Preparing for the first panel

This is about class three (June 1st, 2011) from the course (Real World Software Engineering for Entrepreneurs (A Startup Accelerator)

From the instructors, Scott Russell and Todd Sedano

It’s normal to be apprehensive about your first panel. It’s not clear where you are headed with your idea, and you haven’t had a chance to validate it with the marketplace. You are focused in the coding trenches trying to get something to work, it’s time to pop out and see what the market thinks of your idea.

When you meet with the panel, you’ve got to tell people how it is supposed to work. You are looking for their feedback reaction. Then you will learn how far off you are. Embrace expectation failure, you need this feedback. The panel knows that your product is “raw” and not finished. If you think you know who your target customer is, put that forward. If you aren’t certain, hazard a bold specific guess. “Our customer is film lovers in their early 20’s.” If you know the makeup of the panel, then you can see if the panel is your target customer. When you are speaking to an intellectual group in their 40’s, don’t be surprised if they don’t resonate with a product geared for Lady Gaga music fans. When presenting your product, don’t focus on what the product does, but what problem you are trying to solve. Be provocative. Tell them it cures cancer. If they don’t think your product does that, find out why. Find out how you are missing the mark. If you were selling an Recreational Vehicle (RV), you don’t sell the customer on the miles per gallon or the capacity of the septic tank, you sell them on the vision: imagine being at the lake fishing with your family. Put on your sales hat and BS about what the product does. Don’t tell them what the product is going to go. Avoid “we working towards a release one where …..” and “we think that the nominal market will be.” Instead be bold and clear. “Our product is facebook for the medical community.” Be laser focused. Be specific about the key core functionality. You aren’t going to release a product that works on every phone. “For the first release, our product works on the iPhone platform.” If people want more and more features, it’s ok to delay the features. You don’t have an infinite amount of time and money to build everything. The common user won’t understand technology. You can explain what it is and what it will do for them, but don’t get lost in Acromania. “We’ve done the hard work to build something special.” It was tough to do, but you are making it easy for them. It’s a defensible asset. Consider how you will end your presentation. What do you want from the panel? Ask them a question. You have just spent six minutes of your valuable time presenting to this panel, what is your ask? ask the panel a question. We’ve asked the teams to consider their strategy for their first panel. Here is a sample of their thoughts.

Team Coach Potatoes (Andrew Steele, Anooj Vagadia, Patrick Baumann, Henry Fung) As a development team working on an as yet unreleased product, we are looking to get as much out of Wednesday’s panel as possible. Most importantly, we will be trying to assess the feasibility of our idea and its potential worth. Part of our presentation to the panel will consist of a demo of our current features and discussion of upcoming features. We hope to gather feedback regarding which features are of value, which are not and which would be worth spending money to have. Our application is targeted specifically towards individuals who are active, which may affect the objectivity of the panel’s feedback if they are not active themselves. However, it is still important to gather feedback from non-athletes to determine if our application will be appealing or motivating to them. If the application is not appealing, we will ask if there are changes which can be made to make it more so. We look forward to Wednesday’s opportunity.

Team Four of a Kind (Alan Mak, Kevin Tsai, Matthew Lanken, Paul Wong) Our main strategy for the 4th week pitch is to focus on getting the panelists more involved with the theme and vision of the product. By doing so, the panelists would get a sense of why there is a need to use the product. Several past criticisms suggest pitches didn’t have a direct and exaggerative tone suitable for marketing, and were instead received as a simple explanation of the product. During our pitch, we plan to emphasize the magnitude and greatness of the application while being more direct in our pitch towards the panel. We plan to pitch to them as if they were the ideal target customers, and why they need to use the application. Aside from involving panelists with our tone, we will also introduce a few interactive gimmicks such as distribute four playable demos of the application, a tutorial that will guide users through a quick workout and allow them to follow along, and props to enhance the theme of fitness and quick workouts. We also plan to take this opportunity to get user feedback and weigh some of the other selling points of the application such as the virtual buddy and achievements.

Team Opinionize (Gaurav Sinha, Rob Engel, Phil Melzer, Vinay Prasad) Our strategy in the panel pitch next week is to get more feedback about the product, its use cases and reasons why people will buy or not buy it. The other important part of our strategy is to make the most of the experience the panel brings in the room. We need to understand our target customers. We believe that it could be anyone who has the problem of categorizing large amounts of data but we want to narrow down on our users. Adam mentioned that our probable users could be geeks who use / edit Wikipedia articles. For this reason, we will present a case for members in the panel to use the product, based on our knowledge of their interests. Their feedback will be valuable in determining whether the product is for everyone or not. We want to get feedback about what makes the product viral? And why? The panel consists of people who have the experience in the market and can judge what is going to hit or what is not. We plan to keep our description of the product at a very high level and at the same time we would explain the concept in simple terms, which a non-geeky person can understand. Keeping the description at a high level allows room for improvement based on panel feedback. At the same time we would like to explain the concept with daily life problems as examples so that its clear to the audience. We plan to do a live demo of Opinionize with these examples, which would help the panel get a feel of the product.

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