Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So what?

A note to those who attended my presentation at apiit where I delivered my talk on how go generate and sell a (tech) business idea. I don't feel I explained the so what section as well as I should and therefore I thought I'd go through it in writing for your benefit. What I will do is first explain exactly what the so what factor means. And then I'll address each project's so what factor individually.

What's up with so what?

Everything in my talk that I gave was geared entirely towards pitching your ideas in such a way that people will be interested in it. Within the first 1.5 minutes. Or even 30 seconds. That's right. Everything I spoke yesterday was for just your first 1.5 minutes. It does of course lay out your framework for a larger presentation but the fact remains. Your opening 1.5 minutes will depend a lot on getting across the points I mentioned yesterday.

The so what is for everything else. If someone gives you the so what question you should be happy. Why? Because it means that people are interested in knowing more about what you have to say. It may come across as "oh no. This person doesn't care" but trust me. If they really didn't care they'd just nod their head and wait for you to speak before deflecting it and changing the topic.

What's so important about the so what is that people want to know more. People want to know:
  • What's your edge? 
  • What makes you unique?
  • How do you fight the inevitable clones? 
  • What is your domain expertise in this area? 
  • How large is this market? 
  • How do you plan on marketing?
Think of the so what factor as the Q&A session. That's where the best stuff comes out so you better be ready for it. Well if you've understood what the so what factor is all about then I shall proceed to breaking it down for each project.


Online A/L paper system. So what?

You are making a system that is dependent on an existing IT presence including internet access; the knowledge of using computers and the internet effectively is another requirement. This may seem viable at an anecdotal level (i.e. your personal observations may see this kind of IT presence available) but you need to bring more than personal observations to the table. In fact this project, if it is really being targeted at outstation students then how much of an IT presence needs to be established needs to be taken into consideration. Don't be afraid to dream big. Maybe this will need a massive investment and quite possibly a timeline of 3 years at least to truly come to fruition and that's acceptable. If you said 5 years it might still be acceptable. As long as you don't fall into a trap of convincing yourself that personal observations is enough to say that you can disregard the need for an IT infrastructure to be put in place. (I'm not saying that your personal observations are wrong, but I am saying that they aren't enough).

On a side note, I might make the recommendation that instead of instantly targeting the outstation areas you might want to consider implementing the system within the developed areas first. While your end goal is of course to enable everyone you have to accept that a root problem to solve first would be to get your system accepted in the first place. Step by step you can get there. Starting in a developed area will help you to ramp up your traction, get enough activity, feedback and ultimately help you deliver a more complete system to the outstation areas. Bear in mind that there have been others before you who have tried this idea but failed, in my opinion, partly because of a lackluster implementation and partly because of timing. In your case I think the timing to implement such a solution within developed areas is ideal so you might want to start there. Just a suggestion but I would appreciate if you take some time to think about it very seriously before deciding what to make of it.

Online classifieds for Tuition teachers. So what?

This actually has quite a few gotchas to it. It's interesting what you are trying to solve and your idea that more and more of this target market is approachable via an online medium is correct but it's questionable whether you've realized the root cause of the issue. The problem may not be the fact that advertisements have limited visibility but they are in fact competing for attention and trying to get themselves heard above the noise. It's a huge market and getting discovered isn't easy. You touched on something about social media bla bla. But don't get lost in the buzz. What exactly are you planning with social media? Point is, don't just build a directory of advertisements. Build a review system. Build a recommendation system. Be the blooming Google for Sri Lankan tuition classes. Build the 'page rank' for tuition teachers. Build an online platform for tuition teachers to communicate with existing or potential students. (Please for the sake of whatever that is sacred to you, don't build a damn traditional elakiri style forum. My eyes bleed every time I have to participate in one of those). 

So let me drop this down one more time. For me, I feel your root cause of the problem you are trying to solve is, there are a lot of tuition classes out there and there's a lot of noise that people have to shout over to get themselves heard. Your online advertising system will work, but I don't believe its possible that it will continue to be effective in the long run. Can you instead give students a way to sort classes based on price, times, days, size etc.. and then help further filter classes out by using recommendations given by existing students. And then look into making money by giving tuition teacher a premium platform for communicating with students. Give them a platform to chat, a platform to communicate and give out homework to existing students and maybe even give samples to potential students. Build them a CMS even if you can. If you want to give them a live stream functionality by all means, do so. Dream big. Please. This has a lot more potential than to be simply an advertising platform. Remember. So what? Are you answering that question effectively.

Methane units for electricity. So what?

Sound idea. Sound solution. In theory at least. Your so what moment is going to come when people question you on what your domain expertise is in this area. You put the methane into containers. Now what? How do you connect this to homes and actually convert it to electricity? Is there a massive R&D component to this? If so what's the proof that you are capable of solving this? Once you've solved it does it mean you've discovered a way of making cheaper electricity with methane? Are you building the units that convert the methane to electricity or are you renting them out after having brought them down using a large seed investment? I believe the term used is methane digester? 

Essentially where is that coming from and how do you implement it in such a way that it becomes available for everyone eventually without you having to wait till people eventually cough up the money to buy one?  Or do you make it yourself for much cheaper so people can now afford it as a long term investment?

Online market place for organic foods. So what?

