Week 4 of thoughtbot Startup Incubator: AvidFirst

Innovation is not about having all the answers; it’s about asking the right questions.

Here’s an overview of Weeks 2–4 of the thoughtbot Incubator. Curious how we got here? Check out the previous Summer incubator post. Don’t forget to check out the Founder’s Journal below for more insights from our startup CEO, Ashley Sheble.

AvidFirst’s mission is to make it easier to save for college and use your savings. Ashley’s goals are to come out of the incubator ready to fundraise, and to make a plan for building an MVP.

Refining assumptions

Our team came up with a list of assumptions during the incubator kickoff. We’re continually adding to this list.

We recently used a risk/confidence matrix to sort our assumptions. Using FigJam we created a sticky note for each assumption, then laid them out on a grid. We then moved them into sections based on the risk level (what’s our risk if this assumption is wrong?) and confidence level (how confident are we that this assumption is correct?).

This exercise highlighted the assumptions that we need to focus on validating: the high risk, low confidence ones. Now we can decide how we test each one.

Even more customer interviews and industry interviews

We have a few User Interviews projects running. We generally have one set up per customer persona. These conversations have given us a wealth of information. We’ve heard a bunch of pain points about spending college savings.

We’re also making connections with people in the college savings industry. Through networking we’ve been able to learn from 529 progam managers, vendors, data scientists, market analysts, and bankers. These experts have given us excellent feedback. They’ve shared new ideas and perspectives.

Technical research and diagramming

In addition to talking with experts we’ve been doing our own digging and looking for technology partners. We’ve taken a deep dive into the world of fintech, banking, and card issuing.

Our ideas about a 529 spending solution are starting to crystallize. In order to get these ideas down on paper we did a diagramming exercise. Each team member drew a workflow diagram in Figjam, then we did a show-and-tell. This revealed some misaligned ideas that we could talk though. Then we created a master workflow diagram. This diagram has a lot more detail and touches on each user interaction with the product. It also contains plenty of unanswered questions. And that’s ok!

Founder’s journal

As I think about the past two weeks of the thoughtbot incubator program, I’m reminded that innovation requires flexibility. I had no idea how deep we would dive into the world of user and stakeholder interviews. It’s amazing how quickly they can shake your confidence about early beliefs. It’s almost like realizing that the map you’ve been using might be leading you to the wrong place. Our initial assumptions have been challenged, but this is also where meaningful growth begins.

Here are some additional lightbulb moments in my founder’s journey:

🧭 Lightbulb 4: navigating complexity

As we continue intensive user and stakeholder interviews, a new challenge has emerged - navigating the complex web of stakeholder value drivers. There are so many different parties involved, each with their unique needs and expectations. It’s a bit like juggling, trying to decide which balls to keep in the air and which balls to let fall to the ground. But, it’s also a valuable lesson in understanding the intricacies of a complex industry. The more we delve into industry complexities, the better equipped we become to create a solution that truly adds value for people.

💪 Lightbulb 5: teamwork makes the dream work

I must admit, I’m feeling nervous about the industry complexity. While I may be nervous about the road ahead, I take comfort in the trust we’ve built within our team. Knowing that we have each other’s backs makes the journey through the industry’s complexities not only possible but also an exciting challenge to tackle as a team. With the guidance of stakeholders and the support of our team, we’ll find our way and it will be better than we originally anticipated.

As we refine our direction, I’m reminded of these words “Innovation is not about having all the answers; it’s about asking the right questions.” With each interview, each conversation, we’re getting one step closer to unlocking the solutions that will shape a better future.

Until next time,

Next up

So what’s coming up in the next few weeks?

We’re going to keep interviewing (never stop!). But we’re also going to refine our initial target customer persona even more. We want to be specific. We’ll know we’ve zoomed in far enough when we hear the same pain point over and over again. We may need to iterate on this a few times.

We now have a list of technical and implementation questions. We need answers. We’ll approach this from two directions:

  1. What do our customers want? We’ll ask them! And make some visual comps to show them and collect feedback.
  2. What can we build (short-term and long-term)? We’ll do some proof-of-concept work and create architecture diagrams.

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!

The 529 Conference

As part of our mission to make it easier for people to use their college savings, Ashley will be attending the 529 Conference 2023 in Florida. If you happen to be there, she would love to connect with you.