by Roger Osorio, Founder of The School of Reinvention and author of “The Journey to Reinvention: How to Build a Life Aligned with Your Values, Passion, and Purpose“
For the last eight years, I have been traveling around the world teaching aspiring entrepreneurs how to take a business idea from concept to creation. As a global facilitator for Techstars Startup Weekend, I have had a special opportunity to facilitate close to 70 of these three-day entrepreneurship bootcamps. In addition, I have facilitated similar events for companies that include: LVMH, Orlando Magic, IBM, Georgetown University, and many more. This experience has allowed me to learn a lot about the biggest challenges people face in bringing their ideas to life.
One of the biggest challenges in taking ideas from concept to creation has nothing to do with the idea and everything to do with the problem the idea solves. Most people who have an idea for a product, service, or business fall in love with their idea and can’t wait to get to work on building it out. I can’t blame them, I am tempted to do the exact same thing when I have an idea even though I have been teaching this for almost a decade!
However, the more we know about the customer and the problem, the better our products and services will eventually be.
Recently, I published my first book, “The Journey to Reinvention: How to Build a Life Aligned with Your Values, Passion, and Purpose“. In an interview for the book, the host asked me about the book writing process and I reflected on how similar it is to taking a business idea from concept to creation.
There are four steps that help you bring an idea to life and it applies to book writing as well!
1. Identify and validate your ideal client (or reader) and the problem to be solved.
When I started my author journey, I had a target reader in mind for my book. I really believed this was the group that was going to benefit most from my book. In fact, I had a different working title at the time – “The Keys to Reinvention: How to Reinvent Yourself at Any Age”. My ideal reader was someone approaching their retirement or recently retired and feeling stuck with this new chapter of their life. My initial research focused fully on this group.
In my entrepreneurship courses, I always teach aspiring entrepreneurs to talk to as many people as possible in order to validate their target customer and problem to be solved. It’s critical you make sure you prove that the problem you intend to solve is real and more importantly, that you understand it correctly.
When it came to my book, I did exactly the same thing. I started talking to anyone that would listen to me in that age group and really anyone for that matter. One night, while discussing the book idea at a rooftop party in Brooklyn with a mostly mid-to-young millennial group, I was surprised to discover the ideas I wanted to cover in the book appealed to them too. One woman, in her late 20’s, shared with me that she and her friends discuss the topic of life and career reinvention at least once a week. I was not expecting this at all and that is exactly why this step is so critical to the process. At this point, I had very little written for the book and it was the perfect opportunity to begin pivoting my book idea to address a different audience.
2. Build a prototype or minimal viable product of your idea and test it.
Now that you have validated your ideal customer and problem, which may be different than what you originally thought it was going to be, it’s time to start building out a prototype of your solution. In my case, this was a 30,000 word draft manuscript of the book. However, even as I built my prototype, I continued to speak with my ideal customers, interviewed some of them, and researched others. From their stories, I was able to develop chapters that reflected the real world problems and challenges they went through on their reinvention journeys and the solutions they leveraged along the way.
While writing the draft manuscript, I noticed how my idea started to evolve and develop in response to my ongoing interviews and research. My target readers were driving the direction for my book in a way that made it meaningful to them. As the months passed, I became more of a facilitator of the book development process and less of a sole creator.
Testing a business idea is no different. As you build prototypes, it’s important that you respond to the feedback you get from your potential customers. While it is SO TEMPTING to bring YOUR original idea to life, allowing it to develop in response to customer feedback will significantly increase the chances that it is successful in the market. The same went for my book. My manuscript writing instructor said, “if you let your interviews and research guide the development of the book, then you can rest assured there will be people interested in reading it when you publish it.”
It’s so true, people respond much more to products and services that they can see a little bit of themselves in or maybe even a future self that they aspire to be.
As you test subsequent versions of your idea, if you carefully listen to and observe your customer’s feedback, each new prototype or MVP should perform a little better than the last. After 20 or 30 rounds of this, you’ll notice the idea is starting to take on a life of its own. This is when you know you are getting closer to the finish line!