Maybe it's because of the lack of detail, but I see a large room for a lot of "so what?"s here. How do you plan on getting the organic food together to sell? What kind of distribution are you looking at? What do you mean by export? What's your edge since people in this business can also get an online store up and running fast. How do you plan on growing out? There's several questions here that leave me wondering if you've found a problem and understood it's root cause or maybe the simplest path to solving it. I could very well be wrong here so please do get in touch with me so we can have a chat about it. As for the questions that I asked, skip to the bottom if you want to know my opinion on too many questions. (But first read the other so what's. It may help with enhancing your thinking process as well)

Online classifieds for well... Everything. So what?

The biggest so what? I see here is that I don't see a competitive edge that an existing player like 'hit ads' can't dominate over. Nearly everything hit ads and the other classifieds receive is in digital format anyway. Converting that to an online form is not a big deal from their point of view. If they do that before you then you are essentially screwed over. I really can't begin to answer this question for you guys except to remind you of something Mark Zuckerberg said in a recent interview with Charlie Rose. When he was queried on whether Facebook would go into making games he was utterly and absolutely adamant that they would never touch it. When asked why, he replied that making great games is tough. And what Facebook does everyday is also tough if they want to a great job of it. And most importantly, Mark went on to say that in the end, companies focused on one thing and one thing only will always win against the bigger guys who try to do everything at once. My point here is that instead of being an online advertiser for everything and anything, figure out what your unique focus is going to be. Even if it's everything and anything you advertise for, figure out what your unique selling point is that you will focus on so entirely that by the end of it you'll be a damn squint. 

The online advertising for lecturers is a good example of a single focus. I could think of several things they could do more than just being an advertiser simply because their aim is to focus on just one vertical. It's not being narrow minded. It's about being focused. Your so what question just has to be, what's your focus. 

A side note, before even jumping to the so what? I think it would be a good idea to revisit the problem you are trying to solve and ask yourself again, what really causes the problem?

Cinnamon based products. So what?

Honestly speaking, I don't really have a so what for this. The idea is so simple it's one of those, "why didn't anyone else come up with this before". In fact that might be a so what. It is a simple idea to think of so why hasn't anyone else done it? Is everyone just following the herd or did people who tried fail? If so why did they fail? 

If I really split hairs to get a so what I'll come up with two more definite ones. The first is, what is your domain expertise in this area? With respect to that question, will you be finding people to make the products? Even if you do what's your network like in terms of knowing people who you can influence into making those crucial first sales. Ideally I think the team would be mostly sales oriented rather than having an extreme low level of the how-to's in this domain. You guys will be pounding the streets and flying the skies to get your product out everywhere. 

The second so what is actually a problem which you will probably have to face soon after starting. What you are doing isn't going to take rocket science to actually implement and you are going to have the copy cats nipping at your heels like crazy very quickly. Normally I wouldn't ask this question but honestly, how are you planning to stay nimble enough to stay ahead of them. Even if you don't stay in front of the pack, you can still make enough money out of this idea to be a success but then again, is that what you would really want. Study your domain till you have cinnamon leaking out of your brain and come up with something that not even India has thought of up to today. It could be marketing ploys, product ranges, packaging, whatever. But ask yourselves what you are going to do to keep throwing the dust in the face of the copy cats.

SMS bus tracker. So what?

What I really like about this idea is its simplicity. It's SMS based, so no need of fancy GUIs. It's complex enough on the back end in terms of actually documenting bus routes and then creating algorithms to say which bus routes to actually take to discourage the first wave of copy cats. And it's expensive to implement (buying a port with Dialog is a lot of money if I'm not mistaken) which would stop people coming up without having secured capital. And we are going to be using SMS based apps for long enough to say that this idea is old fashioned. (In America this idea may have been better implemented with a small app for a smartphone but in the SL market, SMS makes far more sense).

Having said that, the so what for you will be personal. Let's say you've done the necessary documentation, you've developed the app. The app is implemented. People are using it, you are making money and everybody is happy. What then? Do you move on? What further work could you do on this app? Where do you go from here?

Leaving that aside, you need to prepare yourself better if people ask for specifics on how you plan to get this app working. Look into things like Etisalat app zone. You need to have some idea on how you will go about getting this done. Are you going to hire a developer? Will you develop by yourself? What's your development knowledge? How will you find the bus routes? 

Why too many questions are stupid.

Let's face it. I've asked a lot of questions. Some you may have answered. Others? Probably not. Does that mean you should pack up? Nopes. Even if others come along and ask a lot of questions that you can't answer you still don't pack up. If anyone ever says you can't progress without knowing the answers to all the questions, slap them and say the questions will never stop so you are going to choose to keep moving forward anyways. Remember that if you are doing something brand new you'll never be able to answer all the questions but your intuition is going to tell you that it'll work. That said, always bear in mind that the question still remains valid even if you don't answer it. Good example for this is the question of how you beat the competitors and inevitable copy cats. You might not always know the answer to this question but its a good idea to keep it in mind so that going forward you aren't blindsided. That said, too many questions is still stupid. 

Don't take this is Adnan is stupid either. The point I'm making here is try to answer as many questions as possible but if they don't all get answered, don't be hard on yourself and say "I'm going to be a failure". Persevere. Push forward. And good luck.

Leave comments here and start a discussion if you want. If there's something you feel you should mail me instead for whatever reason, adnan.issadeen@live.com is where I can be found. 


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