A Guide to Making Dreams Real Part I – MVP Ideation to Validation

June 13, 2018



We see all sorts of dreams float through our office every day. Dreams are the raw materials of our Venture Studio, where companies come to accelerate their business growth, and our Innovation Lab, where mid-sized companies investigate original paths to digital transformation. Dreaming is the key to thinking differently, questioning assumptions, and breaking with the past to discover new lines of revenue.

However, most of the dreams we see are unformed or only roughly sketched. They are rarely strong enough to stand up to problems, let alone solve them. In some cases, the problem they address is just not significant enough to justify further investment of the dreamer's time and money.

Often we see a mismatch between the solution and the audience, or no compelling hook to impel action, or a market so saturated that it needs something radically new to shake things up.

In other words, there’s no shortage of great ideas. The age of peak dreams is a long way off. What is in short supply is the patience and dedication to refine dreams into workable projects with a good shot at succeeding.

Part one of this two-part series covers the essential prep work that converts dreams into practical, pitchable ideas. The next blog establishes a framework for creating apps in support of that dream, from development to launch. At the end of it all, you'll have a methodology to generate products that are not just viable, but are sellable in the sense that they transform listeners into supporters.

Step 1: Ideation and Pre-planning

Disruptive, world-changing ideas rarely come out of nowhere. They often grow in the rich soil of your subconscious, but first, you will have to think deeply about why things are the way they are. Immerse yourself in the problem space and the complex factors that contribute to current market inefficiencies.

Those who deal with the problem regularly are the best source of data about how significant it is, how often they are forced to use workarounds and what they would pay to never worry about it again. Ask why no one has tried to solve this before or why earlier attempts have failed.

Don't give up because others have failed. In many cases, being a first mover can be a disadvantage due to timing alone. At this stage, you should give yourself (or your team) the freedom to go wild and brainstorm, but only develop the ideas that are SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely. When you know you are on the right track, it’s to start filling out your own Business Model Canvas.

Step 2: Discovery = Use Cases + Research + Research + Research

Your dream is shaping itself into a viable idea at this point, but it’s not old enough to face the cruel world on its own yet. The next step is reality testing by digging deeper into who your target users are and what they really want. Document ideal user characteristics and behaviors for a fuller picture of how adopting your idea will change other aspects of their lives.

Even in best-case scenarios, there will be reactions and repercussions from other players in the space, including competitors, imitators and alternatives. What lessons can you learn from other failures to solve this problem? What value are you bringing that doesn’t already exist?

Many people get stuck at this phase on what Steve Blank called the “toothbrush in China” effect. In a large-enough market, business owners feel that they don’t have to differentiate themselves. Everyone in China needs a toothbrush every few months, so why not just aim for 1 percent of that market? The global economy is littered with the wreckage of innovations that languished due to insufficient justification for buyers to make a change.

The more original you are, the harder this step becomes. Discovery planning is an intelligent approach to dealing with the uncertainty of introducing wholly original concepts to the market. It’s all about defining success, benchmarking similar innovations and documenting assumptions.

Step 3: Validating the Product Definition & Unique Value Proposition

Now you are nearly ready to pitch the idea. All you need is a streamlined product definition and a value proposition. How would your customer describe what your idea is and what value it brings to their lives? You must be able to see it all from their perspective. You will need to work backwards from the value proposition to get to the product definition, but adjustments should go both ways.

The three main components of your value proposition are:

  • How it solves the problem/meets unserved needs/makes life better (addresses relevancy)
  • Specific benefits/results (addresses quantified value)
  • Why there's nothing else like it (addresses differentiation)

The product definition should cover:

“This is for (user group). We want to PROVIDE (value proposition) BECAUSE (your personal why) in order to GET (the job done).”

Both product definition and value proposition should be stated in the clearest language that can be understood in about five seconds. That is really the amount of time you have to change a buyer’s mind in most cases. The final stage in the idea formation process is where you will concentrate on product-market fit and crystallizing your brand promise.

Coming Soon in Part II

In the mobile, global world, every new idea eventually leads to the question of how users will interact with it. Increasingly, the answer involves apps. From collaboration hubs to business process gamification tools to IoT controllers, apps can serve many functions in the realization of dreams. Next time we will lay out the most direct pathway from assembling an app development team to smart launch strategies.