3. Finalize your product and prepare for launch!
After you’ve conducted 20 or 30 tests (or more!) you can start to finalize the version of the product you intend to officially launch into the market. By the way, always remember that even this version won’t be your last one.
In the writing process, this is the equivalent of finishing up the revisions for the book and submitting it to copy editing, the final stage of the editing process.
As I started to approach the final weeks of revisions, I could not help but notice that the book had changed a lot from the original vision. Firstly, the title was no longer the same. Second, the content that I included in the book was not part of my earliest writing for the book. I left so much of my earliest content out of the book. When it came time to submit my final table-of-contents (TOC) I noticed how much this book had changed. My editor asked me to take the TOC I submitted about 8 months earlier, revise it, and submit it. I pulled up that file and opened it. When I did, my first thought was that someone got into the shared drive and messed around with it. I didn’t recognize that version of the TOC. There were a few words or chapter titles that sounded a little familiar, but most of it seemed like someone else wrote it.
Well, I wasn’t totally wrong, someone else did write it. Thanks to all of the research and interviews I had done, I grew and developed into a new person. Book writing or business-building will do that to you. When I checked the revisions history, I was the last one to have edited that file. This was my TOC, however, it looked nothing like the final version of my manuscript. The book radically transformed in response to the interviews and research I did.
This is what customer validation does to your products and services. It ensures it’s all about them and less about us – the founders, authors, or creators.
About a month later, the book was ready for publication to all of the major book-selling platforms.
4. Design your business model.
As much work as it took to write the book, it was now time to start thinking about how to get it into as many hands as possible. When you are writing a book or building a business, you are so deep into that work that you sometimes lose sight of the fact that you still have to figure out how to market and sell it.
Building the product is one challenge, selling it is another challenge entirely. Both are important.
In this final step of the process, it is important that you think about where your products/services will be sold and why that makes sense for your ideal customer. This is much easier to figure out if you already know your ideal customer really well from your initial customer interviews and validation exercises.
For me, getting into all platforms that sell books was going to be critical, however, it doesn’t stop there. I also thought about the different ways I could introduce and deliver my book to my ideal reader. For example, since I speak at many large events, selling books on-site at events is very important to my sales strategy.
Also, since I see my book as the first step along a greater customer journey, I designed bundles that included a signed copy of my book and complimentary access to The School of Reinvention, my reinvention coaching community.
When it comes to any product or service, we need to figure out the most relevant way to bundle, price, and place our product so that it reaches our ideal customer in the right way, in the right place, at the right time. Other things you will have to consider include scaling your product (especially if it’s physical), support and maintenance, customer experience, partnerships, and sales systems.
You don’t need all of these to be perfectly in place, but you do need to start testing out your ideas for the business model as soon as you can. For my book, I have been doing nothing but testing different ways of marketing and selling it. I am testing ways to strategically connect it to The School of Reinvention. It’s an ongoing and iterative process. But just like when we built the product, it’s important that we talk to and listen to our customers. Pay attention to how they interact with your products and services. Then extract lessons and ideas that you can apply to future versions of your product.
The journey is only getting started!
These three steps will help you get up and running quicker and more effectively. The goal isn’t to be right, it’s to learn from your mistakes and make it a little better with each version. I still remember talking about my book early in its development. I fumbled my words and at times made no sense. I probably sounded like I had no idea what I was trying to write about, but it didn’t matter. That’s how the beginning is supposed to be. Embrace that and know that if you keep on talking about it, you will get better at articulating your ideas. And as you get into prototyping and testing, you’ll start to notice how much better you get at explaining what your product or service is all about. When I delivered my first prototype book talk, it took me about 75 minutes to deliver it. By the time I was on my ninth book talk, I was able to do it in under 15 minutes.
If you have an idea for something you want to bring to life, start talking to people about it today!
Roger Osorio is the founder of The School of Reinvention and author of “The Journey to Reinvention: How to Build a Life Aligned with Your Values, Passion, and Purpose“, a #1 New Release and #1 Bestseller on Amazon. Since 2014, Roger has served as a global facilitator for Techstars Startup Weekend. In addition, Roger is an entrepreneurship professor at Sarah Lawrence College and University of Pennsylvania.