Pitching an idea vs pitching a product

Jul 17 2015

A large shift happens in decision-making when you obtain your first paying customer.

Last Tuesday when my team and I pitched our idea and summarized the positive responses we’d gathered, we finally began to consider the feasibility and viability aspects of our idea. We’ve been working to develop a map and video product that helps real estate agents prove themselves as community experts. We’d learned to take naysayers’ advice with a grain of salt, and potential customers were stacking up day by day. But we faced an issue John Clark, executive director of the Lab, encapsulated quite well when he finally paused after an intense round of questioning and stated, “I can’t see it.”

data check

The team poses with their very first check.

At that time, I believed so firmly in our idea, and I had envisioned the objectives our product could achieve so many times, that I had yet to focus on exactly how we could achieve them. Clark wanted to know specifics, but when we got down to it, we realized that we hadn’t ironed out all the details. Our goal, then, was to show our prospective customer a tangible prototype and convince her to say, “Yes.”

Luckily, one of the real estate agents we’d contacted accepted our offer to make her a personalized video prototype. After speaking with her about her preferences, we got down to business. Going out there to film neighborhoods and exploring what data we could collect and present in our product challenged many of our assumptions while validating others. The prototype became a method through which we could discuss the pain points within the real estate industry. Having something to show for our research gave us a ticket into the market and enabled us to make decisions that improved our product for customers based on direct feedback.

Working on the finances and logistics of our product brought me back to another point Chris Heivly, managing partner of The Startup Factory, brought up during our visit to his office—“Startups are not smaller versions of larger companies.” We haven’t reached the stage where we could call ourselves a business. I enjoy the challenge of getting into the weeds with ideas from their inception to either their deaths or their journey into real products. Our product is far from perfect, but that day, it became a bit more tangible. Of course, the fact that the real estate agent paid us a $20 down payment for a $500 finished video product helped matters too.

One of my teammates, Kendra Benner, described our process as, “going down rabbit holes, coming back up, and still being able to orient ourselves and move forward.” And it’s not just the project trajectory that has changed. My teammates and I have grown quite a bit as a team from when we first started. From suggesting personal apps for Taylor Swift to wondering whether people would allow us to track their criminal records, exploring Disney’s Big Brotherly use of beacons and watching 360 degree virtual tours, we’re working steadily towards Pitch Day.


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