Incubator update 1: Dionna & Danyelle at Womanish

The highlights of the first few weeks have been in the power of questioning assumptions. Labeling perceived truths as assumptions and rigorously testing them emerged as a key takeaway. It’s a paradigm shift, moving from “I think” to “I assume, let’s validate.”

Welcome to the 4th season of thoughtbot’s startup Incubator! The team are in full flow and keen to share our latest updates with you. If you aren’t familiar with our Incubator team at Womanish, you can find all the programme details here.

Today, we will reflect on the first two weeks with our startup founders Dionna Gray & Danyelle Gray, and their vision to connect and empower womxn.

As with our previous incubators, momentum has been fast paced with the team trying to validate and invalidate both our market and assumptions as early as possible. This includes the whole team interviewing as many potential users and customers as possible to gather those juicy firsthand insights. We’ve learnt a lot, so let’s dig into those learnings and challenges.

Don’t forget to check out the Founder’s Journal below for more insights from our startup founders Dionna & Danyelle!

Incubator stage 1: knowledge building, research and customer focus

Week 1 was all about orienting the team, making sure we’re aligned on goals and purpose. We began to leverage and learn from our founders and tease out assumptions the team has about both customers, market and business opportunity. The key is an open and curious mind, as starting out, there’s a lot more that we don’t know than we do. This also helps us to identify what’s missing and what we need to validate going forward.

This took the shape of an assumptions exercise where we were able to visualise the customer’s critical path from pain point to discovery, to identifying value and purchase (and not necessarily in that order!). We grouped these and found common themes from how we thought someone might discover a software solution and their engagement channels to pricing models and everything in between.

Up next was starting to define potential market segments to create alignment on our audience. This involved listing as many people who could be candidates as possible, to encourage us not to get fixated on a single segment when during interviews we are not hearing consistent signals of problems and need for help. If it’s not right, we can easily move onto another segment.

Our pool included versions of ourselves and friends, acquaintances, associates and any group/situation or event that came to mind, which we then created into segments of people. It’s challenging to boil down traits and characteristics into segments as you can feel like you’re over-generalising and making assumptions. Part of the exercise is scoring each group based on an important indicator, event or attribute to your problem, which quite frankly, can feel very unnatural. However, hold tight, write down your assumptions and ultimately know that you’re going to validate/invalidate these opinions.Trying to solve too many problems for too many different people at the same time will doom you to solving nothing at all - that’s why this level of specificity matters. Ultimately, the segment we land on will be our early adopters, our product champions 💪🏽✨.

Now we’re aligned on the problem and objectives, we’ve got a long list of people who could be candidates, and our assumptions demand rapid testing - what’s next?

Incubator stage 2: interviews and market research

In the spirit of our fantastic founders, designers, product managers, and developers collaborating, everyone on our team has been actively interviewing potential users and customers. This inclusivity is essential as each team member will bring unique perspectives, opinions and spicy takes🌶️ to the table, ensuring a unified understanding of the information, fostering consensus on our strategic direction.

We used to source candidates that align with our first chosen market segment and after a few scheduling hiccups (open to suggestions on how to manage 7 peoples’ calendars from multiple organizations - please write in the comments!) and some screening questions, the potential interviewees came rolling in.

In parallel, for those of you familiar with the effort:impact prioritization method, we introduced a slight variation adapting our axes to confidence and risk with the aim to provide a priority for testing our assumptions, but not before we expanded our list of assumptions, based on our chosen segment.

We’re fully remote, so gone are the days of whiteboards, fountain pens and sticky notes, we’re working on shared Figjam boards and initially prioritised individually to crank the handle on the high volume of virtual sticky notes before realising that talking through why you would rank a certain assumption in one place, might lead to another assumption falling out. Again, this helps to create alignment across the team (think the rubber duck method). Assumptions we were least confident about and those carrying the highest risk made it into our user interview script for more comprehensive exploration during the testing phase.

