Startup Tools should be used as Gates to pass

In this post I want to take the chance to shortly outline my learnings about all kinds of startup tools that I have come across in the past. The trigger that started me thinking and reflecting about this was pulled last night at the weekly meet-up of PionierGarage.

I introduced Alexander Osterwalder‘s Value Proposition Canvas, to a group of about 30 interested pioneers, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-in-the-making. In my talk I explained how to work with the Canvas and gave some additional advice on what I think is important to keep in mind in the process. Check out my deck “Value Proposition Canvas (explained)” on slideshare to get a hint of what I presented (feel free to share or use for your own work!). Afterwards we had a fun workshop that had all attendees use the Canvas tool to work out their own ideas in groups with subsequent short pitches presenting the results. We definitely had a productive session with interesting, promising, and in some instances really crazy ideas that were pitched at the end.

Before we finished our session I asked for feedback from the group. How did they like the Canvas?  Was it helpful in the process of structuring their ideas? Did it somehow limit the work of their “creative and crazy” minds? …and so on and so forth. The comments were definitely mixed with more positive than negative feedback. I could sense a consensus in the group: the structure helped them not to forget important parts of the problem-solution aspects of their ideas. However, some did feel that the Canvas was somehow difficult to work with in this the first attempt, a feeling which will arguably improve with some training. Questions along the lines of “Where do I start first” or “Why do I have to do this with an idea that I’ve thought about for a while?” were posed here and there.

Having worked with quite a few startup tools such as the Value Proposition Canvas or the Business Model Canvas in the past, I come to the conclusion that they should be used as tests at frequent points in time – test that your business ideas and models have to pass. Image them like a gate that you have to go through with your work every now and then to see whether you are aware of all aspects of your business. The process reminded me a lot of the well-known phase-gate model which finds application in project management environments. So my advice is this: do whatever is necessary in the certain phases and lifecycle stages you’re in at the moment, but take the time and have the descipline to pass the “startup tool gates” every once in a while. Frequency and intensity of these gate milestones should be left to the individual startup, I believe, as these kinds of tools should always be helpful (and fun), never a hassle or limiting structure. We are definitely going to try this approach at my new startup lengoo and I will let you know more about my experiences soon.

What’s your take on this? I would love to hear from you.

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2 responses to “Startup Tools should be used as Gates to pass

  1. Hi, I always love to read your posts and give the most critical possible remarks 🙂

    So, I find the idea to use tools as gates nonsense 🙂 A check needs some kind of measurable outcome. In your case, this might be the fuzzy feeling of finding it complicated to apply a tool. In this respect, it might work a little. However, I’m a much bigger fan of simply using gates as gates. From customer development, the gates would be:
    * Validated Problem
    * Validated Solution => Both together are “Problem-Solution-Fit”
    * Repeatable Sales Process => Validates Channel, taken together this is “Product-Market-Fit”

    When is a problem validated? Hard to say. Maybe if 20 out of 50 people of your target group agree on the problem in a Problem Interview. Still fuzzy, I know. But none of my gates can be validated by filling out sheets or using tools – the answer is simply not in the room, so get out of the building 🙂 🙂

    • Hi Max, please excuse my late reply. Thank for the flowers…I also like your comments a lot and always feel like I am learning smth new from them, which is gratifying and shows me how this blog fulfills a neat need. I am also a fan of very critical comments. I totally understand your concerns with tools having no measurable outcomes and I am with you on the established immediate goals for startups, such as problem and solution validation and scalable growth model etc. When I thought about startup tools as gates I was actually thinking more top-level than that, more strategically and less operational. I believe these tools to be great resources, when you are thinking about your whole startup project from a birdseye view – planning it in your head, mapping out possibilities, being creative in finding new solutions and ways of doing things. And for this purpose the tools give you great structure that you should come back to every once in a while. The testing and implementation of measurable experiments is of course just as important but fulfills a different but complementary need. What do you say?

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