Kicking off thoughtbot’s Summer 2023 incubator with AvidFirst

Jordyn Bonds

Let’s learn more about what the first week was like and what the team is unearthing!

If you aren’t familiar with the Incubator and our recent launch with Ashley Sheble, you can find all the launch details here or watch last week’s live video:

Incubator Stage 1: Education and Segmentation

The big goals of the first few weeks are to

  • Get the thoughtbot team up to speed on everything the founder knows and assumes about the opportunity
  • Identify our early adopter market niche and learn everything we can about them

Post-secondary education in the US is already expensive and it’s just getting more expensive every year. Ashley’s mission is to help parents plan ahead and avoid going into debt themselves or having their kids graduate from college with lots of debt.

The landscape surrounding this broad problem is complex and crowded! There are parents, students, extended family and friends who may want to help out, financial advisors, investment firms, state investment plans, educational institutions. The team has been researching and interviewing each of these personas – and the dynamics between them – to find out where the biggest unmet needs and pain points are.

This effort is similar in shape and flow to a Design Sprint, but rather than focusing on a prototype, we are focused on the market opportunity itself. First we seek to understand the market opportunity. Then we diverge by brainstorming and documenting all of our hypotheses and assumptions about the opportunity. Then we look at those assumptions and come up with ways to test them, often by interviewing the folks involved.

The main challenges with interviewing at this stage are two-fold:

  1. Coming up with a script that gets us the answers we need without “leading the witness” to the answers we are hypothesizing
  2. Making sure we’re talking to the right people. We started out with parents of kids at any age, but as we started to hear and understand trends, we zoomed in on parents with kids who are in college right now.

**Are you a parent currently paying for higher education for one or more children? We’d love to hear about your experiences! Take our Google Survey »

Founder’s journal

As I reflect on these past two weeks of the thoughtbot incubator program, I am struck by the power of collaboration, specificity, and active engagement with stakeholders. Three key “lightbulb” moments really standout:

💡Lightbulb 1: The Importance of Collaboration

The value of a diverse team has become crystal-clear, as fresh perspectives reshape initial ideas. Our team members contribute insights from different backgrounds and expertise areas, and together we are stronger. The blending and challenging of ideas brings depth and innovation to our daily projects. I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow alongside this talented group.

💡Lightbulb 2: Finding a North Star

The group “everyone” is not a viable market. Through a series of exercises, we’re peeling back the layers of our potential user base. What are their pain points? What keeps them up at night? What solutions are they seeking? These questions are guiding us towards a clearer vision of our target market. It’s both challenging and thrilling; kind of like putting together the pieces of a 1,000 piece puzzle.

💡Lightbulb 3: Conversations Shape Insights

We’ve been engaging with potential stakeholders, from industry experts to potential users, to test our assumptions and gather insights. It’s fascinating how the simple act of listening can transform an idea in unexpected ways. Our team meticulously documents every conversation, noting down key takeaways and uncovering patterns. The value of these conversations is immeasurable, and they are shaping the direction of our project in ways we couldn’t have predicted earlier in the process. It’s a reminder that innovation doesn’t happen in isolation; conversations close the gaps between what we think and what we know.

These initial weeks are just the beginning, but they’ve laid the foundation for a journey that promises growth and innovation that could really help people in positive, meaningful ways. As I close this week I’m reminded of these words: “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.”

Until next time, Ashley

Next up

For the next stage, Ashley and the thoughtbot team will continue interviewing folks while beginning to prototype solutions and test them with users. This will overlap with developing a strategy of getting from our early adopters to the largest possible market opportunity for what we’re building.

For the duration of the incubator we’ll be alternating bi-weekly blog posts with bi-weekly live broadcasts to LinkedIn & Youtube. Follow thoughtbot on LinkedIN or YouTube to catch us live or watch the recordings!