start with outlining the technically detailed way to say what you’re trying to say to other engineers, computer scientists, people who are in the field who do and see the need and will be able to make the thing that you need to make. Then, think of the 35,000-foot big-picture version of what you’re trying to say, and sort of in between those is the rest of the world.