Wait For It . . .
In my classes, I’m always telling students to hold off on thinking about solutions. They want to immediately jump to describing the features they want to build into a website or an app.
They are answering the “what” question before they answer the “why” question. Big mistake. Huge. I push them to discover
1) the problem
2) who has the problem
3) what they’re currently doing to solve the problem, and
4) what isn’t working about that solution. Then build it. I’ve gone through those steps for my business, and am ready to get to building it. Here is what I have learned to get to this point.
The Problem. ISU students cannot easily find and connect with students in other disciplines.
Who Has the Problem. ISU students. Mostly I heard this from students in the College of Business, the School of IT, the Department of Technology (renewable energy, robotics, manufacturing, etc.), and the School of Communication (journalism, PR, etc.)
What They’re Currently Doing to Solve the Problem. They rely on word-of-mouth referrals from friends, other students, faculty and staff. They try connecting through Registered Student Organizations and Facebook groups. Of course, they don’t for the most part try actually visiting those schools or departments and talking face-to-face to strangers (would have been my first move).
What Isn’t Working. They generally speaking don’t get any response, or only get a response from students who don’t have much skill in the area they’re searching for it in. For instance, lots of students mentioned something along the lines of they heard back from a freshman without a developed skill set when they wanted to hear back from a junior or senior who knew how to ________ (fill in the blank skill).
Before working on a solution, I encouraged my students to think about a traction plan. How will they get traction once they start building a solution. I borrow this from Traction, an excellent resource for any entrepreneur, manager, or anyone looking to gain traction (and if you’re in business and not looking to gain traction, you’re an idiot). There are 19 channels that Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares lay out as possible avenues to gain traction. I did some research, both via customer development conversations, and also through Internet research, on the college demographic and methods of communication they rely on, etc. to help me identify some strong potential avenues for traction. I settled on viral marketing and email marketing. Because my target customers are all ISU students, I can utilize the email system to which I have access to very specifically target groups of students. And I can make the email marketing campaign look very legit and they will very likely respond as it will look like more official ISU communication. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d use this traction channel with this group.
And Here It Is
So the solution. The time is finally here. I can now finally dive into the features and the “what”. It’s nothing exciting at this point; I purposely try very hard to hold myself back from thinking big and fancy. I want cheap and dirty at this point. A true MVP (minimum viable product). With basic features. Duct taped together. Barely working. But outwardly looking fantastic. That’s easy enough to do nowadays with wordpress sites (like this one!!) and the like.
I need a basic site where students can indicate their interest in connecting with other students. All I need is some very basic information to try to connect them. That’s the first step. Will they provide this basic info, and can I make a meaningful connection with just that? I want to collect: 1) their name
2) their email address
3) their major
4) the concept they’re working on (or thinking about), and
5) exactly what sort of skill set they’re looking for connecting with.
I may also ask them something about whether they’re looking for a partner sort of relationship, or a contract/worker sort of relationship. With this information I will also find their Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles. I hypothesize with this information, I can make more meaningful, productive, and lasting connections between ISU students looking for each other. I’m not sure what I will call this yet, how it will be branded, or any of that. Probably Redbird something-or-other (that’s our mascot here at ISU). But that isn’t that important at this point – I’ll just slap a picture of Reggie on the site to make it look legit to these students.
I will see if I can make 10 meaningful connections between students from different disciplines. By “meaningful” I mean that the students actually follow through and meet up, that they talk about the project and either get to work on it, or refer another friend who would be more appropriate for the desired goal. Basically, I am looking for
1) the connection to actually happen, and
2) some progress to be made beyond just the basic connection
If I can get close to that with my first 10 attempts, I’ll feel good. If I can accomplish that 7 out of the 10 times, I’ll feel really good. That’s my goal. 7 out of 10.