The script itself is never a static document, and that’s okay. With each interview you learn how to get the best out of your subjects and how to guide the conversation towards the aspects we wished to explore without inadvertently leading the discussion. Stick to open questions and ask about a historic event. Asking someone about a ‘what if’ scenario and then basing decisions on their reply is risky. Instead, ask them to describe a past experience, you’ll find evidence of their behaviour but also their descriptions become much more specific. Think about how you would answer ‘what are you going to have for breakfast tomorrow?’ versus ‘what did you eat yesterday?’.

Communication and documentation: good data is accurate (for my non-accounting friends - Accurate, Complete, Cost-effective, Understandable, Relevant, Accessible, Timely and Easy-to-use). We pledged to keep each other updated with a short summary after each session. The calls are recorded and accompanied by more detailed notes, but that is a lot of hours of watching to catch up, and attendees can always advocate for anything in more detail if needed. These conversation highlights ensure we’re all continuously learning about our prospective audience in the quickest way possible.

Incubator stage 3: competitor analysis

In parallel to the parallel (yes, we’ve been extremely busy), we’ve been collecting data on potential competitors, what solutions they offer, their unique value propositions, and any information on market share and growth trajectory. How have potential customers attempted to address their challenges? What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing solutions? Which products intersect with our problem space, serving as indirect competitors?

Most of this we have been able to glean online and some from our customer interviews, however the team did even find themselves in a fortunate position with an accidental (and very timely) adventure to an event hosted by a potential competitor.

Founders’ journal

Over to Danyelle for a summary of our Founders’ experience with the incubator programme so far:

The initial weeks of our accelerator journey have been an exhilarating exploration of different assumptions and user interviews. In the first weeks, We’ve had the privilege of challenging our initial beliefs and engaging with potential users, uncovering invaluable insights that will shape our product.

The highlights of the first few weeks have been in the power of questioning assumptions. Labeling perceived truths as assumptions and rigorously testing them emerged as a key takeaway. It’s a paradigm shift, moving from “I think” to “I assume, let’s validate.” This new approach is set to guide my future product-building endeavors, ensuring a robust foundation.

The challenge of defining personas resonates strongly with both Dionna and myself. Steering away from overly broad classifications, we’ve encountered the delicate art of niche identification for early adoption. Navigating this space is crucial; broad strokes miss the mark, and precision in targeting becomes paramount. The process has become a captivating dance of perspectives, where defining the right audience is as much an art as it is science.

Working with the thoughtbot team has injected a breath of fresh air into our dynamics. Collaborating with external perspectives has proven invaluable, as it is always helpful to get outside perspectives from others. We’ve been working as a duo for a while, so we’ve enjoyed the collaboration of others during this accelerator. The diversity of ideas the team has brought, and even the challenging of Dionna and I’s own thoughts, has provided a well-rounded approach to problem-solving.

Challenges, though anticipated, have surfaced around persona identification. The quest for the right fit within time constraints has added a layer of complexity. The struggle echoes in our minds, a tug-of-war between wanting to explore every persona and acknowledging the practical limitations of time.

As we move forward, we’re excited! The prospect of diving into design and features is on the horizon. For me, it’s about visualizing the product that tackles the colossal task of addressing loneliness and isolation. Dionna is eager to unearth the key differentiator that will set us apart in the market.

What’s next?

Short answer: more interviews and experiments to validate our findings.

The Womanish incubator team are on course for another round of customer interviews, honing in on suspected trends to inform the next iteration of interviews. Part of this is to narrow in on people who feel the challenges the most and hence, are excellent candidates for an early target market. Then we’ll want to validate our qualitative data with quantitative tests. Product people, how many times have you received a ‘yes’ to a hypothetical question, and then found customer behaviour is different? Best to understand those as early as possible.

If you are going through a business validation process, or hope to in the future, the Incubator programme may help you as well! We have recently launched the Customer Discovery section of our playbook so that you can tap into our exercises, helping your team find, or re-discover, customer/market/product-fit and support to discover your next best strategic focus.

Liked what you read? We’re also doing weekly livestream broadcasts with the Womanish Incubator team to delve even deeper into goings on in the programme. Follow along on LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitch!