Next Steps

In Phase 2 we’ll move fast and break things other than hearts.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; or in our case a bunch of next steps. We pondered them at the end of August, gave ourselves until the end of December to finish, and got right to work. Here are highlights.

Last week I mentioned the slippery, slimy Business Model Canvas, still wriggling and flipping like a fish out of water. We’re going to reform it yet again, this time after reflecting on what we learned from customer discovery. Ready-aim-fire rather than shoot ourselves in the foot.

We’re going to plan commercialization using Scott Meadow’s model. The practical objective here is to de-risk innovation, a critical success factor in our case because so much of what we do is unfamiliar if not downright unprecedented.

We’re going to qualify business partnerships with Amazon and two medical centers who offered to join us in prototype development. Amazon is intriguing because they’re incredibly exciting; we want to catch their vibe.

We’re going to design a scientific poster for a Startup Company Showcase of the Diabetes Technology Society. (Thanks, Sam!) This is our first chance to pitch the science in our “scientific entertainment” to a community of scientists, a welcome change from geeks of our recent past.

We’re going to write a business pro forma that weighs Humaginarium on the proverbial scales of venture capital. VCs are anything but blind, so we’ll be explicit and transparent. We have a framework but the devil is in the details, waiting for us like Morgoth holed up in Angband.

We’re going to storyboard prototype media: a narrative game simulation that streams to desktops and a casual game that downloads to mobile devices. Both will take on the same chronic illness but in different ways. We want to see which consumers prefer, if not both or neither. Our seed funding will finance production of these digital wonders.

Speaking of seed funding, we’re going to update our website so it says what we say, and write two pitches; one lasting about 10 minutes, the other 30. And now hear this: we will memorize our speaking parts until we can recite them while crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. No more blank stares and stuttering.

Of course we’ll rehearse and refine our pitches with wizards who don’t know what we’re doing; members of the “seen it all, don’t give a shit” investor class that expects mastery of the universe and 30% ROI in five years. Meantime we’ll qualify a list of real prospects for when we’re ready to withstand the inevitable slings and arrows.

Did I mention that we’re going to write a Phase 1 NSF SBIR grant for submission in December? I didn’t because I’m trying to avoid the withering thought, but we shall do this. We’ve already been encouraged by NSF program managers so this milestone is not as far-fetched as it feels. They claim to love moonshots.

In closer proximity to our heart’s desire, we’re going to join MATTER in Chicago. The values of that health tech incubator perfectly match ours; and we want to be active members of the MATTER community. This will be a refreshing change from Polsky and much less of a commute.

We have dubbed these milestones our Phase 2, which officially began on September 1. Not only do we have milestones, we’re writing them into a plan in Project Wizard so that we can move fast and break things other than hearts.

One thing we wanted to do but won’t is use I-Corps Go funds to cover some expenses related to business formation. We’ve already discovered that I-Corps never got the famous memo from the Lords of Business Ethics which says “do what you say you’re going to do.” So when Go fell off the table for no known reason, we were disappointed but not surprised.

In any case I got the memo, many years ago, and have never forgotten it. See the Fellowship page of our website for a nice way of putting it.

The Beginning of Days

Much good work and exciting discoveries lie ahead.

Two months have passed since my previous post. In the interval Humaginarium traversed the scary caverns beneath the Dwimorberg, also known as I-Corps, and emerged at the Stone of Erech to plan next steps.

What is I-Corps? It’s hard to say if you haven’t experienced it; and even harder if you have. The words “crossfire hurricane” may be as good a description as any that dribbles down the web pages of NSF.

Humaginarium joined the 2018 New York summer cohort of I-Corps that met from mid July until the end of August. Though called New York, it convened in an isolated hotel at Newark Airport, as far from the Isle of Manhattan as Barad-dûr is from the Shire.

Along with 23 other teams, we went to Newark for a three-day Kickoff meeting and a two-day Lessons Learned meeting. The first was brutal; the second bone-tired.

Between times we met with I-Corps facilitators weekly for 90 minutes on WebEx, to give reports and watch slide lectures; we also met them weekly for online office hours.

Though all of these meetings were milestones, our activity was mostly studying books (The Startup Owners Manual and Business Model Generation); watching  training videos; and conducting extensive customer discovery (what we began at the University of Michigan back in January).

I-Corps has a five-word mantra for customer discovery: “get out of the building.” I have the impression that in Silicon Valley, where the program originated, people never leave buildings where they work so they have to be ordered out, like high-school students in a fire drill. But why?

Well, that’s complicated and could take a long time to explain. Here is a short answer: to remove “confirmation bias.” You get out of the building to interview strangers who can relieve you of confirmation bias.

And what is that odious thing you need to lose like an infection? It can have different meanings such as beliefs, common sense, passion, experience, perspective, expertise. When you get out of the building and lose confirmation bias, you gain something immeasurably more valuable: the wisdom of the commons.

Of what use is that? Well, a narrow objective of I-Corps is to write a Business Model Canvas. If you’ve ever tried to write one you know it can be tricky. That’s because its inventor, a business consultant named Alexander Osterwalder, describes it in ways that may be interpreted subjectively by miscreants who have not lost their confirmation bias. In other words, you can write a BMC that is self-expressive and unreliable. Just your damn opinion!

The commons helps prevent that. I-Corps requires each team to interview at least 100 strangers to test assumptions embedded in a BMC. The resulting BMC serves as evidence that a business idea makes sense on paper and can potentially succeed in a world like Middle-earth; or that it doesn’t, in which case it’s time to pivot.

Humaginarium interviewed 118 people, the second most in our cohort. However we did not write a good BMC. Now as we pass the Stone of Erech, a next step is to make a BMC to our satisfaction. We hate the thing, but it must be conquered and it shall.

In two months we have come through the dark caverns and arrived at our Beginning of Days. Much good work and exciting discoveries lie ahead.